Monday, December 31, 2007

Champagne Cobbler: Another Delicious Champagne Cocktail

I seem to be fixing a lot of Champagne cocktails this year. I guess partially because sparkling wine is such a great celebratory thing for the holidays. But also because it's the chance to have a delicious cocktail that is a little less "octane." The sparkling wine acts like an alcoholic club soda diluting whatever liquors you're using.

This one is called a cobbler. Traditionally, these were drinks made of wine or sherry served with a simple fruit syrup over ice. They have expanded in definition over the years, but this one fits the tradition nicely.

It might be a great brunch drink, since it's essentially a mimosa, although made with fresh fruit and with an extra kick. Maybe you could serve it tomorrow with your New Year's Day brunch.

Champagne Cobbler
From Food & Wine magazine.
Makes one drink.

Muddle a 1/2 inch thick orange slice and a 1/4 inch thick lemon slice with 2 tablespoons of Maraschino liqueur or Cointreau. Strain into a Champagne flute over crushed ice. Add cold Champagne and serve with a lemon peel twist.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Right on Target: Archer Farms Appetizers

You know I am a fan of natural ingredients, homemade cooking and putting a little work into a wonderful meal or party. On the other hand, I'm also a big fan of simplicity. Last week, as I made a final Santa run to Super Target, I found myself in the frozen food section. I was amazed at the selection of Archer Farms (Target's house brand) products. I was already a fan of their "gourmet" potato chips and some of their cookies, but had never tried any of their frozen foods. Decided to take a couple along to my sister's house for our Christmas Day dinner and see what we thought. We really liked them.

One was a delicious phyllo cup filled with a Southwestern mix of cheese and black beans. It was a perfect bite-size appetizer with nice rich flavor and just enough spice. The other was a little mushroom "purse"--pastry wrapped up and around a rich mushroom filling. I'm looking forward to trying the third product that is still in the freezer: beef with a Bourbon sauce served on tiny bagel bites. They're all worth a try.

They reminded me of an article in Real Simple magazine's December issue. They tested a variety of products to find the best finger foods in several categories. I have tried several of them and have to agree. Seapack makes a wonderful jumbo butterfly shrimp you can find in the frozen food section. Nice and crispy and perfect with your favorite cocktail or dipping sauce. (You might try this one.) They also recommend Delimex Three Cheese Taquitos. They're a generous size and filled with a rich cheese filling. Great to set out with queso, salsa and/or guacamole on the side.

And of course there are other choices at your grocery store. The more "upscale" the store, the more elegant the choices. Save yourself some time in the kitchen and check them out.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Simple New Year's Nibbles

Need a few ideas for simple, but delicious, snacks for your New Year's party? Here are three recipes you might try... (All are from Real Simple magazine.)

Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Cream with Potato Chips

In a small bowl, combine 8 ounces room-temperature cream cheese, 2 tablespoons jarred horseradish, and 2 tablespoons milk or cream. Stir until smooth. Serve with sliced smoked salmon and gourmet potato chips.

Rosemary Pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a skillet over medium heat, Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Add 2 cups pecan halves and toss to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, until toasted, about 12 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary and toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Olive Oil Dip with Vegetables

Chop 1/2 cup green olives. Combine them in a medium saucepan with 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 smashed garlic cloves, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 6 sprigs fresh thyme and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until just warm, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and serve with broccoli florets, fennel wedges, carrot sticks and radishes.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Year's Toasts: Bargain Sparklers

Nothing against the French, but I am boycotting Champagne this year. Not because it's not delicious, but because a good one is so dang expensive. So I've concentrated on sparkling wines from other countries, including right here in the U S of A. I started making my shopping list a couple weeks ago. Interestingly enough, several of my choices were endorsed by The Dallas Morning News and their wine panel this week. Here's MY list. Hope it helps as you make your purchases for New Year's Eve.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava
So my secret appears to not be so secret anymore. I've blogged about this wonderful wine from Spain several times. And it's been a go-to-gift for me many times...delicious and the bottle with its pewter embellishments is always impressive. As for the wine itself, it's fruity and just delicate enough without being sweet. Clean and food-friendly with its creamy toastiness, it retails for just under $20. This was DMN's top pick.

Segura Viudas Brut Rosé
I love Segura Viudas' brut so much that I'm trying their rosé this year. Tasting notes I've seen say that it's "zingy" with strawberries on the palate. Bet it will be yummy with the cheese we'll nibble on before our New Year's Eve dinner.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut
Widely available for $15-20, this is a reliable sparkler with nice fruit and acidity on the palate.

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Blanc de Blancs
This French sparkler isn't a true Champagne, but a nice substitute. It retails for around $20 and I always associate the "Cremant" in its name with the creaminess I get when I drink it. It has one of the biggest "mouthfeels" for any of the wines on this list.

And if you need a sparkling wine in volume for your party, you can't go wrong with two other Spanish cavas, the Segura Viudas Aria or the Freixenet Cordon Negro. Both are steals at around $10 and will satisfy even the discerning palates on your guest list.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Cookies for Santa: White Chocolate, Strawberry and Oatmeal Cookies

What are you leaving on Santa's plate tonight? How about these? Just make sure and set a few aside for yourself....

White Chocolate, Strawberry and Oatmeal Cookies
From Cooking Light magazine.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 3 1/3 ounces)
1 cup regular oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried strawberries
1/3 cup premium white chocolate chips (such as Ghirardelli)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt; stir with a whisk. Place sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat at medium speed until well blended (about 3 minutes). Add vanilla and egg; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until blended. Add strawberries and chips; beat at low speed just until blended.
Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; cool on pan 1 minute.

Remove cookies from pan; cool completely on wire racks.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Easy-to-Make Candy...The Perfect Last-Minute Gift

Christmas got away from me this year. Lots of business travel and a couple of days being sick cut into the time I usually spend cooking, baking and buying the perfect gifts. So it's been a weekend of quick and easy (but delicious) homemade gifts for neighbors and those friends that we "promised" not to exchange gifts with. (Isn't cheating fun?)

My other half has been quite the food-gift-elf this week. Making batches of these delicious spicy pecans.

I got into the act also with these two simple and tasty candy recipes.

Salty Chocolate Pecan Candy
From Southern Living.

1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
3 (4-oz.) bars bittersweet chocolate baking bars (Make sure you're getting the big thin ones and not "baking squares.")
3 (4-oz.) white chocolate baking bars
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt*

Place pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted.

Line a 17- x 12-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper. Break each chocolate bar into 8 equal pieces. (You will have 48 pieces total.) Arrange in a checkerboard pattern in jelly-roll pan, alternating white and dark chocolate. (Pieces will touch.)

Bake at 225° for 5 minutes or just until chocolate is melted. Remove pan to a wire rack. Swirl chocolates into a marble pattern using a wooden pick. Sprinkle evenly with toasted pecans and salt.

Chill 1 hour or until firm. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 month.

Bourbon Pecan Truffles

From Everyday Food.

Note: Chilling the chocolate mounds for a half hour makes it easier to shape them into balls. The truffles soften quickly, so keep them in the refrigerator until just before serving.

To make sure the chocolate does not melt, work with a few truffles at a time (keeping the rest refrigerated), and roll them in the nuts quickly.
Makes 35 truffles.

1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped)
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 cup finely chopped pecans

In a medium saucepan, bring cream to a boil; remove from heat, and add chocolate and bourbon. Let stand 3 minutes; whisk until smooth. Transfer chocolate mixture to a medium bowl, and refrigerate, uncovered, until thick and firm enough to spoon out in mounds, about 2 hours.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Drop level tablespoons of chocolate mixture onto baking sheet. Refrigerate chocolate mounds until firm, 30 minutes.
Place pecans in a shallow bowl. Using hands, roll each chocolate mound into a ball; roll balls in pecans, pressing lightly to adhere, and place on baking sheet. Refrigerate truffles until set, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

*3/4 tsp. kosher salt may be substituted.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pear and Cranberry Bellini

Mimosas (orange juice and sparkling wine) are a standby of brunch menus. For Christmas, I've often done something different and served "poinsettias"--cranberry juice and sparkling wine. Here's a new idea I am going to use for this year's holiday brunches.

