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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Paella Risotto with Shrimp, Scallops and Crab

I love paella. And risotto. So, then comes the next logical step: combining them into a single luscious dish.

I took a few liberties with this paella risotto, using a recipe from Bon Appetit as inspiration and adapting it to my taste. Traditionally, paella incorporates mussels and/or clams. But I decided to go with shrimp, crab and scallops -- ingredients one often finds in risotto. I wanted to preserve the Spanish sensibility of paella, so I included traditional ingredients such as chorizo, saffron and smoked paprika. And I included some anchovies, tomato paste and orange zest to add depth.

The result is a smoky, sultry, creamy dish. The lightness of the seafood and zest balances the heft of the sausage and rice. The saffron perfumes the dish and the anchovy and tomato pastes and paprika create a complex backdrop. Give it a try!

Paella Risotto

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, casings removed
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
3 garlic cloves, minced

32 oz. fish stock
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 bay leaf

2 cups arborio rice

1 tablespoon anchovy paste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika

1/2 cup dry white wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 pound uncooked medium peeled and deveined shrimp
1/2 pound scallops, sliced in half if large
1/2 pound crab meat, picked over
5 oz frozen peas

1 tablespoon orange zest

Heat oil in large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add sausage and cook for a couple of minutes, breaking up with a spatula. Add shallots, garlic, kosher salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper to taste, and continue to saute for a total of five to seven minutes.

Meantime, combine fish stock, bay leaf and saffron in a small saucepan over medium until simmering, reduce heat to low and keep warm.

Add arborio rice to the sausage mixture and stir for two minutes. Stir in anchovy and tomato pastes and paprika.

Add wine, stirring constantly for about three minutes until wine evaporates. Stir in thyme. Add warm fish stock by ladlefuls, allow to reduce and continue to stir until rice is tender and liquid is creamy, about 20-25 minutes.

Mix shrimp, scallops, crab and peas into risotto and combine gently until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle zest on dish and serve.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Michael Symon's Spicy Tomato Soup with Blue Cheese

Tomato soup, in all its forms, is rich, comforting and complex. Over the years, I've made a number of versions: with fresh ripe summer tomatoes and basil; with roasted tomatoes and mixed herbs; and with pancetta and tapenade. All have a place in my kitchen.

So, when I saw Michael Symon's version with Sriracha and blue cheese, I was intrigued. I first saw the recipe when flipping through his new cookbook, Live to Cook, and it remained lodged in my mind for a few weeks.

I recently had a few moments to spare, with all the ingredients on hand, and was pleasantly surprised at how quick and easy it is to make.

Symon's soup combines olive oil, red onion, garlic, canned San Marzano tomatoes, chicken stock, heavy cream, Sriracha, fresh oregano and blue cheese in a big stockpot. I subbed fresh basil. You allow the soup to simmer for about 45 minutes and puree. I used a stick blender, but to get the finest consistency, follow the recipe, whirl in a blender and strain.

This soup is velvety, smokey and briney. Deeply satisfying and flavorful. It makes a lovely first course and would pair beautifully with grilled steak or roast chicken.

Next time, I'd cut the Sriracha in half and dial back on the cream. I love the heat but the spice might be too much for some. The texture is perfect, but I lean toward less cream, even in creamy soups -- it tends to mute the flavors and weigh it down. Just a little is enough for me.

To get the recipe and view a video podcast with Michael Symon, see The Amateur Gourmet.

Cookie Time!

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Cynthia Orosco is the copy editor of AutoWeek magazine. She's also a baker extraordinaire. Wes has brought home her delectable baked goods often over the years and I'm always a happy recipient. She also bakes an assortment of superb vegan treats.

During the hectic time that is the holiday season, baking often falls to the bottom of the to-do list for many people. But this is my favorite time of year for baking, and for me, baking is a stress reliever. But the problem always seems to be that I find so many recipes I want to try, I never get to all of them. So this year, I broke up the baking into a couple of weekends, and the weekend before Christmas, I pulled out a few tried-and-trues and and one new recipe. (These can be found on the Web; two are from Food Network.) Wishing everyone happy baking and happy holidays!

Crunch Snowballs
I found this in the Sunday coupons a few years ago and have gone back to it each year since. The cookies satisfy a chocolate need and stay tender.

16 Fun Size Crunch bars, chopped
1 1/2 sticks of butter, melted
3/4 cup of confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of vanilla
3 cups of all-purpose flour
Mix everything together and roll into balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Bake at 375 for 10 to 12 minutes. When mostly cool, roll them in powdered sugar.

Candy Cane Cookies
I've seen other peppermint cookies or recipes that use candy canes or mints as a main ingredient. This one, from Food Network, I like best because you get the image and the flavor without the candy sticking to your teeth.

