Good Morning. It has been several week since we last posted our Monday Q & A segment. Let's admit, perhaps it was because of the holidays from late November on, there was a drought on the submitted questions front. It has been decided that instead of trying to maintain a Q & A Monday every week, we'll just post it during times that enough questions have been submitted. It hasn't been decided yet, but we may just post it on the right side column instead of the main body of the blog. But I digress, I received questions the past week and so our Monday Q & A is off and running again. Here are this week's questions posted:

Nick, can you tell me what "compound" butter is? (Jean C., Tampa,Fl.) Jean, compound butter is simply mixing butter with various ingredients and spices to create mixture that can be used to either top various meats, vegetables, and dishes, as a spread for bread, or for adding to sauces. A basic example of compound butter is the "garlic butter" you spread on bread to make garlic bread. You use butter, parsley, and garlic salt, and mix it until well blended. The variations you can come up with to make compound butter are endless. Experiment with your favorite ingredients.

What is the difference between  Pinot, Merlot, and Cabernet wine? (Bob W., Boise, ID) Without going into the technicals of the grapes that are used in each, thus avoiding a long dissertation, Merlots and Cabs are probably the more popular varietals drunk in the U.S. while the Pinots are a bit less popular but have a following no less devoted to them than Merlots and Cabs. Cabernet has a tendency to be more robust than the Merlot. The Cabernets are usually more tannic and spicier as well. Without confusing you, there are exceptions to this general rule. Pinots are milder in the tannins and tend to be a more delicate wine to the Cabernets. Pinots also have a reputation for producing great vintages and thus commanding higher prices. In defense of Merlot and Cab drinkers, I have found some wonderful Merlots and Cabernets as well as Pinots. It comes down to personal taste. There have been volumes written about the 8 major types of red wines over the centuries and to get detailed on this site would be an endless process. For a more indepth view of these three and more importantly, the explanation of the grapes, I urge you to visit, which will provide you with an abundance of info on  a number of topics regarding wines and grapes.

Nonchefnick, when buying seafood, particularly fish, is it a real issue when you can't find the fresh kind? (Beverly E., Reno, NV)To be honest with you, most "frozen" fish are flash frozen, meaning that they are frozen very quickly to help lock in the freshness, so buying frozen is really not a problem anymore. If you do buy frozen, I would suggest that you intend on cooking it within a week or so. The sooner frozen is consumed, the fresher it will taste. Don't be fooled by choosing "fresh" over "frozen" and be aware of what to look for. You could be purchasing a fresh fish and it not being as "fresh" as its frozen counterpart. Sight and smell are the two ways of telling how fresh fresh is. When buying whole fish, look for shiny scales and clear eyes. Look for fresh cuts that are not dull in color or that look dry. As far as smell is concerned, fresh should not smell like anything other than the ocean, period. If it smells fishy, it's not that fresh. I recently went shopping at the supermarket to purchase some fresh fish. As I got to the fish department, I could smell fish, you know , that fishy smell? Well, I kept walking and didn't buy any. As far as frozen is concerned, look for discoloration and indication of freezer burn, which tell you the fish wasn't flash frozen as soon as caught. Also, pick up the pack and put it to your nose and if you can smell that fishy smell, ever so slightly, don't buy it. Basically, just remember what to look for and you should have no problems fresh or frozen.

Prime Rib of Beef makes a perfect last meal of 2009

There isn't much that can top a wonderful Prime Rib of Beef for the holidays. On that same note, not much can top its price these days either; however, if you shop around, you can find a nice cut, not too large, and boneless for a reasonable price. As an example, I recently found a boneless four pound roast for about $25 that served six and nobody went home hungry. That comes to just over $4 per person and not bad for a special dinner party.

There are a number of ways to cook a nice Prime Rib roast. I recently read a recipe that called for baking 30 minutes at 500 and then shutting the oven off and leaving the door closed, not removing the roast for several hours. Another calls for a slow cooking at 300. I've not tried either method. I like a nice rare cut of meat and so I have found that if you high heat it for a shorter period of time, you'll get that nice charred, caramelized exterior with a crispy fat tissue and wonderful pink interior that oozes out succulent juices for your sauce. Once you've found your method that works, it's hard to try something new. Afterall, why would you fix something that's not broke? Realizing this, I'm sure most of you have your own cooking that works; however, I still feel compelled to share mine with you and you can do what you want with it.

I decided to marinade this roast for a few hours this time around. I normally just rub it with olive oil, pepper and salt it well, sear it, and then in the oven it goes. Here is what I used for marinading:

approximately 4 lb boneless Prime Rib Roast
1/2 cup of olive oil
4 tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce
2 teaspoons of coarse ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of sea salt
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1 teaspoon of Cajun spice rub
4 cloves of garlic crushed to a paste

Take all ingredients and mix very well. Transfer to a large sealable plastic freezer type bag. One side of your rib roast will usually have a layer of fat. With a sharp knife, make a series of slits deep enough to cut through the fat but not into the meat. Place the roast into the plastic bag, seal tightly and roll the roast so that  it is coated with the marinade and place it in your refridgerator for about 2 to 3 hours.

In the meantime, have these ingredients ready:

1/4 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of coarsely cracked pepper
1 cup of red Burgundy wine
1/2 lb of baby button mushrooms (white or brown), stems removed
1/2 cup of beef stock
20 cloves of garlic, whole
1/4 cup of finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon of butter

Preheat your oven to 450. While oven is preheating, remove roast from marinade bag. Heat half of your oil over medium high heat and sear your roast on all sides to lock flavors. Make sure you  sear approximately 2 minutes on each side. I should take a moment to request that you do not throw out the remaining marinade in the bag. You will want some of that for later. I'll explain when the time comes. Save the pan and drippings that the roast was seared in.

Now that you've seared your roast, transfer it into a baking dish. If your dish or pan has a rack, place the roast on top of that. Do not add any liquid what so ever to the bottom of the pan. Bake at 450 for about 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 400 and continue baking for 14 minutes per pound for rare, 16 minutes per pound for medium rare and if you want it medium or well done, buy a chicken instead. This four pound roast is being baked at 14 minutes per pound. Bake with the fat side up so that any fat drippings will drip down the sides of the roast. Furthermore, the fat will be nice and charred and crispy when done. When cooking is complete, remove the roast from the oven and let it set for 15 minutes UNCOVERED, so that the juices will set in. Since the roast will continue to cook a bit while resting, covering it will not only cook it more, but it will also cause the steam from the moisture to soften the crispy surface and you don't want that.

In the meantime, while the roast is in the oven, you can begin your sauce preparation. You can wait until 30 minutes before your roast is finished baking if you want. It's not that important. Take the frying pan that the drippings are in and reheat over medium high heat. Once hot, add the wine and beef stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and scrape the bottom of the pan carefully with a wooden spatula. Remember that marinade I asked you to save? Well, now take two tablespoons of it and stir it into your sauce. Continue to stir so that drippings are well blended. Allow to slow cook so that liquid reduces by half.

While sauce is cooking, in another saute pan, heat the rest of the olive oil over medium high heat, then add your mushrooms, sauteeing them until they are a light golden color. Do not add any seasonings, especially salt, as salt will cause the mushrooms to sweat and you won't get that golden brown color you're looking for. Once mushrooms are nicely browned, add the garlic and saute for an additional 2 minutes. When complete, add the mushrooms and garlic to your sauce and stir well. Reduce heat to simmer or warm and cover.

When the roast is out of the oven and has rested for 15 minutes, it's time to finish your sauce. Add your butter and stir until it is melted and has blended well. If the roast has given you drippings while resting, add that to the sauce. Add your pepper and parsley and stir well. Set your roast on a serving platter and pour a few tablespoons of the sauce over the top. Take the rest of the sauce and serve it separately in a saucier or small bowl.