Pear and Cranberry Bellini

In a large measuring cup, combine 1 cup canned pear nectar and 1 cup cranberry juice cocktail. Pour 1/4 cup juice mixture into each of eight champagne flutes. Top with dry sparkling wine. (I typically use Prosecco or a Spanish cava.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

HandMade Someone Else's Hands

You're running out of time to make your gifts this year. (We can't ALL be Martha Stewart after all!) Check out It's an online store where you can buy (or sell) handmade goods of all kinds.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Corn Bread Bites

Here's a nice twist on cornbread. Packed with flavor... and in a small package... they're a great accompaniment for soup or chili. (The bread lover in the household tore them into littler pieces and dumped them onto the White Chicken Chili I posted last week. He said it was just like Mexican chicken and dumplings.)

They'd also be great for a party. Just as a bite-size nibble on the buffet. Or even split with a nice piece of ham in the middle.

Corn Bread Bites
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine.
(I reversed the quantity of flour and cornmeal to make it a little less "bready.")

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 (8 3/4-ounce) can cream-style corn
Dash of hot sauce
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Combine cheese and remaining ingredients except cooking spray in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moistened.

Divide batter evenly among miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in cups 2 minutes on wire racks; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.

Makes 36 mini-muffins.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Prosciutto Options

I've told you of my love affair with Parmesan cheese. Another staple of my pantry/refrigerator is prosciutto di parma (or its Spanish cousin Jamon de Serrano). Here are some simple ways to use it and savor its wonderful salty richness.
  • Spread a cracker or toasted baguette slice with goat cheese or herbed cream cheese and top with a slice of prosciutto.

  • Of course you can wrap the traditional melon or asparagus with prosciutto, but why not a crunchy breadstick?

  • Add prosciutto to your mozzarella tomato crostini.

  • Or crisp in the oven for twenty minutes and crumble over salad or your favorite pasta.

  • Of course you can always use it in a recipe like this.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Frozen Cranberry Margarito

Yeah, it's a silly name, but it's a delicious drink. A tangy margarita with just a hint of mint flavor in the background. And the frosted rim and pink color make it perfect for Christmas parties.

Frozen Cranberry Margaritos
From Southern Living
Makes five cups.

1 (10-oz.) can frozen mojito mix (I had never heard of this, but it was easy to find. Most large grocery stores should have it.)
3/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Combine first 5 ingredients in a blender. Fill blender with ice to 5-cup level, and process until smooth. Serve immediately in cocktail glasses that you have rimmed with a mixture of equal parts sugar and kosher salt. For a fun garnish, spear a couple of cranberries onto a sprig of rosemary.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Another Simple Centerpiece

Some of us, myself included, simply don't have the flower arranging gene. Me, I either get a huge bunch for the vase....or pick a single beautiful stem for a bud vase or Japanese ikebana bowl. Never is here.

Hit the bed and bath store and buy the most beautiful toothbrush holder you can find. Fill with water and tuck a stem or two into each hole. Instant symmetry. People will think you've taken a class.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Giving Back...

It's the time of year for giving. Whether for Hanukkah or Christmas, most of us agonize over the perfect gift for everyone on our list. Family members, friends, co-workers, loved's all about shopping and wrapping. But it doesn't have to (and shouldn't) stop there.

I made a trip to the Wilkinson Center here in Dallas last week. Although the purpose of the visit was business, the effect was profoundly personal. I was tangibly and forcefully reminded how lucky I am. My life IS beautiful. There are so many others out there who worry about where their next meal comes they can clothe their families...and how to give their children gifts for the holidays.

It inspired me to go and adopt an angel from the Salvation Army tree at the nearby mall. That's been a family tradition for us for the last several years...but I'd been too busy this year to bother. I'll also be taking a box of clothes to the Wilkinson Center. And making a New Year's resolution to do something charitable every month...whether a donation of cash, food or money. Or even better volunteering.

As you're giving gifts this season, why not have them do double-duty? Here's a list of wonderfully worthy causes that you might make a donation to in your gift recipient's honor. After all, who needs another sweater vest or scented candle?

  • Go to and make a donation to support UNICEF's Child Survival Programs. You'll earn two American Airlines AAdvantage miles for every dollar donated.

  • America's Second Harvest works with more than 200 local charities and agencies in all 50 states, including many of the major food banks across America. They use your monetary gift to leverage more support than just a donation of canned goods ever could. (And if you live in North Texas as I do, you could support the North Texas Food Bank.)

  • To support the food and support needs of people around the world, make a donation to Heifer International. They work to eliminate hunger and poverty by providing animals and training to families in third world countries. For example, $30 provides a Gift of Honeybees. With it, struggling families earn income through the sale of honey, beeswax and pollen. (Plus the bees help to increase the yield of fruit and vegetables in the area.)

  • Unfortunately, AIDS and HIV continue to be scourges in countries across the globe, including the United States. Support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS by shopping their online store. That limited-edition snow globe you buy for your daughter's piano teacher helps provide critically needed services to people living with AIDS or other serious illnesses.

Regardless of the charity you choose, stretch your gift-giving this year. Use those dollars to help make life more beautiful for others.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: La Perla

This strange, but delicious, drink came from Imbibe magazine. (I highly recommend it.) It's rich (tequila), fruity (pear liqueur), and bracing (sherry) all at once. Would be a nice after-dinner drink, I think.

La Perla
1 1/2 ounce tequila reposado (Herradura is a personal favorite.)
1 1/2 ounce manzanilla sherry (Use La Gitana if you can find it.)
3/4 ounce Mathilde pear liqueur

Shake ingredients in ice-filled shaker and strain into a cocktail glass. (I used a copita in honor of the sherry.) Garnish with a lemon twist.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Make the Morning Easier

Mornings are always a rush for me. Although I try to take time for the paper and a cup of hot tea, packing my gym bag and work clothes, feeding our pets, and collecting my work stuff means I don't always have much time to fix breakfast. I know how important it is though. As I continue to try and lose a few pounds, it's important that I jump start my metabolism with that first meal of the day. Here are some tips I've used to make sure I get it all done.

  • As I get ready for bed and straighten the kitchen, I go ahead and measure the ingredients (minus the ice) for my smoothie directly into the blender container. Stored on the top shelf of the refrigerator, it takes less than a minute to blend up the next morning. Of course I love simple fruit smoothies (fruit, ice and protein powder), but also fix "heartier" ones sometimes. A recent favorite: 1 cup skim milk, 2 tablespoons ground flax seed, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries and 1 scoop whey protein powder.

  • Did you know you can "poach" eggs in the microwave? You can use a gadget like this, but I just crack an egg into a ramekin, blast it on high for 43 seconds (You'll have to experiment to see the perfect timing with your microwave.) and I have firm whites and just runny enough yolks.

  • And you can't go wrong with toast. Put a slice or two of multi-grain bread in the oven or toaster while you do something else. In no time, you'll have the complex carbs to get you going. How about a little low-fat peanut butter on top?

Do you have any quick breakfast tips you could share? If so, please post in Comments below.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Red Pepper Fennel Soup

I am posting this recipe hesitantly. Not because it's from Rachael Ray. (Not my favorite.) But because it just didn't have the bold flavor I expected...even after I added twice as much roasted red pepper as it calls for. That said, it's a pretty easy, elegant soup...and it's still pretty tasty. I'm taking it to lunch tomorrow with a snack bag of pita chips to accompany.

Red Pepper Fennel Soup
Adapted from EveryDay with Rachael Ray.

