Oh the pretty little Puff Pastry Cream Puffs!

Pretty doesn't mean you have to be difficult! These little bite size cream puffs go from kitchen to belly in no time flat. Oh of course, you can go through the process of preparing your own puff pastry; however, with your busy schedule, how does one find the time anymore? With our modern conveniences, you can now purchase ready made puff pastry sheets in your grocery store that is just as good as what you used to make from scratch.

The Bavarian Cream (or custard if you want that) is much less time consuming and easier to prepare, so there's no problem in putting that together from scratch. The last thing you need are strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries. Any of these fruits will do just fine; however, strawberries should be your first choice! Using a selection of strawberries, prepare them by slicing them to about 1/8 inch thickness.

Begin by defrosting two puff pastry sheets for a couple of hours. Place them in the fridge until ready to use, as you certainly want the dough to be well chilled which will result in a much puffy rise. Preheat your oven to 425 F.  Roll out the puff pastry on a floured cutting board and roll out the sheet until it is about 12" x 12". Using a 2 to 3 inch cookie cutter, begin to cut little round disks, discarding the excess left over. Use a mini cupcake pan and place a disk in each slot as you would if you were making little tart shells, but don't press down too hard (and no poking holes in the pastry with a fork on this one). Using a pastry brush, apply a very thin layer of egg wash to each one.  Bake for about 12 to 14 minutes or so, keeping a close eye on them so they don't burn. They should puff up to really nice round puff pastry balls. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, you can take a very sharp knife and slice them horizontally right at the seam.

The Bavarian Cream is not difficult to prepare. In fact, you could prepare it before you start anything else which would give it time to cool down in the fridge. Get the following ingredients together:

2 tablespoon of powdered gelatin
1/2 cup of cold water
1/2 cup of sugar
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup of cold water
1 3/4 cups of milk
1 pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Start by diluting the powdered gelatin in the water, stirring well. Set aside.

Using a medium size bowl, whisk briskly the egg yolk, sugar, and salt. If you want, you may use an electric hand mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk until the egg yolk doubles in size and becomes a light yellow and silky.

In a sauce pan, bring the milk to a boil; however, before it comes to a boil, take a few tablespoons of the milk and slowly add it to the egg yolk, stirring the egg yolk constantly so that it doesn't clump. You are wanting to bring the temperature of the egg yolk up to where it won't cook it when you slowly pour the rest of the milk into the bowl. Once the milk has come to a boil, add it slowly to the yolk and stir well with a hand whisk. Return the combination to the sauce pan and heat while stirring, over medium. At this point, you can use a wooden spoon to stir. Once the spoon can be nicely coated with the mixture, it's ready. Remove from heat, pour it through a strainer into a bowl, mix the gelatin into the custard so that it melts completely,  and cover the surface of the custard with a sheet of plastic wrap. Set aside and allow to cool.

Once the custard has cooled, whip the heavy cream, along with the vanilla extract until you have medium stiff peaks. Carefully fold the cream into the custard in 3 equal parts. Don't over stir so that you don't lose the air that whipping the cream created. Once fully folded, place the bowl in the fridge for about an hour.

Once cooled, you're ready to assemble your little puff pastries. Using a small teaspoon, place some of the custard to the bottom half of each puff pastry shell, followed by a couple of slices of strawberries. Finish with just a little dab of custard and place the top half of the pastry puff on top of the custard. Feel free to add a couple of drops of white chocolate syrup on the top and place a raspberry over the syrup for a  final touch. You will be delighted at the outcome and so will your friends and family. These little morsels are sinfully good! Enjoy.

A season to be tart

It's Autumn in the Northwest which means cooler and wetter days, warm flannel shirts, and jackets with hoods. Why so gloomy? This time of the year is one of the most colorful and festive of all the seasons. Look around you and enjoy the visual palate of gold, yellow, red, and green foliage falling like snow. Get out and kick the piles of leaves just like you did as a child. Splash up the puddles left behind by the last downpour. It's time to relive your younger days and play! Put on your costume and party with the witches and goblins on Halloween night. Eat candy and chocolates 'til your belly aches.

After all that frolicking, you're sure to build an appetite for a little snack. But you don't want to grab a bag of chips or puffs at the convenient store and you certainly don't want to toil in the kitchen working on a complicated recipe. After all, it's just snack time. Finally, you want something hearty that will give you energy and warm your belly. This is where cheese tarts come in. Very easy to prepare from scratch, these wonderful tarts are delicious and take only about 30 minutes to bake.