Your rib roast should be a beautiful pink rare when sliced and be very moist. You can serve a baked potato and steamed baby green beans as side dishes, or buttered linguine and peas. Either works wonderful with this meat. Enjoy this dish on New Year's Eve with close friends and it will be an evening you will remember. Bon Appetit!

A Christmas poem from me to you

As the night before Christmas

Draws near to a close

All the children are tucked in

For their eight hour doze

It is then that the magic

Begins to unfold

Gifts come out of hiding

Wrapped in silver and gold

The eggnog gets liquored

For that last minute nightcap

A bite of some cookies

Proves where Santa was at

And it's off to bed

For the Mr and Mrs

As the clock striking midnight

Sounds the coming of Christmas

Poem by D Roche

Baked Belgian Endive highlights French cooking made easy

You may have seen these strange vegetables while shopping at your neighborhood supermarket and never given a thought to buying some. Perhaps you didn't know what to do with them or what they tasted like. For whatever reason, it is now time you purchase some on your next visit. We are talking about Belgian Endives.

Those of you who are familiar with endives most likely have enjoyed them in salads; however, did you know that they are very good cooked? The traditional French method of preparing Belgian Endives is to bake them with Gruyere. If you haven't tried them this way, you are missing out. They are first sauteed to a golden color, then white wine or chicken broth is added, along with garlic and parsley. Finally, a generous amount of grated Gruyere is added and the whole pan is then transferred to a 400 preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes. And the best part of it is that it's in keeping with our theme of keeping things simple. This makes a great side dish or as an entree at lunch time. Here's what we need:

2 large Belgian Endives (1 per person)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup of white wine or chicken stock
1 cup of Grated Gruyere or sharp Swiss
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup of fresh chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Start by preheating your oven to 400. Gently wash the endive whole and them slice them in halves lengthwise. In a large frying that you can fit in your oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat on your stove top. Sautee the endives cut side down and turn over after about 3 minutes. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes or until they become a light golden color.

Now you may add the garlic and sautee an additional minute or so. Add the wine or chicken stock, gently stir, and add some salt and pepper. Careful with the salt because Gruyere has a rich flavor and you may not need much salt. Right before you transfer the pan to the oven, add the parsley and the Gruyere over the endives.

Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 25 minutes or so, until the cheese has melted and has browned nicely and there is caramelizing. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes uncovered. Serve nice and warm as a side dish or an entree of its own. Enjoy these! They are really good. Everyone who has had them this way love them.

Parsnips bring velvety alternative to traditional mash potatoes

Parsnips are a root vegetable that are more versatile than they lead us to believe. You can boil them, roast them, even sliced thin and sauteed. There is another way to prepare them however, and it may just be the best way. Have you tried them pureed? You are certainly missing out if you haven't and once tried, you may never have them any other way again. Rich and velvety, pureed parsnips are a great alternative to potatoes and at least as healthy. You need only a small portion to satisfy the palate and with a small spoonful served over a tenderloin cut of beef, it's like buttah! Follow this extremely easy recipe that I created and you will understand what this is all about. And for you veggies out there, this is number 1.

2 large Parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cube of butter, room temperature
1/2 cup of grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
A couple pinches of salt

Bring a large pot filled half with water to a boil and add the parsnips. Boil parsnips for about 15 to 20 minutes or until you can pierce it with a fork without resistance. Remove parsnips and transfer to a food processor.

Process parsnips until it is creamy with no lumps, then add Gruyere, salt, pepper, and butter. Continue to process for another 15 seconds but no more. Serve as a side dish or over your favorite cut of meat and sprinkle with a little nutmeg. Enjoy.

Lamb Shank Bourguignon

Anyone who has not become familiar with Boeuf Bourguignon or at least heard of it has probably been hiding under a rock for the last 40 years. Originally made famous in the U.S. by the legend, Julia Child, who learned to make it to perfection in France,  and more recently featured in the movie Julie and Julia, Boeuf Bourguignon is known the world over. What you may not have heard however, is that lessor known bourguignon, Lamb Shank Bourguignon, perhaps because I have just recently added it to my portfolio. This is a very simple yet delicious dish that marries the flavors of lamb and Burgundy wine every bit as proud as the original Boeuf Bourguignon, but with a lighter jus as opposed to a heavier sauce. If you are a lover of lamb, it would be worth your while to try this recipe. This dish is perfect served over a bed of steamed rice and mushroom caps. The list of ingredients is as follows:

Serves a party of 2

2 medium sized lamb shanks
20 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
8 to 10 white mushroom caps, stems removed
1 teaspoon of coarse ground pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1 bouquet of thyme, basil, and rosemary
1 1/2 cup of Burgundy wine
1 1/2 cup of beef stock
2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley

Preheat your oven to 400. In a dutch oven or deep pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Rub the lamb shanks with some of the salt and pepper and saute so that all sides are well seared, which will usually take about 8 minutes total. Add the garlic and saute for about a minute.

Once shanks are seared, pour the wine in and the rest of the herbs and spices. Allow wine to cook at medium low for a few minutes so alcohol is evaporated and then add the beef stock and stir. Continue to cook for about 6 to 8 more minutes. Cover and transfer pot to oven and reduce heat to 325. Bake for  90 minutes, then add the mushrooms, turn lamb shanks over and continue to bake for another 60 minutes.

Remove from oven and set the lamb shanks aside, cover  with foil to keep warm. Lamb shanks contain a lot of fat and therefore the sauce will most likely be fattier than some other sauces. If you can, skim a bit of the fat off the top layer of the sauce. One very easy way to skim the fat off the top is to cool the sauce in the refrigerator until fat solidifies, then just skim the fat off and return the pan to the stove top and reheat in which case you would also add back the lamb shanks to rewarm. Either way works ok.

Take the sauce and pour it through a stainer. Remove the mushrooms, set aside, and discard the rest of the solids in the sauce. Return sauce to the stove top and heat over low heat. Add the tomato paste and stir well. Next, add back the mushroom caps and taste sauce for proper seasoning.

Slice the meat of the lamb shanks into 1/4 inch thickness and plate a portion either directly on the plate or over a small bed of steamed rice. Pour some of the sauce over the meat and add a  few mushrooms around the sides and sprinkle with parsley. This can be served with steamed whole baby carrots. You will find the sauce light but wonderfully flavored with the aroma of the lamb, not to mention that you will have another hit on your hands!

Pork cuts costs while maintaining elegance for the holidays

The holidays can be very stressful these days with the economy still badly injured and financial institutions  in a very wobbly state. Jobs are scarce and those still employed wonder if they'll be next on the chopping block. Families continue striving to stretch their dollars while maintaing their quality of life as best they can. Nowhere is that more apparent than with the food budget. The shopper continues to walk a tight rope in making sure that the holiday dinner will be as bountiful and special as in years past.

Prime Rib is too expensive, goose is out of the question, and turkey was too recent. What is the cook to do? How about distancing yourself from tradition and trying the other white meat? Pork can make an impressive centerpiece as an entree with a cut of Roast of Pork Rib Loin, inexpensive and yet so elegant as to make Prime Rib of Beef a bit jealous. The rib roast can be prepared as a "rack" roast or kicking it up a notch, combining two racks and creating a Crown Roast of Pork that will wow even your most discerning of guests. With a Crown Roast, one can fill the center with a melange of sauteed peas, pearl onions, and bacon (or lardon).

So as in keeing with the goal of maintaining simplicity in the kitchen, today you will learn to prepare the rack version of the Roast of Pork Rib Loin. When deciding how large a roast to purchase, count on one rib for the ladies and children, and two ribs for the men and hungrier guests. If you need to purchase two racks but don't want to do a crown, when ready to present, you can stand each rack on its "bottom" and have each rack lean on one another with the ribs crisscrossing each other.

