Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Teriyaki Chicken Skewers

These wonderfully-flavored Asian-style appetizers were a hit at our Academy Awards party last Saturday night. I made to many ahead of time, so saved some uncooked, took them off the skewer and stir-fried them up for lunch today. Over a bowl of steamed rice, it was wonderful. My other half took his to work and shared a taste. So the clamor for the recipe has already begun. So, to satisfy the hungry masses, here it is. On the skewer or off, it's delicious.

Teriyaki Chicken Skewers
Thanks to Anne Legg and her class at Central Market for the recipe.

4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 cup soy sauce
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
6 inch long piece fresh ginger, cut into thin slices
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with a knife

2-3 bunches green onions, washed, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces

Canola oil

Rinse chicken pieces and drain.

Combine marinade ingredients in large container or zip top plastic bag. Place chicken in marinade and marinate for 8-24 hours.

Meanwhile, soak 48 6-inch bamboo skewers in water.

Thread 3- 4 pieces of chicken, alternated with green onion pieces, onto skewers.

(Hint: You can freeze skewers after this step and save for later. To serve, simply defrost before broiling.)

Line a cookie sheet with foil and place skewers on sheet with pointed ends in. Cover ends of skewers with foil to keep from scorching.

Pre-heat broiler and then broil skewers for 1o-12 minutes, turning occasionally and watching carefully to prevent overbrowning.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Goop" Rediscovered: Pappadeaux Blackened Oyster and Shrimp Home!

There is a Pappadeaux seafood place just down the street from us. It's a place we go for a "cheat" meal. For when we want to stuff ourselves. We almost always split what I call the "fried everything" platter. More oysters, crawfish, shrimp and catfish than a person should (or even could) eat in one sitting.

It's also the place I order my most guilty food pleasure. A melted creamy concoction they call Blackened Oyster and Shrimp Fondeaux. (Catchy, huh? Those Pappas marketing people.) It's cheesy with chunks of spicy seafood and mushrooms, with spinach thrown in for good measure. Spooned onto garlic bread, it's probably the thing I would request if I ever were given the unfortunate task of ordering my "last meal."

(And so good that I'm taking some out-of-town colleagues to try it tomorrow night. Last time, I introduced them to the queso at Mi Cocina. One of them calls it the "bowl of cheese." So, I thought we'd stick with a theme...)

I decided the other day to see if I could make it at home. Googled away and found this. To my thrilled surprise, it was dead-on. Now I can gorge myself in the privacy of my own home! It's not healthy, but it IS sinfully delicious.

Blackened Oyster and Shrimp Fondue
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 onion, chopped
1 cup shrimp stock (or water) (To make about 1 cup of shrimp stock, boil 1/3 cup of shrimp shells in 1 1/2 cups of water for 30 minutes. Strain out solids.)
1/2 cup white wine
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whipping cream

4 shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 oysters
(I also added about 4 ounces of crawfish tail meat. You can find it in most large seafood departments.)
Blackened fish seasoning to taste (To make it really taste like the original, use liberally. Like 3 or 4 tablespoons.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped spinach
4 mushrooms, sliced
2 ounces lump crab meat
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
5 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Kosher salt
Lemon juice

Garlic bread for serving

To make the sauce, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan. Whisk in the flour and onion. Cook over medium-low heat until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Slowly stir in stock and wine, whisking to avoid lumps. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the cayenne and salt. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add whipping cream and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Season shrimp and oysters (and crawfish if you're using) with blackened fish seasonings. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan and cook seafood for about two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spinach, mushrooms, crab and green onion. Saute another 2-4 minutes, until mushrooms and spinach soften. Fold in sauce and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasonings and add salt as needed. To really brighten the flavor, add a teaspoon or so of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Pour into a heatproof dish. (I put mine into two pie plates. One for now and put one in the freezer (without the cheese).) Top with grated cheese and put under a broiler until cheese is melted and slightly browned.

Serve with garlic bread.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Roast Chicken with Couscous and Basil

Here's a great healthy recipe that is quick and easy to make. Even easier if you stop by the grocery store on the way home and buy a rotisserie chicken. This makes plenty for a family, with leftovers for a yummy lunch a day or two later. Steamed spinach would make a great side dish.

Roast Chicken with Couscous and Basil
Adapted from Southern Living.
Serves 8.