Let's start by preparing an easy crust for your tart. First, gather your ingredients:

1 cup of flour, 3/4 cube of cold butter cut into squares, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 2 tablespoons of water

In a large bowl, mix the ingredients using your hands and fingers. Continue to mix until the flour develops a wet sand consistency and it begins to clump. Place the bowl in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

Preheat oven at 400 F (200 C).

For your filling, crack 4 eggs in a bowl, along with 1/4 cup of cream, and a bit of salt and pepper. Beat all ingredients together until well mixed.

Now add 1/2 cup of fresh grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup of grated Swiss cheese (or Gruyere) to the eggs and stir well. Set aside.

Now, chop up about 1/2 cup of Leeks and one medium shallot. Saute for about 5 minutes until translucent, let cool a bit and add to the egg and cheese mixture.

Remove dough from the fridge and begin to line the bottom and edges of 4 individual tart pans (about 5 inch diameter size) or one medium size tart pan. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes, remove and let cool for about 15 minutes.

Finally, begin to fill each tart pan and dot the tops with some grape tomatoes if you wish. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake tarts for about 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Then it's ready to serve

To soup or not to soup all depends on you

With the arrival of warmer weather, it's all too often that soup begins to take a back seat to its more fair weather friend, la salade. Well, the time has come to break from traditional habits. Soup is perfectly comfortable as the days and nights warm up. In fact, if you carefully pick and choose the type of soup, it makes perfect sense as a first course for a July evening dinner.

Think lighter fare when choosing what soup you plan to prepare. We're not talking about the heavy and hearty guns here, but more in the line of light and creamy soups that a simple ladle or two will suffice. Think of a light and silky scarf around your neck as you stroll through the city park on a warm Summer's eve, instead of that thick, old, and scratchy wool muffler that's been hanging in your closet that you can't wait to re-gift. Now you're beginning to envision a wonderful cream of red lentils and carrots with a light scent of ginger and golden curry as you close your eyes and your mind wanders to the sandy beaches of Panaji with subtle, warm breezes blowing in from the Arabian Sea as the Sun gives its last kiss good night.

Snap out of it! It's time to make soup and you've no time for day dreaming. Get yourself a fan and pretend. Here are the ingredients for Red Lentil and Carrot Ginger Soup:

2 cups of carrots, chopped in one inch pieces
1 cup of dry red lentils, well rinsed
2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh peeled young ginger
6 cups of chicken stock
3/4 cups of coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon of golden curry power or turmeric (your choice)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of white pepper
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of butter

Begin by bringing the chicken stock to a full boil in a medium to large pot. Add the carrots and the red lentils and boil for about 15 minutes uncovered over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. You will begin to see some foaming around the edges. Take a soup spoon and carefully skim this off and discard it. Reduce heat to medium and add the ginger. Cover and continue cooking for about 30 minutes or until the carrots are tender and lentils are soft to the bite. Check back occasionally and stir.  Liquid should have reduced a bit and lentils should have absorbed some liquid as well.

Now transfer the carrots and lentils, along with the liquid to a food processor in 3 equal amounts and process for about 3 minutes each. Once processed, return the soup to the pot by way of straining through a fine mesh strainer. Take your time and don't rush the straining, as you want to have a silky smooth consistency. You can use a spoon to keep the mesh clear as you strain, but don't try to push it through. Any solids left in the strainer can be discarded. This process can take 10 minutes, but be patient. The finer the mesh the better.

Once the soup has been put through the strainer and back in the pot, stir in the coconut milk, the curry powder (or turmeric), salt, pepper, and honey. Make sure the cook top is reduced to low. Stir well until all ingredients are well blended. If you desire less thickness to your soup, add more cream or coconut milk and stir well.  Taste for flavor and add a bit more salt if needed. Continue to cook on low for about 15 minutes until it comes to a very very low boil, all the while stirring frequently. Once it comes to a boil, cook for just about 5 more minutes, remove from heat, and melt 1 tablespoon of butter until completely blended. Serve hot with sprinkled parsley or a nob of sour cream. Settle in the back yard, hit the fan, and go back to your day dream. Enjoy!

