Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake - let your taste buds SCREAM!

For those of us who love to do our creating in the kitchen, there comes a time once in a great while when one of those creations stands out as a testament of your love for the culinary arts, not by self proclamation, but by those who you love to share that art with. One might call it a "signature dish", a recipe that is frequently requested by your friends and family during special occasions, in my case, Paella and Boeuf Bourguignon. You never tire of of making them because you know how much it pleases those you invite to your dinner table. You always strive to make it perfect for them.

I have no idea whether this double layer pumpkin cheesecake will end up being remembered as a "signature dish", it's not for me to say. One thing I will say however, from the reaction that it received on Thanksgiving Day by my dinner guests and the raves it got at the office on Friday, I may be making it again and again. There is already a request for Christmas Eve. As time consuming as it was however, I would not hesitate to do it all over again. The only thing I love more than cooking is pleasing my guests and this dessert certainly did that. That makes it all worth it and makes me happy.


1 15 oz can of pureed pumpkin, moisture removed (see below)
5 packages of cream cheese (8 oz. each)
4 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
1/3 cup of heavy cream (or eggnog)
4 tablespoons of unbleached flour, sifted
2/3 cup of fine grain sugar (regular sugar if you don't have)
1 cup of white chocolate chips
3 tablespoons of Kentucky Bourbon
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon each of baking soda and powder
pinch of salt


1 cup of flour
1 stick of cold butter, cut in 8 cubes
1/3 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of Kentucky Bourbon
1 teaspoon of anise liqueur


3 sticks of butter, softened to room temperature
6 cups of sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of Kentucky Bourbon
1/2 cup of heavy cream (or eggnog)


1 1/2 cups of white chocolate chips
1/2 cup of cream
1 cup of chopped Macadamia nuts

The night before, take the pumpkin puree and wrap it in cheese cloth and set in a strainer with a bowl underneath to capture the liquid. The day of preparation, squeeze out any excess moisture.

THE CRUST...... "Oh that crust!"

The first thing to do on preparation day is to make the bottom crust. Begin by preheating your oven to 400. In a medium wide mixing bowl, add the flour, then the butter. With your fingers, begin to gently mix the two ingredients together, breaking apart the butter. Do this until you notice the flour beginning to crumble. Now add the remaining ingredients and continue to mix with your fingers. Once you have a nice crumble, your crust is ready. Do not over mix or you will get a thicker, harder crust as opposed to more of a shortbread, crumbly crust.

Using an 8 or 9 inch spring form cake pan, spray the bottom with cooking spray, then place a sheet of parchment paper over it. While the paper is covering the bottom, attach it to the ring so that the parchment paper will be secured to the bottom. Once spring form is securely attached, cut out any excess paper from the sides. I have found that doing it this way works best and ensures easy paper removal in the end. Finally spray the surface of the paper lightly with cooking spray (or baking spray).

Sprinkle the dough in the bottom of the pan until all of it is added. Now, with your fingers, lightly press down so that the crust has evenly covered the entire bottom of your pan. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature. As it cools, the crust will become more solid. Set aside and do not detach the ring.

Since this cheesecake is two layers, you may want to use 2 spring form pans. Prepare the second pan the same as the first with the exception that the second pan or layer will not have the crust. If not, you'll have to wait until you bake the first layer and it has cooled in the fridge for several hours before baking your second layer (as I had to do). Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves. One step at a time.


Once you have baked the crust and set it aside, it's time to prepare the ingredients for the cheesecake. Place all the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl, making sure the cream cheese has allowed to warm to room temperature. With a hand held mixer, slowly beat the cheese so that it becomes creamy and well broken down.

Next, add all the liquid ingredients and continue to mix until well incorporated. Begin to add the eggs one at a time and blend until you have a nice creamy consistency. Next, add the pumpkin puree and thoroughly blend well.  Now you can sprinkle your spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger. Continue to mix and add the sifted flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

Finally, add the sugar and chocolate chips and mix the ingredients well for about a minute. Your oven should now be preheated to 325. At this time, heat 3 cups of water to boiling and have an oven safe pan large enough to fit the spring form pan into. The pan you will fit the spring form pan into should be a good 2 inches deep. Take and cover the outside of your spring form pan with foil including the bottom and sides.

Take half of the cheese cake mixture and pour it into the first pan  (the one with the crust) and cover the remaining mixture with plastic wrap. If you have two pans, you will want to boil 6 cups of water and have a second pan for the spring form pan to fit into. I know this goes without saying but better to give precise directions. Place the spring form pan with the cheese cake into the two inch deep pan and set it on the top rack of your oven. Carefully pour out the water so that the spring form pan is surrounded up to 1 inch depth.

Bake your cheesecake at 325 for 2 hours and only check it at 20 minutes before it is finished baking. Opening and closing the oven door will only create uneven cooking, so try hard not to do that. When done, shut oven off and crack the oven door open to slowly allow the heat to subside. This will avoid the top of the cheesecake from cracking. Allow this for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cheesecake to sit at room temperature for another 30 minutes before you transfer it into the fridge. You should allow 4 hours in the fridge for complete cooling.


During the time cheesecake is cooling you can begin to prepare your filling (which will also be used for the sides). It is very important the butter be soft but not melted. You might want to take it out of the fridge the night before. Begin by slowly beating the butter with mixer on low until you get a nice creamy texture.

Continue to blend and add the vanilla and Bourbon. Slowly add half the cream and mix well. Now add the powdered sugar one cup at a time and mix well. Once half the sugar has been added, add the remaining cream and continue to mix. Finish mixing the rest of the sugar, continuing to mix until you have incorporated all the ingredients well. You may think the filling is too thick but don't worry, that's the way you want it. Taste for proper consistency and flavor.... but don't eat it all!

Cover the filling with plastic wrap and set in the fridge for about 30 minutes. This will give you the time to prepare for the assembly of your cheesecake.


What you should now have at your disposal and ready are 2 layers of cheesecake, refrigerator cooled, your butter cream filling, and a large round presentation plate. Begin with the bottom cheesecake layer that has the crust. Remove the spring form ring carefully. Place a piece of parchment paper over the top and flip the cheesecake over so that it rests on the palm of one hand (or on a cutting board). Carefully remove the bottom of the spring form pan and very carefully peel off the parchment paper that was on the bottom of your cake layer.

Now flip your presentation dish upside down and place it over the cheesecake layer. Carefully flip the cheesecake and dish over so that everything is right side up. Very carefully remove the parchment paper you had placed on the top of the cake. Remove the butter cream filling from the fridge and with a rubber spatula, stir it a few times. Using about half of the filling, cover the top surface of the layer to about 1/2 inch, making sure it's evenly spread right to the edge.

Take your second layer of your cheesecake and carefully remove the spring form ring. This top layer will be laid upside down on top of the bottom layer so that the top of the cake will be smooth and flat. Lightly grease the palm of one hand with a small amount of butter and place that palm over the top of the cake. Now flip the layer over so that it rests on your palm. With your other hand, carefully remove the spring form bottom and the parchment paper. Now place the layer over the bottom layer carefully. Make minor adjustments so that top layer matches the edges of the bottom layer.

Set aside some of the remaining filling for a presentation edge around the top of the cake where you'll be using a pastry bag to swirl a design (easy). With the rest of the filling, cover the sides of the cake thoroughly. Finally, using a pastry bag (or a plastic baggy with a small hole cut out of one corner, you will make the presentation edge around the edge of the top. Fill your pastry bag with the remaining butter cream and begin squeezing the cream around the edge of the top layer, using a swirling motion as you go along.

Once completed, set the cake in the fridge until you get the topping ready


Yes, we're almost done! Now we're going to get the ganache ready for the final step. This really isn't a TRUE ganache, but we'll deal with technicalities later.  Bring a pot with 1 inch depth of water to a boil and set a metal mixing bowl on top. Turn heat to low and add the white chocolate chips to the mixing bowl and begin to stir with a wooden spoon. As the chocolate melts, slowly add the cream and constantly stir. You want to a achieve a smooth and thick syrup, so if you need to add more cream, do so very sparingly; you don't want this to be a liquid. When done, it should have a consistency of caramel. Remove from the heat and stir so that it cools a bit.

Take your cake out of the fridge and carefully pour the cooled chocolate over the center of the top of your cake. Swirl the cake at an angle so that the chocolate completely covers the top surface right to the edge of your cream swirl border that you made. Finally, yes FINALLY, sprinkle the Macadamia nuts so they cover the top surface. Return to the fridge and allow chocolate to set nicely.