1 1/4 cups low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
1 (5.6-ounce) package toasted pine nut couscous mix
3 cups chopped cooked chicken (about 1 rotisserie chicken)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 (4-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat broth and seasoning packet from couscous over medium-high heat until boiling. Stir in couscous. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.

Fluff couscous with a fork; stir in chicken and next 6 ingredients. Serve warm or cold.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Salt Blends

I've shared with you my pantry philosophy on salt before. Recently, I experimented a little more. Inspired by an e-mail newsletter from Gourmet magazine's Ruth Reichl, I created some delicious salt blends that you might want to try and keep around your kitchen. They are simple--good-quality kosher salt combined with herbs, spices, and sometimes citrus zest. They make great "finishing" salts to add a little zing to seafood, chicken, salads or steamed veggies. Hopefully, they will provide inspiration for you to create you own special house blends. A small mortar and pestle are great tools for these. Just grind all ingredients together to release the oils in the herbs and citrus zest.

Rosemary-Orange Salt
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon orange zest

Salt de Provence
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon orange zest

Southwestern Salt
3 tablespoons salt
3/4 teaspoons ground chile
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Would love to hear from you about any interesting concoctions you come up with...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mini Lime Pies with Berries

This dessert was a big hit at our pot-luck wine dinner. I wanted to post the recipe just in time for your Academy Awards party. It would be a perfect ending to an elegant evening.

Mini Lime Pies with Berries

For lime curd
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lime zest

For pastry rounds
Pastry dough for a single-crust pie
3 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar

For glazed berries
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup water1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 cups mixed raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries

To make lime curd, whisk together eggs, sugar, and lime juice in a 2-quart heavy saucepan until combined. Add butter and cook over moderately low heat,whisking constantly, until curd is slightly thickened and first bubbles appear on surface, 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.

Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Stir in zest, then chill, covered, at least 1 hour.

To make pastry rounds, preheat oven to350°F. Line 1 baking sheet with parchment paper.Roll out dough into a 15-inch round (pastry will be thin) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Cut out 18 rounds with cookie cutter and arrange 1/2 inch apart on lined baking sheet. Prick each round several times with a fork, then cover rounds with another sheet of parchment and weight with second baking sheet.

Bake until rounds are pale golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove top baking sheet and parchment and transfer rounds to racks to cool. Sprinkle each round evenly with 1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar and carefully caramelize with a blowtorch. (Be careful; the sugar burns easily. You could also try in the broiler.)

To make glazed fruit, boil confectioners sugar, water, and lime juice in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add berries, gently tossing to coat. Cool berries 5 minutes.

To assemble desserts, put 1 tablespoon of curd on each of 6 plates. Stack 3 rounds on each plate, layering rounds with some of curd and glazed berries, then drizzle plates with some of the berry syrup.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More Cocktails of the Week: Champagne Cocktails

More cocktails of the week is right. Didn't we just talk about hurricanes for Mardi Gras yesterday? Oh, well.

Here's what we'll be serving at our Academy Awards party this weekend. They're elegant cocktails that will add the perfect spark to the festivities. They'd also work for the classic Oscar party I talked about last week. But, you don't have to have a party to try them. They're delicious for brunch...or just as a cocktail before dinner. Beware though...they are packed with a punch.

Champagne Cocktail
1 sugar cube
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
5 ounces chilled Champagne or sparkling wine
1 lemon twist

Soak the sugar cube in bitters and drop into a Champagne flute. Fill the glass with Champagne and garnish with the lemon twist.

French 75
2 ounces gin
2 teaspoons superfine sugar (or 1 tablespoon simple syrup)
4 teaspoons lemon juice
4 ounces chilled Champagne

In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake the gin, sugar and lemon juice together. Strain into a flute and top with Champagne.

Air Mail
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 ounce light rum
4 ounces chilled Champagne

In a cocktail shaker, stir the honey, lime juice and rum until honey is dissolved. Add ice and shake. Strain into a flute and top with Champagne.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mardi Gras Cocktail of the Week: Hurricane

There's still time to "laissez les bons temps rouler." Mardi Gras is tomorrow. So it's time to make the quintessential cocktail of New Orleans' French Quarter. The Hurricane. Made popular by Pat O'Brien's where it was created to take advantage of a glut of rum during World War II, it's one of those stealth drinks that sneaks up on you. It's like a big glass of Hawaiian Punch with a kick that you realize only when you've reached the bottom of the glass.