The Two Faces of Salads

It's the month of May and that means Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. With the coming of warmer weather,  the focus begins to shift towards more outdoor activities such as jogging, boating, swimming, and oh yes, dieting!

One of the most versatile foods that pairs so well with Spring and calorie watching are salads. The recipes are endless and so all encompassing. Think about it, name a vegetable, fruit, grain, legume, fowl, seafood, or meat, and odds are there is a salad for that. Another great advantage of salads is that more likely than not, they will be made of fresh items. And finally, they tend to be healthier for you, providing good vitamins and nutrients, lower fat and calories, and high dietary fiber.

STOP THE PRESSES! Salads can be dangerous to your health! They are loaded with calories, fat, and cholesterol. Yes, like all other foods,the claims are true, if we turn these wonderful salads into a hodgepodge of   everything we can find in the fridge to pile onto our plates. All too often, we Americans tend to go overboard when putting together a salad and end up with high fat and high cholesterol dressings, high sodium processed cheeses and meats, all served in a large bowl as opposed to a dinner plate. The end result is a total defeat of why we had a salad instead of Mac n Cheese or Lasagna. We end up consuming nearly 1,000 calories, not to mention the saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol we were trying to avoid.

Salads are great for all of us; however, we must take into account several factors in order to maintain the "goodness" integrity. First, serve your portions on a plate as opposed to a bowl. This will ensure measured quantity, thereby controlling the amount consumed. There is certainly where size does matter, smaller is better. Second, stay with fresh and non packaged ingredients when putting together your salad. Processed goods like cold cuts are loaded with sodium, more dangerous than cholesterol to your health in the opinions of many. Read the package of  sliced ham or turkey the next time you're in the store and be prepared for a shock! It is better to roast your own chicken or saute your own beef strips as you will have more control over sodium and flavor.

Finally, the third thing to take into account when preparing a healthy salad deserves its own paragraph as it is far and away the greatest culprit in how bad for your health things can be. Think hard before you decide what dressing you are going to pour over your salad and how much you will use. Your dressing will contain most of the bad ingredients including most of the fat and saturated fat, bad cholesterol, sodium, and sugars. Be energetic and adventurous and make your own dressing. Doing so gives you total control over everything! You can control quantity by pouring your dressing into all the salad servings, tossing the salad, and then serving it in individual dinner plates as opposed to individually pouring it into each dish. Pouring the dressing onto your own serving will most likely double the quantity you would otherwise need, hence double the calories. And if you just can't do without that Thousand Island or Blue Cheese dressing, dilute it a bit with water before pouring. You'll use a lot less of it without sacrificing flavor.

Pictured above is a Roasted Chicken Breast Salad served with a Dijon style dressing of olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic,  and pepper. The fat contained in this dressing is healthy and the mustard enriches the flavor without fat, sodium, or cholesterol. The salad itself contains:

Bib or Boston Lettuce (Butter lettuce)
Sliced tomatoes
Sliced avocado
Diced fresh garlic
Sliced roasted chicken breast
2 sliced medium fresh mushrooms
6 diced Kalamato olives

Notice that nowhere in this recipe (salad or dressing) does it call for salt. The reason is that the olives provide the salt you need for flavor enhancement. Served with a nice loaf of olive bread, this entree is perfect for lunch and will satisfy all the while being very healthy for you. Play with the ingredients, substituting some for your favorite ones. Just be careful and conscientious of what you use so as to keep it healthy.

During the next six months of Spring and Summer,  if you consume 3 salads as part of your 14 lunches and dinners each week, you will eat about 1,500 fewer calories each week. That's 39,000 fewer calories over the next six months! Now that's food for thought.

Thai Peanut Sauce Fried Rice Recipe

This rice dish pairs very well with the Basil Baked Game Hen entree. The flavors are exquisite with just a touch of heat. Each bite will have you going back for more (you may even find yourself sneaking a small bowl of it as a later evening snack). Not only will this rice dish hold its head high against the best of restaurant fried rice dishes, but it's so simple to prepare that you'll want to make it often, with variations on the ingredients.