1 bag of sugar cookie dough (I like Betty Crocker)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 egg
1/3 cup softened cream cheese (I found reduced fat works fine, if you don't want to use regular)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Red food coloring
1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract (I do 2 teaspoons, for a more minty flavor)
Mix together all ingredients except for the food coloring and extract, then evenly divide the dough into two bowls. Add the extract to one, and the food coloring to the other, until you get the shade of red you want. Flour counter or board and roll chunks of each color dough into ropes about three inches long. Twist one red and one white rope into a candy cane shape, and place on a parchment-lined pan. Bake at 325 for 10 to 12 minutes.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
A former neighbor of ours when I was in junior high school made these wonderfully fluffy sour cream sugar cookies. I had the recipe at one point but lost it along the way. I found this recipe during a Web search, and while it doesn't yield all of the fluffiness I remember, the cookies are still good. You could make these round and sprinkle them with coarse sugar, or roll out the dough and cut into shapes (after chilling it in the fridge for about 30 minutes).

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
Sift together the dry ingredients, and separately, cream the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. Combine the dry and wet, gather and cover in plastic wrap and chill. When ready to bake, heat oven to 400 and bake 8 to 10 minutes.

Aaron's Cinnamon Chocolate Cookies
When I saw this recipe in my e-mail, I couldn't resist. The finished product is crisp yet soft, and you get just a hint of the peppers as you eat the cookie. The caramel drizzle and chopped nuts (I used walnuts) give an extra sweet-and-salty note, and these cookies are even more tasty dunked in a cup of Mexican hot chocolate.

Note: I didn't have sweet butter in the house, so I used all unsalted butter, and the cookies baked and tasted just fine.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Mexican cocoa powder (or add 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon to unsweetened cocoa powder)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons sweet butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons margarine
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch ground black pepper
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white
1/2 cup dulce de leche, optional
1/4 cup almonds, finely chopped, optional
Combine the flour, cocoa and salt and set aside. In another bowl, combine the sugars, removing any lumps, and set aside.In a mixing bowl, cream the butter. Add sugar mixture, cinnamon, peppers and vanilla. Beat in the egg white. Add flour until just combined. Gather dough, form it into a log, wrap in plastic and chill at least 45 minutes. Line pan(s) with parchment paper and heat oven to 350. Cut 1/4 rounds from the log, place on pan(s) and cook 12 to 14 minutes. When cool, drizzle with dulce de leche and sprinkle on nuts.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Spinach Salad with Apples, Cheddar and Honey Roasted Pecans

As autumn eases into winter, I want to leave you with a fall salad. This salad is hearty and substantial without being overbearing, and can serve as a main dish or first course. It blends classic seasonal flavors, but can be enjoyed all year-round. It combines spinach, apples, honey roasted pecans, bacon, sharp cheddar and golden raisins with an apple cider vinaigrette cut with Dijon, honey and lemon zest. The result is a melange of texture and flavor; crunchy, crispy, creamy, savory and sweet. See the recipe at

This isn't a 30-minute meal; the salad takes some time. But bidding a bittersweet farewell to fall is a worthy endeavor. Try it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bloggers, Cupcakes and Chevrolet

The Best of Cupcakes tour group

Yesterday was National Cupcake Day. How grand that we have a designated day to celebrate the lovely cupcake. A few of my colleagues in LA decided to do it up right, and invited 12 fellow food blogger to go on a cupcake crawl across the city. Check out When Tara Met Blog for details and video.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Savory Cheddar Cheese Biscuits

I recently met Kelsey, The Naptime Chef, and was immediately impressed with her friendly, upbeat personality, her talent in the kitchen and her incredibly delicious double chocolate cookies.

When she posted these delightful cheddar cheese biscuits recently, I knew I had to make them myself. A cross between a cracker and shortbread, these flavorful cheese biscuits are light, buttery and completely addicting. They blend good quality sharp cheddar, butter, paprika, red pepper and pecans, and they couldn't be easier to make. You simply mix the dough, roll into logs, chill, slice and bake. The result is a sophisticated, savory appetizer or snack.

For the recipe, see Kelsey's blog. I have a feeling you're going to be seeing a lot of her in the future -- her star is on the rise! 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ginger Glazed Sole with a Little Help from my Friends

I've found that one of the lovely and unexpected benefits of being a food blogger and writer is your friends start giving you food. 

I arrived home from work one day to find a small, fragrant package in my mailbox from my friend Abbie, a talented and creative home cook in Austin. Inside, some beautiful handcrafted dried blood orange slices and finishing salt from her kitchen.

Then, my seriously smart friend Renee from the office gave me a jar of pungent ginger preserves -- one of her favorites. And for good reason: it's golden, sweet and spicy, with a serious kick.

And finally, our hilarious, generous globetrotting friend Beth brought us back some amazing spices from Abu Dhabi, including some Kashmiri chili powder and biriyani masala. 