2 roasted red peppers, thinly sliced lengthwise (After the finished soup looked (and tasted) rather red pepper-less, I used about half a large jar.)
6 tablespoons butter, melted (You might try olive oil if you're watching your waistline.)
1 leek (white part only), thinly sliced crosswise
1 small bulb fennel with fronds, bulb finely chopped and fronds chopped for garnish
1 potato (1/2 pound)—peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream (You can omit or use skim milk if you'd like.)
1/4 cup sour cream (optional)

Reserve 4 strips of roasted red pepper and set aside. In a medium pot, place 4 tablespoons melted butter (or olive oil) over medium heat. Add the leek and chopped fennel bulb and cook until lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining roasted red peppers, the potato, broth, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potato is tender, about 10 minutes.

Using an immersion or standing blender, working in batches if necessary, blend the potato mixture until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream (or skim milk) and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the soup hot or cold with pita chips. Dollop with sour cream, if desired, and top with the reserved roasted red pepper strips and more fennel fronds.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Beautiful Centerpiece Idea

Here's a centerpiece idea I'm going to try for this Christmas.

Use candle wax or floral clay to attach a small floral frog to the center of a shallow bowl. (Your holiday china would be perfect.) Place a taper candle in the center of the frog. Pour water into the bowl. Clip amaryllis blooms (maybe ones you've already forced or ones you've bought by the stem at the florist) and arrange them in the bowl around the candle.

Simple and elegant...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Avoid the Dirty Dozen....

I can't claim I coined the term. It's a catchy phrase that the Environmental Working Group came up with to remind us how to lower our pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent. You just have to replace the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables with organic versions. Since it's getting colder...and most of us are no longer able to buy the freshest things from the farmers' market, it's valuable advice.

So make the organic switch when you're buying these:

  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Grapes (imported)

  • Nectarines

  • Peaches

  • Pears

  • Strawberries

  • Celery

  • Lettuce

  • Bell Peppers

  • Potatoes

  • Spinach

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Martina McBride's Bus Stop Chili

Usually I post recipes here that I have "borrowed" or adapted from quite foodie-reputable sources: Gourmet, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart. Never before have I ripped a recipe out of People. (OK, I have a got a problem with that?!?)

This is a great, simple recipe that reminds me of those "dump cake" recipes. Here you open a bunch of cans, dump them in the pot, and you end up with a wonderfully hearty...and pretty healthy...soup. I'm thinking it's on the Christmas Eve menu this year.

Martina's Bus Stop White Chili

Adapted from a recipe from People magazine.

(I've made a few adjustments to kick up the spice and make it a little thicker.)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2-14 1/2 ounce cans chicken broth
1 tablespoon garlic pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4-15 ounce cans great northern beans
2-4 1/2 ounce cans chopped green chiles
1 can cream of chicken soup
Half of a 7 ounce can of pickled jalapeno peppers

For garnish: minced cilantro, sour cream, tortilla chips and grated cheese

Put chicken in a glass baking dish, pour in both cans of chicken broth, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour. Remove chicken and reserve broth.

Cut chicken into small pieces and season with garlic pepper. Heat olive oil in stock pot and saute chicken for 2-3 minutes.

Puree jalapeno peppers, with juice, and set aside. (If you want your chili super thick, at this point, also drain and rinse one or more of the cans of white beans.)

Add reserved broth, beans, chiles, cream of chicken soup, and pureed jalapenos to stock pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and garnish as desired.

Healthy Hint: Use low-fat chicken broth and a healthy version of the cream of chicken soup (I used Campbell's Healthy Choice)...and pass on the garnishes...for a guilt-free treat.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Forcing Things Isn't Always Bad...

It's that time of year again. Time to force wonderful winter bulbs like amaryllis and narcissus. I've told you about the whole process before, but just learned a new tip I'm going to try this year.

Too often paperwhites bolt and flow over in their containers. Try adding 1 part rubbing alcohol to 10 parts water and use as the rooting solution. They'll stop growing at about two-thirds their usual height.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tick tock....

OK...not to make you panic, but it's December 1st. Do you know where your holiday plans are?

Never fear, there is much you can do now to make your life much easier as the countdown of shopping days left to us grows ever smaller. here are just a couple of quick tips:

  • Don't worry yourself over the party planning. If you're like me, you're constantly being invited to informal gatherings that require to bring a nibble or two. So, make it easy for yourself. How about an appetizer that dresses up store-bought hummus? Or one you can make in bulk and freeze. Then all you have to do is take them out and heat up. Cruise around the Food and Entertaining sections of this blog. You're likely to find a few other recipes--like this and this-- that are simple but sure crowd pleasers.

  • How about buying gifts in bulk? You're likely to have a load of friends and family members who share your culinary bent. So go buy them each a bottle of wonderful imported extra-virgin olive oil and make them something special like a salt blend. Personalize with a recipe and you're home free. Saves you from spending hours at the mall looking for that perfect sweater.

  • If the bulk gifts approach won't work for you, sit down, think it through and make your shopping list now. If you plan ahead and think of something wonderful you might buy for everyone on your list BEFORE you hit the stores, you're far more likely to emerge from the experience with fewer battle scars...and more apropos gifts.

More tips in the weeks to come...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Oldies but Goodies

I've posted these recipes before, but they were such a hit recently--one at the Halloween party and one at our Thanksgiving spread--that I thought they were worth a repeat.

Corn Dip

1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
12 oz. grated Cheddar (or Mexican-style) cheese (So easy when you buy pre-grated from the grocery store)
1 small can chopped green chiles
2 cans Mexi-corn (includes red and green pepper), drained
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and finely diced

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.

Makes about six cups.

Shrimp Dip
This dip can be served cold or warm. You can also substitute one pound of crab meat for the shrimp if you'd like. I serve it with round wheat crackers.

1 package (8 ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 pound cooked shrimp, shells and tails removed (Help yourself out and buy the frozen pre-cooked shrimp in a bag.)
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 onion, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
2 dashes of Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

In a double boiler over simmering water, blend cream cheese and butter. Stir often to keep cream cheese and butter from separating. Add shrimp, onion, seasonings and lemon juice. Blend with spoon until smooth. If serving warm, serve immediately. If serving cold, chill in refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some Quick Environmental Tips

Here are a few more ways you can do your part to protect our environment:

  • Don't throw out those old shoes. You'd be surprised what a good cobbler can do with them. A new sole or set of heels and a reconditioning and they're good as new. Especially great for men's classic shoes. If that won't work for you, donate them to charity. Someone else can see some good out of them and you keep them out of the landfill.

  • Who needs a treadmill? Take a REAL walk instead. You won't use electricity and you'll have the opportunity to observe lots of great things around you, instead fo the television at the gym that's always tuned to the sports channel.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Champagne and Pomegranate Cocktail

Pomegranates are back in stores. I love that you can buy them and get ther red pearls of flavor out yourself rather than just settling for bottled juice. Here's a great cocktail to use them in.

Champagne and Pomegranate Cocktail

1 sugar cube
1 fluid ounce pomegranate juice
3 fluid ounces dry sparkling wine
Pomegranate seeds, optional

Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne flute. Pour the pomegranate juice over it, then the sparkling wine. Drop a few pomegranate seeds into the glass. Serve.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mushroom-Hummus Crostini

Seems that life has been so crazy busy these days that I am emphasizing the simple part of my Life Should Be Beautiful philosophy. Not quite to the level of that annoying semi-homemade Sandra Lee, but simple enough. Here's a great way to dress up the wonderful hummus you can buy at your local grocery or gourmet market. Something easy to whip up for that impromptu cocktail gathering.