First, start by preheating the oven at 400. You are going to want to sear your roast on all sides so as to lock in moisture and flavor; however, first prepare a rub that you will use before baking, with the following ingredients:

1/3 cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of garlic salt
1 soup spoon of coarsely cracked ground pepper
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce

Mix 1/4 cup of the olive oil and all other ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Take the remainder of the olive oil and heat it in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, begin to sear the roast, reducing heat to medium. Sear on each side and ends about 2 minutes each. Once seared, remove roast and set in baking pan.  Do not discard the pan drippings as you will use that for your sauce. While it is cooling a bit, mixt the ingredients together very well. With a brush, coast the entire roast thoroughly. Transfer roast to oven, reduce heat to 350 and bake for 70 minutes for a 3 pound roast. If you are baking 2 racks side by side, you don't really need to increase the time too much because the thickness and size of each doesn't change; however, with that said, you may want to increase the time by 2 minutes per total weight to compensate for the volume. Play it by ear and 10 minutes before finished, using your fingers, push into the meat. If it doesn't sink in, it's done. Remember, pork has to be cooked closer to well done than to rare or medium rare. Medium well will usually be fine. If your oven heats hot, then decrease the times by 2 minutes per pound.

Once the roast is finished, remove and set aside so that juices set in. While roast is resting, return the frying pan with the drippings to the stove top over medium high heat. Add any juices that may remain from the baking pan to the frying pan. Deglaze the frying pan with 1 cup of dry white wine or non alcoholic apple cider, carefully scraping the bottom with a spatula. Reduce heat to low and allow sauce to reduce about 1/3. Next, add the following ingredients,

1 tablespoon of butter,
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
2 tablespoons of heavy cream

Stir all ingredients very well and allow butter to completely melt. Taste for flavor. If you would like to add a little tanginess to your sauce, stir in a small teaspoon of Dijon mustard at the last minute and shut off heat. You may pour this sauce directly over the roast or ladle a couple of tablespoons over each serving. Just be sure to keep the sauce very hot.

There you have it, an alternative to tradition. It is a safe bet that your dinner guests will love this roast and will not miss the Prime Rib or the turkey at all. A baked potato or shoe string frites(fries) would work very well with this cut of meat, as would French cut green beans, steamed brussel sprouts, or sauteed peas and bacon in the vegetable side dish category. A chilled Riesling will pair very nicely. Have a wonderful holiday dinner party and remember, keep it simple in the kitchen and elegant in the dining room.

English Trifle deserves an encore performance in time for the holidays

With the holiday season upon us, it is fitting to give English Trifle a second appearance on this blog. It is certainly a tradition in many parts of the world during December and is like a crown jewel of desserts that will surely exude the WOW factor. It is so simple to put together that no one will believe you when you tell them.

Let's start with the main item. The trifle dish is a deep glass bowl that sits on a single leg much like a brandy glass. It's about 9 inches in diameter and about 6 to 8 inches deep. Although you can find these dishes with a curved bottom, you need to get the flat bottom type for trifle. These dishes are very affordable at less than $12 in most discount stores and  can be used in a variety of ways, so they're versatile. This is the first thing you must purchase.

Now that you have the trifle dish it's time for the fun. First, let me explain what English Trifle is. You take some of your favorite fruit, some jam or preserves, custard, lady fingers or pound cake, and a bit of sherry, rum, grand marnier, or brandy, and you just start layering it all together and there you have it. I usually pick out 2 types of fruit. In my case, I love strawberries and bananas. The two go together so well; however, I've also made raspberry and blackberry trifle as well as blueberry and marion berry. All are wonderful, but try my favorite first before you begin experimenting.

English Trifle dates back to at least the 18th century but some even go back as far as the 15th and 16th centuries depending on who you ask. In any case, it was usually made of whatever was left over i.e. old sponge cake, fruit, custard (left over from baby's feeding), and if there was cream around it was used to top the dish. The fruit was sometimes cooked, if harder raw fruit was used. As the 19th and 20th century rolled around, fresh colorful fruit became more and more popular and the only thing cooked now is the custard.

Alexander Valley sneaks out a winner with Laurier's 2007 Merlot

Could it be possible for back to back winners with the Laurier 2007 Merlot from Alexander Valley? After all, the 2006 Merlot was a big winner garnering the Gold Medal and Chairman's Award at the Riverside International Wine Competition in 2008 and Gold at the Taster's Guild International Wine Judging that same year. Perhaps too soon to tell, indications are this Merlot is following the same blood line as its older sibling. Laurier Vineyard is not new to producing winning vintages. The Merlots, Cabs, and Chardonnays have been previous winners of Silver Medals in 2003 and 2004.

Is it a Merlot or Cabernet?

With its deep ruby color, tannins that complete a nice lasting finish to the palate, and  hints of herbs, plums, vanilla, and raspberry, this Merlot is certainly not lacking complexity and could be mistaken for a Cabernet. The nice aroma of cherries is definitely not forgotten either. With that said, it is certainly permissible to consume it now; however, given a couple more years, this Merlot may approach its full potential. This wine will stand proud alongside its comparable Cabernet cousins and with a price range of $14 to $16, one should consider it as a nice addition to their wine collection.

Food pairing brings out full flavor

The Laurier 2007 Merlot has no problem standing on its own; however, when paired with food, it truly partners well. Suggestions may include Prime Rib of Beef, Boeuf Bourguignon, smoked ham, and Coq au Vin. It will also stand up well to a rich sauce such as Bolognese. The best has been saved for last however, with its pairing of dark chocolate truffles. If you have a sweet tooth and enjoy a good wine, this is certainly a match made in heaven.

Roasted Green Beans and Bacon

Even though I am not a vegetarian, I must admit that I love almost every vegetable out there. I guess it stems from being raised to eating vegetables with all my dinners at home. As a child, some of my favorite vegetables were those that most kids absolutely hated, i.e. brussel sprouts, spinach, and broccoli. Well, those were amongst my favorites, along with green beans. Today, I haven't changed. I still love all of them not just because I think they taste great, but because there's so much you can do with them. Boil them, steam them, sauce them, or mix them with other foods. I love it all, especially when I roast them. OMG, you've got to try these roasted green beans. I was just messing around the other day and decided to make green beans and bacon by roasting and I've got to tell you, they came out great. Now it's your turn to try. Here's what we need:

2 lbs of fresh green beans, cut in halves
1 medium yellow onion, diced
18 garlic cloves, whole and peeled
12 large shallots, peeled and cut in halves
1/4 lb bacon, chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1/4 cup of dry white wine or water

This is very easy to prepare and the flavors really come out from the roasting process. It gives a whole new twist to green beans without cooking off the texture and flavors that boiling or steaming tends to do. Start by preheating your oven to 425.

Place the shallots and garlic on a large baking sheet and pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, half the salt and pepper and with your hands, mix the ingredients together so that everything is well coated with the olive oil. Set on middle rack of oven and bake for 20 minutes.

While the shallots and garlic are roasting, take a frying pan and heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high heat and saute the bacon until it is golden brown. Remove and set on paper towel to drain. Remove excess oil from pan and over medium high heat, add the diced onions and saute for about 2 minutes and remove from heat. Over medium high heat, add the butter to the pan, allow to melt and then deglaze with the wine or water. Once deglazed, shut heat off and set pan aside.

Now take the shallots and garlic out of the oven and add the green beans along with the rest of the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic salt. Mix well so beans are coated. Return to oven and bake for an additional 40 minutes at 400. About half way through, check and toss the beans and return to oven.

Once beans are roasted, remove from the oven and add to the frying pan with the deglazed sauce. Add the onions and the bacon and toss so that everything is well coated with the sauce. Transfer to a serving platter and serve hot. I tell you, this is delicious. You know how roasting brings out the flavors of vegetables and this does the trick with the beans along with the shallots and garlic. If it were me, I'd serve this with a nice sauteed beef steak or broiled lamb. Now I'm hungry again !