I know this sounds so painstaking and time consuming; however, this is probably the most incredible cheesecake you will probably ever taste. This is something you will want to make only once or twice a year for very special occasions. This cake was made for Thanksgiving and a little less than half of it served 7 guests comfortably. The rest of it was taken to the office the next day and both places was extremely well received. A fellow employee was hesitant because he doesn't care for cheesecake took a small bite and decided he wanted a whole slice. Another employee (who is gluten intolerant) also took a small bite couldn't resist and had a thin slice. Still another employee who loves cheesecake said this was the best he ever had. The process may be long and drawn out, but your guests will still be raving about it a year later. It is well worth the effort, guaranteed! I will be making this again for Christmas or New Year's Eve.

Cream of Potato and Onion Soup is a perfect addition to your Winter Recipes

Yes, as much as we hate to admit it to ourselves in the Northern Hemisphere, Winter is upon us; cold, damp, and snowy weather is the time to bring out the reinforcements of warmth with hearty soups and potage. Soups are so easy to prepare and the varieties are limitless, particularly when dealing with vegetables. This recipe for Cream of Potato and Onion Soup is sure to please every member of your family, rich and velvety accented with crispy fried chopped bacon and scallions. Whether served as a first course or the main event, this soup is a winner.

1 pound of cubed white potatoes
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup of chopped scallions
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
1/2 cup of chopped bacon (imitation bacon can be used for vegetarians)
1.5 cups of evaporated milk (12 oz.)
1.5 cups of chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of white finely ground pepper
2 pinches of nutmeg
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter

In a medium pot, saute the bacon over medium heat until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Next, add the white onion and saute over medium heat until onions become translucent. Add the diced potatoes along with the olive oil and continue to saute for about 6 or 7 minutes, stirring frequently. When the potatoes begin to soften, add the chicken broth and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan (to deglaze).

Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes, checking on it every 5 minutes or so. Next, add the evaporated milk, salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Stir so that ingredients are well mixed. At this time, you can use a hand held blender to puree the soup. If you don't have a hand held blender, use a food processor and pulse blend for a couple of minutes. You may add a bit more chicken stock if it seems too thick.

When the soup is well blended and velvety, add back the bacon as well as the parsley and stir well. Simmer for a couple more minutes and then taste for proper seasoning. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of butter until melted. Serve hot, adding some of the scallions for garnish and a small pad of butter. Serve with a hearty bread on the side. Enjoy.

Keep it salad simple.....

In our continuing "Keep it simple" series, salads are a great way of creating and preparing meals that are both quick and very healthy. Here, we're not talking about throwing a few lettuce leaves together and tossing them with dressing. This simple preparation marries fresh green beans, broccoli, and tomatoes in a light savory dressing that works perfect by itself or as a side dish to a sandwich. This salad is full of good vitamins and nutrients and will be particularly pleasing to vegetarians. There isn't a long list of rare or abstract ingredients or spices either, making this a most stress free and user friendly preparation. Finally, the only cooking time you'll have is about 7 minutes in the microwave! How perfect is that for all you searching for healthy fast food?!!

1 pound of fresh green beans
2 cups of broccoli , stems cut out
2 medium fresh tomatoes, seeds removed and julienned
1 clove of garlic, smashed and minced
2 tablespoons of capers

For the dressing:

1/4 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

In a large microwave safe dish, add the green beans, 1/4 cup of water, and a couple pinches of salt. Cover and microwave on high for 3 1/2 minutes. Stir well and add the broccoli, microwave covered for another 3 minutes. Remove and immerse the vegetables in cold water to stop the cooking process. Vegetables will remain semi crisp and bright green.

Cut the two tomatoes in quarters and remove the seeds. Julienne them and add to a large salad bowl. Crush the clove of garlic and mince, then add to bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and mustard. Stir with a spoon until all is well mixed. Finally, add the capers and stir for a second.

When beans and broccoli are cooled, drain and add them to the bowl one handful at a time, stirring in between. Put plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate for about an hour. Now how simple was that? This salad is light and refreshing without any heavy overpowering dressing. The flavors of the vegetables are allowed to be highlighted while the dressing simply enhances the flavors.

Pork Tenderloin Wellington, a reasonable alternative...

Many of you have most likely heard of Beef Wellington; however, how about getting Pork in on the action? Presenting Pork Wellington, with all the elegance and savoriness of its richer cousin, but at a fraction of the cost. This dish has not been costed, but it easily comes in a less than $25.00 for 6 servings. Consider Pork tenderloin at $5.00 per pound vs. Beef tenderloin at $25.00 per pound! The rest of the ingredients are much the same cost for each. And presentation is no less impressive to your guests! If you've got a bit of time, try this. It's well worth it. Without further ado, let's get started.

2   1.5 lb Pork Tenderloins
2   Puff pastry sheets
8   Slices of Prosciutto Ham (or Serrano), sliced thin
1   Egg (for your egg wash)

The filling:

12 medium sized white mushrooms, finely chopped
1 oz. of Foie Gras (you can also use a non coarse smooth pate)
1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 to 4 tablespoons of fine toasted bread crumbs
1/4 cup of parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 teaspoon of fresh cracked pepper
1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1 tablespoon of Brandy (pref. Apple)
4 tablespoons of olive oil

What is important when preparing a dish that calls for envelopment in a pastry shell is to semi cook the meat you will use, followed by a cooling period so that juices are set and will not run during the final stage of baking. With that in mind, let's prepare the pork tenderloin.

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 (180c). Remove your tenderloin roasts from the package and cut about 4 inches off the tapered end of each roast. Save those ends, as we will use them in a future recipe. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Make sure your skillet is not so big that it won't fit in the oven. Pat dry the meat so that it won't splatter while cooking. Lightly salt and pepper all sides, then brown for about 5 minutes total. Remove pan from heat and transfer to the oven. Lay a sheet of foil over the pan so meat doesn't splatter in the oven. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Following that, remove from oven and pan, set meat in a dish and allow to completely cool, which should take an hour or so. Do not place in your fridge as this should cool to room temperature. Do not discard the pan drippings, as you will use this for your filling.

While meat is cooling, you should now prepare the filling that will go around your roasts. Make sure all your prep work is completed as per the list above. Pour any excess pan drippings from the pan you cooked the pork into a bowl and set aside. Now add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute for a minute or so, stirring with a wooden spatula. Next, add the garlic and continue to saute for another minute. Add the mushrooms and stir.

Continue to cook, adding a bit more olive oil if needed. Turn heat down slightly if you need to at this point. Saute for another couple of minutes and then add the wine and Brandy, along with the bread crumbs. Stir well so that bottom of pan is well deglazed. If you find you need to, add a few tablespoons of water. Finally, add the pan drippings you had set aside and stir well so everything is completely mixed. Transfer to a food processor.

In the food processor, add the Foie Gras, 2 pinches of salt, cracked pepper, Dijon, parsley, Worcestershire Sauce, and pulse mix until a rough paste has been achieved. Taste for proper seasoning, adding a bit more salt if you need. You should need to add anything more to this, as it should be perfectly seasoned. Remember, the slices of ham will add salt to your dish, so be careful. Set aside and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

While cooling, you can now prepare your slices of ham. Take a sheet of plastic wrap and lay it out on a cutting board. Next, lay out 4 slices of ham onto the board lengthwise, allowing the slices to overlap approximately 1/2 inch. Using half of your paste mixture, use a frosting spatula and spread it evenly over the ham. It should spread very nicely. Now add one of the cooled pork roasts on one end and carefully begin to roll it, using the end of the plastic wrap to push the roast along. It goes without saying at this time to be sure NOT to roll the plastic wrap into the roast... LOL. When completely rolled, the roast should be covered with the plastic. Holding each end of the plastic wrap firmly, roll the roast along the cutting board so that it seals it completely. Repeat the whole process with the second roast. Once done, transfer to your fridge and allow to set for about an hour or two.

While meat is in the fridge, remove the puff pastry sheets from the freezer and allow to thaw at room temperature. This should take about 2 hours. Once pastry is thawed, remove meat from the fridge and allow 30 minutes to warm to room temperature. Lightly brush your cutting board with a tablespoon of flour and lay out your first pastry sheet. Carefully stretch out the sheet with your hands and fingers. Don't use a rolling pin please, it's not needed. Simply stretch the sheet out an inch on all sides, that's all.