Mushroom Hummus Crostini
Serves 8.
From Andrea Immer's A-List

1 whole wheat baguette, sliced thin
Olive oil
1 pound small shitake (or cremini) mushrooms, sliced very thin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 cup hummus
1 tablespoon chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
Sherry vinegar for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush both sides of the baguette slices with olive oil and toast in the oven until beginning to brown, about 10-12 minutes. Watch carefully to make sure they don't overcook. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy wide skillet; cast iron is ideal. When the oil is heated, add the mushrooms, spreading them evenly in the bottom of the pan to prevent crowding. Sprinkle with dried thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally until they are cooked through and becoming brown and crisp on the edges. (the crispness is important!) Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Spread hummus on each of the toasted bread slices and then spoon some of the mushrooms on top of each. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and a few drops of the aged sherry vinegar, if using.

Food/Wine Pairing: Andrea suggested (and shipped) a hearty rosé from Australia for this recipe. The 2003 Boggy Creek Vineyards. Delicious. With bottle age, it was a more robust redder rosé. I am furiously looking online for more. But there's other matches to try. The heartiness of the mushrooms, toast of the baguette and earthiness of the hummus cry out for a red. But not a big one. Maybe the newly released Beaujolais Nouveau. Or your favorite fruity American Pinot Noir. Or maybe even a spicy Syrah. Try several with your guests and you've got a party.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Cranberry Daiquiri

You've had a day of turkey, family and football. How about one more taste of cranberries? But in a cocktail. Saw this on CNBC today courtesy of Gramercy Tavern. Looks tasty to me...

Cranberry Daiquiri

For one drink, shake in a cocktail shaker with ice:
2 oz. dark rum
1 oz. cranberry syrup*
1 oz. fresh lime juice

Serve up, garnished w/ small spoonful of the cranberries

To make cranberry syrup and garnish:

Heat 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to form clear syrup. Add zest of 1 orange and 2 cinnamon sticks and bring to boil. Add 1 cup fresh cranberries and cook just until they start to pop.

Remove from heat & add 1 ½ cup white rum.

Quickly chill down cranberries and syrup in an ice bath.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cranberry Chocolate Cakes

I am always a fan of a twist on the traditional. Here's a dessert with Thanksgiving ingredients, but unexpectedly rich results. Might be a great addition to the dessert buffet. And it is wonderful enough that you can save for some other time in the holiday season if you'd like. Complicated, but well worth the effort, it was a hit when a friend prepared the recipe for our pot-luck wine dinner last year.

From Gourmet magazine

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting molds
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons bourbon
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao if marked),chopped
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and cooled
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1 teaspoon confectioners sugar plus additional for dusting
Special equipment: parchment paper; 4 (4- by 1 1/4-inch) tartlet molds with removable bottoms or 4 (8-oz) ramekins (4 inches across and 1 1/4 inches deep)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut out 4 rounds of parchment paper to fit just inside bottom of each mold,then set rounds aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter, then brush molds with some of it. Line bottom of each mold with a round of parchment and brush parchment with some melted butter. Chill molds 5 minutes (to set butter),then brush parchment and side of each mold with more melted butter. Chill molds 5 minutes more. Dust molds with flour, knocking out excess, and set aside.

Simmer cranberries and 1/4 cup bourbon in a small saucepan over low heat until cranberries are tender and bourbon is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Melt chocolate and remaining stick butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes.

Pulse pecans with flour (2 tablespoons) in a food processor until finely ground, being careful not to process to a paste.

Beat together yolks and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Add chocolate mixture and beat until just combined, then stir in pecan mixture and cranberries.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl using cleaned beaters until they just hold stiff peaks. Fold one third of whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among molds (they will be very full), then put molds in a shallow baking pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted into center of a cake comes out with tip wet and remainder of pick dry, about 25 minutes. (Batter will rise above rims but will not spill over.)

Transfer cakes to a rack and cool in molds 30 minutes. (Cakes will continue to set as they cool.)Beat cream with confectioners sugar and remaining 2 teaspoons bourbon in a small bowl using cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Remove side from each mold, then slide each cake from bottom onto a dessert plate, discarding parchment. Lightly dust each cake with confectioners sugar and serve with a dollop of bourbon whipped cream.

To make a single, larger cake, the batter can be baked in a 9 1/2-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom, about 25 minutes.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A New Morning Ritual

Life has been crazy lately. Not always beautiful, and certainly not simple. I have sworn to myself that I am going to get back on track as we step through the holidays. More cooking, more delicious wine, a cocktail or two, and a concentrated return to philosophies that I know make life better and more beautiful.

And, of course, a beautiful day always starts as you wake up. So, in this season of being thankful, I'm going to try a ritual I read about in a magazine recently. As I wake up, rather than dreading my workout or the meeting later or the clothes that need to be washed, I am going to make a mental list of five things I can be thankful for. Hopefully it will be a nice reminder of how beautiful life really is. And, by doing it every day, I'll be looking for new and different things each time I think through it.

Try it...what's first on your list?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Roasted Figs with Crispy Prosciutto and Blue Cheese

It's interesting to watch trends in food. I'm not talking about big the proliferation of tapas/small plates and the exploration that some chefs are doing with more "scientific" preparations. I like seeing what new ingredients and ingredient combinations rear their heads. Last summer I ripped out several recipes for zucchini "carpaccio"--very thinly sliced raw zucchini with a variety of toppings.

More recently, I've started to see recipes with various combinations of roasted figs, prosciutto and cheese--either blue cheese or Parmesan. They got my mouth watering. So, when Andrea Immer Robinson provided a recipe as a pairing with one of her A-List wine shipments I thought I would try it.

It was a wonderful collision of flavors: richly sweet figs, funkily salty blue cheese, and crispy prosciutto--an elegant riff on the bacon we're more used to. The recipe below was delicious, but could be even easier. Grab a jar of fig preserves (heat if you'd like to), spread on some flatbread and sprinkle the blue cheese and prosciutto pieces on top. Come to think of it, it would probably be good with plain ol' non-crispy prosciutto as well. On small crackers of some sort, it would make an elegant canape for your upcoming holiday parties.

Roasted Figs with Crispy Prosciutto and Blue Cheese
from Andrea Immer Robinson
Serves four.

6 firm-ripe figs, quartered
2-3 ounces prosciutto slices
2 ounces blue cheese (I used Maytag), crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper
Flatbread or cooked pizza crust

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Oil two baking sheets or spray with nonstick spray. Arrange the figs on one baking sheets and lay the prosciutto slices on the other. Place both pans in the oven and bake until the figs are tender (about 20 minutes depending on the firmness of the figs) and the prosciutto slices are crisp and brittle (about 15 minutes). Watch both pans carefully and remove before over-cooking.

When the prosciutto slices are done, remove then to paper towels to drain and cool.

If serving as a starter or "salad" (or even as a cheese course before dinner), place the roasted figs on serving plates and cool slightly. Or spoon onto flatbread or crackers. Sprinkle with cheese and season with black pepper. Crumble the prosciutto slices on top. And enjoy.

Wine Pairing:
The wine Andrea sent with this one was a South African red--2003 Simonsig Pinotage, Stellenbosch. Figgy and tarry with a touch of pepper, it was a perfect match for this recipe...and the take-out lasagna we had afterwards. At $30, it's worth looking for.

By the way, I want to again encourage you to sign up for Andrea's A-List. The wines and recipes are always wonderful, and you have the chance to explore wines you'd likely never otherwise taste. Plus you get the bonus of Andrea's wonderful, NON-overblown descriptors. For example, she described the Pinotage as having a Band-Aids and Mercurochrome nose. Know what? She's right!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thanksgiving with a Lighter Touch

I don't know how...but Thanksgiving has snuck up on me this year. Luckily, we're being hosted by our various families and won't have to prepare the whole feast. Just an appetizer or two and my other half's famous cornbread and sage dressing.

I ran across this recipe the other day though and might add it to the list. Cranberries definitely make it Turkey Day worthy, and its lightness might just make it a welcome ending to an otherwise delicious, but dense, meal.

Cranberry Cream Pie

From Real Simple magazine.
Serves eight.