Apple Cream Cheese Palmiers

One of the things I don't like to do is throw food away. If you remember the other day when I made my Apple Calvados Cheese Cake, I had some leftover apple slices that I had cooked. I also had an extra package of cream cheese. I decided to come up with a little dessert (great for breakfast) that I thought you might like. This is very simple to make and it utilizes any of the leftovers you had from the cheese cake recipe, should you have chosen to make it - or if you make it in the future. I decided to call this Apple Cream Cheese Palmiers. What an original name, LOL. OK, here are the leftovers I had:

Ashe Anar Soup - I Did It My Way

One of the things that I want to accomplish in this blog is to introduce you to new dishes and how to use ingredients that you are familiar with in a way that you might not be so accustomed to. This week it's pomegranates. Pomegranates are an interesting fruit, one of the few fruits where you eat the seeds and throw out everything else. But it has a variety of uses, I found out. Earlier in the week, I used pomegranate to make a cranberry sauce and this weekend I was thumbing around and found that it can be used in making soups. One of these is Ashe Anar, also called The Pomegranate Soup. I want to share this recipe with you; however, I want to make a couple of changes from the traditional recipe.

First, I am using ground lamb instead of ground beef. You could also use lamb shanks as well. I think lamb adds a richer flavor to this soup and combines very well with pomegranate. Second, I am using yellow lentils as opposed to split peas. Let's face it, the yellow lentils go great with lamb and yet they don't overpower the other ingredients as much as split peas might. I also have read that beets and their flowerettes are used. Since I don't like beets, I decided to use baby zuchini with their flowerettes attached. Other than that, the traditional recipe remains intact. I'm sure you're either getting tired of turkey leftovers or you've run out of ideas on what to do with those leftovers. This will give you a nice break. Here's what we need:

Save The Turkey Leftovers For The Weekend - Make Something Simple Today... Seafood Stir Fried Rice

After a day of stuffing our bellies with turkey, dressing, and all the gravy we could eat, it's nice to give it a rest on Friday and eat something on the lighter side. I love Chinese Food and adore seafood. I am always trying to come up with new variations of the two, but I always come back to my favorite, stir frying shrimp and scallops along with savory vegetables and ... oh, need I say more? This dish is so flavorful and a perfect dish when home alone and you want to cook for nobody else but yourself.

Serves 2 but you'll want to eat it all yourself

1 cup short grain rice
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 pound bay shrimp
1/4 pound bay scallops (small ones)
2 medium shallots, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 green onions, finely sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons pimientos
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon course ground black pepper
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped

1.In a pot, bring chicken stock and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to a boil, add rice, and cook covered, reducing heat to low. Cook according to directions (about 18 to 20 minutes. When cooked, gently stir using a fork. Set aside.

2.In a saute pan, saute onions, shallots, celery, and garlic in the 2 remaining tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Saute for about 3 minutes.

3.Now add the shrimp and scallops and saute, stirring for about 30 seconds, then add pimientos and green onions, stirring for another 30 seconds. Add the water.

4.Now add the sesame oil and the cooked rice, stir well so all ingredients are incorporated and rice is well coated. Add the salt and pepper, along with the sesame seeds. Stir for about 20 seconds and transfer to a serving platter. Serve hot.
Now how easy was that? If you want to feed a group of 4, just double the quantities of the ingredients. If you want, you may also add some shredded bbq pork, which can be found pre cooked in your grocery store. After a long day of tedious cooking for Thanksgiving, it's nice to give it a rest and make something simple. Save the turkey leftovers for the weekend!!

Apple Calvados Cheese Cake

You will recall that a while back, I created a recipe for a wonderful cheese cake. I  decided that I would experiement with that  recipe today and came up with something totally new. I call it Apple Calvados Cheese Cake and from the smells in the kitchen, I think it's going to be a hit on Thanksgiving. I know that I had promised that I would post this today and I tried my hardest to make it available to you by early afternoon, but I didn't get a chance to; therefore, as late as it is tonight, I decided it was too good to wait until tomorrow. I had to share it with you by the off chance that you might want to prepare it for your guests on Thursday. Don't be intimidated by the ingredient list. It's really easier than it looks. The time you spend will be greatly repaid by the compliments you will get. Here's what we need:

The Topping

5 medium crispy green apples
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of apple butter
1 cube of butter
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/4 cup of Calvados
5 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 cup of water

The Crust

1 1/2 cups of sifted flour + 2 tablespoons for your cutting board
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of Calvados (or apple brandy)
1 1/2 cubes of butter, room temperature and sliced
2 egg yolks

The Filling

4 packages of cream cheese (8 oz. packages)
1 cup of ricotta cheese
3/4 cups of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
4 tablespoons of Calvados
4 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of corn starch
4 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup + 1/8 cup of heavy whipping cream
Dash of salt

An Absolute Explosion of Flavor - Crab Orzo "Risotto"

You're going to want this. You're going to want this bad! I had no idea that what I was creating at Noon was going to have such full flavors. I mean let's face it, crab is mild, orzo itself is bland; however, when I combined it all with the other ingredients, flavors exploded. I took my time making this, making sure that I stirred and stirred and watched it every step of the way. I've had requests to create recipes for Dungeness Crab and I wanted to make sure this recipe turned out right. All the while I wanted to make sure that it was also going to be easy for everyone to make. Easy ingredients are also included. Check them out:

1cup of Orzo
8 ounces of Dungeness Crab meat, I prefer the legs and claws
4 cups of fish stock
1/4 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup of sweet Marsala wine
1/2 cup of cream
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Parm
1/4 cup large capers
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
4 tablespoons of olive oil

In a 10 inch pan, spray bottom with cooking spray, add the olive oil and heat over medium high heat. I should mention at this point that I assume you have done your prep work and everything is chopped, minced, and grated. OK, now saute the shallots and garlic, lowering heat to medium. Saute for a couple of minutes and then add the orzo. Stir well so that orzo is well coated with the oil. Continue cooking for another minute or two, constantly stirring. Once you sense that the orzo is just beginning to stick to the pan, add the Marsala and the white wine and stir well.

Next you want to start adding the fish stock one cup at a time. Add the first cup, stir, and bring to a slow boil. Turn heat down a bit so that liquid doesn't boil too hard. Continue to stir for about 3 minutes and then add the second cup of fish stock. Reduce heat to medium low and bring back to a slow boil. Let it slow boil for about 6 to 8 more minutes. The orzo should begin to soften and liquid turning creamy. This is what you want to happen. Cooking orzo is a slow process and you want to constantly stir and keep adding moisture because in the end, you want the orzo to be cooked al dente with a creamy liquid.

Go ahead and add 1/2 cup more of the fish stock, continually stirring, this time stir like you are folding whipped cream into a batter, you know what I mean? Keep an eye on the liquid. As it reduces, keep adding a little more until you have used all 4 cups of the stock. Once all the stock is added, the orzo should have been cooking for about 12 to 15 minutes. Taste test the orzo for doneness. It should be very close to al dente but not quite.

Once you have reached that almost al dente finish, begin to add the cheese a little at a time, all the while stirring so that cheese melts nicely into the sauce. Begin to add the cream and ...... yes, continue to stir. When the rest of the cream has been added, lower heat to low or simmer. Add the capers and green onions and blend well. Add the pepper and the crab and carefully stir so that crab doesn't break apart too badly. You want to have some nice chunks. Remove from heat and let sit for a few minutes before you plate it. You may grate some additional cheese once plated, maybe even a pinch of parsley for garnis. A nice finishing touch to this meal is a nice tossed salad of mixed greens. I had this for lunch and guess what? I"m going to have it for dinner too. This is crazy tasty! And did you notice you didn't even have to add salt?? How cool is that?

My First Cranberry Sauce... You Be The Judge.

