Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Art Of The Croissant

I am using Gale Gands croissant recipe to practice. The recipe level is ranked difficult (I would say that the croissant is an 11 out of 10 on the difficulty scale) and it is especially difficult if you haven’t had the benefit of culinary school traning or a lesson from a good chef. I got a lesson from a chef who not only had great style but also had a whole lot of patience.

If you are looking for a challenge, this is the perfect one.

Lesson I: Weight not measure your ingredeints.

I would suggest that you set aside an entire day. Yes, my lesson was for 6 hours and it could have easily gone longer.

In our lesson, we started by making a “Poolish” which is not included in this recipe in which you attempt to just get the basic techniques down.

Just as information, the purpose of the preliminary phase called Poolish is to allow for a rapid multiplication of yeasts, which leads to an increase in the strength and rising ability of the subsequent dough.

The most important thing I learned is to keep everything as cold as possible. You should work the dough as quickly as possible so the butter does not melt.

And for anyone who does not love doing weights, this recipe gives you a great upper body workout. Taking your anger out on an innocent slab of butter is an experience I should have learned 18 months ago. A few passionate wacks and you’ll never need an anger management class ever! Wow – this was certainly better than therapy.

On a final note, if you’re going to cheat and eat a good croissant, make sure you make it a great one!

• 1 ounce fresh yeast

• 3 1/2 cups unbleached flour

• 1/4 cup white or packed brown sugar

• 2 teaspoons salt

• 1 cup milk, or more

• 1 pound unsalted butter

• 2 tablespoons flour, for dusting

• 1 egg

• 1 tablespoon milk

In a mixer with a dough hook, place the yeast, flour, sugar, salt and the milk and mix for 2 minutes until a soft moist dough forms on the hook. If most of the flour isn't moistened with this quantity of milk, add more, a tablespoon at a time until it is moistened and smooth, using up to 4 tablespoons. Turn mixer on and mix for another 4 minutes until smooth and elastic. Do not over mix.

Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured board, cover with a damp tea towel and allow it to rest for 15 minutes to relax the gluten. Remove the towel and, using a French rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10 by 9-inch rectangle 5/8-inch thick. Wrap in plastic then chill for 1 hour and up to overnight.

Ten minutes before the dough is done resting in the refrigerator, prepare the butter. Place it in plastic and beat it with your rolling pin on a floured surface to soften it and form a rectangle 6 by 8 1/2 inches. Place it in plastic wrap and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it on a floured work surface into a 10 by 15-inch and 1/4-inch thick rectangle. Brush any excess flour off the dough. Place the shorter side of the dough parallel to the front of your body on the work surface. Place the butter in the middle, long-ways. Fold the bottom up over the butter and brush off any excess flour and then fold the top down over the butter to overlap and encase the butter. Press down lightly with the rolling pin to push all the layers together and make sure they have contact.

Continue rolling the laminated (layered) dough to form a new 10 by15-inch rectangle, patching any holes with a dusting of flour where butter may have popped through. Fold into thirds, like a letter, brush off any excess flour and mark it with an indentation made by poking your finger once at the corner of the dough meaning you have completed the first "turn".

Wrap well in plastic and chill 1 hour and up to overnight. Do this again three more times (some people only do 3 turns total, some do 6, some do 3 plus what's called a "wallet" turn for the last one which is a 4 fold turn that's folded into itself like a book jacket) marking it accordingly each time and chilling in between each turn.

After the fourth turn, you can let the dough chill overnight, or, for 1 hour, or, roll it out to a 13 by 24-inch square that is a little less than 1/4-inch thick and cut out your croissants and shape them.

Roll out the dough and cut it with a sharp large knife into 6-inch strips then cut them into triangles, 4 inches wide at the base of the triangle (or for a more curved croissant cut the triangles 6 inches wide). Cut into the wide end of the triangle with a slit about an inch long. Stretch these triangles again 9 inches long, then place on the work surface. Roll the triangles starting at the wide end, pulling back the dough where you cut the slit, and place them 2 inches apart on a parchment lined sheet pan with the tip tucked under and the ends slightly curved in to make a crescent shape.

You may freeze the croissants at this point, or, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk and brush the croissants with this egg wash.

To proof the croissants, place them in an oven that is warm but not turned on, with a pan of hot water in the bottom to create a moist environment like a proof box. Set aside to proof for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours until puffed up and spongy to the touch. Remove from the oven.