Preheat your oven to 425. Remove the plastic wrap from the first roast and place in the middle of the pastry sheet. Lightly brush some of the egg wash around the ends of the sheet and then fold the end closest to you over the roast. Roll the roast until it reaches the other end. Fold the left and right ends in, making sure all the seams and well sealed, using additional egg wash if needed. Set in a non stick baking pan, seam side down. Brush the top and sides with egg wash and with a sharp knife, make several slits on the top to allow steam to escape. Repeat this process for the second roast. Then set the second roast along side the other, making sure they are at least 1 inch apart.

Transfer dish to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until pastry is golden medium brown. Remove from oven and allow to set for about 15 minutes before serving. You may use the pan drippings to make a nice green peppercorn sauce, using a bit of olive oil and butter, a few tablespoons of Port wine, salt and pepper. It's your choice. I have found it very simple to just purchase a package of the Knorr Green Peppercorn Sauce mix and be done with it. This dish marries perfectly with a side of baby French green beans and a small serving of potatoes puree. Just remember however, the starch is in the pastry shell, so don't overdo it. Enjoy this preparation, it's absolutely mouth watering. Yes, it is a bit involved and takes time to prepare; however, there is nothing complicated that should keep you from attempting it. You won't regret it and neither will your dinner guests. This preparation will serve 4 to 6 .

Keep it Steelhead simple...

In an effort to maintaining the goals set forth by this blog from its onset, that is to demonstrating how simplicity in the kitchen can produce wonderful dishes and recipes, we are launching the "Keep it simple" series. Throughout its duration, simple yet savory recipes will be presented from time to time. These recipes will stand out from the rest in that the ingredients will be few and from preparation to presentation will be less than 30 minutes.

From personal experience, it's so important now days that with our busy and hectic schedules, we can come home and put an eye appealing and mouth watering dinner together in a minimal amount of time, whether it's dinner for one or party of 4. Not everyone has the time to spend shopping for exotic herbs and ingredients, then come home and spend several hours preparing the dish. And yet, we want to eat healthy, fresh, and flavorful ingredients, not the ones you grab out of the freezer and punch 3 minutes on the microwave dial. This series will make every attempt to achieve the success of simplicity.

As our first dish of the series, it's appropriate to present fish, an often times intimidating food item that can present itself with challenges on how to cook it as well as how to season. Beyond that, what side dishes will pair well with it besides steamed rice (yawn). Steelhead Trout (salmon) is a wonderful solid flesh fish that opens up many possibilities; however, this recipe is so simple that it will take less than 20 minutes from start to finish. Apart from having to go to the store to purchase a fresh filet, the ingredients can all be found within the confines of your pantry. As far as pairing a side dish, why not simply boil some baby Yukon Golds or Red potatoes (Baby Yukons, butter, and parsley)  and serve them tossed with butter and parsley? How simple is that?

1 1/2 lb fresh fillet of Steelhead Trout (also called Steelhead Salmon)
1 lemon
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of dried tarragon
1 pinch of dried basil
salt and pepper
parsley for garnish

Preheat your oven to 400F (200C)

For those of you that are not keen on the rich flavor of Salmon, you may want to try Steelhead. It is a more delicate flavored fish with a much lighter pink color. Be sure to purchase a fresh fillet with the skin still intact on one color. 1 1/2 pounds will serve 4 people comfortably.

Grease a long baking dish with olive oil or butter. Rinse the fillet over cold water but do NOT pat it dry. The remaining water on the fish will help to cook it and remain moist. Place fillet, skin side down, on the baking dish. Squeeze the juice from the lemon and sprinkle the juice over the fillet. Now sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then the salt, pepper, and dried herbs. Slice the lemon and place the slices around the fish.

Bake at 400 for approximately 12 minutes. The fish should have a little give when you push a finger down on it, but it should not be hard to the touch. Remove from oven and let set for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, take your baby potatoes and slice them in halves. Place them in a deep bowl, along with chopped parsley, butter, and salt and pepper. Stir to melt the butter. Dinner is now set. All this took less than 30 minutes and you didn't have to make a long shopping list. How cool is that ??!!

True Cod and Clam Stew presents a bounty of flavors

I've got to admit, seafood is one of my favorite of the food categories. There is such an incredible variety to choose from and endless ways of preparing the dishes. As far as nutrition is concerned, you don't get any better than the fruits of the sea.

Today I chose to combine True Cod and Clams in a dish that is so incredibly savory and colorful, yet so easy to prepare. Both items were found on sale this past week and I couldn't resist picking up some of each. Oh, I threw in a bit of Chorizo for a bit of a kick and it worked out great. Here's what we need:

2 lbs of Fresh Clams
1 lb of Fresh True Cod
1/2 lb of Chorizo
4 strips of bacon
1 medium onion (yellow or white)
2 cups of chicken stock
3 Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup of chopped celery
3 cloves of chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of Anchovy paste
1/2 teaspoon of Saffron threads
2 tablespoons of Pernod (anise lacquer)
4 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Start by preparing your ingredients for cooking. Wash and scrub the clams, cut the True Cod in 2 inch chunks, slice the Chorizo in 1 inch slices, cut up the bacon strips, chop the onion, and slice the tomatoes in 1/2 inch slices.

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions, bacon, and Chorizo and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next add the celery and garlic. Stir and continue to saute for another couple of minutes. Finally, add the tomatoes.

Add the Pernod and chicken stock, along with the Anchovy paste, increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Add the Saffron threads, evenly spread the Clams in the pan, and add the True Cod in the same manner. Taste the broth and salt if needed. Add the black pepper, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for about 6 more minutes until clams have opened up.

Serve this wonderful dish, along with the broth over steamed rice or boiled yellow potatoes (Yukon Gold) and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley if desired. In addition to the fork, you better have a spoon as well. The broth is absolutely to die for! Enjoy :)

The season of Figs draws inspiration for creativity

I can't remember the last time I consumed as many Figs as I have this year. In fact, the last time they were in my possession was as a child when we would pick them off the neighbors tree and eat them green and raw, stomach aches not included. This year I rediscovered and fell in love with them again. Come to think of it, I don't recall a lot of them available in the stores in years past. There must have been a bumper crop in 2010.

Figs are considered an exotic fruit in my book and therefore calls for creativity in coming up with new recipes. Previous recipes on this blog included using them in a wine reduction sauce with either lamb or beef. This time however, it is time to get my inspiration from the classification of the fruit itself and therefore have come up with a dessert. Surprisingly, combining custard and Figs has created a very pleasant and delightful dish, light and refreshing, and not loaded with heavy sweetness, a dessert that will have you and your guests coming back for more. As you will see, this dessert is a bit of  a take on Trifle but on a smaller and less complicated combination of flavors. As always, you will see that some of the ingredients accent my taste in particular flavors. Here's what you'll need:

1 dozen large Figs, ripened
1 packet of custard mix (if you're energetic, you can make yours from scratch)
1/2 cup of coconut cream
1/2 cup of whole milk
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of fine granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
2 oz. of Grand Marnier
8 small croissants, toasted (the 3 inch size)

Start by setting 3 of the Figs aside for later use. With the remainder, cut stems off and cut in halves. Add them to a small pot along with the sugar and 1 oz of the Grand Marnier. Heat over medium heat and bring to a light boil, stirring occasionally. Lower heat to low and continue to cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut each of the croissants in half lengthwise and toast until crisp. Set them aside. If you can find the small variety of croissants (found in most any supermarket), use 3 regular size croissants and slice them width wise about 1/2 inch thick for each slice. Toast them as you would with the small ones. Set aside to cool and harden.

To a pot, add the custard packet, the vanilla extract, the coconut cream, and the milk.Stir until powder is dissolved. Add the egg yolk and blend into custard mixture thoroughly.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring or whisking constantly. Once brought to a boil, reduce heat to low and continue to stir for an addition 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk for about 7 minutes so custard cools a bit without creating a "skin" on the surface.

Now you have all the parts to your dessert and it's time to assemble. Start with a glass bowl that's approximately 6 inches in diameter and about 6 inches deep. Add a spoonful of custard to the bottom to coat. Next, add a layer of croissants and sprinkle them with a bit of the Grand Marnier. Slice them to fit if necessary. Now add a layer of the cooked Figs and top them with enough custard to cover them. Now start over again with a layer of croissants, sprinkles of Grand Marnier  and so on and so forth until you have used your ingredients.