So I decided to combine these gifts into a dish, and came up with Ginger Glazed Sole.

I put about a quarter cup of the jam in a small saucepan, along with a drizzle of olive oil. Added a teaspoon each of the spices, a little minced garlic and a good pinch of brown sugar. I crushed a dried blood orange slice into the mixture, brushed it over the sole fillets, and baked for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. I dusted it with the blood orange finishing salt and served with a side of steamed broccoli.

The delicate sole fillets contrasted nicely with the assertive ginger glaze. And, while this dish is not for the faint of heart -- it packs some major heat -- the sweetness of the preserves and brown sugar softens the punch. A bit.

Thanks, friends. You make me smile. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vanilla Cinnamon Infused Pancakes

I have a great fondness for vanilla. It's warming, soothing and harkens back to simpler, cozy times. Real, pure vanilla perfumes these pancakes three ways: in vanilla-infused compound butter, maple syrup and homemade pancake batter. A bit of cinnamon adds a spicy undertone. The batter is adapted from Gourmet and the syrup from Cooking Light.

Vanilla Cinnamon Infused Pancakes
Serves 4

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeded (scrape seeds with the back of a knife)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
1 pinch sea salt
1 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 3-inch piece vanilla bean, split and seeded
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
vegetable oil for griddle

For vanilla butter: Place vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, cinnamon, sugar and sea salt in a medium bowl with softened butter. Combine well with wooden spoon, tines of a fork or a hand mixer.

Place compound butter onto a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Shape into a log, wrap well and refrigerate until ready to use.

For vanilla maple syrup: Add vanilla bean, vanilla seeds and cinnamon to maple syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer for about five minutes, remove and discard bean.

For vanilla pancakes: Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, egg, buttermilk, cinnamon, vanilla bean, vanilla extract and sugar in large bowl until well combined. Thin with water or buttermilk as necessary, a tablespoon at a time.

Heat griddle or skillet over moderate heat. Brush lightly with oil. Using a 1/3 cup-measure, pour pancake batter onto griddle and cook until bubble form on surface. Flip and cook on opposite site for about two minutes.

Transfer pancakes to a heatproof plate or platter and keep warm in 200-degree oven, covered. Serve with vanilla butter and vanilla syrup.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cooking With Style at The Ritz

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Roger Hart is a friend and the executive editor of AutoWeek magazine. He's also a professional photographer and world traveler who loves a fine meal.

Twelve times each year the chefs at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, Mich., open up their kitchen and share some of their secrets during their “Cooking With Style” program. My wife, Lisa, was lucky enough to win two tickets to the November event – “Roman Holiday, Italian Favorites” – and we came away having had a wonderful evening with some good recipes to boot.

Now first off, the Ritz bills this as a cooking class (at $225 per couple), and while it’s true that you do get an inside look of the kitchen, the class is not hands on at all. Participants receive a Ritz-Carlton apron, but all we used it for was to make sure the appetizers didn’t get on our clothes. So if you’re looking for a hands-on adventure, don’t bother.

But that’s not to say you don’t learn something. Just being inside a commercial kitchen gives any cook a chance to gather some new ideas or a new technique. Plus, we had at our disposal one of the Ritz’ line chefs, plus the chef du cuisine…and you can ask them questions all night long.

My wife and I have visited Italy, I get there often for my work, and we both enjoy Italian food quite a bit, so we expected this to be a terrific evening. And we weren’t disappointed.First off were appetizers galore, set up in the kitchen. While sipping a glass of red wine (sorry, I didn’t write down the name) we enjoyed a variety of cheeses, Asiago, Taleggio, Pecorino Romano, Gorgonzola, Fontina and Ricotta Salata. Add to that a couple of unique spreads, one of olives and one of sun dried tomatoes. Bruschetta, of course, plus a variety of Italian meats, including Bresaola, Mortadella, Capicola, Prosciutto and Salami.

I could have a dinner of just appetizers, and with the broad variety available for tasting, I was happy right there. But the best was yet to come.

While we were enjoying the appetizers, chef Eric (the line chef) was whipping up a basil vinaigrette salad dressing in a good processor. It would be the dressing for the salad of mixed greens, pine nuts, fried prosciutto, artichokes, olives and parmesan chips that we would enjoy later.

And speaking of later, once we were done with the appetizers, the group was led to an elaborately decorated ball room in the Ritz, set up with tables in a large X pattern. The flowers and decorations were a nice addition, and with the low-lighting and candles on the table, created a romantic atmosphere, fitting for the Roman Holiday theme.

Following the salad was a course of Italian Wedding Soup. Featuring meatballs made of beef, veal and pork, we found the soup, much like everything else this evening, terrific.