1 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup sugar
5 ounces shortbread cookies
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) roasted almonds
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 8-ounce package frozen cranberries, thawed
1 1/4-ounce packet unflavored gelatin
2 cups heavy cream

Warm the orange juice and sugar in a small pot over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Transfer to a large bowl and refrigerate until just cool, about 30 minutes.

Pulse the cookies and almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine. Press the cookie mixture evenly into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

Clean the food processor, then add the cranberries and 1/4 cup of the cooled juice and puree. Sprinkle the gelatin over the remaining juice and let stand for 1 minute. Stir until the gelatin dissolves. Add the pureed cranberries and stir to combine.

Beat the cream in a medium bowl using a whisk or electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cranberry mixture until well combined. Pour the cranberry cream into the crust. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.

Tip: The Cranberry Cream Pie can be made up to 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator until serving.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hot Crab Dip

This was a big hit at our Halloween party. Definitely worth trying as you plan your holiday entertaining menus.

Crazy Hot Crab Dip

Serves about 8.

1 head of garlic (to make 2 teaspoons roasted garlic paste)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon mince chipotle (or green chile)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup sharp white Cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
(1/4 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese for topping)
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked clean

Pita chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make garlic paste: Use a sharp knife to cut off the top third of head of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil. Wrap in foil and roast about 45 minutes, until very soft and golden. Let cool, then squeeze out paste from garlic cloves. Set aside 2 teaspoons of garlic paste for use in dip; reserve the rest for another use.

In medium bowl, combine mayo, cilantro, chipotle, lime juice, roasted garlic paste and Worcestershire sauce, and mix well. Stir in grated cheeses until well-mixed.

Serve with pita chips or crackers.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Halibut with Grapefruit and Rosemary

I've been eating lots of fish these day in the interest of health. Here’s a recipe that combines a firm fleshy white fish with citrus and fresh herbs. And since the citrus used is grapefruit, it's a perfect recipe for Ruby Red grapefruit becomes more plentiful in your grocery store.

Halibut with Grapefruit and Rosemary
Serves 4.
From Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food.

2 ruby red grapefruit
1 sprig plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 skinless halibut fillets (6 ounces each)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat broiler.

With a vegetable peeler, remove 4 large strips of zest from one grapefruit, avoiding bitter white pith. Cut into slivers; set aside.

Peel and cut both grapefruit into segments; set aside. Squeeze membranes into small sauce pan. Add rosemary sprig; sugar; grapefruit zest, ½ cup water, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Boil 8-10 minutes, until syrupy.

Rub fillets with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Broil until opaque throughout, 7 to 10 minutes.

When syrup is done, discard rosemary sprig. Add syrup and chopped rosemary to bowl with grapefruit segments. Toss gently; place on top of fish and serve.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Parmesan Spirals

Another recipe that might show up on the Halloween party buffet table…

Parmesan Spirals
Makes 24.
From Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food.
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
All-purpose flour
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg, beaten
In a bowl, mix cheese and paprika; season with salt and pepper. On a floured surface, roll out pastry to 10 by 14 inches. Brush with egg. Sprinkle with egg mixture; using a rolling pin, roll mixture into pastry. Roll up pastry, starting from short end. Refigerate until firm, about 25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut roll into 3/8 inch slices. Place on a baking sheet; bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes; transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Parmesan...How Do I Love Thee?

I like to keep a hunk around...a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano, that is. Sometimes I'll have a nibble with my evening cocktail. And, of course, I love to grate a bit onto salads, pastas, even roast chicken. Here are a couple of other ideas though:
  • Toss some grated Parmesan into hot popcorn.
  • Blend one part Parmesan with one part butter. Dollop a bit on some toasted bread or steamed veggies.
  • Stick a small piece into a date. Maybe a pecan also. An easy and elegant appetizer.

It's an ingredient that you'll discover you can't live without...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Blue Cheese and Caramelized-Onion Squares

Starting to look at the menu for our Halloween party in a couple of weeks...these are fancy-looking and delicious, but easy to make. (It's even easier when you use refrigerated roll-out pie crusts.) Might be an option.

Blue Cheese and Caramelized-Onion Squares
From Bon Appetit magazine.
Makes 42 squares.

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions (about 2 pounds), halved, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon sugar1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) crumbled blue cheese

For crust:Preheat oven to 425°F. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Make well in center of dry ingredients. Whisk milk, olive oil, and melted butter in liquid measuring cup to blend. Slowly pour milk mixture into well in dry ingredients, stirring until just blended and smooth.

Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 10x13-inch rectangle. Transfer dough to rimmed baking sheet. Re-form dough into 10x13-inch rectangle (dough will shrink when moved). Pierce dough all over with fork. Let dough rest while preparing topping.

For topping:Melt butter with oil in large skillet over high heat. Add onions. Cook until onions are soft and beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add rosemary, sugar, and salt. Season onions to taste with pepper. Reduce heat to medium. Continue to cook until onions are soft and dark brown, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes; cool.

Spread onion mixture evenly over dough. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake until crust is golden and cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Cut into squares and serve.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Back on Track...the Elvis Smoothie

So haven't been around the blogosphere much recently. A new job and travel schedule have gotten in the way. I've felt guilty though, knowing there are two or three of you who check this silly thing out pretty regularly. Motivated by a conversation with a reader and good friend yesterday, I'm going to try and do better.

And blogging more regularly is not the only thing I'm trying to do better. The above-mentioned job and travel have also gotten in the way of eating more healthily and losing a few pounds. But I'm back on track with that also. Six small meals/snacks during the day. Lots of fruits and vegetables. No alcohol. (At least for a week...we'll see.)

So when I wanted something sweet the other night before bed, I couldn't reach for a piece of pecan toffee. Made a smoothie inspired by a decadent favorite of Elvis Presley's. Threw a banana, a spoonful of peanut butter, a scoop of chocolate protein powder and some ice into the blender and voila...a yummy smoothie that was a perfect substitute for a more guilt-inducing dessert. Try it and see what you think...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Baked Ricotta with Herbs

I've probably mentioned before that the cocktail hour is an important time at our house. Not so much because it involves alcohol (although that can be nice), but because it's a time to relax and come down from the stresses of the day. I always like to have a nibble and a glass of something. Helps fortify one for dinner preparation, an evening at the computer, or worse...a night of doing laundry.

Most of the time, the food is nothing more than some olives or nuts or maybe some cheese. Here's a recipe that kicks things up a notch. Pop open some bubbly or a fruity red wine and you might never even get to dinner...

Baked Ricotta with Herbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to coat ramekin
1 pound fresh soft ricotta cheese
alt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped (rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, whatever you like)
Grilled or toasted bread or crackers

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lightly oil a 4-cup ceramic crock or souffle dish.

In a medium bowl, stir the cheese with a fork and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the herbs. Pack the cheese into the crock and drizzle with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bake until warm and slightly quivery, about 15 minutes. Serve with bread or crackers.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fennel-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

It's not quite time to retire the grill for the summer. Why not try this simple, wine-friendly recipe for pork tenderloin? With a little wild rice and a green salad on the side, you've got a meal fit for a king...a grill king.

Fennel-Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Serves 3-4

1 1/4 pound pork tenderloin

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons fennel seeds, crushed (I use a mortar and pestle.)

Heat grill to medium-high. Coat the pork tenderloin with the olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper, garlic powder and crushed fennel seeds. Make sure tenderloin is coated all over.

Cook on the hottest part of the grill, turning to brown all sides. Move to coolest part of grill (or reduce heat) and continue cooking until meat thermometer inserted in tenderloin registers 145 degrees. Remove from gill and let rest 10 minutes before slicing. (You can also brown tenderloin in a skillet and then finish by baking in a 400 degree oven.)