Spritz a preheated 425 degree F oven with water, close the door, and get the croissants. Place the croissants in the oven and spritz again, close the door and turn the oven down to 400 degrees F. After 10 minutes, rotate your pan if they are cooking unevenly and turn the oven down to 375 degrees F. Bake another 5 to 8 minutes until golden brown.

Some after thoughts:

After trying this recipe a few times, you will get the technique but the frequent “turning” of the dough and lamination does take some practice.

This recipe is also different from the one I was taught because we only turned the dough 3 times and this calls for a 4th turn. I also read a review by one woman who swore that a 5th turn made all the difference in the world. You be the judge.

I guarantee that once you have mastered this, you will be ready to try any other recipe for baking with a whole lot more confidence.

Bon Appetit!

A Student of Pastry…

I just got home from the library with an armful of books…all on baking. If you had asked me five years ago if I ever baked I would tell you absolutely NOT - it’s all science and I like creativity. That’s why I LOVE to cook!
In the last few years, I have discovered just how creative pastry chefs can be and by the way…I really want to be one.

My first read: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Harold McGee, the world renowned authority on the chemistry of food and cooking, offers a translation of technical food science into cook-friendly kitchen science. Whoever thought that I could get so excited about science? It was always the class I loved the least and now I am perusing it with a meticulous passion. Go figure…lessons applied early in life can come back and hit you right between the eyes.

I will be blogging about the lessons I learn from some rather professional heavy weights over the course of the next 9 months.

Practice makes perfect so here are some of the techniques I learned in Lesson I: The Art of Croissants… and then practiced this past weekend.

Bon Appetit!

The Making Of A French Fry Snob…Duck Fat French Fries.

Croissants and Duck Fat French Fries all on the same page? I’m sure you are wondering when and if I am going to head for the next detox line.

And by the way, who said that the Ritz would never be on a Chicago cheap eat list? It got my vote this week.

In the process of spending a few days enjoying all of the chic that only the Ritz Carlton can dish out, my sister Colleen and I ordered the most amazing $6 plate of Duck Fat French Fries from the bar.

You will note that food does not photograph that well in twilight hours but sisters do!

Cheers to the former cook-turned-waiter who discovered that making people happy was an art form that he wanted to take to the front of the house.

Bon Appetit!

Duck Fat French Fries
3 to 4 cups duck fat for frying

2 pounds Idaho, russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, rinsed and dried

Truffle Salt to taste

Pour enough fat into a heavy pot to reach at least halfway up the sides of the pan but not more than three-quarters of the way up. Heat the oil to 375°F.

Cut the potatoes into sticks ¼ inch wide and 2 inches long. Dry all the pieces thoroughly in a clean dishtowel. This will keep the fat from splattering. Divide the potato sticks into batches of no more than 1 cup each. Do not fry more than one batch at a time.

When the fat has reached the desired temperature, fry the potatoes until golden brown. Using a long-handled skimmer lift out the potatoes and place on a paper towel lined sheet tray. Season with truffle salt. You can keep the frites warm in a 200°F oven until ready to serve.

Aioli Dip:

¾ cup homemade mayonnaise

⅓ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic

1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon peel

Mix all ingredients in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flavors to develop.

Taste of Chicago 2010

I missed the first 5 years of the Taste of Chicago and have been going ever since. I would love to hear from readers who have been all 30 years and if you have photos from those early years, send them my way.

Chicago is one of the great food cities of the world and once again we see first hand what every restaurant brings to the city.

You’ll come across some new spots this year, along with a lot of the great favorites that are back every year. It’s a culinary adventure so try to attend more than just one day. The food and music stages bring a wide variety of entertainment all the way through the 4th of July.

Opening day, I saw Jimmy Banos, Sr and Jimmy Banos, Jr and his menor Mario Batali in the Dominick’s Food Tent on the east side of Buckingham Fountain.

By way of Summer Sunshine, enjoy Chicago’s best festival of food – The Taste of Chicago!

Bon Appetit!

Mercadito...Round II

Back in May, I did a review on the brothers Sandoval and Mercadito at 108 West Kinzie.
This go around was another love affair with great Mexican food. The only exception was the fish tacos, which were a little too bland for my taste. These pescado tacos made with tilapia, chile poblano, tomatillo-garlic mojo need a lot of spicing up in my estimation. They would be good adding another texture, such as a slaw, and then a sneak-up fiery green chili verde sauce and maybe even some fresh fruit.