I was recently surprised to find that cranberries can be found in my birthplace of France. I always heard my Mom tell me that there were no cranberries there and I always believed her. But then again, she's of the mindset that if she hasn't eaten something, then it must not exist. Well, as a famous American cranberry eater once said, "trust but verify", I decided to check it out for myself. Mom, you are wrong. Seeing how we argue a lot, you can't imagine how nice that makes me feel to softly spit out that little word to her, WRONG. It turns out that they're called canneberge (sometimes called airelles des marais). The berry is smaller and more tart than the traditional cranberry we find here. But none the less, they are cranberries, thank you very much.

So along comes this little Frenchman who has never made cranberry sauce in his life before and is going to try his hand at making something that, let's face it, Americans are the best at, the making of cranberry sauce. This little guy is ballzy! After all, it is Thanksgiving and I wanted to make a couple of dishes that are traditionally American for this most American of holidays. And you can thank me for talking my Mom out of making Escargots as an appetizer. Can you believe that? What Pilgrims was she thinking about?

And so, I have gone out on a limb and the limb did not break. With that said, I would like to share my recipe for Cranberry Sauce with a little Francais tossed in. You be the judge and let me know if I should have simply fallen off the tree or if I created a keeper.

For this experiment, you will need:

4 cups fresh cranberries, cleaned and washed
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup fresh cut oranges
1/2 cup Triple Sec (orange liquor)
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon raspberry preserves
2/3 cup water

Begin by tasting one of these little berries. Yes, do as I did and then wonder how the heck can something so tart and bitter become so good. Just kidding, you don't have to do that.  Start by adding the water,cranberries, and pomegranate juice into a sauce pan and bring to a light boil over medium high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium low and add the Triple Sec, stir, and then add the sugar. Continue to slow boil for about 15 minutes, as you will notice the berries begin to break down. Continue to cook on low, stirring occasionally. If you need to, you may add 1/4 cup more water, but I don't think you'll need to. After cranberries have been slow cooking for about 30 minutes, add the orange pieces, the orange zest, the marmalade, and the raspberry preserves, and stir to blend all ingredients together. Continue to slow cook for about 15 more minutes, stirring every few minutes. Taste for sweetness. If it's still too tart for your liking, you may either add 1/4 cup more of the Triple Sec or another couple of tablespoons of sugar. I used an additional shot of Triple Sec, but it never made it to the sauce, if you get my drift. Anyway, I digress. Shut the heat off, cover, and let it sit until cooled. Transfer to a storage container and refridgerate until Thanksgiving.

There you have it, my version of Cranberry Sauce. I hope you like it. I did test it out by the way. I'm happy to report that it was pretty darned good! My second contribution to Thanksgiving Dinner this Thursday is going to be another creation of mine that I've never done before and that will be my Apple Calvados Cheese Cake, topped with caramelized sliced apples. This will be posted on Wednesday, so look for it please. Wishing you all a most wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

Plain and Simple.... POT ROAST

What's not to like about Pot Roast? This is a dish that can be found on the dinner tables of most cultures around the world or at least  a variation  of it. Whether it be pork, beef, or lamb, pot roasting is basically the use of braising, meaning searing at a high temperature and then slow cooking covered in various amounts of liquid. One thing is for certain, it's a way of taking a cheap cut of meat and making it taste so delicious and be so tender.

Everyone seems to have their own recipe for Pot Roast and in most cases, it's a recipe that is handed down from generation to generation. I would venture to say that you make it like your mom made it and your grandmother before her. My mom would make Pot Roast with carrots, potatoes, turnips, onions, and mushrooms. She would use very little beef broth and allow the natural juices from the fat of the meat steam cook the vegetables in the oven. It would be served with a hot Dijon mustard on the side and the juice lightly poured over the vegetables. Oh so good it was. I've made it that way myself; however, I also like making it the way I am about to show you, by slow cooking the vegetables with the meat and then processing the vegetable and juice until it becomes a puree. I cook the potatoes separately this time around by cutting them in halves, sauteing the cut side in olive oil and then finishing with a baking in the oven during the final hour of the Pot Roast cooking. They are freaking great that way! OK, here's what we need for a Pot Roast for 4 people: 

2 to 3 lb. Chuck roast (should be at least 3 inches thick)
2 Large carrots (12" x 1" is a large carrot), cut in 2 inch lengths
2 Large yellow onions, quartered
2 Celery stocks, cut in 2 inch lengths
8 Cloves of garlic, chopped
1 Medium parsnip, cut in 2 inch lengths
2 Cups of white button mushrooms, left whole, stems trimmed
1 Tablespoon of Dijon style mustard
1 Tablespoon of tomato paste
1/4 Cup of chopped parsley
4 Large Russet potatoes, skin on, clean ( do not cut in halves until just before sauteing)
2 1/2 Cups of Burgundy wine (or your choice of Pinot or Merlot)
2 1/2 Cups of beef stock
1 Teaspoon of Pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt
2 Tablespoons of flour and 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder
1/4 Cup of olive oil

Preheat your oven to 350. In a small bowl, mix the flour, garlic powder, and 1/2 of the pepper. Make sure your roast has been patted dry. Take a tablespoon of the olive oil and rub the entire surface of your roast so it is well coated. Next, roll or rub the flour and garlic powder mix all over the meat. There should be enough of it so that the roast will be well coated. Over medium high heat, heat up 1/3 of the remaining olive oil in a large saute pan and sear all sides of the roast until golden brown. This locks in the juices and flavors. Transfer the roast onto a large enough "dutch" oven to fit the roast and the vegetables. You can also use a large pot. Now bring the stove top heat to medium and saute the onions, garlic, and mushrooms in the same frying pan, stirring frequently. Saute for a couple of minutes. Remove the ingredients from the pan and transfer it to the dutch oven. Now deglaze the frying pan by pouring half the wine and carefully and slowly scrape the bottom as the wine comes to a boil. Turn heat down a bit and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.

Either on the stovetop or microwave, heat up the beef broth and unused wine. Add the rest of the vegetables (except the potatoes) to the dutch oven and around the roast. Pour the wine from the frying pan over the roast and the heated remainder of the wine and broth should be poured over the vegetables. The liquid should fill the pot a couple of inches deep, give or take. Anyway, finish by sprinkling the rest of the pepper and the salt over the vegetables, cover and transfer to the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 300 and slow cook for 2 hours. After one hour, turn the roast over and stir the vegetables.

After the first couple of hours, add the remaining olive oil to a saute pan and saute the potatoes cut side down over medium high heat. Saute until nice and golden brown. Transfer to a baking dish and slide in the rack below the Pot Roast pot. Increase oven temperature to 325 and continue baking for one final hour. This should give the potatoes time to cook nicely.

When 3 hours are up, remove the Pot Roast and set aside. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor and add some of the liquid and puree for about 30 seconds. Return puree to the pot with remainder of liquid, add the tomato paste and Dijon mustard and stir well so everything is incorporated. At this time, I should mention that if you can spare some of the mushrooms from being pureed, that would be nice. Anyway, arrange the potatoes around the roast on a serving platter and pour some of the sauce over the roast and potatoes. Sprinkle some of the parsley over the roast for garnish. The rest of the liquid can be transferred to a serving bowl and parsley stirred in. Slice the roast in 1 inch thick slices and serve with 2 potato halves per person, along with a nice helping of extra sauce. Dijon mustard can be served on the side, as it tastes wonderful with the meat. Have a nice loaf of peasant's bread to sop up the extra sauce, you don't want any of it to get away!


 Well, it has been a long time coming, but I finally am able to post the long awaited Paella article. There is so much to say about Paella that it's impossible to know where to begin. I will start by saying the Paella pictured above, is the one I made in Arizona for Felicia Sorensen. The one below is one I made a year ago for Labor Day.

 Today, Paella is found on the menus of the higher priced restaurants and a serving can command a price tag of $18 to $30. What is ironic is that it was traditionally a peasant dish that consisted of various ingredients that were available in the area and could even include left over items. In Spain the variations of the dish were and still are influenced by where it's made. The regions where there is pork and chicken will feature those meats prominently. If there is an abundance of lamb or rabbit, those items will be included. They all have 3 things in common however, they all include rice, saffron, and some type of seafood or meat.