Wine Pairing: This cries out for a earthy "dirty" wine. Try a South African Syrah or a Italian Sangiovese and see what you think...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More Environmental Tips

I've missed a couple of Wednesdays, but wanted to give you some more easy ideas on ways you could help the environment.

  • Use the microwave. Next time you bake a potato, nuke it. It takes less time and takes less energy than if you're using an electric stove at 400 degrees for an hour or so.

  • Wash with cold water if you can. Not all clothes need to be washed in hot water. As a matter of fact, it can be bad for them-wears them out sooner. So use the coolest settings you can on your washing machine. And never wash less than a full'll conserve water that way.

  • Let your computer sleep. Or better yet, turn it off. I know you leave it on so you can check this blog on an hourly basis, but, if you turn your computer off overnight or while you're out during the day, you'll save an enormous amount of electricity.

  • Fill your freezer. Your deep freeze works best full. So hit the warehouse store and stock up on things you can freeze. But make sure you leave space between items in the fridge. It lets air circulate more efficiently.

Those are easy, huh? Adopt one or two and you'll be doing your part. Stay tuned for more next week...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Honey-Roasted Pear Salad

Autumn is fast-approaching. (Or at least we can pretend it is as we endure a few more days in the 90's.) So how about a salad that incorporates roasted fruit? And the dressing uses verjus, a tart grape juice made from unripe wine grapes. It's more wine-friendly than dressings made with vinegar. That makes this recipe the perfect pairing with a Pinot Noir. Try it and see if I'm not right....

Honey-Roasted Pear Salad with Thyme Verjus Dressing
Makes 8 servings.
From Bon Appetit magazine

1/3 cup verjus or 3 tablespoons white grape juice and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Pears and salad
3 bunches fresh thyme sprigs
4 ripe, but firm Bartlett pears (about 2 1/2 pounds), halved, cored
1/4 cup honey
1 head of butter lettuce, coarsely torn
4 ounces baby arugula
6 ounces blue cheese, sliced or coarsely crumbled
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped

To make dressing, whisk all ingredients in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

To prepare pears and salad, preheat oven to 400°F. Scatter thyme sprigs on rimmed baking sheet. Place pear halves, cut side down, on work surface. Starting 1/2 inch from stem and leaving pear half intact, cut each lengthwise into scant 1/3- to 1/2-inch-wide slices. Press pear gently to fan slices; place atop thyme sprigs. Drizzle pears with honey; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until pears are tender, about 15 minutes. Let stand on baking sheet at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.

Combine lettuce and arugula in large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Divide salad among plates. Place pear alongside greens. Garnish salads with cheese; sprinkle with nuts.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Not Your Mom's Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is not easy to make. It takes a good cook with great instinct to keep the oil at just the right temperature. A mistake can lead to a burned crust, undercooked chicken, or both. Over the years, I've learned how to do it, but sometimes I want fried chicken without all the effort. Here's a recipe that accomplishes just that. It's so good I served it at the wine dinner I hosted in August. I used breast tenderloins and cut into bite-sized pieces. Just reduced the cooking time some. It was a wonderful nibble to enjoy with a glass of sparkling wine.

Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken
Makes 6 servings.

1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large onion, sliced
12 chicken pieces (breasts, thighs and drumsticks) with skin and bones

1 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Whisk buttermilk, oil, hot pepper sauce, mustard, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend well. Add onion, then chicken and turn to coat. Cover; chill at least 3 hours or up to 1 day, turning chicken occasionally.

Place racks on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Whisk breadcrumbs, cheese, flour, thyme, paprika, cayenne and 1 teaspoon salt in large baking dish to blend. Remove chicken from marinade, allowing excess to drip off. Add chicken to breadcrumb mixture and turn to coat completely.

Arrange chicken, skin side up, on racks on baking sheets. Let stand 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Drizzle butter over chicken. Bake until crisp, golden and cooked through, about 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar and Black Pepper

It's hot. And after a long stressful day at the office, I sometimes just don't want to cook. But also don't want to order unhealthy Chinese take-out. So it's great to find a way to prepare a simple, but quite wonderfully tasty meal. And of course, pairing it with a great wine is a bonus.

Here's an example. Strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar with flavor boosts of fresh basil and black pepper.

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar and Black Pepper

Slice fresh strawberries and drizzle on a good aged balsamic vinegar. Let macerate (a fancy way to say "sit and stew") for about 20 minutes, then season with freshly ground black pepper and stir in finely chopped fresh basil. It's fine by itself, but I like to serve it spooned onto a couple of slices of fresh mozzarella (Thank you, Paula Lambert, for making the wonderful smoked mozzarella available here in north Texas!) with a piece of crusty bread.

Wine Pairing
This one's easy. A crisp dry rosé will serve as your strawberries in a glass. There are many bottles out there to try, but two of my favorites are the Miner Sangiovese Rosato or the Marques de Caceres from Spain. The Miner, served with these strawberries, was a hit at our recent wine dinner.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Nectarines in Red Wine Sauce

How about this for dessert? Deliciously ripe summer fruit in a decadently spicy red wine reduction. On a scoop of vanilla ice cream, you can't go wrong...

Nectarines in Red Wine Sauce
From Bon Appetit magazine.
Makes 4 cups.
Serve six.

1 cup dry red wine
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 3x1/2-inch strip lemon peel
1 3x1/2-inch strip orange peel3
1/2 cups 1/2-inch cubes nectarines with peel (from 4 to 5 medium)

Stir first 6 ingredients in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil syrup 1 minute. Reduce heat. Add nectarines. Simmer until nectarines are tender but still hold shape, about 10 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl; cool.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Baked Halibut with Orzo, Spinach and Cherry Tomatoes

I know I've been remiss in my postings. A change in my professional life got in the way last week. Hopefully, I'm back on track.

Here's a recipe that is so easy and delicious that it should provide redemption...

Baked Halibut with Orzo, Spinach and Cherry Tomatoes
2 servings.
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine.

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 6- to 7-ounce halibut fillets
1 cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 cups (packed) baby spinach
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Whisk 2 tablespoons oil and lemon juice in bowl; season dressing with salt and pepper. Place halibut on rimmed baking sheet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with some of dressing. Bake until just opaque in center, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large saucepan of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite; drain.

Add 2 tablespoons oil and garlic to same saucepan; sauté over medium heat 1 minute. Add chopped onion and sauté for another 2 minutes. Add drained pasta, spinach, and tomatoes; stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Cover; let stand 1 minute (spinach will wilt). Divide pasta between 2 plates. Top with halibut and remaining dressing.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sangria Ice

It's too hot here in Dallas today to even think about cooking. So here's a chilly recipe from last week's wine dinner. A delicious granita with the flavors of pitcher of sangria in sunny Spain. It was a perfect palate cleanser after our rich lamb stew. But it would be a perfect end to any summer meal. Or even an unusual addition to your cocktail hour. Think adult Sno-cone!

Sangria Ice
From Cooking Light magazine.
Serves 6 to 8.

1 cup cabernet sauvignon or other dry red wine
1 cup water
1 (16-ounce) package frozen mixed berries
1 orange, thinly sliced
2/3 cup fresh orange juice (about 3 oranges)
1/4 cup sugar
6 orange slices

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and chill 8 hours.

Remove orange; discard. Press berry mixture through a sieve over a bowl; discard solids.

Combine berry mixture, juice, and sugar in an 8-inch dish, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cover and freeze 45 minutes.

Stir berry mixture with a fork every 45 minutes until completely frozen and slushy (about 4 hours).

Remove berry mixture from freezer; scrape mixture with a fork until fluffy. Garnish with orange slices.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Wine Dinner Report

Last Saturday was my annual wine dinner with my family. A multi-course feast with wines to match. We had a great time. Too good a time worries, there was an offsite designated driver who arrived to ferry people home.

I think I am recovered enough to give a quick glimpse of what we had. I'll be providing more details, including recipes, in the days and weeks to come.