The final step is to take the Figs you set aside and cut them in halves and place them cut side down on the top as the picture illustrates. Transfer to the fridge and allow to cool for at least 2 hours, longer is preferred, so that the custard will set nicely. Serve chilled with a sprinkle of toasted coconut flakes if you desire. Enjoy this along with 4 of your friends, as this will serve 5 easily.

European guests in awe of the Oregon coast

If you haven't heard from me recently, it is because during the month of August we entertained guests from Paris, France. It was their first visit to the States and will certainly not be their last.  They thoroughly loved every minute of their stay and were awe struck by the beauty of the Grand Canyon and the Oregon coast, two of the favorite places they visited. In the end, with 4 to 5 weeks of vacation time enjoyed by the French, these past 4 weeks went way too fast for them and they certainly could have used another 4, according to them.

During their final week in Oregon, I had the pleasure of taking them to the  coast and visit the Pacific, a total must do for them and a place that I must confess I haven't visited in a number of years. Sometimes we take for granted just how beautiful this coastline is from its rugged, rocky cliffs to the long and wide stretches of sandy beaches. If you're so lucky to be there when the gray skies break up to display a beautiful blanket of blue, there aren't many places that get better than that. What makes it so special is that it's not inundated with people and so the beaches and landscape remains pristine. At times it reminded them of Deauville on the Normandy coast and a quick turn of the head and you thought yourself along the coastline of Brittany, France.

A dip of the toes in the waters of the Pacific and it was clear to them they weren't in Cannes anymore. How did they put it, "oooh c'est si froid!" For those that have experienced the North Pacific, you don't need to speak French to know that means it's too damned cold. I had warned them of the chilly waters and suggested before heading to the coast that they should practice by soaking their feet in a bucket filled with water and ice, which got a chuckle out of them.

After brushing the sand off their feet (and their hair), we headed off in search of  a place to enjoy a leisurely lunch and ended up at the top of the Inn at Spanish Head. Perched alongside the cliffs, the tenth floor provided us with an unobstructed view of the coastline which seemed to stretch for miles in either direction. We dined on wonderful varieties of fresh seafood and pommes frites, finishing off with a nice glass of Port wine while watching the waves roar up the shoreline and back out again in an almost hypnotic rhythm. We could have easily stayed the afternoon; however, there were miles to go before we slept and a nap was not on the menu for this day.

One step outside and the cool breezes of the ocean air quickly reinvigorated us and off we were to our final stop, the Newport Aquarium. Although not as large as the ones found in southern California or Florida, the Aquarium in Newport is none the less a fun place to visit. The recent addition of Swamp Land (I think that's what it's called) has added a new dimension to the attractions by bringing in exhibits of live animals typically found in Florida, Central, and South America. The Aviary presented a variety of birds and other exhibits featured Otters and Seals. The finale was the underwater glass tube that allowed you to see a variety of small and large fish in all directions. They swam above and below you. I had never seen a live Shark before until now (with the exception of the ones on Wall Street).

The day was quickly drawing to a close and we still had a 2 1/2 hour drive back to Portland. So we started our trek back home. Along the way, we found a small fish market just off the road and decided to stop and pick up some fresh fish for dinner. We began talking about what we had seen and the memories they would take back with them of their first trip to America. Before long, all was quiet but for the hum of the car racing through the darkening forest. My visitors from France were getting their late afternoon nap after all.

Another year will soon have come and gone. Summer will turn to Autumn in just a few weeks, Thanksgiving and Christmas will fly through town, and 2011 will enter our lives for the first time. And then will come August, new guests will arrive, an Aunt from Paris, cousins from the South of France, and we'll do this all over again, much like the rhythm of the waves going out and coming back. I can't wait !

Sizzling summer temperatures is no time to cook... unless we're talking scallops

OK, it's been a week since the last post, a week of hot sizzling weather in the Pacific Northwest. This is no time to cook with the highs reaching 98 (38c) during the day. The last thing one wants to do is crank up the oven or set the burners on high; however, exceptions and sacrifices can be made when the urge for fresh sea scallops set in. That's exactly what happened today. It was just the small burner for just a few minutes it must be said and in the end, any small amount of discomfort was well worth it. Scallops in a seafood rub, pan fried, and served over a bed of baby greens was pure delight.

Start with a seafood rub. You can find prepared seafood rub in your local store or you can make it from scratch. Making it from scratch will save you money and you'll have total control over the sodium level being used. A little of this and a little of that and you'll be amazed as to how it enhances flavors. For this home made rub, the following ingredients were used:

1 tablespoon of fine bread crumbs
1 teaspoon of flour
1/4 teaspoon of fine white pepper
a couple of pinches of lemon pepper (if available)
a couple of pinches of salt
a couple of pinches of garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar
zest from one lemon
1/2 teaspoon of Wasabi powder
a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes

In a jar or container with a lid, add all the ingredients and shake well so that everything gets well blended. Then prepare your scallops. You will need 10 large sea scallops for 2 servings. Rinse scallops well and then slice them in halves. Set them in a bowl and squeeze the juice from the lemon over them. Allow to sit for a few minutes and then drain the excess lemon juice out.

Add the scallops to the container with the rub, tightly seal and shake well so that all the scallops will be well coated with the rub. Now heat a tablespoon of olive oil and tablespoon of butter in a saute pan over medium high heat. When oil is hot, add the scallops and saute for about a minute on each side until lightly browned. Don't over cook these jewels or you will get nothing but chewy texture and you don't want that. When ready, remove them from the pan and set them on a towel and allow to cool a bit.

While scallops are cooling, prepare your salad dressing. You will need:

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of sesame seeds
a couple tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley
1 clove of garlic well minced

Add all the ingredients to a salad bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the baby green lettuce of your choice, 1/2 tomato diced, and toss well so that all is well coated. Finally, add the scallops and toss one final time lightly. Serve on a chilled plate and enjoy.

The three wives of Caesar

The US has the Bloody Mary and Canada has the Bloody Caesar. Well, step aside because Portland has The Three Wives of Caesar in this combination of the Mary and Caesar cocktails. It was by pure happenstance that 3 cocktails were made on this day (3 guests for dinner) and the fact that Caesar had three wives. It wasn't until several days later that I Googled it that I found out that he did have three wives.

The Bloody Mary and Bloody Caesar are two very popular cocktails in North America. The Mary is thicker and more tomato tasting, while the Caesar has a lighter, more fluid, clam flavor. Why not combine the two and come up with a happy middle solution? Well, that's what I did. Turns out this drink worked for my guests and will work for you as well. Here's what you'll need per drink:

2 oz. vodka
3 oz. clam juice
4 oz. tomato juice
1 teaspoon of Pernod
1 tablespoon of Limoncello
1 teaspoon of creamy horse radish
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
a few drops of Tabasco sauce
Cracked black pepper and salt to taste

In a cocktail shaker, add all the ingredients and just a few ice cubes. You don't want to dilute the drink but the ice cubes will chill the drink before you pour it in the glass. Shake well for a few seconds.

Fill a tall glass 3/4 with ice cubes and pour the liquid to the top. Add your favorite garnish which may include olives, pickled garlic, lemon, cherry tomatoes, or peppers. Enjoy!!

Chinese Green Beans n Bacon Stir Fry is lip smacking delicious!

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that has an Asian supermarket, you are urged to explore it. It's a trip to the market that is unlike any you have been accustomed to. There, you will find foods from vegetables, seafood, to meats you won't find at a regular market. Packaged goods, spices, noodles, and pastries are in great abundance with choices that will make your eyes spin. Furthermore, the prices are very reasonable whether you are shopping for fresh foods, processed goods, or canned items. You will find items that can be purchased in bulk from rice and pasta to grains and legumes at great savings.

One of the items in the produce department that is of great interest is Chinese green beans. That's probably not the official name of this vegetable, but its delicious. Each bean is approximately 12 to 16 inches in length. All you do is cut each one up in the lengths that you want and prepare them the same ways you prepare regular green beans. They are slender like the French style green beans and are indistinguishable in flavor. The preparation presented here is a sesame stir fry with bacon chunks, shallots, and fresh ginger. Preparation is very easy to assemble and cooking time takes only minutes. Here's what you'll need:

1/2 pound of Chinese green beans, cut into 3 inch lengths
1/2 pound of bacon chunks (bacon strips sliced in 1 inch strips)
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
2 medium shallots, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger, julienned thinly
1 teaspoon of sesame seeds
3 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
salt and pepper to taste

It is preferable to use a wok if you have one. Otherwise, use a large saute pan. Heat the sesame and vegetable oil over medium high heat. Once hot, saute the bacon chunks until they begin to get browned. I much prefer to use chunks of bacon. You can take and chop it up in smaller pieces. Ask your butcher to prepare them for you. Many times you can find a few packages in the meat section next to the pork and chicken. They are usually chunks that would otherwise be thrown away, but you'll be amazed as to how much more meat there is than regular bacon.