I go for the split and so does my sister. We split all three dishes and it was perfect.

The traditional guacamole, made with tomatillo pico de gallo, jalapeño, garlic, key lime, and cilantro was perhaps the best guacamole I’ve had in a long time. The flavor was bold and really quite amazing. I’ll undoubtedly have to work on a recipe soon.

The ensalada verde was a combination of mixed greens, red cabbage, corn, jícama, and queso fresco. What really made the salad was the dressing, which was a chipotle-balsamic vinaigrette. I am going to try and duplicate this recipe also over the course of the next few weeks. It had such a kick to it that it really woke up your taste buds.

Mercadito is now on my list of favorite Chicago restaurants. I’ll be back to sample a few of their other dishes and also post some recipes in the coming months.

Bon Appetit!
Jimmy Findlay of Brothers' Ribs in Palatine says that his dad always told him this about rib tips: Pop it in your mouth, chew it up, and whatever you can't swallow, you spit out.
Tips are about half the price and can contain more meat than a slab of ribs and is as good when you cook them right. Tips are on the move and a lot more people are buying and cooking tips these days. It’s a poor man’s food gone cult.

Cooking rib tips is a three step process: Season, smoke, serve. It is in the second step where restaurants actually put their mark on and make it their own. I’ll be trying some smoke recipes in the next few weeks.

In the mean time, I know people who pre-cook rib tips either in the oven or in the crock pot. They all swear by their method. Here is a recipe that I like and is so easy.

Bon Appetit!

Rib Tips

Like the recipe I use for my ribs, which I boil in vinegar and water and cook on the grill, here is a rib tip recipe that you bake first and then finish off on the grill.

2 pounds pork riblets (or rib tips)

1 to 2 cups of water

salt and pepper to taste

Place rib tips in a roasting pan on a rack with about 1/2 inch of water. Cover tightly and place in the oven for 1 hour at 300 degrees F. Remove ribs and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on a medium hot grill and baste with Jack Daniel's Rib Glaze. Serve with remaining glaze for dipping.

Jack Daniel's Rib Glaze

1 cup Jack Daniel's Whiskey

1 cup ketchup

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and mix well. Simmer for 20 minutes then allow to cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Note: If you make it a few days in advance the flavors will have time to blend together.

BBQ Ribs

For years, I cooked for a crowd of 50+ on the 4th of July and always made BBQ ribs. A former NFL player that I worked with taught me how to make really great ribs and I always thought that his were the best…then along came Adam Perry Lang and added a whole new dimension to cooking ribs by adding another step – the foil packets.

Here is his recipe. I sent this out to a lot of my friends last year. Charlie adapted the recipe shortly after and ended up winning the Lake Forest Rib Cook-off.

I love ribs and all summer long, I switch off making Jerry’s ribs and this version by Adam Perry Lang.

• 4 racks baby back ribs (approximately 1 1/2 pounds each)

For the spice paste:

• 1/2 cup mustard

• 1/2 cup water

• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

• 1/4 cup chili powder

• 2 tablespoons garlic salt

• 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

For foil packets:

• 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

• 1/2 cup honey

• 1/2 cup apple juice

• 1 cup softened butter

For the barbeque sauce:

• 1 cup favorite BBQ sauce

• 1/4 cup apricot jelly

• 1/4 cup honey

• 1/2 cup water

Yields: 4-6 servings

Preheat an indirect BBQ to 275˚F (use fruitwoods if possible, such as apple).

Spread ribs evenly with Spice Paste.

Place the ribs in the cooker and cook indirect (meaning not in direct exposure to fire) for 2 hours.

While ribs are cooking, combine the barbeque sauce in a bowl and set aside.

When the 2 hours has elapsed, tear off 4 large sheets of aluminum foil (enough to accommodate two racks of ribs side by side). On first sheet, place half of the packet mixture on the foil, top with a rack of ribs meaty side down, and wrap in the foil, crimping to seal securely. Wrap with the second sheet of foil. Repeat for the remaining 2 racks of ribs.

Place the wrapped ribs back in the cooker, and cook for an additional hour.

Remove the wrapped ribs from the cooker and carefully remove from foil packets.