Of course, you can buy Hurricane mix from Pat O'Brien's, but here are a couple of recipes you could try. The unique ingredient is the passion fruit juice. It's not to be omitted if you want the authentic thing. And, of course, you should serve them in the traditional hurricane-shaped glass. (Hint: You can almost always find a few at garage sales.) If you don't have one, just use your biggest wine glass.

Makes one cocktail.

1 1/2 ounces light rum
1 1/2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
2 ounces passion fruit juice, or 1 tablespoon passion fruit syrup
1 teaspoon superfine sugar (or 1 tablespoon simple syrup)
1 teaspoon grenadine

Mix the rums, juices and sugar in a cocktail shaker until sugar is dissolved. Add the grenadine, then ice and shake. Strain into an ice-filled hurricane glass.

Garnish with orange slice and maraschino cherries.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Another Academy Awards Party Idea: The Classic Years of Hollywood

I mentioned last week a great Oscars party idea. Treating your guests to a night at the movies. Here's another theme. Throw a party that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard would have loved to have come to. Take you and your party back to the glamour days of Hollywood. Invite your guests to come in costume as Hollywood stars. Not the Julia Roberts and Tom Cruises of today though. Charlie Chaplin. Joan Crawford. Bette Davis. Jimmy Stewart. Anyone before 1960 is fair game.

And put people in the mood by decorating your party space with vintage photos of Hollywood stars. Hang movie posters of classics like Casablanca and Gone with the Wind. Even have some of those great soundtracks playing on a CD player as people walk up to your door. You can always watch movies like L.A. Confidential for more ideas.

Of course, the food and drinks have to stick with the theme too. Serve a great classic cocktail like the Flame of Love. And if you're having a retro Oscar party, you have to serve things that stars like Lucille Ball would expect back in the day. And their idea of elegance is different than ours. Things were "heartier," less dainty. You could always serve pigs in a blanket. Or smoked salmon on toast with a touch of cream cheese and a garnish of capers. That was exotic to the stars of yesteryear. Here are two other recipes that would have fit right in.

Crispy Sausage-Stuffed Olives
Makes about 35 appetizers.

If Deano and Frank weren't putting all the olives in their martinis, they would have loved this tasty hors d'ouerve. These are perfect served in an over-sized martini glass.

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Large pitted green olives (1 can or large jar)
1/2 cup flour
1 egg
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)

Combine the sausage, garlic and red pepper in a bowl. drain olives and rinse. Stuff each of the olives with 1/2 teaspoon of the sausage mixture.

Pour flour onto a plate and beat egg lightly in small bowl. Mix olive oil and breadcrumbs and spread onto second plate.

Roll each olive in flour and shake off excess. Dip olives, one at a time, in egg and coat evenly with bread crumbs. Refrigerate olives for at least 10 minutes (or up to 2 hours).

Heat oil to 375 degrees in heavy frying pan or sauce pan. Working in batches, fry the olives in the oil about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towel-lined tray to drain.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Here's another recipe that fits right in with your retro theme.

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.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Chinese New Year: Celebrate the Year of the Pig with Easy Pork Egg Rolls

The Chinese New Year begins Sunday, February 18. It's the Year of the Pig this year. So what better way to celebrate than with homemade pork egg rolls? Add the other homemade Chinese appetizers in your arsenal and you'll ring in the year with style. These are simple and delicious.

Easy Pork Egg Rolls
From Southern Living magazine.

1 pound hot ground pork sausage
1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 (10-oz.) bag shredded coleslaw mix
1 (16-oz.) package egg roll wrappers
Vegetable oil

Brown sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until it crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain excess grease, and pat dry with paper towels, if necessary. Return sausage to skillet. Stir in ginger and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add coleslaw mix, and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes or until coleslaw mix is tender; let stand 30 minutes to cool.

Spoon 1/4 cup sausage mixture in center of each egg roll wrapper. Fold top corner of each wrapper over filling; fold left and right corners over filling. Lightly brush remaining corner with water; tightly roll filled end toward remaining corner, and gently press to seal.