  • 4 oz. of pork loin, diced
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped leek
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh red pepper
  • 2 cloves of fresh minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup of fresh sweet Thai basil, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of Thai peanut sauce
  • 2 pinches of dried chili pepper
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 1 cup of uncooked short grain rice
  • 1/2 cup of white rice wine
  • 1 2/3 cup of water
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Begin by bringing water to a boil in a medium pan.
  2. Add the rice, some salt, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bring back to a boil, stir well, lower heat to low, and cover. Allow to cook for about 20 minutes.
  3. While rice is cooking, prepare all other ingredients, chopping and mincing. Be sure to use the lower part of the leek stalk (the white part). You may substitute 1/2 finely chopped onion for the leek if you prefer.
  4. Heat the olive and sesame oil in a large fry pan or wok over medium high heat.
  5. Saute the meat until browned, then add the leek and red pepper. Continue to saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  6. Next add the garlic, stir, and continue cooking for another few minutes.
  7. Add the rice wine and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pan.
  8. Lower heat to medium low and stir in the peanut sauce. Then stir in the fresh basil and 2 pinches of the red pepper flakes. Taste for flavor, add your desired pepper and salt if needed. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  9. Wipe the fry pan (or wok) with a clean paper towel. Add a bit of olive oil enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat over a medium high heat.
  10. Flake the cooked rice with a fork and add it to the fry pan. Stir quickly and saute rice for about 2 minutes.
  11. Add the cooked ingredients you set aside to the rice and stir until all ingredients are well incorporated with the rice. Sprinkle in a bit of sesame oil and do one final stir. Remove from heat and transfer to a large serving bowl. Serve hot.  

Basil Roasted Game Hen

An incredible savory dish, Basil Roasted Game Hen offers a depth of flavors down to the bone. You'll forget that you're eating white meat from the chicken family. Let's be honest, chicken white meat can be very bland and if roasted or baked beyond the "point", it tends to become very dry. Fear not, follow this recipe and these little game hens will succulent and tender down to the last bite of breast meat.

Hear is your shopping list:


  1. Preheat oven to 400F (200c).
  2. Rinse and pat dry each game hen and set aside.
  3. Place butter, olive oil, basil, parsley, mustard, garlic salt, black pepper, salt, and Cayenne pepper in a small bowl.
  4. With a spoon, mix all ingredients until well incorporated.
  5. With each game hen, carefully separate the skin from the breast and back meat, including thighs with your index finger.
  6. Once skin is loosened, carefully add a level teaspoon of the butter mixture to each quadrant between the skin and the meat.
  7. Massage the surface of the skin with your thumb until butter mixture is well distributed throughout the back, thighs, and breast of each game hen.
  8. Place hens in a large greased baking dish that is at least 1 inch deep.
  9. Place in oven and bake at 400 (200) for 15 minutes, then turn down heat to 375 and continue baking for an additional 45 minutes, basting with some of the remaining butter mixture every 15 minutes, with a brush.
  10. When ready, remove from the oven, place hens on a large serving platter.
  11. Over medium heat, place baking dish with pan drippings on stove top burner and add the peanut sauce to liquid.
  12. Use a spatula to deglaze the pan and stir until peanut sauce is well blended and sauce comes to a slow bubbling boil.
  13. Remove from heat and add any remaining butter mixture to the sauce and stir until butter is well incorporated into sauce.
  14. Pour a few spoons of the sauce over each game hen and pour remaining sauce in a sauce bowl. Serve hot, 1/2 game hen per person.

Napoleon is not just dessert anymore!

Whenever you think of a Napoleon, instantly your mind envisions wonderful layers of thin puff pastry, vanilla, cream, and custard, ever so sweet, every bite begging another. Mille-Feuilles in French, this dessert goes back to the 17 Th  Century, some having it go back hundreds of years earlier.

Well, now you can wake up and take those visions out of your head. Think savory! This Napoleon is like no other and sugar is no closer  than the sun is to the earth. Furthermore, as opposed to the final course, Pork Tenderloin Napoleon sneaks in at the beginning. No less pleasing to the eyes, this wonderful dish will impress your guests from the aromas coming out of your kitchen to the last bite.

Elegant as it looks, Pork Tenderloin Napoleon is very easy to make and assemble. If you've been following this blog, you've already prepared each of the components in the past. Each serving consists of slices of Pork Tenderloin, puff pastry, and a wonderful Port or Madeira wine sauce with sauteed shallots, garlic, and thinly sliced Portabella mushrooms.