Coat with BBQ sauce. Place back in the BBQ meat side down for 15 minutes, flip over, brush with additional sauce then continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Chicken Pasta With Garlic Shallot Sauce

I use to have a recipe for this pasta. I’ve cooked it so much that I now just eyeball it and cook it to taste. This is a fun and easy recipe to start cooking to taste. It’s also a great summer recipe because the sauce is so light. I make just enough to coat the pasta.
Heat a small amount of butter and extra virgin olive oil in a fry pan. Add garlic and 1 large chopped shallot. You can also add a quarter cup of white wine if you like.

Toss the sauce with cooked linguine and serve with plenty of shredded parmesan, salt and pepper.

Bon Appetit!

Oven Finished French Toast

This is Alton Browns recipe for French Toast. I frequently have day old bread that I use.
The key: I like to slice it in very small pieces and stack it because you’ll think that you are getting a lot more than is actually on the plate.

I also add a touch of vanilla to this recipe. Garnish with a few berries and pour on the maple syrup.

1 cup half-and-half

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons honey, warmed in microwave for 20 seconds

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 (1/2-inch) slices day-old or stale country loaf, brioche or challah bread

4 tablespoons butter

In medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, honey, and salt. You may do this the night before. When ready to cook, pour custard mixture into a pie pan and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dip bread into mixture, allow to soak for 30 seconds on each side, and then remove to a cooling rack that is sitting in a sheet pan, and allow to sit for 1 to 2 minutes.

Over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch nonstick sauté pan. Place 2 slices of bread at a time into the pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Remove from pan and place on rack in oven for 5 minutes. Repeat with all 8 slices.

Serve immediately with maple syrup, whipped cream or fruit.

Bon Appetit!

Caramel Apple Dessert

An old fashioned Caramel Apple on a Stick – I remember how much I loved to eat them when I was kid. I didn’t care if they were too messy or sticky, I ate them anyway and was usually a mess when I finished.
I made this dessert by accident one day when I had an appetite for something sweet and discovered that the only fruit I had in the house was a Granny Smith green apple.

This is actually a fairly healthy dessert when you use frozen yogurt instead of ice cream and use just a small bit of the caramel.

I discovered that Stonyfield Farm, the makers of a remarkable organic yogurt, churn a frozen yogurt that actually tastes delicious. They have great flavors like Raspberry White Chocolate Chunk, Gotta Have Vanilla, Javalanche, and Vanilla Fudge Swirl. One serving has 130 calories, 1.5g of fat, and less than 5 mg of cholesterol. Ice cream has 250 cals, 14g of fat, and 55mg of cholesterol.

I know, being the ice cream lover that I am, these is no substitution for “real” ice cream but when trying to adopt a healthier life style, this frozen yogurt comes pretty close and has no peculiar taste like some of the other frozen yogurt brands out there.

Bon Appetit!

1 bowl frozen vanilla yogurt

3-6 slices Granny Smith apple

1/8 cup caramel sauce

Dollop of whipped cream (optional)

If you really want to make this an extra special treat, here is an easy homemade caramel sauce that is so much better than the brands that you buy in the grocery:

Caramel Sauce

3/8 of a cup plus 1 Tbls of plain white granulated sugar

1/8 of a cup plus 1 Tbls of light corn syrup

1/8 of a cup of water

¾ cup of warmed whipping cream (heavy cream)

1 Tbls of softened butter

Combine the corn syrup, the sugar and the water in a small sauce pan.

Bring this mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and then adjust the heat so it will simmer unattended on its own, without you needing to stir. Let it simmer for about a half an hour.

Take it off the heat and slowly whisk in the cream. You have to be a little attentive here as the hot caramel can bubble and sputter a bit. Once the cream is in, whisk in the butter. If it hardens up as you are adding the cream, just return it to the heat and give it a quick stir, stirring until the caramel again melts.

Sunflower CupCakes

Here is a You Tube lesson on making Sun Flower cupcakes. I didn’t like the bugs so I left it off mine. They are such cute summer cupcakes. Sunflower CupCakes

You Tube has made it so easy to master anything you want to want to learn. Yes - some of the best lessons I have learned have been from You Tube.

There are also some amazingly funny videos if you need a good belly laugh and since my day was fair to partly cloudy, I indulged!

Bon Appetit!

Chicken Tostados

Tostados used to be a way of using up stale tortillas. Tostado recipes are now so good, people simply started using fresh tortillas to make them. Again, I like the mini ones…portion control.
Here is a simple recipe and make sure you use nothing but the best and freshest ingredients because it will make all the difference.