Once bacon is beginning to brown, add the shallots, garlic, and fresh ginger. Continue to saute, stirring frequently. After a few minutes, add the beans and stir until all ingredients are well blended together. Add your salt and pepper to taste, and continue to saute, reducing heat to medium, for about 5 or 6 minutes. Add about 3 tablespoons of water, stir, and lower heat to low. Continue to simmer for a few more minutes. Right before finished, sprinkle a tablespoon of oyster sauce and stir. Finally, sprinkle the sesame seeds over the dish and serve and present in the wok. Serve hot with a side of steamed white rice or noodles.

Stuffed Tenderloin of Pork with crab presents flavors you'll never forget

Here's another twist on Pork Tenderloin. Open this baby up and stuff it with fresh Dungeness crab. You will be amazed as to how well the flavors go hand in hand. Let's not waste time and get our ingredients together. This recipe is not difficult to prepare so don't be intimidated whastsoever.

1 Tenderloin of Pork (about 1.5 lbs)
1/4 lb of fresh Dungeness Crab
1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
1/4 cup of capers
1/4 cup of fresh chopped parsley
1/4 cup of roasted bread crumbs
1/4 cup of grated Gruyere or Parm cheese
salt and pepper (as we go along)
Cooking string
1/4 cup of cream
1/4 cup of water
3 tablespoons of olive oil

Let's first start by preparing our crab stuffing. In a saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Saute the garlic and shallots for a few minutes. Add a few pinches of salt and pepper and stir in the bread crumbs. Finally, add the water, stir so that everything is well blended, and transfer all to a small mixing bowl.

In the mixing bowl, add the cream cheese and butter. Mix very well until a nice paste is formed. Add 1/2 of the capers, the parsley, and stir thoroughly. Now add the cheese and crab and stir gently so as not to break down the crab too much. You want to be able to have some chunks of crab stay whole. Set the mixture aside and prepare your tenderloin for stuffing.

Begin by cutting 6 pieces of cooking string, each about 10 inches long. Now, lay your tenderloin on a cutting board and using a sharp knife make a cut down the center of the entire length but don't cut all the way through. Leave about 1/4 inch between the knife and the cutting board. You'll now have 2 halves that are still connected at the bottom. About 1/4 inch from the bottom, cut into the meat down the entire length on each half, making sure not to cut all the way through the side. You got me so far? Your knife should be cutting horizontally. Now you have 4 quarters, still connected together. Do this one more time and open your tenderloin so that it becomes a flat sheet of meat. You may at this time use a mallet and very gently pound it so that it has a smooth surface.

You are now ready to stuff your roast. Start by sprinkling salt and pepper on the meat. Next, using a soup spoon, place your stuffing in a line down the length of the center of the meat, leaving about an inch on each end bare. Take those two ends and fold them in like you would a burrito and fold the length of the meat together so that one side overlaps the other. Now begin to tie your roast up by sliding each string under the meat and tying each string to keep the roast from opening up. You don't need to tie it too tight, just enough to keep it from splitting apart and having the stuffing squeeze out.

Set your oven to 400 (200c). Heat the remaining olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium high heat. When oil just begins to smoke, add the roast carefully and saute for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side to nicely brown the meat. Transfer the pan into the oven and bake at 400 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, set the roast on a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. REMEMBER THE HANDLE WILL BE EXTREMELY NOT, so use mitts. While resting, heat up the pan drippings and add the remaining capers and the cream. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, salt and pepper to taste, then shut heat off.

Carve your roast into 1 1/2 inch slices and pour a bit of the sauce over each slice. You may serve this with steamed rice, baby white potatoes, or your favorite green vegetable. Add a bit of the sauce over your side dish as well. Enjoy. This whole dish from start to finish does not take more than an hour to prepare so don't fear that you'll be stuck in the kitchen (although your guests will think so). You will love the flavors !!!

Pork Tenderloin with a Fig wine reduction sauce... mouth watering yet?

A nice Pork Tenderloin done right will always give beef a run for its money. Moist, succulent, and so tender, this cut of pork will satisfy even the most discriminating of food critics. At 1/3 the price of Beef Tenderloin these days, your wallet will be a much nicer place to visit.

I recently, well it was about a year ago, started playing with figs in my recipes. Last year, I prepared a wonderful set of Lamb Shanks, braised in a wine sauce with fig halves. Served for a couple of close friends during lunch, the dish was a total hit. I had never cooked with figs before and wondered why it had taken so long to rediscover them. The last time I had any figs was as a child, eating them right off the plant while still green. I know it's unusual for a 10 year old to take a liking to such an exotic fruit. I just wonder why I lost touch with them for so long. Oh well, it's better late than never.

Anyway, I digress. This week I decided to try figs with pork. I chose the tenderloin cut since I consider figs a luxurious and exotic fruit and the two would be very happy together in a pan... LOL. I was right. This dish turned out so incredibly good that I want to live next to an orchard so as to have an endless supply of them. So easy to prepare and yet so "gourmet" in appearance and flavor, you will certainly want to try it out on your loved one. Tonight, mine happened to have been my Mom. Whoever your loved one is, be sure to serve this dish under candle light because, well, just because. Without further dissertation, here is what you will need:

1 Tenderloin of Pork, about 1 1/2 lbs.
5 medium fresh Figs, sliced in halves
1 1/4 cup of red wine
1 teaspoon of fresh minced Tarragon
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
2 teaspoons of crushed garlic
2 teaspoons of minced fresh parsley
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste and for the meat (keep shakers handy)

Start by gathering all your ingredients together and as usual, make sure everything is minced, measured, and chopped. I can't say enough how prep work makes cooking so easy!

Pat your tenderloin with a paper towel so that it's dry and has no excess moisture. This will make your meat brown much nicer. Now cut it in two halves, salt and pepper it liberally and set aside for a minute. Preheat your oven to 400 (200c).

In a medium size oven safe pan, heat the olive oil over high heat until the oil smokes, usually a few minutes. You want your pan and oil hot to get a nice browning crust around the meat. Now saute each Pork Tenderloin half approximately 2 1/2 minutes on each side. Cut one of the tablespoons of butter in half and place on top of each piece of meat after you have sauteed for the 5 minute period. Place the pan in the oven uncovered and let cook for approximately 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, set oven to broil and cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. USING OVEN MITTS, remove the pan and place it on the stove top burner you were using and transfer the tenderloin to a plate, placing a foil wrap loosely over it to stay warm.

Turn stove top burner to medium high and saute the shallots and garlic in the same pan with the pan drippings for about 5 minutes. Next, add the wine and bring to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze it. Once boiling begins, reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook uncovered for about 10 minutes to burn the alcohol out and to reduce the liquid by half. Now add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the sauce and stir until completely melted. The sauce should begin to thicken a bit.

Continuing to cook, reduce heat to low and add the tomato paste and stir so paste is well blended into the sauce. Add the tarragon, Worcestershire sauce, and  salt and pepper to taste and add the figs. Cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally and turning the figs over to coat them completely. Turn off heat, stir in the parsley,  and let pan set. While sauce is setting, take your tenderloin and slice 1/2 inch thick slices. Place a small spoonful of the sauce in the middle of each dinner plate and then place 3 slices per person. Finish by placing a fig half on top and a couple on the side of each meat serving and drizle some sauce over the meat.

As a side dish, you notice that wedges of Russet potatoes were used. This was simple to prepare. Use 3 small Russet potatoes and peel them. Cut them in half and cut each half in thirds. About one minute before you place your pan in the oven, add the potatoes around the Pork Tenderloin and allow to saute a bit. Then do as instructed above and place the pan in a 400 degree oven.

This truly is a wonderful dinner, full of savory flavors. The potatoes will be perfectly cooked, just lightly browned and puffy. The tenderloin is absolutely moist and cooked to just below medium with a very light pink in the center, perfect doneness for this cut of meat. Enjoy and let me know what you think !