A pasta course of penne noodles topped with a marinara was served family style along with the main course, Chicken Piccata. Knowing there were cannolis for desert (and they were some of the best I’ve ever had), I indulged in just one of the two eight-ounce chicken breasts. The Piccata sauce, rich with butter, white wine, lemon juice and capers, had a wonderful crisp tanginess with a creamy finish. Delicious.

Our only disappointment with the evening was that we hadn’t planned ahead to spend the night at the Ritz, taking time to enjoy the wine. Yes, we’d attend the class again, and pay our way this time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grilled Fontina on Cranberry Bread

The lovely Kate Harper, publisher of edibleWOW magazine, gave us a beautiful loaf of cranberry bread from Avalon bakery recently. On a whim, I paired the bread with fontina and a bit of butter for grown-up grilled cheese sandwiches. The mild, creamy fontina and crisp, tart bread offered the perfect contrast, with a touch of unexpected sweetness from the cranberries. It's always a bit of a thrill to find a new, intriguing way to combine flavors. Feel free to comment and share your own discoveries.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pasta with White Clam Sauce and Tapenade

I'm always on the lookout for great pasta dishes, and what I like about this meal is you can make the quick version when you're rushed, or you can use fresh clams in the shell and make your own tapenade when you have the luxury of time. If you go the quick route, just make sure to buy the best quality ingredients you can find. This dish finds its way on our Sunday family dinner rotation every few months. Whatever route you choose, you'll enjoy a lovely meal.

Pasta with Clams and Olive Sauce
Serves 4-6

Adapted from the Barilla box

1 pound pasta, cooked al dente (save 1/2-1 cup of pasta water)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 shallots, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 generous tablespoon of anchovy paste or 2 tinned anchovies
pinch crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Generous splash of white wine (1/4-1/2 cup)
2 cans or jars good quality whole clams (about 30 ounces clams), liquid from one can reserved
1 can minced clams, with liquid
1/4 cup good quality olive tapenade
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Cook pasta, reserving 1 c. pasta water. Heat oil, and saute shallots. Add garlic, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes and black pepper and combine. Add clams with liquid and bring to boil for 3 minutes. Add wine, reduce for a few minutes, and then stir in tapenade. Cook 1 minute, add cooked pasta, lemon zest, and reserved pasta water, if the pasta seems dry. Combine and serve.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NYC and food52

Wes and I recently took a quick trip to New York City, where we met some great people and ate wonderful food.

We began in Chelsea, where I attended the food52 launch party, hosted by the generous, friendly and talented Amanda, Merrill, Helen and Sarah (click on the link above to see their write-up). They assembled a group of gifted cooks, food writers and bloggers, many of whom have won the weekly food52 contests and will be featured in the upcoming cookbook. Party-goers included Cathy, Jennifer, Kelsey, Jennifer, Meredith, Giulia, Erin, Natalie, Amy and Tamio, and many more. Can't forget Eliza, who offered her beautiful apartment for the evening.

As you might imagine, the food was fantastic. Every dish was a food52 specialty, including fried chickpeas, Hungarian meatballs, rosemary thyme pita chips, spicy shrimp, deeply dark chocolate cookies, zucchini lemon cookies, crab dip, and salty toasted almonds.

If you haven't visited food52 yet, I highly encourage you to do so. Check it out. Cook from it. Submit a recipe. You'll be part of something special.

The following morning, per my friend menumaniac's suggestion, we walked to Irving Farm Coffee Company for some local farm roasted coffee brew and pastry from Balthazar. Next, we set out on foot and ended up at the Time-Warner building, where we stopped for a bite at Thomas Keller's Bouchon. We've eaten twice at Bouchon in Yountville, and found the New York bakery outpost to be more informal than its Napa counterpart, with an edited menu. We selected San Marzano tomato soup, chicken soup with dumplings and split a gruyere and gouda grilled cheese.

Tart tomato soup and nutty grilled cheese.

A simply stunning bowl of chicken soup.

The famed bouchons, a rich, decadent chocolate cylinder

After some more walking and shopping, we toured the Chelsea Market and watched them bake bread at Amy's.

Then, we went to Blue Hill for dinner. We have family in upstate New York, and every time we visit we attempt to eat at Blue Hill Stone Barns, and it never works out. So, this time, we vowed to stop into Dan Barber's New York restaurant, and, since we had extra reason to celebrate, we did.

We had a smokey tomato soup, sweet potato ravioli, wild striped bass with pancetta, lobster, crab and vegetables and grass fed lamb. A truly special, wonderful meal.