Pour vegetable oil to a depth of 2 inches into a wok or Dutch oven; heat to 375°. Fry, in batches, 2 to 3 minutes or until golden, turning once; drain on paper towels.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauce. I love sweet and sour sauce mixed with a little hot Chinese mustard.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Retro Cocktail of the Week: Flame of Love

I'll blog in a couple of days about another great Academy Awards party idea, and this is a cocktail that would be perfect to serve. But it has such an evocative name, I thought I'd post it today in the hopes you'd be inspired to serve it to your sweetheart tonight.

Last year, I attended a great event here in Dallas called Savor Dallas, a weekend of wine, cocktails and great food. (The 2007 version is coming in less than a month. Sign up now!) While there, I took a workshop with noted mixologist Dale DeGroff. I was getting ready to host last year's Oscars party and said I wanted a quintessential Hollywood cocktail. Here's what he suggested. Legend says it was created at Chasen's in Beverly Hills at the request of Dean Martin.

Flame of Love
From Dale DeGroff's great book, The Art of the Cocktail

1/2 ounce fino sherry
Several peels of orange
2 1/2 ounces vodka

Coat the inside of a chilled martini glass with fino sherry and pour out the excess. Flame several orange peels into the glass. Shake the vodka in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and strain into the martini glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Cheers. And Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Grapefruit: A Starter Cocktail and a Great Dessert.

The recent cold snap in California pretty much screwed up the citrus crop. Luckily, it didn't get to Texas grapefruit. And it's peak season. Their brilliant pink flesh contains the sweetest, most wonderful grapefruit flavor you'll ever have. So, in honor of the Texas Rio Red, here are two fantastic recipes. The alpha and omega of your grapefruit meal. A perfectly refreshing cocktail and a decadent cheesecake. (So decadent that after my other half took one to work I've been hired to make another!) In a couple of weeks, I'll post two more recipes that incorporate this sinfully delicious fruit into your meal plan.

Pamplemousse Cocktail
Courtesy of Bon Appetit magazine, this recipe comes from Boston's Sibling Rivalry.
Pamplemousse is the French word for grapefruit.

7 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 cups vodka
3/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Bring first 4 ingredients to boil in a small pan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cool.

Combine pomegranate mixture, vodka, grapefruit juice, and lime juice in large container.

You can then pour enough for one cocktail into an ice-filled shaker, shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Or improvise. I add a little simple syrup for sweetness to the shaker and serve it that way. You could also pour 2 or 3 ounces into an ice-filled high ball glass and top with club soda. Anyway you pour it, it's wonderfully refreshing.

Ginger and Pink Grapefruit Cheesecake
From Bon Appetit magazine

20 whole graham crackers, coarsely broken
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 (1-inch-long) piece fresh ginger, peeled, cut into very thin rounds
1 cup ginger preserves
1 tablespoon water
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs

2 large pink or ruby grapefruits
Finely chopped crystallized ginger

For crust:Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 9-inch springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Blend graham crackers and sugar in processor to coarse crumbs. Add 1/2 cup butter. Blend until crumbs hold together; press onto bottom and up sides of prepared pan.

Bake crust until beginning to color, about 15 minutes; sprinkle with chopped ginger. Cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Stack 3 long sheets of 18-inch-wide foil on work surface. Place cake pan in center. Fold foil snugly up sides of pan.

For filling:Bring cream and fresh ginger to simmer. Remove from heat; cover. Steep 30 minutes. Strain cream. Stir preserves and 1 tablespoon water in small saucepan over medium heat until preserves melt; strain into small bowl. Discard solids; reserve ginger jelly.

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth. Beat in sugar, ground ginger, vanilla, and salt. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well. Add 2 tablespoons ginger jelly and beat until blended. Gradually beat in strained cream. Transfer to prepared crust.

Place cake pan in large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan. Place cake in water bath in oven. Bake cake until gently set, browned on top, and beginning to crack around edges, about 2 hours.

Remove from water. Remove foil. Place hot cake, uncovered, in refrigerator and chill overnight.

Store ginger jelly at room temperature.

For topping:Line large plate with several layers of paper towels. Cut all peel and pith off grapefruits. Working over bowl, cut between membranes to release segments; place on paper towels to drain. Cover with additional paper towels, pressing to absorb excess liquid.
Chill, changing towels as needed.