Black Japonica Rice is truly "The Emperor's Rice"

Black Japonica has its historical roots in Northern China where it was known as, "The Emperor's Rice". It is a minimally processed rice; therefore, it tends to retain most of its natural nutritional value as well as its rich bran. Traditionally, it tends to be a sticky rice; however, this preparation allows the grains to remain loose and yet retain that somewhat chewy texture. This is a wonderful rice served both hot or chilled. This preparation is as follows:

1 cup of Black Japonica Rice
2 cups of water
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspsoon of butter
6 oz. of coconut milk (170 ml)
1 red bell pepper, sliced and chopped
1 green Italian pepper, sliced and chopped
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of crushed garlic
2 teaspoons of fresh ginger, minced
3 pinches of red chili flakes
1 level teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of crushed black pepper

Heat the sesame oil and butter in a pan over medium heat. When butter is melted and begins to foam, add the uncooked rice and stir, bringing heat to medium high. Continue to stir for about a minute or so to toast rice. Now add your water, stir and bring to a boil. When boiling occurs, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook covered for about 40 min at low heat.

While rice is cooking, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. When oil begins to smoke slightly, add the peppers, shallots, and ginger, and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. When peppers begin to brown, reduce heat to medium low and add the coconut milk and stir. Bring heat to low and add the remaining ingredients (crushed garlic, red chili flakes, salt, and pepper) and stir to blend everything together. Cover and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once rice is cooked, drain any excess water there may be and add rice to the pan with the peppers and sauce. Stir so rice is completely coated. Taste for flavor and add more salt, pepper, and chili flakes to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot. This is a delicious side dish that can be served with pan fried chicken strips or your favorite seafood, or you can eat it all by itself. Enjoy!

Mexico celebrates lentils Latin style

Ahhh... those lentils, so good, so healthy, and so versatile. If you have been following this blog, you will have noticed lentils done as a salad, soup, entree, and appetizer. Prepared French, Asian, and curry style. Now you can add Mexico to that list with this wonderful preparation full of Latin influence.

Having forgotten to take something out of the freezer, the second choice was to find something out of the pantry (which consists of 2 small shelves in the cupboard above the kitchen sink). Don't laugh, you would be amazed how much can be packed in an area not much larger than 2 carry on bags! Well, as it turns out, the pantry was the right place to start. I found a bag of French style lentils that was begging to be prepared in a way that I had not yet created. The Mexican Paella posted not long ago was a hit and it was time that lentils had their day South of the Border. And so that is the story of this recipe, which turned out wonderful I might add. It's very simple to make and with the exception of one or two ingredients, most of the other ingredients are probably loafing around in your pantry and fridge. Here's what we need:

1 1/2 cups of French style lentils (they keep their shape better when cooking)
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1 1/2 cups of water
4 oz. (100 gm) of chorizo (Mexican or Spanish) sliced thin
5 Tomatillos (medium, cut in quarters)
2 Tomatoes (medium, cut in halves, then sliced)
2 cups of fresh green beans, cut in halves
8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 shallots, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 large red bell peppers, chopped
1/4 cup of parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of Cumin
1 teaspoon of fresh chopped Tarragon
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of salt + 2 pinches
1 teaspoon of black pepper
4 tablespoons of olive oil
A few drops of Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon of colorante (see below - only if you have some)

A word about colorante. It is a substitute for Saffron. It comes in powder form, yellow-orange in color, and much less expensive than Saffron. It adds a nice color to your dish and I think it adds an extra layer of flavor albeit very subtle. Nowdays, you can probably find it in ethnic food stores and even the Asian supermarkets that are springing up everywhere in the States. If you're in Mexico, Central and South America, or Europe, you should find it easily available. I recently found some at one of the Asian markets that sell foods and spices from all over the world. If you can't find it, go ahead and use a few Saffron strands.

As usual, please do all your prep work before you start cooking. It will make it much easier on you. Also, don't fear the "long" list of ingredients for this recipe. Most of it consists of spices that are so integral to this dish. Now that you have everything ready and together, it's time to cook.

Start by getting a large pan that is a good 3 inches deep and pour 1/2 of the olive oil. Heat the oil over medium high heat and saute your chorizo until it is beginning to brown. Remove the chorizo and set aside. Do not discard the oil. When chorizo has cooled a bit, use a sharp knife and chop each slice into rough pieces.

In the same pan, now at medium heat, saute the garlic, onion, and shallots until they become translucent. Next, add the red peppers, stir and continue to saute for about 5 minutes. Add the lentils and stir well so that they are well coated. If you need more oil, you can now add the other half of it. Saute for a few minutes.

Next, add your remaining vegetables and stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Saute another couple of minutes and add your liquid, bringing heat back up to medium high. Return the chorizo to the pan and add all your spices, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. You should have have all your ingredients in the pan.

Bring to a boil, stir well, and cover, reducing heat to medium low. Continue to cook for 30 minutes, returning for a final stir about half way through (15 minutes). When done, lentils should be cooked through just past al dente and still retain their shape. Stir one last time, remove from stove and keep covered for about 10 minutes so that remaining juices can be absorbed.

You can serve this in a dress up way or casual, as the pictures show. Dressed up, gather a few metal molds that look more like cookie cutters. Set molds on a cookie sheet and fill them, making sure to pat the lentils down with a spoon. Fill to about 1/4 inch below top rim of mold and fill remaining quarter inch with a Mexican blend grated cheese and set under the broiler for about 6 minutes or until cheese bubbles. Remove them from the oven and let set for a few minutes. Then, using a spatula, transfer them to a dinner plate, run a thin, sharp knife around the rim and carefully lift the mold.

As a more casual way of serving, simply serve a couple of serving spoonfuls per guest on a dinner plate and sprinkle some chopped parsley over the dish for garnish. I guarantee you and your guests will love this dish. It's full of flavors and each spice adds a nice layer to the flavors. It's wonderful! If you are a vegetarian, simply cut out the chorizo and chicken stock and use 3 cups of water instead.

Warm Potato Salad explodes with flavors!

We will all have made the traditional potato salad by summer's end with tons of mayo and onions. We will also have probably gained a few pounds and added a few points to our cholesterol count. Now it's time to have potato salad that you can eat and not feel guilty having seconds. Lighter without sacrificing flavor, Warm Potato salad is a wonderful summer salad that is more of the tradition of the French version than the American one. It is certainly one that you should give a try. When speaking of warm, we're not talking "hot". The potatoes have cooled to luke warm temperature and it is closer to room temp than anything else.

The ingredients are as follows for a group of 4:

5 medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes
4 fresh eggs
2 nice handfuls of French style green beans
2 tablespoons of fresh minced garlic
3 tablespoons of fresh Tarragon, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon of anchovy paste (or 2 anchovies, crush)
1 teaspoon of dried basil
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon of coarse ground pepper
salt to taste, but start with 1/2 teaspoon
3 tablespoons of capers
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of white balsamic vinegar (or rice vinegar)

Start by bringing a pot of water to boiling. Add the potatoes (unpeeled) and boil until you can stick a fork in and there's little or no resistance, usually about 20 minutes or so. Remove the potatoes but leave the water in the pot boiling. Let the potatoes sit for a few minutes until they have cooled slightly and can be handled without getting burned. They should peel very easy. Leave whole for now.

In the pot of boiling water, add your eggs and boil until they are between soft boiled and hard boiled. This can be a hit or miss but I have found that it takes no more than 4 to 5 minutes. You want to leave a bit of the yolk soft so that it will mix with the potatoes and dressing. When they have boiled, immediately take them out of the water and transfer them to a bowl of cold water. Again, leave the water boiling.

Now add the green beans in the same pot and boil for about 4 minutes until they are just al dente and still bright green. Remove them and transfer to a bowl of cold water so they don't continue to cook. Now you can dump the boiling water, it's no longer needed.

Cut the potatoes in halves and set them in a large bowl. Next, add the beans and capers. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, add the ingredients for your dressing. Start with the anchovy paste, salt, pepper, garlic, and basil. Don't be afraid of the use of anchovy paste. Your dressing and salad will not have a fishy flavor whatsoever. You may actually place all these ingredients in a mortar and crush them all together until a nice paste has been achieved. Now add the Dijon mustard and vinegar, mixing the ingredients well with a spoon. While stirring, slowly add the olive oil until it is well incorporated. You may add a bit more olive oil than stated if you wish, there's no harm. I usually add a bit more.