Warm thanks to the food52 crew, who were so kind to include me in such a lovely event, and also to Wes, the perfect traveling partner, who didn't blink when I suggested we fly to New York to attend a party of people I'd never met, who insisted I take his upgraded seats on both flights, and who simply couldn't be more supportive.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stuffing with Ciabatta, Pancetta and Apples

As you might know, I have a deep affection for pancetta and all Italian ingredients. So why not combine my favorite Italian flavors into a Thanksgiving stuffing? I adapted this recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis and honored American tradition by adding an apple, sage, thyme, and a hint of cinnamon for a sweet, subtle kick. I also substituted shallot for onion to complement the apple's sweetness. This flavorful stuffing is an excellent mate to Thanksgiving turkey, roasted chicken or even beef tenderloin. Feel free to ad lib on the bread -- sourdough or focaccia come to mind.

Editor's note: This dish was named an Editor's Pick on

Stuffing with Ciabatta, Pancetta and Apples
Serves 8-10

6 tablespoons butter
8 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice (freeze for 10-15 minutes before for easy slicing)
2 cups shallots, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 honeycrisp apple, diced (or apple of your choice)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups wild mushrooms, finely chopped (I used baby bellas)
1 pound day-old ciabatta, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2/3 cups freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1 cup (or more) chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 15 by 10 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium flame.

Add the pancetta and saute about 10-12 minutes, until crisp. Transfer pancetta to large bowl with a slotted spoon.

Melt remaining butter in the skillet and add the shallot, carrots, celery, salt and pepper. Turn heat up to medium-high. After a few minutes, add the mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, sage and garlic.

Sprinkle cinnamon on the chopped apple and add to the pan. Saute until the shallots are tender, at least 12 minutes. Stir gently occasionally.

Transfer the onion mixture to bowl with pancetta, stir to incorporate.

Add the ciabatta and parmesan and toss. Pour in enough stock to lightly coat the bread, then mix in the eggs.

Combine thoroughly, then transfer stuffing to buttered dish. Cover with buttered foil, buttered side down, then bake for about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake about 15 minutes, until stuffing is crisp and golden.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vanilla and Maple Spiked Cranberry and Apple Sauce

It's time to think about the Thanksgiving menu. I recently created this recipe as a way to blend some of my favorite holiday flavors. This sweetly tart cranberry-apple sauce serves as a Thanksgiving side dish, sandwich spread or compote. You could even put a dollop in your morning oatmeal or spread on slice of toast. A chopped apple lends body and a bit of crunch. Maple syrup and apple cider add sweetness and eases the tartness of the cranberries. Cinnamon and vanilla offer a warm, mellow undertone. A pinch of orange zest brightens and balances the dish. And a dash of cayenne pepper adds subtle, barely perceptible heat.

Vanilla and Maple Spiked Cranberry and Apple Sauce

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon butter
1 honeycrisp apple, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 cup real maple syrup
1 cup apple cider
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
pinch cayenne pepper

Place medium heavy saucepan over medium flame. Melt butter, added chopped apple and cinnamon.

Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Add cranberries, maple syrup and apple cider.

Turn up heat to medium high and cook for 15-20 minutes, until berries burst. Add vanilla, orange zest and cayenne, stir. Place in a pretty bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bon Appetit's Pork and Beef Chili

I've clearly got chili on my mind. This time, I adapted a Bon Appetit recipe, which originated at the now-defunct Parker Ranch Grill in Kamuela, Hawaii.

I re-ordered some of the steps, toasted the spices, used a bottle of dark beer instead of water, used dark chocolate instead of sugar, added black pepper, used less tomato paste and subbed good quality canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I also omitted the cilantro and black beans, mostly because I forgot. I think black beans would enhance this dish, but not so sure about cilantro.

The result? A rich, smoky chili that starts off sweet and eases you into the spice, which lingers a bit. I liked the addition of dark beer, and the combination of pork and beef. I also think the fire roasted tomatoes added depth of flavor.

I entered this version into our charity chili cook-off at work, and it took third place. Next time, I'll use more steak and less chocolate. I thought it was a bit too sweet this time, and the recipe below reflects these changes. The top two chilis were made by my friends and colleagues Cristi and Ryndee, who did terrific renditions of turkey chili with tequila and lime and a spicy rib-eye chili with beans. Fabulous!

My version of Bon Appetit's Pork, Beef and Black Bean Chili:

Makes 8-10 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced onions
3 cups diced red bell peppers
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1.5 pounds chuck steak, fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bottle dark beer
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
12 ounces tomato paste
2 small squares of 70% dark chocolate
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 14.5 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes
3 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
2 3/4 cups beef broth
Grated cheddar cheese, for serving

Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, red bell pepper and garlic and cook until soft, about 20 minutes, stirring often.

Add ground pork and ground beef and saute for a few minutes. Add cubed beef and saute another five minutes or so.

Meantime, toast cumin, chili powder, oregano and cayenne pepper in a small pan over medium high heat. Add toasted spices to meat mixture. Add salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes. Try to resist tasting; give the flavors a few minutes to meld first!