Tostados are great for a summer meal when you’re simply not in to cooking. In this case, we use rotisserie chicken so we didn’t have to cook at all – which was great because it was finally a hot and sticky summer day here in Chicago.

1 medium onion

1 lb tomatoes, quartered

2 large garlic clover

2 fresh Serrano chiles

3 cups shredded iceberg lettuce

6 large radishes, halved and sliced

½ Cup chopped Colantro

1 rotisserie chicken, meat coarsely shredded

Corn Tortillas - fried

Refried Beans, heated

1 avocado, halved, pitted and peeled

½ cup crema or sour cream

¼ cup queso anjeo (cotija)

Homemade salsa

Fry and drain the corn tortilla. Spread on a layer on of refried beans. Place chicken on top of the refried beans. Pile on the other ingredients using as much or as little as you want. Garnish with homemade red salsa or salsa verde. Serve with a cold margarita.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mercado in Tonola, Mexico

Saveur left one market off their list in the June/July 2010 Market Issue...              
other than that, it was perfect!

Tonola is my favorite market in Mexico. I have been going back for 40   
years and it's like a walk back in time. Some of my favorite vendors are
still there so it's like going home! Here are some of my favorite people.

Adórelos y Buen Apetito!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Flatbread Pizzas

For most people who eat flatbreads every day, they are a staff of life. A lot of cultures have a version of flatbread, which is probably one of the earliest bread products ever made. These include chapati, injera, pizza, pita, cracker bread, lavash, tortilla,puri, barbari, pancake, arepas, and naan. The breads are shaped by hand and made very thin in relation to other breads.They are then cooked quickly on a hot surface. I could get lost in the taste of them because they are all a work of art.

This recipe for flatbread pizza happens to be really easy. Almost any flatbread will do. You can use lavash bread because it is cracker-crisp and so thin. I have also made little pizzas using tortillas as the base, in which case I crisp them, top and then bake. Make sure you crisp them first (put in a fry pan for about 2 minutes on each side).

You can experiment with the toppings and create some really appetizing groupings.

I have also made this recipe with grilled tenderloin, arugula, red onions, portobello mushrooms and Parmesan cheese and it was so delightful.

I did not put any measurements down for the toppings because I normally do not measure them. Pile on as little or as much as you like…it’s that simple.

Chicken Flatbread Pizza

1 package flatbread
Olive Oil
Seasonings: You can use Fresh Basil, Oregano,Garlic, Fennel, Marjoram or just about any seasoning.
Toppings: Chicken, Spinach, Bacon, Green Onions, Mozzarella and Provolone

Pre heat oven to 500 degrees.Lightly brush the flatbread and sprinkle with your desired seasonings. Place on your toppings. Bake 7-10 minutes. I would watch your oven after about 6 minutes because everyones temperature is different.

Bon Appetit!

Panzanella (Bread and Tomato Salad)

So often in diverse cultures, it is the simple and unassuming dishes with a solid tradition that stand the test of time and become authentic recipe classics. So is Panzanella.

Share what was once a specialty in the Tuscany region of Italy, Panzanella has moved across Italy and picked up an array of extra ingredients along the way including lettuce, capers, anchovies, celery, carrots, red onion, cucumber, tuna, parsley, boiled eggs, mint, bell peppers, lemon juice,garlic…oh, and don’t forget the wine.

If your into Panzanella, you are more than just creative, you are a magician!

This version of the recipe is from Lidia’s Italian Table and is featured in the June/July Market Issue of Saveur Magazine.

Warning: This salad is nothing to look at, in fact it’s quite a mess, but one bite and you’ll know that this is about as good as basic, regional cuisine gets.


2 lbs. medium tomatoes, cored and cut into small wedges

12 oz. country-style bread, torn into bite-size pieces and lightly toasted – crust removed

1 cup loosely packed baby arugula

10 fresh basil leaves, torn

1⁄2 red onion, thinly sliced

1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, bread, arugula, basil, and onions.

In a small bowl, vigorously whisk together the oil, vinegar, and garlic; drizzle dressing over salad. Season generously with salt and pepper, toss to combine, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

An after thought on Saveur Magazine:

I love Saveur Magazine, not only because it’s a passport to the world of food (I especially LOVE the photographs), but it also stages some of the greatest recipes.

I think of all the issues that Saveur Magazine has done over the years, the June/July 2010 Market Issue is their very best issue ever.