Once all is well blended together, pour it into the bowl with the potatoes and green beans. With your hands, gently mix all the ingredients together until everything is coated with the dressing. Shell your eggs and cut them in halves. The yolk should have a thick creamy consistency and some of it should be harder. Add them to the salad and very carefully toss with your hands again.

Finally, add the fresh tarragon and give one brief last toss before serving. There you go. That's all there is to it. For some it may seem like this is complicated or laborious. Rest assured it couldn't be further from the truth. This salad is very easy to make and oh so wonderful to eat. Serve as a side dish with your favorite meat or fish. You can even serve over a leaf of bib lettuce for a nice presentation. As a topper, cut a few more tarragon leaves and sprinkle over the top. Enjoy. We all did!


The hot weather has finally hit the Northwest of the U.S. To think that on July 5th we had a record low temperature only to do full circle on July 7th with a record high, it's just crazy ! No matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the hot weather is here and there's no better way to quench that thirst on a dog day afternoon than punching it with Vodka Sunset Fizz. It's not Sangria and it's not Tequila Sunrise. It's the next step beyond, one that you'll want to share with your friends this weekend. Please check your car keys in at the door because this one will have Martha punching it past midnight! It's THAT good!

1 Large punch bowl
1 bag of ice
1 gallon of low pulp orange juice
2 bottles of champagne
1 1/2 to 2 cups of vodka
1 cup of orange brandy (or mix of orange liquor and brandy)
1/3 cup of grenadine
2 large oranges, sliced

Start by filling the punch bowl half way with ice. Next, add your vodka and orange brandy. Stir the ice around. Now add the champagne, pour the orange juice carefully, and finally drizzle the grenadine into the bowl, allowing it to sink to the bottom.

Finally, arrange some of the orange slices around the rim of the bowl and lay the remaining slices in the bowl. Serve and enjoy this quenching punch. It is and has always been a hit at holiday gatherings and this quantity will respectfully serve 8 to 10 party goers. Have extra on hand in case you need it or depending on the size of your party. The 4th of July was very festive! As always, please, if you're going to drink do it sensibly and never get behind the wheel and have a designated driver at all times.

Hummus Elegantus comfortable in clay or crystal

Although most popular in the Middle East, nowdays hummus feels well at home throughout most of the Western Hemisphere and Europe. Rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, this dish can play a duet as an appetizer for your dinner party and lunch for a lite fare gathering. Although the basic ingredients are found in most recipes i.e., chick peas (garbanzos), garlic, and olive oil, there are many varients of the dish. You can dress it down with just basics or class it up with a touch of this and a touch of that and give it a wonderful assortment of subtle yet exotic flavors. This preparation is a bit dressed up and hence I called it Hummus Elegantus. I think you'll agree this melange of ingredients will wow the palate. Let's gather them now:

2 cans of chick peas (also called garbanzo beans), save 1/4 cup of the juices
2 garlic bulbs, roasted (see directions below)
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of sesame seeds (alternatively you may use tahini)
Juice from one fresh lemon
1/4 teaspoon of white finely ground pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika (hot or mild, your choice)
1 teaspoon of pimentos (for garnish)
1 teaspoon of capers (for garnish)
flat leaf parsley (for garnish)
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard (medium hot)

First, preheat your oven to 400. Place garlic bulbs unpeeled, directly on the middle oven rack and roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour until cloves are nice and soft. Don't short the roasting time because you want the garlic to be "creamy" when blended.

While garlic is roasting, drain the beans, remembering to save 1/4 cup of the liquid. Set liquid aside. Combine beans, olive oil, sesame seeds, lemon juice, and all the dry spices in a food processor. Add 1/2 of the liquid from your beans. Pulse process for about 1 minute until beans become smooth and ingredients are well blended. Next, add the Dijon mustard and pulse for another 10 seconds or so. With a spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl and pulse process another 30 seconds. If you need more moisture, add the remaining liquid from the beans. Leave mixture sitting in the bowl until garlic is ready.

Once garlic is well roasted, peel and partially mash cloves before adding them to the hummus. Now pulse the mixture with the garlic once last time for about 20 seconds and give it a taste for flavor. It should be perfectly seasoned; however, if you like it a bit saltier, add a couple more pinches of salt and pluse for 5 seconds more. It's all to personal taste. If you like it a bit spicy, you can even add 1/2 teaspoon of red chili flakes, but it's probably not necessary.

Transfer to a nice clay bowl for a casual get together, or go crazy elegant with a crystal dish. Place the parsley in the center of the bowl and carefully place the pimento on top of the parsley so as to make a flower. Place the capers in a circular position around the parsley. And there you have it, ready for your most discriminating guests, sure to gobble this up like there's no tomorrow. Serve with your favorite dipping bread or crackers and enjoy.

Many thanks to Gabriel, who captured my attention with this recipe.

Spice it up a bit with Mexican Paella

By now, if you have been following this blog, you are familiar with the Spanish Paella that has been presented and well reviewed. The dish is a wonderful and delicate flavor of what Spain has to offer, the abundance of seafoods, fresh vegetables, its famous Bomba rice, and of course one must not forget the great Spanish pork used for chorizo. All that's well and good and over time it has become an all time favorite on the request list of dishes to make at my dinner parties. But it's time to spice it up a bit and bring it closer to home with a flavor from south of the border, Mexico!

Bringing in the taste of Mexico is a perfect marriage for Paella. Mexican chorizo, tomatillos, and spicy green chilies simply sets sail the Paella that made culinary Spain famous across the Atlantic to become Mexican Paella that everyone is sure to embrace every bit as much as its famous cousin. So without further dissertation, let's begin with our shopping list.

Enough to feed 6 people:

2 lbs of chicken wings
1 pound of shelled and cleaned medium shrimp
1 pound of Mexican chorizo, medium heat, sliced in 1/2 inch thickness
2 pounds of fresh Manila clams in shell
1 1/2 cups of short grain rice (Bomba is best)
2 medium sized tomatillos, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, diced
1 small green chili, finely diced (2 if you're brave)
2 medium shallots, diced
1 1/2 cup of frozen baby peas
2 cups of fresh green beans, cut in 1 inch sizes
1/4 cup of olive oil
4 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1/4 cup of Tequila
1 teaspoon of paprika (smoked if possible)
1 cup of diced tomato
1/4 teaspoon of red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon of Saffron threads
1 teaspoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of salt (to taste, so taste before)

The best way not to make this dish labor intensive or complicated, let alone intimidating, it is best, as always, to do all your prep work ahead of time so that all you have to concentrate on is the cooking. Trust me, it works very well that way. So start gathering all your ingredients in their proper amounts, wash, soak, slice, chop, and dice. You're now halfway there. In a very large pan (either paella pan 14" or large oval dutch oven ) heat the olive oil over medium heat. The oil should completely cover the pan. If it doesn't, just add a bit more.

Start by sauteing the chorizo until they are slightly browned and the oil has taken on a shade of the color of the chorizo. Remove the chorizo and now brown your chicken wings for a few minutes. Remove and set alongside the chorizo. If the oil gets too hot, simply turn down the heat slightly.

Next, saute in the same pan, the onion, garlic, diced chili,, and shallots until they become translucent and begin to slightly brown. Once this occurs, add the Tequila and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Stir well so that Tequila gets absorbed completely by the onions. Now, add the tomatillos and the rice. Stir well so that rice gets well coated. Allow the rice to saute for no more than a minute or so. Now you can add the chicken stock but save 1/2 cup to heat up separately for the saffron threads. Stir well and add the green beans, paprika, diced tomato, black pepper, salt, and chili powder.

While you await the stock to come to a slow boil, heat the chicken stock you set aside in the microwave and add the saffron threads. Allow them to completely bleed into the stock. Add to the rest of your stock. When chicken stock begins to boil, add the chorizo and chicken back into the pot, bring back to a aboil, and then reduce heat to low and cover for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, add the peas, clams, and shrimp, carefully immersing the clams into the rice and broth. Cover again and allow to cook for an additional 10 minutes. When finished, there should possibly be a small amount of liquid left, which is totally fine. Remove from heat and allow to rest semi covered for about 10 minutes. This will allow the rice to complete its absorption of the liquid and you will have a perfectly moist but firm rice.

Present the Mexican Paella in the dish it was cooked in so that it will remain hot. Your guests will be impressed with your culinary prowess and melt in their seats when they savour the first bite. And you won't have to tell them how easy it was to make. Enjoy!