Pour in the dark beer. Stir, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add tomato paste, tomatoes, chocolate and black beans. Stir in beef broth 3/4 cup at a time, until the chili reaches your desired consistency. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, then adjust seasonings and serve with grated cheese.

Do you have a favorite chili recipe? Tell me about it!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Italian Chicken Chili and Rosemary Thyme Pita Chips

The changing seasons usher in new flavors and new dishes -- and Fall brings with it the best of both. It's time to break out the dutch oven and create all manner of soups, stews, braises and chili.

Wes' sister and her son came for dinner on Halloween, so I decided to improvise on the standard one-pot meal and make an Italian-inspired chicken chili.

Actually, it's a bit of a stretch to call this chili -- it's more like a stew, or with a little more liquid, could pass as a soup. Paired with crispy, herby Rosemary Thyme Pita Chips by machef on food52, it made for a perfect pre-trick-or-treat meal.

These lightly sweet and savory crisps are now a staple in our home

What Fall dishes make it back to your table year-after-year? I'd love to hear about your favorites in the comments section.

Italian Chicken Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 a red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
crushed red pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (you can use fresh but I only had dried on hand)
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
1/2 cup dry white wine, preferably Italian
3.5 cups cooked, shredded chicken, white and dark meat
1 15 oz can drained and rinsed cannellini beans
2-3 cups homemade chicken stock, to taste (you can use a good-quality canned stock, but will sacrifice flavor)
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, for serving

1) Pour olive oil into a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and red pepper and cook until soft, about 15 minutes, stirring often.
2) Add garlic, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and dried and fresh herbs. Enjoy the earthy, fragrant scents that waft through your kitchen.
3) Deglaze the pot with the white wine, scraping up any lovely browned bits from the bottom.
4) Add chicken, beans and combine gently until lightly warmed, taking care to keep the beans whole.
5) Pour the stock into the chicken mixture. Be liberal if you want a brothy, soupy consistency, and less if you're looking for a chili or stew consistency.
6) Continue to cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Garnish with chopped basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan.
Serve with rosemary pita chips, a crisp green salad, and a glass of wine. Enjoy!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Just Delicious in edibleWOW

I probably should have mentioned this earlier: I wrote a short piece in the Fall issue of edibleWOW magazine. edibleWOW is a lovely publication that celebrates local, artisanal and fresh foods, and the people who grow and create them.

The story is about the fabulous women who own Just Delicious Scones in Grosse Pointe, the lightly sweet, delicate confections I wrote about here a few months back. The magazine is available at a variety of locations in the metro Detroit area. It's not posted online, unfortunately, but do try to support this publication if you can. The publishers, Robb and Kate Harper, along with editor Chris Hardman and the entire staff, are fine folks who are doing much to support Michigan farmers and food purveyors, and, by extension, our local economy.

While you're at it, I also encourage you to try Jennifer and Darcy's scones - you can find them at many area markets. They make a perfect hostess gift for a brunch, party, or a sweet snack with a cup of coffee or tea. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New York Bound

We're headed to New York City for a few days to attend the launch party. So Fresh Eats will take a brief hiatus. Few cities offer more for food lovers, and we have some fun plans, so be sure to check back soon for lots of new posts!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pasta All'matriciana

Pasta All'matriciana is a sumptuous, simple dish. It's rich and hearty, with a spicy, salty bite. Traditionally made with spaghetti or bucatini, I subbed farfalle because that's what I had. I added garlic, also untraditional, and used a local bottled tomato sauce to make this a weeknight-friendly dish. This recipe generously serves two, or allows for a small lunch portion the following day.


1/2 pound farfalle, cooked al dente
1 tablespoon olive oil
Half an onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste
1/3 pound pancetta, cubed
Half a bottle of good quality chunky tomato sauce, or homemade sauce
Pecorino cheese, to taste

Saute the onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft and lightly browned in a large skillet. Add garlic and stir to combine. Add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Meantime, in a small skillet, saute pancetta until crispy and brown. Remove with slotted spoon and add to onion mixture, along with about a tablespoon of the fat. Add al dente pasta to the pancetta and onion mixture and combine. Pour in tomato sauce and heat until warmed. Serve with pecorino, a crispy green salad and a glass of good red wine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Leftovers: Party of One

Every so often, you throw together a dish with the bits and pieces pulled from your fridge and you create something dinner-party worthy.

Last night was one of those nights. And, go figure, I was all alone.  

I peered in the fridge, with no plan or preconceived notions, and pulled out all the leftovers: a bit of leftover farfalle, some prosciutto, a small chunk of seared filet mignon and mixed wild mushrooms with shallot and garlic. Not a bad start.