To start out, gather all your ingredients:

1 Pork Tenderloin roast (about 1.5 lbs)
1 Puff Pastry sheet, thawed, refrigerator chilled until ready to use
2 Portabella mushrooms, sliced 1/8 inch thick
3 medium shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup of chopped parsley
1 tablespoon of capers
1 teaspoon of green peppercorns (if dried, soak in warm water for 30 minutes)
1 cup of Port or Madeira Wine
1/2 cup of beef stock
3 tablespoons of butter
olive oil
salt and pepper (to taste)

Vegan or Vegetarian, Who gets to eat Mushroom Stuffed Egg White Crepes?

I've always been confused with what constitutes the diet of a "vegan" vs. a "vegetarian". Can a vegan eat egg products and does the vegetarian have to stay away from dairy? It's all so confusing that every time the subject comes up, I just have to go to the fridge and pull out a nice 8 oz. tenderloin of beef just to calm me down.

I should know all of the rules by now; after all, I have amongst my friends, a couple of vegetarians - well, wait one minute. One is a vegetarian and the other, a vegan. And you ask why  I get so confused? It's quite a feat to juggle menus, especially when you've got both at the dinner table, along with the meat eaters and a non fish eater thrown in just for the added excitement. I can't wait until the food sustainability advocate comes barging in wanting a seat at the table! I'm sorry folks, the restaurant's closed. I'll take 'walking on eggs' for 2,000, Alex.

Speaking of eggs, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, they are one of most versatile foods around and no fridge should be without a dozen or two and so easy to get. Just wait until the hens have left the hen house and like a fox, sneak in and raid the nest. In all seriousness however, they can conveniently be found in your neighborhood supermarket in sizes small to extra large.

A recent recipe that I came up with was enough to dazzle my vegetarian friend. Using egg whites, several varieties of mushrooms, a bit of coconut cream, and few herbs and spices was all that it took to come up with my mushroom stuffed egg white crepes. Served as an appetizer or a part of the main course, these crepes will certainly entertain the palates of vegetarians and carnivores alike.

Your shopping list for a party of 4 should include:

8 egg whites (from medium to large eggs)
1/2 cup of coconut cream
1/2 cup of vegetable stock or white rice wine
6 cups of several varieties of mushrooms (sliced or chopped)*
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 medium shallots, finely chopped
1/3 cup of finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon of dried basil
1 teaspoon of chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1/4 cup of olive oil**
salt and pepper to taste
Cooking spray (vegetable)

*Suggestions for mushroom varieties can include baby Portabella, Chanterelles, Cep, Porcini,  Lobster mushrooms, and a variety of Asian mushrooms.

**If your diet permits, also use 2 tablespoons of butter. It will add a lot of flavor

Begin by preparing the egg white crepe mixture. In a bowl, add all the egg whites, 3 tablespoons of the coconut cream, a couple dashes of salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.

Heat an 8 inch frying pan over medium heat. Spray the cooking spray to cover the bottom the pan completely. Now, with a ladle, pour enough of the egg whites to thinly cover the bottom of the pan to about 1/8 inch thickness. Roll the pan around so that you get even thickness of the crepe, just as you would if making regular crepes. Watch the crepe so that it doesn't burn. You won't need to turn it over like a regular crepe as the egg whites will cook to the top. When all liquid egg whites have solidified, using a spatula, carefully remove it from the pan and place open on a plate. Before making the next crepe, spray the pan with more cooking spray. Repeat the process until approximately 8 crepes have been made.

Wipe the pan clean, you will be using it to make the crepe filling. When sauteing mushrooms, you don't want to over crowd them as they will tend to create too much moisture and you won't get that rich sauteed flavor. Slice and chop your mushrooms and add to a large bowl. Add all the other dry ingredients to the bowl (garlic, shallots, parsley, basil, tarragon) and thoroughly mix well. Do NOT add the salt and pepper yet. Separate the mushrooms into 4 portions.

Heat the frying pan over medium high heat for about 2 to 3 minutes before adding a few tablespoons of olive oil. Once olive oil is added, begin sauteing the first quarter of the mushrooms. Saute until they begin to brown. Remove mushrooms from the pan, add some more olive oil and saute the second batch. Continue the process until all mushrooms have been sauteed.