Cut around crust. Remove pan sides. Spread 1/4 cup ginger jelly over filling; top with grapefruit, then brush with ginger jelly. Sprinkle with crystallized ginger.

Yum yum.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Great Valentine's Day Treat: Chocolate and Raspberries

Here's the perfect ending to your Valentine's Day dinner. Chocolate, raspberries and a sparkling wine. Heck, forget perfect endings. Curl up by the fire and make THIS your romantic dinner.

Banfi's Rosa Regale is in a class by itself. About $20 dollars a bottle, it's a sparkling red (not really pink) wine that is sweet, but still has a nice body. For me, it is perfect with chocolate. It also has aromas and tastes of rose and raspberry. So, a toast of this alongside a decadent chocolate mousse cake (I cheat and buy mine at the local market) with raspberries would be sublime. Or chocolate-dipped strawberries. Or just wonderful chocolate by itself.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Red Meat and Red Wine for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is truly a retailer's dream-come-true. I don't mean to be cynical, but we're all guilted into getting something for our true love, our kids, our mother. So we do. And the florists respond by jacking the price of roses up to two and three times normal. And then there's the special "Dinner for Two" packages at local restaurants. Uninspired three-course meals with a complimentary glass of inferior Champagne for upwards of a hundred bucks. Boooooooo.

Won't you join me in a Valentine's Day protest? Let's fix a "true red" meal at home. The best red meat you can afford--sirloin or ribeye or filet. Seared on a grill or indoors on a grill pan. If you use the tips below, you'll think you're eating at a steakhouse. And serve a great red wine with it. I've got a Cabernet-based California red that I think you'll like. Then supplement with your favorite sides: baked potatoes or garlic mashed potatoes. A salad. Maybe creamed spinach. Light some candles and put on some jazz. THAT's a Valentine's Day to remember. Just don't spend your hard-earned bucks on over-priced roses, OK?

Red Meat: Perfect Steak at Home

Start with high-quality meat from a butcher shop or gourmet-type grocery. You'll pay a little bit more, but will be glad to when you taste the final results. And no need to buy a whole side of beef. You only need 6 or 8 ounces a person, so split a steak if you need to. Makes things more romantic, huh? I am a sucker for a ribeye well-marbled with fat, but you could also try tenderloin filet or more value-priced sirloin.

Not much preparation is needed. I give mine a good slosh of Worcestershire sauce and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and grind of black pepper. A wine-friendly tip is to add a little thyme to the pan. Let it sit and marinade for a bit. You can do this covered on your counter if you'd like. You want the meat to come to room temperature before you grill it anyway. Just be sensible and don't leave out all day. An hour should do it.

Get your grill or grill pan good and hot. Really hot. No need for oil. You want the dry meat to sear to the hot metal, giving it those great grill marks. Let the steak sit there for two minutes without touching it. Then, I turn the heat down to about medium-high and check to see if the steak is getting to brown. If not, let it sit for another five minutes or so. If it is, go ahead and turn it. Put the lid down on the grill and let it go until it's done. Total cooking time will probably only be about ten minutes if you have the fire hot enough.

Now, how do we know when it's done? Well, there's the whole "touch test" that I, quite frankly, have never mastered. So, I use this. A great digital thermometer that lets you set the kind of meat and degree of doneness. Mine even counts it down to let me know when to pour the wine. I think it's a sin to cook good beef past medium-rare, so I watch for the internal temperature to get to 120 degrees. Then I pull it off the grill and put on a plate tented with foil to rest. Ten minutes later, I can cut into the tender goodness.

Wine Pairing
I don't always enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon wines. They are bigger than I usually like. BUT I can't imagine drinking anything but Cabernet with a steak. The fattiness of the meat cuts through the firmer tannins and mellows the wine. It still packs enough punch to stand up to the big flavor of beef though. And adding thyme to the marinade makes it even more wine-friendly.