As you can tell from some of my postings, I am motivated by Framers Markets and street vendors. While living in Mexico, I also enjoyed some of the larger markets such as Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara where you can find fruit and vegetable stalls with produce you’ve never seen or heard of before.

If you get a chance, pick up this issue. You will be not only be absolutely educated on the foods of the world but you will also be TOTALLY INSPIRED!

Bon Appetit!

Finding Your Mojo

When I was sitting at CaféCito today, the long lines continued the entire time I was there. Just goes to show that someone with an absolute passion for food can make it in the restaurant business today if they really LOVE what they do. Prior to opening his cafe, Philip Ghantous was an actor with no kitchen experience at all.

Café Cito makes the best Cuban sandwiches in the city. Can I begin to count the sandwiches I want to try here because there are so many of them that look delicious.

The Cuban sandwich? First rule of thumb – it must have sliced ham, roasted pork (lechon asado), mustard, pickles and white cheese. They also must be eaten while standing so I will say all the more love for one of the world’s best sandwich creations.

I was intending to order the steak sandwich with the shoestring fries. It gave the impression that I might have a whole lot of calories to work off so I was happy to see that tilapia was on the menu…it gave me a healthier option. Besides that, my friend Dusanka raved about the tilapia.

The combination of the fish, the flavored mayo and the bread made this one of the best fish sandwiches I have ever had and yes, it literally did melt in your mouth.

Cubanos weigh in at about $5 - I paid $7 for mine and it was TOTALLY WORTH IT!

Café Cito makes such surprising mayos and sauces and marinates all of its meat and fish in an original homemade mojo. And isn’t it what it’s all about. Finding your mojo?

I found mine at 26 East Congress.

Bon Appetit!

Insalata Rustica

Italian Salads are never boring and Insalata Rustica is a perfect case in point. This is a simple salad to make and the combination of ingredients is remarkable.

It’s also a beautiful salad to look at and I stared at it for an extended period of time before I decided that I just needed to dive in.

Did I also tell you that this salad is delicious? I LOVE the flavor of the crispy pancetta and always end up doubling this ingredient when I make it.

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces 1/8-inch-thick slices pancetta
Spicy crushed pecans
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
4 cups mixed greens
2 pears, cored and thinly sliced
Aged balsamic vinegar (for drizzling)

Fry pancetta and drain. Crumble and set aside. On top of the greens, add cherries, pears, and pecans. Top with crispy pancetta and dressing of aged balsamic.

P.S. I love easy!

Bon Appetit!

Smoked Turkey and Peach Salad

This Turkey salad is really light and has a great taste with the peaches and grapes in the mix. You can change it up by using chicken or tuna but I like the turkey. We just don’t eat enough turkey during the year except Thanksgiving. Why is that? I am on a campaign to eat more turkey…especially in the summer. Skinny food = Summer food.

I prefer dark meat or a combination of the two because the salad has more flavor than when all white meat is used. Most people however will use white because of the lower calorie count.

This recipe makes for a good summer dinner if it’s simply too hot to turn on the oven.

Smoked Turkey and Peach Salad

1½ lbs smoked turkey breast, cut into ½ to ¾ inch chunks
3 cups seedless red grapes
½ cup chopped green onions
1¼ cups chopped celery
1 cup, plus 2 T. light mayo
½ t. grated lemon peel
1½ t. lemon juice
salt and pepper
Mixed leaf lettuce, cleaned
2 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into thin strips
⅓ cup toasted, sliced almonds
Garnish: kiwi, green grapes, nectarines, strawberries, and cheese crisps

Combine smoked turkey, grapes, peaches, green onions, and celery in bowl, and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together mayo, lemon peel and juice. Add to the turkey mixture and toss well to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper (salad can be prepared 3 to 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

To serve, arrange 2 to 3 large leaves on each side of 6 dinner plates. Divide salad evenly and mound on lettuce.

Sprinkle with almonds

Garnish with kiwi, green grapes, nectarines, strawberries and a few thin slices of cheese crisps.

Bon Appetit!

Malted Milk Cupcakes

When I was young, I swear I use to pop Malted Milk Balls in my sleep. In fact, almost every kid in my neighborhood was hooked on them.

After you’ve baked and frosted these, place a malted milk ball in the center and serve.

Conclusion: Kids still love the taste of malted milk…especially this one!

from Cooks Illustrated, “American Classics 2009
Makes 12 cupcakes.
Note: Do not double recipe. Make two separate batches if you need more.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 cup (3 3/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup (4 oz) sour cream

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-sized muffin pan (1/2 cup capacity) with baking-cup liners.