Return all the mushrooms to the pan over a medium heat and cook for about 1 minute. Now add the vegetable stock (or white rice wine) and stir to de-glaze the pan. Add the coconut cream and Dijon mustard and stir well. Reduce heat and add a couple of tablespoons of butter (if diet permits). Salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat. If you want, you can add a couple more tablespoons of coconut cream and stir.

To fill the crepes, lay out an open crepe on a dinner plate and add a couple nice tablespoons of mushrooms to the middle. Taking the end of the crepe closest to you, fold it over the mushrooms away from you, then tuck each side inward and continue to roll the crepe. Transfer to a dish and into a warm (not hot) oven until ready to serve. Continue doing this until all crepes are made.

Serve two to a portion, along with a side of vegetable of your choice. If diet preference permits, you may add a spoon of white cream sauce (like a Bechamel sauce) and sprinkle grated Gruyere over the top.

Who knew Guacamole could be so easy (and tasty)?

I must confess that I've never made Guacamole before. It has always been so convenient for others to make or bring to a party that it never really crossed my mind to do it myself; however, the other day there were two nice sized Avocados staring at me in the face on the kitchen counter, perfectly ripe, not too soft, not too hard. The mood struck me to prepare one of them sliced with a drizzle of my Dijon vinaigrette, along with a couple slices of crusty French bread. Stopping short of running the knife though the peeling, I decided, since I had nothing better to do, to come up with a recipe for Guacamole, my way. And so I ventured into uncharted territory and began to gather my ingredients, creating the recipe along the way. Here's what I came up with:

2 large Avocados (firm but ripe)
3 cloves of garlic (crushed and finely chopped)
1/2 large onion (finely chopped)
1/4 cup of fresh finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons of Pimientos
2 tablespoons of bottled sweet red chili pepper sauce
1 green onion (finely chopped)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut each Avocado in half, remove the pits, and carefully remove the meat from the shell with a spoon into a bowl. Set the shell halves aside.  Using a fork, mash the avocado meat and pour the lemon juice in,  stirring well so that ingredient is well incorporated. Now add the sweet chili sauce, green onion and parsley and stir. Set aside.

Using a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the chopped onion, garlic, and pimientos until onion is softened and translucent. This usually takes about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Once cooled, add sauteed mixture to the avocado and mix thoroughly. Add a couple pinches of salt and pepper and taste for correct seasoning.

With a spoon, return the avocado mixture to the shells, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about an hour. Serve 1/2 avocado per person along with chips and a spoon. You may just want to use the spoon alone. This recipe is absolutely delicious and works great as an appetizer or snack for the Sunday ball games. I think I finally made my first Guacamole - or at least my version of it.

Presentation goes a long way to making simplicity elegant

You can take simple ingredients that are easy on the wallet and transform them into an elegant dish simply by how you choose to place them on a dinner plate. Presentation plays a most important role in the appeal and impressions you will make on your guests.

Although the sense of smell is the first recognition of what may soon present itself at the dinner table, sight is the affirmation of whether or not the nose was correct in its assumption. After all, most of us get the first taste of a meal with our eyes; hence the phrase, "we eat with our eyes". The food industry spends millions each year making everything from junk food to gourmet items look appealing and enticing enough for you to go out and purchase those products. Careful attention is paid to how foods are placed, the quantity plated, and color. Our eyes gloss over the professionally edited photos and the imagination of how good the food pictured must taste. The nose is nowhere to be found.

A case in point, the dinner plate pictured above was by no means shot by a professional photographer, nor was the editing performed beyond  the average reader's capabilities; however, pay close attention to the ingredients, quantity, placement, and color. The ingredients are simple and limited to 3 or 4 including sauce. Next, you see the plate is not filled to overflowing. As far as elegance in the beholder's eyes are concerned, less is more. Notice how the food has been plated, with some items overlapping, others placed in different areas of the plate, in this example, the baby potatoes. There are no rules that say all like items have to be grouped together. Also notice  there is no overabundance of sauce, just enough to compliment the flavors of the main ingredients. Finally, color provides the final touches and accents to the dish, giving the presentation dimension.

The baby green beans are steamed for about 7 minutes and gently tossed with butter (cost approx. $0.80 per serving.

The baby Yukon Gold potatoes are lightly boiled for  20 to 25 minutes, 4 to 5 per person (cost approx. $1.00 per person @ $3.99/lb. and are about 1 inch diameter).