The original Paella is known as the Valencian Paella. Valencians hold their recipe dear to their heart and have insisted that only the ingredients called for in their recipe can be used for the authentic Valencian rice dish. Among these are chicken, rice, duck, snails, butter beans, artichoke, various other beans, and spices including of course saffron. It is in the region of Valencia that Paella was born during the 18th Century. Over time, the entire Iberian Penninsula adopted it as an uncrowned national dish; however, this dish most traditionally identifies Valencia.

Although there are Paellas that contain only meats or just seafood, the more well known throughout the world is that which is called a mixed Paella, which includes various meats and seafood. One can go crazy with the various ingredients and sometimes too many is too much for a good conclusion. Remember, each ingredient is competing with one another in the flavor category, so it's smart to limit your choices and allow the saffron aroma to be the King. Everything else will fall into place and you will enjoy what is considered by many as one of the great rice dishes of the world.

The Paella that I will make with you today is of the "mixed" variety. We will use pork and chicken in the meat category and shrimp, scallops, fresh clams, and mussels in the seafood category. To tie it all together, we will use the Spanish saussage called Chorizo. Two things you cannot substitute are Chorizo and Saffron, no exceptions! Do not use Italian saussage or it will not be Paella. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. The only problem that I tend to run up against when making this wonderful dish, is that I tend to call for larger quantities of the ingredients that can fit in my pan. So please keep this in mind when making yours. I will try to give you approximate quantities for a party of 6 people which is a good average. You can adjust things accordingly to your number of guests.

Before we start, I want to talk about rice for a minute. Rice and getting it right is extremely important. If you screw up the rice, you will most likely screw up your Paella. Certain things you want to know are stay away from quick cook rice (the 5 minute Uncle Bens stuff), stay away from long grain rice which will absorb the moisture too quickly and thereby become soggy, and finally, don't let your rice get soggy ! With all that in mind, you want to look for a short and hearty grain rice. Those are the best to use when making Paella. Among the best choices is Bomba rice. It can be found in most supermarkets or specialty food stores. Whole Foods has a great selection of grains and I am sure they probably have several rice varieties that work well with Paella. But please, don't try to short cut through this one, it just isn't worth it and since you really want to make this a hit in your family the first time around, get the right rice.

I am going to assume that you have purchased a Paella pan as I discussed last week. I gave each of you plently of time to shop for them. If you ordered them online, they should be arriving by week's end. Otherwise, there were some available I believe at Target or Walmart in the $30 range for a decent 14 inch one. There's something else that I want to talk about at this time. This dish may appear very difficult to make, but I assure you that it's not the difficulty, but the time consumption and the attention to detail that is necessary. There are no special measurements or wierd baking instructions and no need for foreign dictionaries. In that respect, this is a very simple dish to make. But I"m not kidding when I say if you want to serve this by 6 PM, shop for your fresh ingredients early in the morning around 9 AM, do your prep work by 1 PM, and start cooking by 3 PM. I may be stretching this a bit, but I just want to convey to you that it's not a one hour meal. So fall in love with everything about it, the ingredients, the smells and aromas, and put on some Spanish music. Here is our shopping list for this version of Paella:


5 Boneless and skinless chicken thighs, cut in quarters
1 lb of pork, cut in 1 inch pieces (does not have to be an expensive cut)
3 links of Chorizo saussage, cut in 1/2 inch slices (ask your butcher)


24 fresh clams in their shells
18 fresh mussels in their shells
1/2 lb of sea scallops, cut in half
1/2 lb of unshelled medium sized shrimp
Optional - 6 crab legs or claws or 6 to 8 jumbo prawns unshelled and heads on


1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
2 medium red tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup of pitted green olives (ok they're fruit) cut in halves
1/2 cup of pitted black olives cut in halves
1 cup of thawed frozen baby peas (or green beans, cut and parboiled)
1 cup of garbanzo beans (this is unique to my recipe and have found that it works)
1/4 cup of chopped parsley


3 cups of rice (either Bomba or Calasparra)
6 cups of chicken broth
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup of olive oil
3 tablespoons of anise liquor (Pernod, Ricard, or Uozo)
1/4 teaspoon of Spanish smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of saffron threads
3 tablespoons of pimientos
6 to 8 lemon wedges (for garnish)

Before you start cooking, make sure that all your prep work is done. This includes chopping, slicing, and the following. Shell the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Put the shells in a medium size pot and add the chicken broth. Bring broth to a boil, lower heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the shells and discard. Add the saffron and paprika to the broth, cover pot, and keep on warm heat, but do not boil or simmer, just keep it warm. Preheat your oven to 325.

Pour the olive oil in your paella pan and heat oil on high. Saute your chicken and pork until golden brown. Remove from heat and set on a platter. Cover to keep warm. Now saute your chorizo on medium high for about 5  minutes. Add your onions, peppers, and garlic, and saute until onions get translucent. Now add your shrimp and saute for about 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp and put them in the platter with the chicken and pork. Stir the onions and peppers and add the anise liquor, then the white wine to deglaze. Now add the rice and stir well so rice is nicely coated. Next, add the chicken broth to the rice and stir well. Add the parsley, garbanzo beans, peas, olives, tomato, and pimientos and stir well. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered for 10 minutes over medium high heat. Stir on occasion so rice doesn't stick to bottom of pan.

Now add the chicken and pork back to the pan, bury the scallops and shrimp in the rice, place the mussels and clams into the rice face up,  and place in the oven uncovered. Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, checking after about 15 minutes to make sure rice is nearly done. You want it to be al dente at that point, not crunchy.  If you feel you need a little moisture, you may add 1/4 cup of stock, but it's doubtful you will need to. After 20 minutes, remove from oven and let set on stove top loosely covered with foil for about 15 minutes.

You have just made your first Paella! This recipe should serve about 6 of you with some left over for seconds. Garnish the edges of the pan with the lemon wedges and a bit more parsley sprinkled over the top. This dish is well accompanied with a nice pitcher of chilled red Sangria. To prepare the Sangria, add 3 parts red wine, 1 part 7 UP, 1 part orange juice, 2 oranges cut in eighths, 2 lemons cut in eighths. Stir, refridgerate for about an hour. Finish dinner with some sliced pineapple and a shot of 43 served in a brandy snifter. Enjoy your fabulous dinner !!

Meet Sikhamani Felicia Sorensen, World Renown Chef

She is known as, "The Queen of Curries", and is the World's Preeminent Chef and Expert on Sri Lankan Cuisine, having received the Sri Lanka Presidential National Title of "Sikhamani" for her role as a culinary ambassador of the island nation. Sikhamani Felicia Sorensen is world renown for her curries, chutneys, and roasted spices. She has traveled  and met great fellow Chefs from Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and has won a number of awards including the prestigious Escoffier Award.

A great Chef, food writer, cookbook editor and author, columnist, and Sikhamani; were it not for a twist of fate, none of this might have happened. Felicia spent 30 years in Hong Kong and while working a part time job as receptionist at the Hilton, she found out that  the curry at the coffee shop was lousy. So she proceeded to investigate and went to the coffee shop to let the chef know. She began  to teach him how to cook authentic curries. The news media found out about it and before she knew it, she became a celebrity and her culinary career was off and running.

Felicia's passion for cooking was probably started at childhood in Sri Lanka. Her mom was a good cook and Felicia would help her set the table and eventually would pick up some of her cooking skills. Those skills were well utilized as she entered an industry pretty much dominated by men. When asked if it posed a problem entering a male dominated profession, Felicia quickly responded, "Not at all. There are some female chefs that will compete head on with their male counterpart, not ask questions, and pretty much do things on their own. I didn't take that approach and played strength through weakness. If I needed help lifting things that were too heavy, I would ask for help. I would freely ask for their advice and built a good working relationship with them. And it didn't hurt to call each of them 'darling'." Truth be told, she also had no problems inviting other chefs to tasting sessions, as she went on, "some chefs are shy and are not too keen on other chefs tasting their dishes. But I'm not one of them". Asked about her secret to success, Felicia replies, "Always believe that you can do it and that you will succeed even when some of the ingredients for success may be missing."