First, I thinly sliced another shallot and sauteed it in olive oil a large skillet with a clove of minced garlic until lightly browned. Next, I added the cold pasta and cooked it for a few minutes. Tossed in a slice of chopped prosciutto, then the wild mushroom and shallot mixture and cooked for a few minutes. Finally, I cubed the filet, tossed it in and heated it until barely warm. Then, I deglazed with a bit of chicken stock (or wine if you like) to bring up all of the lovely browned bits, and serve. Fifteen minutes later, I sat to a satisfying, savory meal.

The salty prosciutto mingles with the succulent beef morsels, the woodsy, earthy mushrooms and the sweet shallot to create a luscious, comforting fall dish. Yet, it's fleeting... a meal I could attempt to recreate over and over, yet never duplicate. Such is the paradox of leftovers - much maligned, yet full of flavor waiting to be unleashed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Savory Wild Mushroom Soup

I've been obsessed with wild mushrooms lately. They are sturdy and substantial enough to stand alone in most cold-weather dishes, but also willingly slip into the background as a supporting player. They add a rustic complexity that can't be duplicated.

When food52 ran a contest recently for "best mushroom soup," I set out to create a recipe and submit it for consideration. 

Now, if you regularly read this blog, you'll see I tend to cook by instinct. I appreciate precise ratios and proper proportion, and I do follow recipes, but I often improvise and ad lib in the kitchen. And I never write anything down. So this posed an intriguing challenge. 

Building a recipe requires a unique set of artistic and scientific skill: one that I hope to have years ahead to develop. I brainstormed flavor combinations, studied other recipes, and devoted a place in my mind to work through the equation while I went about my daily life. I sketched it out on paper, then took to the kitchen and refined and revised as I went along.

The result? A light-bodied, yet substantial soup that blends shallot, garlic, white wine, fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, four varieties of wild mushrooms, white beans and a touch of cream, pureed into a silky brew. My friend Jordana at Menu Maniac served as a tester, and I was excited and gratified to see that food52 named it an Editor's Pick (click to see recipe)!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


In the kitchen: Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.
Photo by Sarah Shatz.

Take a look at food52, an innovative new website. Created by New York Times columnist and author Amanda Hesser and her fellow food writer and good friend Merrill Stubbs, food52 has the potential to change the internet and how we use it, while helping preserve the print medium.

According to the site, they believe home cooks are the best cooks. They launched the site to connect with them, and at the end of 52 weeks, create a "crowd-sourced" cookbook, in internet parlance.

Really, it's a modern-day version of those paperback, spiral bound community cookbooks our moms used to collect. But without the canned cream soups and with much prettier photos, of course.

Each week, Amanda and Merrill post two ingredients -- this week it's mushroom soup and any recipe using paprika. Home cooks submit their own, best recipes, A&M test them, select two finalists from each category and the home cooks vote online. The winning recipes will be be published in the cookbook.

It's smart, isn't it? The site is fun, well designed, and truly interactive. They post informative, funny videos and excellent tips and techniques. And, instead of subverting print, it celebrates it with what will surely be a beautiful cookbook. The site is a means to the end, and a way for them to collaborate with people who love to cook on everything from the recipes, cookbook design, photos and more.

I'm especially excited about food52 because it speaks to me as a writer, cook, and devoted print person, but also because I had the honor and privilege of serving as a beta tester before it went live.

That means I reviewed the site, made a list of what I like, dislike, added a few thoughts and ideas and sent it to Amanda and Merrill, who couldn't have been nicer or more gracious.

I hope you will support and enjoy food52 -- I'd love to hear your thoughts -- and see one of your recipes in the cookbook!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Union Woodshop

It was a long day, and I dragged myself home exhausted and ready for some serious R&R.

As I pulled up, Wes met me at the car to carry my bags in (I love when he does this), and said, "Wanna go to the new Union?"

Well, of course I do! I perked up immediately, and we hopped in the car for our semi-annual trek to Clarkston, about 45 minutes from home, knowing I'd be in for a fun night.

The Union, as I've written previously in this space, is a little jewel of a place. And the new Union, officially called The Union Woodshop, a few doors down from the original, promises to add a whole new dimension to Clarkston's tiny downtown.

Owned by friends Curt and Ann Catallo, the interior, designed by Ann, can best be described as "urban rustic" - a modern interpretation of the old fashioned lodge. Customers sit at handmade plank tables and fabulous reclaimed wooden chairs. They drink water and beer in vintage Mason jars. Thin planks of blondwood line the walls, along with cheerful art pieces and artifacts.

Billed as a "handcrafted, woodfired joint," The Woodshop is all about creative BBQ. We started with house smoked mildly spiced chicken wings with bleu cheese dip and woodsticks (aka breadsticks). At each table is a flight of regional BBQ sauces, from Memphis, Texas, Alabama and Chinatown NYC. We tried them all, and deemed the Chinatown the best.