The meatball (top round beef, Italian sweet sausage, parsley, garlic, egg, salt, pepper, and a bit of bread crumbs (1 level teaspoon per meatball) and is sauteed in olive oil over medium high heat until browned, then pan is place in a 350 oven, baked for another 30 minutes. Each meatball is approximately 3 inches in diameter and is 3 oz. (approx. cost $1.10 per person).

The sauce is a simple sauce made from the pan drippings of the finished meatballs. Meatballs are removed from pan, then pan is deglazed with a bit of red wine and beef broth in equal portions and reduced by half, using burner setting at medium, then medium low. Once reduced, add a level teaspoon of tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter until melted and sauce has thickened (approx. cost $0.55 per person).

The cost for a dinner of 4 comes to approximately $3.45 per person and another 30 cents for sundry items like butter and spices. At $3.75 per person, this simple dinner, well presented, not only exudes elegance, but at a bargain price and your guests won't even know.

Remember, presentation is very important here as it can make a world of difference. But isn't that true for other things in our lives, the way we wear our clothes and decorate our homes? The word here is style - at a bargain!

A most colorful salad dedicated to my Aussie friends

OK, so tomatoes are a fruit, correct? And we all know that kiwis are a fruit as well, correct? What if the two of them met each other in a most unlikely venue, say a salad? And let's say that these silly little capers decided to butt in and mix things up. Before you knew it, there was a flavor party brewing, somebody said Happy New Year, and confetti parsley came raining down on all of them.It wasn't long til they were drenched by Miss Virgin Olive Oil and and a new beau, Monsieur Balsamic. It need not be said that it would certainly be a fun time to be had by all!

Well, once you get your first mouthful of this wonderful salad recipe, your taste buds will certainly be screaming "Party Time"! The combination of flavors simply play well together with the blend of sweet from the kiwi, the mild acidity of tomatoes, and the tartness of the capers, all complimented by the sweet balsamic. A good quality olive oil simply ties everything together in a bouquet of aromas that will make you think it's summer again in the North and a reaffirmation that it really is summer in the South.

This salad works perfectly well as an appetizer, entree, or just an afternoon snack accompanied by a slice of garlic and rosemary bread and a nice flute of champagne. From Aussies to Yankees, this will surely please the palate!

A Sauerkraut like no other!

Although Sauerkraut is a very German dish, this preparation is certainly out of the norm; however, it is guaranteed to delight all guests, even those not too keen on the dish. By all means, try it before you decide. It's a wonderful preparation! This can be prepared while your pork roast is in the oven.

1 package of Sauerkraut (please, no canned stuff!)
1/4 lb. of bacon, cut in 1/2 inch slices
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1/2 cup of vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
3 pinches of salt
2 pinches of sugar
2 tablespoons of chopped parsley

Begin by thoroughly rinsing your Sauerkraut over cold running water. In a large sauce pan, saute the bacon over medium heat until cooked. Now add the garlic and continue to cook for a couple minutes taking care not to burn the garlic.

Now, add the vegetable broth and deglaze the pan. If you find you need a bit more liquid, just add another 1/2 cup. Lower heat to medium low and stir in the tomato paste, salt, pepper, and sugar. Blend well. Once sauce begins to bubble, add the Sauerkraut and stir well until it is completely incorporated into the sauce. Set heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes. As a final touch, add the parsley and lightly toss with a fork. Serve hot alongside pork roast and mash potatoes.

German New Year's Dinner to bring luck in 2012

Braised Pork Roast in beer and sherry, Butter Mash Potatoes, Sauerkraut with bacon in a tomato garlic sauce, and Sauteed Carrots, not just your run of the mill dinner feast for the holidays; however, for the millions with German heritage, it is a meal taken seriously on the first day of the new year, assuring good luck and plenty for the coming twelve months.

If you've allowed January 1st to go unnoticed, fear not, there is always next year. Furthermore, it is never too early to start planning for your next good luck feast. We begin with our Braised Pork Roast slowly baked in its juices, beer, and sherry.

3 to 4 lb Pork Roast
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
16 oz. bottle of beer
8 oz. of dry Sherry
1/2 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
3 tablespoons of fine grain mustard (German)
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of cornstarch

This may seem like quite a long list of ingredients for Pork roast; however, you are also going to make the sauce that will accompany the roast. Start with a pan large enough to accommodate the roast with a lid over it. Over medium high heat, add the vegetable oil and brown your roast on all sides. Remove roast from pan and set aside.