I had the pleasure of meeting Felicia Sorensen last Spring while visiting my sister in Arizona. She joined us for Paella, which I was making. When my sister gave me a little heads up on Felicia, I became nervous and thought, "oh my god, I'm cooking for an Iron Chef." All that quickly melted when I was introduced and she addressed me as 'darling'. The warmth of her personality and her genuine interest in what I was doing made me feel more like her peer than a novice. The Paella turned out wonderful  and  was given 5 stars. In her own words, Felicia critiqued me,
"Darling, I have traveled the world over and have had Paella in a number of the best restaurants and private residences. I can tell you this for certain, yours is the best Paella I have ever had. The rice was a perfection."
I am still riding on cloud 9 from that statement. It was such a pleasure spending an afternoon with Felicia and discussing a subject that is dear to both of us. I was honored to have had the opportunity to be her Chef, if only for one day.


Good Monday Morning! It's the start of the week again and here we are with questions from you and hopefully the answers you want to hear from me. I want to first thank all of you for an incredible week last week. It was a record again. I was so giddy to find my blog featured on the home page of Food Buzz. I guess we're never too old to feel (and act) like a kid! In all seriousness, I was honored to be featured and I owe it to all of you who visit and follow my blog. Without you, none of this would be possible. But, this is another week and we're off to the races again. Let's make it the best week yet. Now, on with your questions.

Do you have an authentic, or at least a semi-authentic recipe for a Vietnamese noodle bowl?
I am looking for something with Vermicelli noodles, lettuce, carrots, cucumber, and maybe some grilled pork. I don’t know what to season the pork with (maybe Chinese 5 spice?). I can never get the Nuoc Mam to taste right. (Mike G., Thorton, CO.)

Mike, Nuoc Mam is usually made as a dipping sauce for certain deep fried rolls filled with vegetables and/or meat, but can be used for soup as well. I have not done a lot of Vietnamese dishes before; however,  I called my Vietnamese friend to get some suggestions on putting together a noodle bowl recipe using Nuoc Mam. The secret is in the proper combination of sugar, citrus, vinegar, and liquid. The larger the quantity of suger to the liquid, the thicker the sauce you will achieve, good for dipping. You can use water or vegetable broth, which I prefer. Vegetables and meat should be quickly cooked to retain flavor when liquid is added. I have emailed  you precise directions to follow regarding this recipe. I hope this will help.

Hi Nick, can you suggest some budget friendly red wines? (Alanna F., Phoenix, AZ.)

There are a couple of them that immediately come to mind, as both are wines that my mom purchases. La Vielle Ferme is a very nice inexpensive French wine. It comes from a small vinyard in the Burgundy region. I have purchased it at Trader Joe's in the past, at about $6.00 a bottle. The other is called St. Croix, again a wine from the Burgundy family. It runs about the same price and has been found at Trader Joe's as well and I believe at Kroger's stores. Since receiving your question, I have also run into a couple of nice South American reds that are very nice hidden gems. One is a 2007 Mendoza Aqua de Piedra Malbec at under $10 a bottle. It's just a simple, smooth red easy on the palate. The other is from Chile, a 2006  Reo Grande Cabernet for about $7 or $8 a bottle. As I find more, I will relay them to you.

Hi Nick. Do you know how to make pickled beets? I usually buy jarred beats, add some vinegar, salt, pepper, and sliced onions then let marinate for a week or so. (Brad, city/state not listed)

I must be honest with you, I have never pickled beets before. With that said, I have to ask if you are looking to pickle beets for canning or if you want to prepare pickled beets to be consumed within a few days. I have done some research and found 2 sites that cover both methods. The first is the actually pickling and canning of beets. If you plan on doing this, it is of utmost importance that it's done properly as the greatest danger is contracting botulism. The bacterium is not killed unless the canning is done via a closed pressure cooker. This site is located at This site is very detailed on what to do and directions should be followed precisely.

The other site is a recipe that I found that is easy to do, isn't as involved, and is particularly good if you plan on serving to guests in a reasonably short amount of time. I would marinate them longer than the 30 to 40 minutes they suggest. Cover and let sit in the fridge overnight to allow flavors to penetrate deep in the tissue. This site is located at I hope this helps you, Brad.

Nick, when are you going to post your Lapin (rabbit) a la moutarde? I have fond memories of it. (Doug A., Portland, OR)

Rabbit is one of my favorite dishes and I remember your fondness of it both in Portland and Paris. I'm glad you brought this up to my attention; I will certainly make it a point to write an article on how to prepare it very soon.

Brussel Sprouts Pastry Pockets

I had brussel sprout leaves left over from the Wilted Brussel Salad that I made the other day and was wondering what I could do with them. I love leftovers, whether it be from last night's dinner or ingredients that I didn't completely use up from a dish that I made previously. Either way, I consider them leftovers. One thing I like doing with them however, is to try and create a totally new dish, not just reheating them in the micro. So these brussel sprout leaves were just hangin around in the fridge next to a mozzarella ball and then it hit me. Why don't I come up with a baked dish that incorporates both? It sounded easy to me. I checked the freezer and noticed I still had a puff pastry sheet and that's when it all started coming together. I was going to make Brussel Sprout Pockets, filled with brussel sprout leaves, mozzarella, and cheddar.

They turned out very good and so I decided to share the recipe with you. This recipe is very easy to put together and tastes great hot or cooled. You can have it as an appetizer at dinner time or for lunch with a tossed green salad. Here's what you'll need:

1 Puff pastry sheet (Pepperidge Farm; be sure to thaw out a couple of hours before using)
4 Cups of brussel sprout leaves (or you can take brussel sprouts and slice them thin)
1/4 Cup chopped parsley
1 Cup of Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (or 4 slices from a Mozzarella cheese ball)
1/2 Cup of Sharp Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 Teaspoon of crushed garlic
Salt and Pepper
2 Tablespoons of flour
Egg wash (1 egg and 1 tablespoon of water beaten)

Fill a medium size pot 3 inches with water and bring to a boil. Add the brussel sprouts and cover, cooking for about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat, strain very well and set aside to cool.

Unfold the puff pastry sheet onto a floured cutting board. Rub your rolling pin with flour. If you have parchment paper, use a sheet of that over the pastry sheet and you won't have to worry about the dough sticking to your roller. Proceed to roll out your sheet until you get a square approximately 14 inches by 14 inches. Make sure you don't roll it out too thin. Next, with a sharp knife, cut the sheet into 4 equal squares. If the edges are jagged, just use your knife to cut nice straight sides.

Once the brussel sprouts have cooled,  gently squeeze any remaining moisture out and put them in a bowl, adding the crushed garlic, parsley, and salt/pepper to taste. Mix all ingredients well. At this point, you may take a small handful of the mozzarella cheese (if you used shredded) and add it to the bowl and mix in well. Preheat your oven to 425.

We will now start filling our pockets. Before you do, with a brush, coat all the edges of each pastry square with the egg wash, approximately 1/2 inch wide. Now, in the center of each square, add some of the brussel sprout leaves so that doesn't go beyond the egg washed edges. Your pastry squares are about 7"x7" and the brussel sprouts will cover  a space of about 2" wide by about 6" in length. Next, add some of the shredded cheddar. Finally, add the shredded mozzarella or if you used slices from the mozzarella ball, cut each slice in half and place them onto the brussel sprouts.