How about opening a bottle of Coppola Vineyards Diamond Claret? Claret is just the British term for a Cabernet-based; this one also has Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. It's a beautiful ruby color with a dusty dark cherry nose in the glass. I also smelled a little sweet leather. When you take a sip, you'll get smoky, brambly fruit--dark cherry and blackberry. There's also a touch of pepper and firm tannins that would make it great not only with steak, but also lamb or even a braised dish. And it's a bargain at less than $15.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Your Weekend Treat: Eggs Italiano

I slept in today. Not until 8 or 9. Until 10:30. This was an exhausting week and I deserved it. But that meant breakfast was late. It was almost lunchtime. excuse to make brunch. No cereal or smoothie for me today. I needed something hearty. Of course, I could have fixed Eggs Benedict. But I decided to experiment. Opened the refrigerator and found some leftover polenta from dinner a couple of nights ago. Also a spare slice of prosciutto. And, of course, I always have Parmesan and eggs on hand. (You might not always keep those things in your pantry, but this is worth planning ahead and going to the grocery store the night before.) The resulting meal was deliciously filling. Creamy egg yolks running over rich polenta. With the sharp salty bite of Parmesan and prosciutto to balance it all. I have no idea if they make this in farmhouses in Tuscany, but they should!

Eggs Italiano


2 eggs
4 tablespoons olive oil

1 or 2 thin slices of prosciutto

Parmesan cheese for garnish
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat olive oil. Break eggs into pan and fry for 4 or 5 minutes. (You want the yolks still slightly runny, but the edges should be slightly browned. You can help the yolks cook by spooning the hot oil onto the top of the eggs every now and then.)

Remove eggs from pan and place on paper towel-lined plate.

In a bowl, place a cup or so of heated polenta. Place the eggs on top and drop the prosciutto onto the side of it all. Garnish with a shaving of Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

* To make polenta, heat 4 cups water or chicken broth in sauce pan. When liquid is boiling, pour 1 cup polenta into pan in a stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Reduce heat slightly and simmer, stirring often, until polenta is to desired consistency. (I let mine go for ten to fifteen minutes.)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Lemon

I like Brussels sprouts. Really. I had them growing up, so I'm used to them. I like their nutty freshness and even their slight bitterness. They're vegetables with attitude. The reason they get a bad rap is not their fault, but ours. Too many times they are overcooked, leading to the acrid sulphuric smell. This recipe won't do that, and the pancetta and lemon add additional layers of flavor. Plus the sprouts are shredded, adding textural interest as well. To really gild the lily, garnish with a grating of Parmesan cheese right before you serve them.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Lemon

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and damaged leaves discarded
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces pancetta (or prosciutto or bacon), finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper

Shred the Brussels sprouts in a food processor fitted with the slicing blade, by feeding them through the feed tube a few at a time.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned, about 4 minutes.

Add the shredded Brussels sprouts and cook until tender, about five minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and cook for an additional one minute. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Junior Mint Martini

If you're going to have the "At the Theater" Academy Awards Party I've suggested, here's the cocktail for you. You're serving popcorn and movie theater candy, so why not serve a cocktail that mimics the taste of a favorite candy of moviegoers? Junior Mints. This drink has the peppermint and chocolate taste you associate with those tiny bites of goodness. And I've used my secret of adding a little bit of club soda to the mix to keep the drinks from knocking you on your butt.

For an extra kick of decadent flavor, dip your cocktail glasses in melted chocolate. The chocolate-covered rim will do even more to help convince you you're smacking on a Junior Mint.

Junior Mint Martini
Makes two cocktails.

2 1/2 ounces vanilla vodka
1/2 ounce peppermint schnapps
1/2 white creme de cacao
1 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces club soda

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into chocolate or cocoa-rimmed martini glass and serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Oscar Party: A Night at the Movies

If your friends are into movies and you're not having an Academy Awards party, you're missing out on a great entertaining opportunity! Our has become a great tradition over the last five years or so. It's elegant and black-tie optional. I'll share some of those ideas in the week leading up to the big day. In the meantime, I've realized that there are LOTS of ways you could theme a party like this. Here's one. Turn your house into a theatre and invite your friends over for a night at the movies.

The awards show is an important part of this shindig, so center the party on the room with the biggest TV, then fix it up for your guests. Rearrange things if you need to to provide lots of comfortable seating with places to set drinks and snacks. I like to set chairs of different heights out. Maybe a foot stool in front of the couch. Tall bar stools or director's chairs behind. You want everyone to have a great view! And of course crank up your theatre sound system if you have one. (You might also create "satellite" locations in other rooms too. Turn the TV on in the guest room or kitchen so folks have another area to congregate in.)