First Course:
I always like starting a multi-wine meal off with something sparkling. For this one, we opened an interesting (and inexpensive) wine from New Mexico, Gruet. Paired it with several nibbles: a nice baked ricotta on toast, a pan-seared sesame and panko-crusted oyster, and a little bite of spicy oven-fried chicken.

Second Course:
Working from lightest to richest on the wine front, next up was the Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc. To complement it, we had the melon soup with crab I have posted before. Even if you're not serving many courses, it would be a great light way to start a summer meal.

Third Course:
I've noticed lots of chefs serving single ingredients in several ways on the same plate these days. So I took their lead and served four very small portions for this course. Strawberries two ways and salmon two ways. One strawberry recipe is a warm "salsa" with shallots and jalapenos that is perfect with a simply-grilled shrimp. The other was simply strawberries drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar with a little basil stirred in. I put a spoonful on top a slice of mozzarella cheese.

The other mini-plate was salmon prepared two ways. The first I previewed last week. Apple and Horseradish-Glazed Salmon. The second was salmon crusted with crushed wasabi peas and then sauteed. The wine to go with them is one of the most versatile...dry rosé. This one from California, the Miner Sangiovese Rosato.

Tempted your taste buds yet? Then stay tuned for the rest of the preview tomorrow and then the recipes themselves soon...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Summer is Sherry Time...

I had tapas with a friend last night at Sangria's--a new tapas place here in Dallas. (For those of you in the area, it's worth a visit. Well-prepared traditional tapas in a great setting. Don't miss the wonderful scalloped potato concoction layered with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese. Decadent...)

Knowing it was a tapas evening, I had my heart (and palate) set on a bracing glass of Spanish sherry. I was unimpressed with the list though, so we had some of their quite tasty red sangria. My craving has not been fulfilled though, so I am eyeing a couple of bottles I have in my bar. Sherry will be my drink of choice soon.

I won't be drinking my favorite though. Hidalgo's La Gitana Manzanlla. It comes in a 375 ml bottle with a painting of a gypsy (gitana) on the label. Unfortunately, I can't find a wine store in the area that stocks it. I'm forced to resort to mail-order. And will be doing that soon. A well-chilled glass of that with almonds, Manchego and some Serrano ham is all I need to imagine that I'm on the Spanish shore. It is so tangily delicious that you can almost taste the salty seaside air in each sip.

I have a couple of good alternatives standing by though. Both were recently featured in Wine Spectator.

Emilio Lustau Manzanilla Jerez Papirusa Solera Reserva NV. At $14 dollars a bottle and 90 points from WS, it should be a good one. The tasting notes include aromas and flavors of olive, apple and ocean brine. If it delivers, I'll be happy. Maybe it will be an easier-to-get alternative to the La Gitana.

Bodegas Osborne Fino Jerez Pale Dry NV (87 WS, $10) I must admit I've not always been a fan of Osborne sherries; I like them tangier and drier than what they usually produce. I'm going to try this one though: notes say that it will "leave a tingling around the gums."

If you haven't had sherry in a while, try a glass soon. Well-chilled and with salty snacks, its the perfect summer sip.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mussels with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

If you're family is into seafood, here is a wonderfully simple dinner. Just keep two pantry ingredients on hand: a jar of roasted red peppers and a can of tomatoes. Then stop in and pick up mussels and crusty bread at the grocery store on the way home. After quick assembly, you have a wonderfully hearty meal on the table.

Mussels with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray
Makes four servings.

One 12- to 16-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and halved
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup dry white wine
One 14.5-ounce can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
Black pepper
2 pounds mussels, debearded

Using a food processor, puree the roasted peppers.

In a deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the wine and reduce for about a minute, then stir in the pureed peppers and the tomatoes; season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Add the mussels to the pan, cover tightly and cook until the shells open, about 5 minutes (discard any unopened mussels).

Divide the mussels among 4 large, shallow bowls and spoon a little sauce on top.

Serve over pasta or with slices of crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

Wine Pairing:This is a dish that pairs well with several wines: a tangy Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp rosé, or even a soft Pinot Noir. Try your own favorite and see what you think.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wine Dinner Preview

My brother is coming in town this weekend, so, since all my family will be gathered here in the Dallas area, it's time for a "Wine Dinner." A multi-course dinner pairing wines with food. I've been planning for a month or so now, and I think I have things under control. We'll be having a variety of courses: pork, seafood, lamb and accompaniments. All paired with everything from a rich South African Syrah to an interesting (I hope) sparkling wine from New Mexico.

I'll be reporting on it all (and sharing recipes) in the next several weeks. But, here's a preview. A deliciously tangy and spicy salmon dish paired with a medium-bodied tangy California rosé.

Apple and Horseradish-Glazed Salmon
From Cooking Light magazine.
Serves four.

1/3 cup apple jelly (I found a great apple-fennel chutney at my local gourmet store that worked perfectly.)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick), skinned
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine apple jelly, chives, horseradish, vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring well with a whisk.

Sprinkle salmon with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add salmon, and cook 3 minutes. Turn salmon over; brush with half of apple mixture. Wrap handle of skillet with foil; bake at 350° for 5 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Brush with remaining apple mixture.

Food/Wine Pairing: I'm serving this with a tangy (but dry) rosé. The Miner Sangiovese Rosato. It has a strawberry component that brings out the sweetness of the fish and glaze, but enough acidity to counter the fattiness of the salmon. Try it, and see if you don't agree that it's a great pairing. (Hint: Any dry rosé would accomplish the same...)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More Environmentally-Friendly Tips

As promised last week, here is another installment in the ongoing Wednesday series of simple ways to help keep the planet healthy.

  • Stop drinking bottled water. I saw a great commentary on bottled water recently. The writer said that it was a perfect example of brilliant marketers creating a need. And it's true. Most of us can't really tell the difference between what comes out of the tap versus the bottle. And if you look at the bottles closely, you'll see that most bottled waters are actually nothing more than filtered water from "municipal sources." So, don't be afraid to tell your waiter that tap water is just fine. And if your palate is so sophisticated that you really can tell the difference, buy a filter for your faucet and use a reusable bottle. You're helping to eliminate the plastic used to create all those bottles, and also the pollution put into the air by the trucks delivering them around the world.
  • Keep your tires properly inflated. If all Americans would heed the guidelines clearly printed on the outside of their tires and make sure that they stayed properly inflated, we'd use four million fewer gallons of gas and have 30 percent fewer tires in our landfills every year.
  • Turn your thermostats up by two degrees in the summer and down by two degrees in the winter. Go right now to your thermostat and turn it up a couple of degrees. You're not likely to feel the difference, but will see the difference in your energy bills. And try and get in the habit of turning up several more degrees at night and when you're not home. No sense in spending the money on A/C when you're not truly using it.
  • Use fans. You'll notice the thermostat difference even less if you install a ceiling fan or two or put a couple of standing fans around your house. The moving air makes your body think it's actually cooler than it is. Just make sure and turn off when you're not in the room; they're useless unless your skin is there to feel the breeze.
  • Visit a store like this. If you're an advanced student, and REALLY want to make a difference, check out a store like Current Energy here in Dallas. You're likely to have something similar in your hometown where you can get fluorescent light bulbs, books filled with energy-saving tips, or even items like flashlights that are powered by giving them a good shake.

Won't you do your part and commit to adopting one of these this week and beyond?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice

It's hot. So rather than spending time over a scalding stovetop or sweat-inducing grill, why not call on your slow cooker? Plug in the ol' Crock Pot and whip up a hearty Cajun meal that's easy and inexpensive.

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine.
Serves 4 to 6.