Now, carefully fold one side of each square over the brussel sprouts and cheese so that each corner connects with their opposite corner and created a nice pocket. Gently push down on the sides to fuse the seams together. With a fork, push gently down to make imprints of the fork teeth all the way around the fused seams. Use your brush to lightly egg wash the surface of each pocket. Set the pockets on non stick baking sheet or a greased sheet. You may also line the sheet with parchment paper. Before transferring to the oven, use a tooth pick to punch 4 holes in each of the pockets. Bake at 425 for approximately 25 minutes or until the pastry pockets are golden brown. Remove from oven and let set for about 5 minutes before serving. This is another great way of presenting brussel sprouts to those that may not otherwise like them. Enjoy!

Roulade of Pork Loin... Easier to make than to pronounce!

OK, so here's another French word that you can now add to your vocabulary. Roulade sounds like a complicated process that only the well cured chefs can create in a fancy and well equipped commercial kitchen. Wrong! Roulade is as easy as it gets when it comes to making fancy stuff. From the French word rouler, means to roll like a rolling of kitchen paper towels. You take a thick cut of meat, whether it be beef, pork, chicken, or fish, and cut it open, thus rolling it out. Fill it with a filling of various ingredients, and then roll it back shut to its original shape, then tie it with kitchen twine. That's it, all that is need to know. Do you think I would have brought a procedure into this blog that required a science degree to accomplish, thus compromising my theme of simplicity? Not on your life.

Today, I will show you how to prepare a roulade of pork, albeit with a twist. Once filled, we will not roll it up, but put it back together just as we found it. This preparation comes in two parts. The first part is creating the filling for this pork roast. The second part will consist of preparing the roast with the filling and then baking it. This recipe has an Asian flair in addition to the French, as I have included some Asian ingredients for the filling. Here is what we need:

2 lb. Top Loin Pork Roast, boneless
3/4 cup of Marsala Wine (sweet version)
1/4 cup of water
3/4 cup of bread crumbs, finely processed
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
4 medium brown mushrooms, finely chopped
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
2 teaspoons of ginger paste
1/2 teaspoon of garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon of pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
Butcher's cotton twine (or kitchen twine)

Let's make the filling to start with, that way we can allow it to cool a bit before we add it to our roast. Prepare all your vegetables and spices, slicing, dicing, cutting, and measuring. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Saute the shallots, garlic, and pepper flakes, reducing heat to medium. Next, add the chopped mushrooms and saute for another minute or so. Now add the bread crumbs and stir well so everything is well mixed, taking about 30 seconds to do so. Add the wine and reduce heat to low. If you need to, add the water and stir. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a mixing bowl.

Add to your mixing bowl, the parsley, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of ginger paste, black pepper, and garlic paste, and mix well with a wooden spoon. Begin using the spoon to make a ball with the mixture as illustrated. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 400. Now let's get a sauce ready so that we can brush on the meat later. Combine 1 tablespoon of ginger paste, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, and the 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Mix well to form a paste. Add 1 tablespoon of water to dilute the paste a bit. Set it aside.

Next, we will get our roast ready. With the fat side down, begin to slice down the center of the roast lengthwise. Slice down until about 1/2 inch from the bottom. Do not slice all the way through! Now spread the roast open and on each half, make two slits evenly apart, slicing down to within 1/2 inch of the bottom. Do this for the left and right sides. You should now be able to flatten your roast open.

Take your ball of filling and slice into 5 equal parts. Proceed to to fill each cavity of the roast, careful to not fill completely to the edge, that way, when you close it up, it won't squeeze out of each end. Once you have filled the cavities, gently put your roast back together again. Realize that since you've added "stuffing", the roast will be fatter around. Take kitchen twine (cotton) and cut 5 or 6 even length pieces long enough to go around the roast. At this point, there is a professional way of twining a roast with one single string; however, I always have problems with that, so I find it easier to just cut separate pieces. Begin by tying the ends about an inch in from each end. Be careful to not tie it too tight around so as not to squeeze the filling out. But be sure it will securely keep the roast closed up. Now that you 've done each end, tie the remaining strings around the roast, evenly apart, like the illustration. Once your roast is all tied up, cut any excess string and turn your roast over, cut side down.

In a frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Sear your roast, turning it 1/4 turn about every 3 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish and place in the oven on the middle rack and reduce heat to 350. Bake for 1 hour for a 2 pound roast. About 15 minutes before completion, brush your basting mixture to cover the outside of the roast. Continue to bake for 15 more minutes. Your roast should be done to medium. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Cut strings off and with a sharp knife, slice even slices and set on a serving platter. Enjoy this roast. It should still be moist and succulent, full of flavors, with the hints of sesame and ginger. I would serve this with the Asian Sesame Noodle Salad that I posted earlier.

I Couldn't Help Myself ... And Neither Could Joey

There are days when you just crave something and you can't get it out of you head until you get it in your stomach. For a week, I craved something sweet and I just continued to postpone the inevitable until I finally broke down the other night and rushed to the store for a container of Haagen Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream. Nothing tasted so good that night. I didn't eat the whole thing but it was like being on auto pilot. Spoon in container, spoon in mouth. A third into it I realized I needed to stop this and I threw it in the freezer. I've got to admit I felt a bit guilty.

Then this evening, I had another craving for French fries this time. When you live alone, you've got lots of time to crave. I had taken a nice thick little filet mignon steak out of the freezer earlier in the day and was thinking about having steak and salad; however, I saw the bag of Russet potatoes and the craving hit me.

The little steaks come in these sealed plastic pouches and you have to cut one end and then slide the meat out. I don't know how it happened because it happened so fast, but the next 5 minutes was spent chasing my damn dog, Joey with my meat in his mouth. Somehow, when I was taking the steak out of the pouch, it slipped through my fingers and my Min Pin was right there waiting. That dog must have been waiting months for a jackpot like this. I finally cornered him and grabbed it out of his mouth. He had only bitten into it, so that was good. I rinsed it well. One of these days, I'll have to tell you my salmon story, but that's for one of those days.

Anyway, I want to share with you my recipe for Steak Frites today. I came up with a new recipe for the frites and I don't care what anybody says, I'm going to make them again like this. They were good. I used my ginger paste as a seasoning. Let me tell you what I did. Here are the ingredients you'll need:

1- 6 ounce filet of beef steak
1 small Russet potato, skin on
1 small red bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
Salt (for the steak)
2 tablespoons of ginger paste (basically comes in a jar like crushed garlic does)
2 tablespoons of water
3 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Enough vegetable oil to cover a 10 inch frying pan 1/2 inch deep with oil

First of all, slice your pepper and potato into 1/4 inch thick shoe string slices. Set aside. In a  bowl, add the ginger and water and mix well. If you need to you can add another tablespoon of water to the mixture. Now add the pepper and potato shoe strings into the bowl along with the black pepper. Mix well so as to completely coat the pepper and potato. Now heat your vegetable oil on high heat so that oil reaches 350 degrees. You can usually tell when the oil is ready by dropping a little flour into the oil and it foams and bubbles. Put your pepper and potato shoe strings into the bag, add the flour, and shake well so that all pieces are covered. You should have a starchy, pasty coating. Carefully add the shoe strings to the hot oil, spreading them evenly across the pan. If the oil gets too hot, turn your burner down a tad.

While the potatoes are frying, heat the olive oil in a small frying pan on high heat. Fry your steak for about 3 minutes on each side for rare. The steak I had was 1 1/4 inch thick, so keep that in mind. Once you turn it over to the other side, salt and pepper it. In the meantime, keep an eye on the potatoes and with a spatula, turn them over. Continue to fry until they get golden brown, which should not take  long. When ready, remove them from the oil and let drain on paper towels. You may sprinkle salt while they are still very hot, but taste one first to see if you really need to.

Steak should be done about the same time. Remove from pan and set on your plate and add your shoe string frites on the side. I can tell you, these were the best fries I made. They were crispy as were the red pepper strips and the two together had a great combination of flavors. There was a nice subtle flavor of the ginger that was not at all overpowering. Just look at the photo. Does that look like Burger King to you?? NO ! Enjoy this meal.