Decorate the place with whatever you'd find at your neighborhood theatre. Movie posters and those big stand-alone displays. (Check with theatres or video stores in your area and see if they'll share some of their cast-offs with you.) And it never hurts to have someone volunteer to be the ticket taker/greeter as they come in the door. (No worries--you don't have to get your floor sticky with Coca-Cola--no need to make it that realistic a theatre experience!)

And then there's the food. Everything you'd find at the movies. Of course popcorn. (Rent or borrow one of those big popcorn machines if you can.) The more butter-flavored topping the better. Serve it with lots of paper napkins in red-striped bags or cups you can find at the party supply places. And all the old-fashioned candies--Whoppers, Raisinets, Goobers and Dots--are available at drug stores these days. Buy a whole slew of them and set them out for your guests to grab their favorites. And sodas. And, if you feel obligated to serve a "main course, " set out hot dogs and all the fixings. It's not healthy, but delicious and lots of fun.

This is a kid-friendly party too. They'd love the opportunity to gorge on junk food! They probably won't be too interested in the awards show though, so set up another room with a DVD player showing classic kids' films like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins. Or show some of the recent Academy Award animation winners.

And of course, have giveaways. Whether in a contest to see who best predicts the winners or just random drawings, award prizes like DVD's. movie tickets, passes to your local film festival. Lights...action...PARTY!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pan-Fried Flounder with Poblano-Corn Relish

Here's a wonderful fish dish. The recipe calls for flounder and it was delicious, but you can feel free to substitute a similarly mild flaky fish like tilapia or even catfish. And you can skip the fish completely. The relish would be wonderful on grilled chicken. Even better...make a batch and use to top chicken or fish soft tacos. A dollop of sour cream and you're set.

Pan-Fried Flounder with Poblano-Corn Relish
From Food & Wine magazine.
Makes four servings.
(Note I served this with a side of black beans. You could also use black bean soup or slightly pureed black beans and use as a base on the plate for your fish.)

1 large poblano chile pepper, cut into thin strips (I cut the strips in half so the relish was easier to eat.)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 ear of corn, kernels cut off
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 large Hass avocado, diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Four 6-ounce flounder fillets
All-purpose flour, for dredging

In a large nonstick skillet, spread the poblano strips in an even layer and cook over high heat, without stirring, until lightly charred, 3 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and the onion and cook over moderate heat until the onion is lightly browned, 3 minutes. Add the corn and garlic and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer the relish to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Gently fold in the avocado, lemon juice and cilantro and season with salt and pepper.

Season the flounder with salt and pepper. Dredge the flounder in the flour, shaking off the excess. In each of 2 large, nonstick skillets, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until shimmering. Add 2 fillets to each skillet and cook over moderately high heat until golden brown on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook just until the fillets are white throughout, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the flounder to plates and top with the poblano relish.

Wine Pairings: This would be great with a more delicate not-so-oaky Chardonnay. The Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal Chardonnay is a good bet.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

If At First You Don't Succeed....Throw It Away!

We have a joke in our house--that even a few friends have picked up on. I fix dinner and the question that emerges is: "Is it bloggable?" A lot of the time, it is. I've gotten really good at reading a recipe and knowing whether or not it will work. So, most of the time, my experiments are successes. But not always.

The things I post on this blog are tested. Things that I've grown up with. Recipes people have shared. Experiences that I know work. But every now and then, I try something new, and it just doesn't work out.

Last week, I tried a recipe for jalapeno poppers. Those cheese-filled peppers that are fried until crispy. They're spicy and creamy, and I thought they'd be great to talk about for Super Bowl parties. Plus...this version was baked. So they would be healthier than something you'd pick up in the frozen food section and fry up. They were a disaster.

The recipe called for a dip in floury egg wash and then into breadcrumbs. Then back in the egg and back in the breadcrumbs. Sound messy? It was. More than you can imagine. Plus it created a splotchy coating. Not the crispy shell I was used to.

We ate them anyway. And they tasted ok. But definitely NOT "bloggable."

What's the lesson? That not everything works out. And that's all right. My philosophy in pursuing a beautiful life is that you have to try new things. It takes experimentation. Recipes you might not be used to. Wines you've never had. An obscure cocktail you've discovered. Or a unique way to create an environment that is both relaxing and unique.