For our entree, we had pizza with arugula, San Marzano tomato sauce, prosciutto and a blend of cheeses, paired with a Santa Martina Super Tuscan. We also had meltingly tender pulled pork with the legendary Union mac and cheese (penne rigate, Vermont sharp cheddar Pinconning, bechamel, parmesan and a crunchy crust), a heavenly creamy sweet potato mash with spicy charred jalapeno and Michigan maple syrup and corn bread, with Kid Rock's Badass beer. Delicious.

For dessert, Curt presented us with an amazing salted butterscotch pudding with fresh cream (this alone is worth the trip) and a deep fried Twinkie with chocolate sauce. Yes, this place has a sense of humor, too.

We ran into some friends, shared a lot of laughs and enjoyed a down-home dinner. Did I say I was tired? 

Friday, September 25, 2009

Very Veggie Soup

There's something about soup that's comforting, soothing and good for your mind, body and spirit. The soup pot is a well-used accessory in our kitchen, and this Very Veggie Soup is a staple. This particular soup is also the perfect way to ease into healthy-eating mode after, say, a period of over-indulging. Granted, it isn't particularly photogenic, but have faith, it's delicious.

My sister-in-law Simona, a former restaurant cook in Italy and one of my kitchen mentors, created this recipe, and I've adapted it a bit over the years. Don't be tempted to use old, wilted or wrinkly veggies - this soup's clean, clear flavors require the freshest, best vegetables you can find.

With this in mind, and since we're at the peak of the harvest, Wes and I decided to use all local veggies this time - either from Eastern Market or our own backyard. Feel free to use whatever veggies you like best if you make this at home.

From Eastern Market: shallots, Italian red onions and cippoline onions, all from my favorite onion farmer at Eastern Market (yes, I now have an onion guy), garlic and carrot (also from the onion guy), celery and zucchini.

From our garden: Broccoli, swiss chard, basil and flat leaf parsley.


Thinly slice a big shallot, 5 red onions (they're small) and about 5 medium cippoline onions. Or, just keep it simple and slice up one big plain onion. Crush and chop four garlic cloves and thinly slice two celery stalks and two good-sized carrots. Season generously with salt, pepper and a pinched of crushed red pepper for an added kick and saute in a big soup pot or dutch oven in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are soft, about 20 minutes. Then add a head of chopped broccoli, 2-3 chopped zucchinis and cook another 20-30 minutes. Throw in a few big handfuls of greens, such as baby spinach or swiss chard and stir.

Next, add enough chicken or vegetable stock to cover the vegetables. Homemade stock is best, it will make this soup amazing, but if you're pressed for time use the best boxed stock you can find.

Simmer until all the veggies are soft, about an hour, or even two if you have the time, stirring occasionally. Add a can of can of drained, rinsed cannellini beans and a couple of handful of chopped fresh herbs about 15 minutes before you take it off the burner. The beans give the soup a rich, velvety texture and added fiber and protein without extra fat.

Let it cool for 15-20 minutes, then puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor.

This soup is a great starter, or if you want to serve it as an entree, consider adding protein such as chopped chicken, shrimp, crab or leftover salmon fillet.

Either way, when serving, drizzle your best extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with high quality parmesan cheese for a healthy, satisfying, comforting bowl of goodness.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Eastern Market Shines

Guest post from Wes, my loving husband, ever-willing market partner and trusty vegetable hauler.

Apparently, it’s fun to pick on Detroit. Read the country’s newspapers and it seems it’s become nearly a national sport.

But at least as far as food lovers are concerned, that would be a mistake, for Detroit has something no other city in the country can boast: The biggest open air market in the United States, according to Detroit Eastern Market officials. This farmers' market has been operating since 1891 and attracts about 26,000 weekly. It's been recently renovated, and is a foodie’s paradise.

Heirlooms from an area urban farm.

Looks like the markets in Paris.

Famous Zingerman's cheese from Ann Arbor. The harissa fresh mozzarella is to die for.
Dried beans grown on a Michigan farm.
Thousands of peppers.

It all comes together once a week, each Saturday, when some 150 farmers and artisans converge on Russell street between Gratiot and Mack in Detroit. You can find an array of locally grown produce, herbs and spices, baked goods, jams, cheese, hummus, pickles, fresh oatmeal and grains and flowers and plants. You won't find anything fresher - most of the produce is picked the day before and is grown just hundreds, rather than thousands, of miles away.

A sampling of the flower selection.
Home decor.
Gourds for your table.
Local apples have arrived!
Squash, arranged just so...
More peppers!

Besides the farmers and merchants there are restaurants and terrific gourmet food, fish and meat shops packed with food lovers and gardeners. Not into food, plants or shopping? Go anyway: Eastern Market offers some of the best people watching anywhere. It’s high entertainment, and right now, during harvest time, is the best time to go. Get there early for the lightest crowds and best selection.