Raspberry Mascarpone Tart is a piece of Heaven with every bite

Recently, I noticed a number of Foodies out there have posted various fruit tarts from strawberries to apples and pears. Thanks to all of them, it has inspired me to try my hand at one and I believe it to be a winner. Because of your inspiration, I certainly can't take full credit, but have none the less added my special touches to this one. I served this to my guests for Sunday brunch and it was like seeing a bunch sweetoholics swarming over it never being able to get enough of it. I must admit, later in the evening I could still smell the scent of the perfumed aroma of the raspberry compote. I can't say enough about the incredible flavors that screamed out of every bite. As a footnote, it was relatively easy to prepare.

The topping:

2 pints of fresh raspberries (2 small boxes)
2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons of Grenadine syrup
3 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 cup of raspberry preserves
1 packet of gelantine powder (diluted in 1/3 cup hot water)

The filling:

1 package of cream cheese (8 oz.) at room temperature
1/2 container of Mascarpone (4 oz.) at room temperature
1 whole egg room temperature
1/3 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of Grand Marnier

The crust:

1 puff pastry sheet
2 tablespoons of flour

You can make your own puff pastry, but please, do you really want to complicate this dessert? Have we forgotten what this blog is all about, simplicity?? Just take the pastry sheet out of the freezer and set it at room temperature and let it thaw for about an hour or so.

When thawed, unfold it and lay it over a cutting board that has been sprinkled with the 2 tablespoons of flour. Preheat your oven to 400 (200c). Get yourself a tart pan that has the romovable bottom, you know the kind I'm talking about? You want one about 9 to 10 inches in diameter. Since there is plently of butter in the puff pastry, you really don't need to butter your pan. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the puff pastry so that it is large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the tart pan. Don't roll it too thin or you won't have a nice bottom crust. Lay the pastry dough over the tart pan and push along the sides with  your thumb so that it molds itself nicely to the sides. If you have extra pastry dough that goes over the sides, simply fold it back into the sides making sure that it sticks well in the fold. With a fork, poke holes on the bottom and sides so that pastry doesn't puff up.

When ready to bake, use baking paper to cover the bottom and sides and then fill the pan with dried beans (like kidney beans or white beans). This will also help prevent pastry from puffing up and will keep its shape. Be sure to use baking paper and not foil. Foil, for some reason, keeps the bottom from baking well. It's best to use parchment paper or that special plastic paper that's oven safe. Anyway, I digress. Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes. When finished, remove from oven and lift out the beans and paper and allow to cool. It will continue to bake while it is still hot.

While pastry is cooling, start preparing your topping. In a medium sauce pan, add the raspberries, sugar, and Grand Marnier. Heat and bring to a very slow bubbling over medium to medium low heat, stirring frequently. Once liquid has been produced by the raspberries, add the preserves and the Grenadine and continue to cook for about 5 or 6 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl through a strainer so that you separate the liquid from the solids. The liquid will produce a wonderful syrup that you will coat your serving plates with. Set the solids back in the pan and set aside.

Now you can prepare the filling. In a large bowl, add the cream cheese, Mascarpone, egg, vanilla, and Grand Marnier, and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended and creamy. It may take a few minutes but you want to do this by hand. Once smooth, add the sugar and mix well for a couple more minutes.

Now it's time to bake again. Once the crust has cooled and the base has hardened a bit, add the filling of cream cheese and  Mascarpone  to the crust shell making sure it covers the base evenly. Since there could be leakage at the seams of the pan bottom, cover the bottom and sides of the tart pan with foil. This next step is very important. ONCE THIS GOES IN THE OVEN, THE OVEN DOOR MUST STAY SHUT AND NEVER BE OPENED UNTIL BAKING IS COMPLETE. Bake at 400 for 12 minutes and then shut the oven off and leave the tart in the oven for another 40 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR DURING THIS TIME.

When baking is done, remove and set the tart aside to cool for about an hour. When cooled, add the gelatin (diluted in hot water) to the raspberry solids you have in the pan and stir well for about a minute. Let set for 5 minutes and then pour over the top of the filling making sure the entire surface is well coated. Transfer tart to the fridge and allow to continue to cool for another hour.

To serve, coat each plate with the raspberry syrup (about 2 tablespoons per plate) and place a nice wedge on top. Finish with a nice spoonful of well whipped heavy cream. You will have a dessert that is guaranteed to wow your guests. You won't believe the incredible flavor your taste buds will experience. I seriously recommend you make this at home. It was out of this world and I have all of you that have posted various tarts to thank for inspiring me to try my hand at it.

Spaghetti and meat balls.... a billion fans and a billion ways, but here's my way

Who doesn't love spaghetti and meat balls please leave the room. This has got to be on the favorites list of most everyone. For you vegans out there, just leave out the meatballs. This recipe for meat balls in a tomato base goes back 50 years in our family and large quantities were always made so that there was a guarantee of leftovers. Otherwise, good luck! We'll first start by preparing the meat balls. These have a wonderful moist texture and are so savory, you might even want to remember the recipe for meat loaf sometime. Here's what you'll need:

1 lb. of lean ground beef
1 lb. of ground sweet Italian sausage
1 cup of Panko bread crumbs
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish papika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon anise seed
1 cup of flour in a bowl
1/4 cup of olive oil

In a large bowl, add the beef and sausage, breaking it in chunks. Next, add the eggs and Worcestershire sauce and with your hands dig in and mix those ingredients well. Make sure the sausage and beef integrate completely. Now add all your remaining ingredients and continue to mix until everything is well mixed and incorporated.

Now wash your hands well, rinse, but do not towel dry them. When you roll your meat mixture into meat balls, having moist hands will keep the meat from sticking to your hands, so keep them wet. Starting with a soup spoon,  spoon enough mixture into your palm to make a ball about 1 1/2 inch in diameter. Begin to roll the meat into a nice round ball using both your palms. Set each one on a sheet of parchment paper. This amount will make approximately 24 meatballs.

Now heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. While waiting for the oil to heat, start dredging the meat balls in the bowl of flour two at a time. When oil is hot, carefully place the meat balls in the pan, 8 to 10 at a time and saute on each side until browned. This will usually take about 8 minutes per batch. Once each batch is browned, set then on a large plate lined with paper towels. When all meat balls are browned, discard oil and wipe your saute pan of any burned or browned flour. Discard the flour and wash your bowl. Now we will prepare the sauce. For this sauce you will need:

2 large yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely sliced
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
6 medium brown mushrooms, chopped
1 cup of Chianti Wine
1/2 cup beef stock
1 teaspoon of anchovy paste
3 tablespoons of capers
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of ground pepper
1 Italian green pepper finely chopped
1 16 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of oregano (dried)
1 teaspoon of basil (dried)

In  the large pan you used, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, saute the onions until translucent. Next, add the garlic and green peppers. Continue to saute over medium heat for a few minutes and add the celery and carrots. Stir and saute for an additional few minutes or so. Now add the Chianti wine and deglaze your pan. Add the diced tomatoes and the mushrooms, reduce heat to medium low. Next add all the remaining dry ingredients including the oregano, basil, salt and pepper,and stir well. Continue to cook over medium low for about 5 minutes and add the beef stock, anchovy paste, capers, and tomato paste. Dissolve the paste and anchovy, mixing and incorporating everything well. Your sauce should have a nice "puree" consistency now. If it's too thick for you, just add a bit more beef stock.

Continue to cook uncovered for another few minutes and then add the meat balls back into the pan, stiring them in so that they are well coated and incorporated into the sauce. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for an additional 15 minutes. When finished, uncover, shut the heat off, and allow the sauce to settle and develop a nice thick creamy texture.

While the sauce was slow cooking, you should have brought a large pot of water to a boil. Choose your choice of pasta (spaghetti or linguini). Add a generous amount of salt to the water, but leave the oil out. Cook your pasta for about 8 to 10 minutes or until it is al dente. Remove pasta using a large fork or pinchers and add to a large serving bowl. Don't remove pasta by draining and DO NOT RINSE over water! By removing the pasta as instructed you'll take some of the pasta water with you which will keep the pasta from sticking and also add flavoring to the sauce. Once pasta is in the serving bowl, add a small ladle of the sauce to the pasta and stir well so that it is nicely coated with a think layer of the sauce. Add the meat balls over the pasta and transfer the sauce to another serving bowl and voila, dinner is ready. Enjoy with wonderful Italian bread, sprinkling of grated Parm or Gruyere, and finish off with a generous helping of butter lettuce and a mild olive oil and lemon juice dressing. Enjoy !!