So keep on keeping on. You'll screw up and that's fine. You've heard me say before that we can't all be Martha Stewart. The beautiful life you end up creating, mistakes and all, is still worth it.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Last-Minute Super Bowl Party Ideas

OK, some of you may be completely ready for the big game tomorrow. Astroturf for the tabletop. Deep-dish pizza in honor of Chicago. I have no idea what you could serve for Indianapolis. What IS typical food there? (I was hoping for a New Orleans/New England matchup. Then we'd be talking about Cajun gumbo and clam chow-dah.)

But even if you're not ready, I have a couple of quick ideas, that, after a fast trip to the grocery store, will set you up. Of course, you can search this blog for other appetizer ideas (like these yummy dips), but here are two more healthy options for you to offer your guests. Maybe not the traditional queso and onion dip, but much better for you. Especially if you're working to maintain all your great progress on the detox plan.

This first one is from my idol Andrea Immer. She suggests pairing it with peel and eat shrimp, but I take a shortcut and go to the fish department at a big grocery store. I buy a pound or two of cooked, peeled shrimp. (You can also find shrimp in the frozen food section.) Then all you have to do is whip up the dip. Pair the tequila in it with your favorite margarita recipe. THERE's a party.

Tequila Mayonnaise Dip
Makes about 2 cups.

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons tequila (You can leave out if you need to, but it adds a great layer of flavor.)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper

Combine first five ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste. Serve with cooked shrimp to dip with.

Here's another great dip that you can throw together in an instant. Serve it with toasted pita chips, crackers or raw vegetables.

Quick and Easy Hummus

1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste) or smooth peanut butter (optional)
Kosher salt

Puree all together in a food processor or blender. Serve garnished with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Keep Up the Good Work! Maintenance of the Detox Plan

Have you tried the detox plan? How are you feeling? If you're like me, you've lost a few pounds (11 here!) and have more energy and just feel all-around better. So how do we keep it up? What's the best way to keep these good habits a part of our routine?

Here are a few tips that I can suggest:

Keep eating snacks.
It takes time and organization, but try and eat six times a day. Three snacks will keep your metabolism revving and make you less hungry for big unhealthy meals. I don't know about you, but if I'm truly hungry I have no willpower. If I'm ravenous, I don't want salad, I want a cheeseburger. So, keep looking for interesting and easy healthy snacks to keep you on track.

Think protein.
As you're planning and packing your snacks, think about ways to eat protein with each of them. Apple with peanut butter. Cottage cheese and fruit. Or just a slice or two of turkey. More protein will lead to a more balanced diet.

Concentrate on good fats and good carbs.
A well-balanced diet also includes fat and carbohydrates. You just need to try and make them the healthy ones. The South Beach Good Fats Good Carbs Guide has been my have-to-have resource here. It's a handy (inexpensive) pocket size book that can help keep you on track. I won't bore you with a lecture on the glycemic index here, but eating foods that don't' create insulin surges can help keep the weight off. What does that mean? Complex carbohydrates like whole grains take longer to process that things like refined sugar; preventing the "sugar rush" and subsequent lethargy that mess with our body's ability to metabolize things. Some of the tips are eye-opening. Eat low-fat dairy to avoid saturated fats. But stay away from low-fat mayonnaise. It's full of sugars to substitute for the loss of flavor. Who knew? Best thing to the book. It lists everything you can think of and tells you whether it's a great choice, something to eat sparingly, or a food to avoid altogether. (Guess what? Bacon falls in the latter category.)

Cheat every now and then.
Give yourself one meal a week where you can eat whatever you want. Mexican food. Pizza. Fried chicken. Go all out. But limit it to one meal a week. As soon as you allow yourself to cheat a little here and a little there, you'll be back to bad habits. And it's amazing how quickly you can gain back the weight you lost by forgetting the basic tenets that helped you find a healthier you.

Don't beat yourself up.
But if you screw up, forgive yourself. This plan is about a healthy rest of your life. And there's no reason to feel guilty forever. If you lose your willpower and have potato skins at dinner one night, just resolve to start over the next day. Wake up, have a smoothie, pack your healthy snacks, and you're back on track.

Keep on keeping on. Good luck.