3 cups water
2 cups dried red kidney beans
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
3/4 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 (14-ounce) package turkey, pork, and beef smoked sausage, thinly sliced (such as Healthy Choice)
1 bay leaf
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups hot cooked long-grain rice
1/4 cup chopped green onions

Combine first 12 ingredients in an electric slow cooker. Cover with lid; cook on high heat for 5 hours. Discard bay leaf; stir in salt. Serve over rice; sprinkle servings evenly with green onions.

Wine Pairing:This hearty dish screams out for a bold rustic red. Since Louisiana is not exactly Wine Country, I pour a Spanish red to accompany this dish. For a wine pairing dinner in 2006, I opened bottled of Palacios Remondo's La Vendimia Rioja. Plenty of fruit, but also enough oaky backbone to stand up to the spice of the dish. How do you say "Let the good times roll" in Spanish?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Eggplant "Lasagna"

Combine my desire to lose a few pounds with the bounty of vegetables out there and it leads to me trying to have a couple of "vegetarian" days a week. Fruit smoothie for breakfast, big salad for lunch and a yummy vegetarian main course for dinner. This recipe definitely fits with the dinner plan. The eggplant stands in for pasta in a typical lasagna preparation. If you're a fan of eggplant parmigiana, you'll love it. While there's a good amount of cheese in it, use low-fat versions to keep things on the skinny side and South Beach friendly.

Eggplant "Lasagna" with Mushrooms and Red Pepper
Serves 6-8.

Olive oil
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1/4 inch rings
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
1-15 ounce container low-fat ricotta cheese
3 eggs
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
(A grating of nutmeg if you have it.)
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 1/2 cups pasta sauce (I used an organic jarred version.)
2 tablespoons Italian herb seasoning (or to taste)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
4 ounces low-fat mozzarella cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 inch by 11 inch glass baking dish with olive oil.

Arrange the eggplant slices on a baking sheet, season with kosher salt and lightly brush the tops with olive oil. Bake until the eggplant is soft and golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer the eggplant to a plate and set aside to cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Toss the peppers with a few dashes of olive oil and spread on baking sheet. Toss mushrooms with olive oil and spread on same baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, basil, parsley, nutmeg and a dash of salt until well-combined.

In a large saute pan drizzled with olive oil, saute the diced onion over medium-low heat until just translucent, about 4 minutes. Pour in the pasta sauce and stir. Bring sauce to a simmer and add Italian herb seasoning and crushed red pepper. Stir and simmer until well-incorporated, about 10 minutes.

To assemble lasagna, layer half of the eggplant slices in the prepared baking dish. Top with half of the ricotta mixture and half of the tomato sauce. Layer red pepper rings and mushrooms on top. Spread remaining ricotta mixture over and layer with remaining eggplant slices. Top with mozzarella cheese and remaining 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan.

Bake at 350 degrees until all the layers are heated through and the cheese is melted, about 45 minutes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The New Wednesday Series

There are soooo many ways that we can make small changes in our lives and help protect the environment. And finally people are paying attention to them. So, while I'm not going out and buying a Prius in the next week or two, I AM going to encourage you to help keep this world a beautiful place. Most of the tips will be painfully simple, with a few more advanced notions for the overachievers out there. Every Wednesday for the foreseeable future I'll be posting five or so things to try. If you'll commit to just one a week, we're well on our way to doing our part.

  1. Replace one (or more) of your light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. They cost a little more, but earn their keep in the energy savings you'll reap during their lifetime.
  2. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. I KNOW our mothers tried to drill this one into us, but I am surprised how lackadaisical I'd become. Just paying more attention to it has helped me change my habits. Check yourself out and see how you're doing...
  3. Just say "no" receipts. If you have a choice, like at the ATM or gas station, don't print out a receipt. You save paper, eliminate a source of litter, and protect yourself from identity theft all at the same time. (Those tiny pieces of paper have plenty of info to get someone started on cleaning out your bank account.)
  4. Use a canvas bag at the grocery store. Paper or plastic? Neither! Over 1 million plastic bags are used every minute worldwide. That's 12 million barrels of oil a year in the United States alone. And many of those bags end up as litter. So take a reusable bag with you when you shop. After you've unloaded it at home, put it back in the trunk of your car so you have it whenever you need it.
  5. Need a vacation? Make it a "green" one. Check out some of your options at You too could help by clearing trails in a forest preserve in Costa Rica. And it's tax-deductible!

There's a start! How many are you willing to try?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Roasted Halibut with Fresh Herb Sauce

Sorry if I sound like a broken record, but I'm on a healthy eating kick. So, in addition to lots of fruits and vegetables, I'm eating a lot of fish. This one is simple to make and includes the tangy kick of fresh herbs. With couscous and some roasted asparagus, it's quite the summer feast.

Roasted Halibut with Fresh Herb Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine magazine.
Makes 6 servings.

1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup
plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dry
white wine
1 cup flat
leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup arugula leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoon
marjoram, finely chopped
1 tablespoon oregano
, finely chopped
2 teaspoons
red wine vinegar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
6 (6 ounce) halibut fillets, skinless

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium bowl, toss the bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the minced garlic and the wine. Spread the crumbs on a pie plate and toast for 8 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the 1/2 cup of oil with the parsley, arugula, marjoram, oregano, vinegar and the remaining 1 teaspoon of garlic. (For quick work, puree in a food processor.) Season the herb sauce with salt and pepper.

Lightly oil a large baking dish. Arrange the halibut fillets in the dish, season with salt and pepper and roast for 8 minutes. Sprinkle the fish with the toasted bread crumbs and bake for about 8 minutes longer, or until the fish is cooked through. Transfer the fish to plates, drizzle with the herb sauce and serve.

If you have any herb sauce left over, save and use over grilled chicken, steamed vegetables or quiche.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Farfalle with Yogurt and Zucchini

Found this recipe in Food & Wine magazine and their roundup of the year's best cookbooks. It's wonderfully easy and might be a good way to sneak vegetables into your kid's meals...or anyone else who usually turns their noses up at zucchini or other growing green things. Yogurt, a surprise ingredient, makes the final dish both tangy and creamy. It's just on the sinful side of guilt-free and healthy eating...make it even better for you by using whole wheat pasta.

Farfalle with Yogurt and Zucchini
From On Top of Spaghetti
Makes 4 to 6 servings.

1 pound farfalle
4 medium zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), coarsely shredded
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farfalle until al dente; about 1 minute before the farfalle is done, add the shredded zucchini to the pot. Drain the farfalle and zucchini, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, melt the butter. Remove from the heat. Stir in the Greek yogurt and the 1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and season the yogurt sauce with freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Add the farfalle, zucchini and reserved pasta water to the saucepan and cook over low heat, tossing, until the sauce coats the pasta; transfer to warmed bowls and serve with the extra cheese.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Campari Orange Spritzer

I've been eating as healthily as possible the last couple of weeks. Need to lose a pound or two. So I've cut back on my alcohol consumption--avoiding empty calories like the plague.

However, cocktail time is an institution here at our house. So I needed to find something low-alcohol and fool myself into thinking it was happy hour as usual.

Now the Italians love them some Campari. A red bitter liqueur, it's the basis for the classic Negroni. Or a Campari and soda. I've tried it and just never developed a taste for it. Things can change though...

I recently saw this recipe on Giada de Laurentis' Food Network show. I doctored it a bit...cutting back on the Campari, reducing the level of both the bitterness and the alcohol in the finished cocktail. It's quite refreshing!

Campari Orange Spritzer
Makes 6-8 drinks.

1 (12 ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
3 ounces Campari
Sparkling mineral water or club soda

In a pitcher, stir the Campari and orange juice concentrate to blend thoroughly.

Pour 1-2 ounces of the mixture into an ice-filled rocks glass and top with 3-4 ounces of the fizzy water. Stir to combine and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Hints: If you'd like a higher-octane cocktail, add an ounce of citrus-flavored vodka to the glass before you add the sparkling water. And you can keep the orange-Campari mixture in the refrigerator for several days if you don't use it all up at your first happy hour.