Bring temperature down to medium and saute your onions and garlic until translucent. You may add a bit more oil if needed. Next, add the dry Sherry and deglaze the pan. Once deglazed, add the salt and pepper and stir well. Now add the beer and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat back to medium and continue to cook until liquid has reduced by 1/3.

With the garlic powder, sprinkle on all sides and return to the pan. Cover tightly with a lid and transfer it to a 400 preheated oven. Bake covered at 400 for about 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for approximately 1 1/2  to 2 hours.

Once your pork roast is ready, remove it from the pan and set on a cutting board to rest. While meat is resting, prepare your sauce. Set pan over medium heat and add the mustard. Stir well until blended. Add a few tablespoons of hot water to the cornstarch and stir until well dissolved. Now add it to the sauce and stir. Sauce should begin to thicken. Bring sauce to a light boil and continue to cook for about 5 minutes over low heat. Remove pan from heat and add your butter. Stir well until butter has completely melted into the sauce. Your sauce is now ready.

Slice the pork roast into 1/2 inch slices and present them in a large serving platter, slices slightly overlapping. Spoon a bit of the sauce down the center of the presentation and save the rest into a bowl for table side. This roast should serve 6 to 8 dinner guests. Serve hot alongside mash potatoes, carrots, and sauerkraut. Recipes and prep directions follow below.

A Sauerkraut like no other!

Although Sauerkraut is a very German dish, this preparation is certainly out of the norm; however, it is guaranteed to delight all guests, even those not too keen on the dish. By all means, try it before you decide. It's a wonderful preparation! This can be prepared while your pork roast is in the oven.

1 package of Sauerkraut (please, no canned stuff!)
1/4 lb. of bacon, cut in 1/2 inch slices
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1/2 cup of vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
3 pinches of salt
2 pinches of sugar
2 tablespoons of chopped parsley

Begin by thoroughly rinsing your Sauerkraut over cold running water. In a large sauce pan, saute the bacon over medium heat until cooked. Now add the garlic and continue to cook for a couple minutes taking care not to burn the garlic.

Now, add the vegetable broth and deglaze the pan. If you find you need a bit more liquid, just add another 1/2 cup. Lower heat to medium low and stir in the tomato paste, salt, pepper, and sugar. Blend well. Once sauce begins to bubble, add the Sauerkraut and stir well until it is completely incorporated into the sauce. Set heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes. As a final touch, add the parsley and lightly toss with a fork. Serve hot alongside pork roast and mash potatoes.

Simply incredible Mash Potatoes!

The first thing you will probably notice with this preparation of Mash Potatoes is, "oh my god, all that butter!" Stop and think about it tho, you're serving up to 8 people, so it really doesn't come to more than what you would put on a baked potato and you don't think twice about 2 or 3 pads of butter on that, do you? Trust the preparation, you won't regret it. You will have incredibly velvety and buttery mash potatoes without that bland and watery taste.

4 to 5 large Russet potatoes, peeled & halved
1/2 peeled medium parsnip
1 1/2 cubes of butter (12 tablespoons)
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon of cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1/4 cup of grated fresh Parmesan

In a large pot, add the potatoes and parsnip and fill with water until completely immersed. Bring to a rolling boil and cook until potatoes are tender but not mushy. A fork should pierce the potato and when lifted out of the water, the potato will fall back in after a couple of seconds. Immediately remove potatoes from the water and into a waiting bowl.

Pour water out of the pan and return it to the heat, reduced to low. Add the butter and cream and allow butter to completely melt. Add the Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and stir. Now add the egg yolk and blend it into the liquid. Don't allow the liquid to come to a boil. Remove from heat if needed. Using a knife, cut up the potatoes and parsnip in the bowl and transfer to the pan with the liquid.

Using a hand blender, beat potatoes on low for about 30 seconds, then on high. Add the Parmesan cheese and continue to beat on high for another minute or until potatoes are smooth. Taste for flavor and add a couple more pinches of salt if needed. Serve hot alongside the pork.

The carrots are easy to prepare. Simply use thin long carrots and saute over medium high heat with a bit of olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of vegetable broth and 2 tablespoons of butter, salt, and pepper, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes until just tender.