Combine butter, chocolate and cocoa in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted and whisk until smooth and fully combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to touch.

Whisk flour, baking soda and baking powder in small bowl to combine

Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add sugar, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined; then sift in remaining flour mixture and whisk batter until it is homogenous and thick.

Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18-20 minutes.

Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes.

Dark Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon boiling water
2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds best-quality semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Combine cocoa and the boiling water, stirring until cocoa has dissolved. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add melted and cooled chocolate, beating until combined and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the cocoa mixture.

If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 5 days, or frozen up to 1 month, in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth again.

Bon Appetit!


Whenever I ate great carnitas in Mexico, I would always ask how they were prepared and they always said they were cooked in lard. Somehow I knew it was not a low calorie recipe because they taste so darn good. A lot of people I know cook Carnitas as a special occasion recipe and guest literally rave about the results. Carnitas after all triggered my addiction to pork.

You can cook the healthy carnitas by using a variation of the root beer pulled pork recipe on this site or you can cook REAL carnitas!

We always went to this little hole in the wall Taquería in Toluca and had Carnitas for breakfast. Miguel swore they tasted so good because grease is the definitive cure for a tequila hangover the morning after. I can still remember how good they were.

Along with the lard, carnitas are also cooked with fresh orange slices. The orange supplies moisture that lowers the temperature of the lard while the interior of the meat cooks. Once this moisture cooks away, the temperature of the lard rises, and the meat browns on the outside. When done they will have a dry, crispy exterior and a moist, succulent interior.

I’ve tried it up a dozen and a half different ways and believe me, there is no substitute for the lard. Oil just does not cut it or give it that big flavors.

So, now you have an excuse to buy 3 pounds of lard!
I wouldn't even publish this recipe if it were not so good!

Carnitas Toluca

3 lbs. lard

3 1/2 lbs. boneless pork butt


1 small orange, sliced

Warmed flour tortillas

Garnish: Salsa Verde, Sour Cream, Chopped Onion, Cilantro, and fresh Jalapeno.

Place the lard in a heavy, deep pot, over medium-low heat. Salt the meat. When the lard is melted, place the meat and orange slices in the pot. The melted lard must cover the meat.

Cook over medium-low heat, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. After about 30 minutes, the lard will begin to boil. As the moisture gradually cooks away the temperature of the lard will rise, allowing the meat to brown. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Serve carnitas with tortillas and garnishes.

Serves 6.

An After Thought on Tortillas: My Mexican market has great baby corn tortillas made by Atotonilco Tortilleria. They are substantially smaller than regular corn tortillas and are great portion control when you are cooking a recipe such as carnitas.

A little bite goes a long way for me…at least most of the time!

Bon Appetit!

Cherry Cobbler

Here is a QUICK and EASY cobbler recipe for the summer. My neighbor makes this for most of our parties and everyone loves it. No fuss and good results.

You can use any fruit in this. I used cherries…one of my favorite fruits of summer.

Personally, I would like to see a little less white sugar so I'm going to experiment with this one and post the results.

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup milk
2 Cups fruit
1/2 cup butter

Melt butter in a baking dish. Make a batter of the flour, sugar, baking powder and milk. Pour over the melted butter. (Do not stir) If fruit is unsweetened, sprinkle with sugar. Pour 2 cups of fruit into center. (Do not stir) Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour, until the crust turns golden brown. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Bon Appetit!

Crab and Avocado…A Great Combination Of Summer Flavors

Few combinations are better in the summer than crab and avocado. Both have such clean, rich taste.

I use fresh King Crab legs in most recipes because it is so sweet.Steam in a covered pan for 10 minutes, cool and remove from the shell. I buy it at the grocery only when it is on sale.

Here is Alton Brown’s recipe to microwave the legs and they are also good.

• 6 Alaskan king crab claws, thawed

• 2 sprigs dill

Directions: If necessary in order to fit in microwave, cut claws at joints. Wrap 3 claws at a time in a damp paper towel, along with 1 sprig of dill, and then wrap in plastic wrap. Place wrapped claws in microwave 1 package at a time and cook on high for 2 minutes. Remove and unwrap carefully. Serve immediately.

These crab filled rolls are a perfect summer lunch served with fresh fruit.

Don’t forget to buy REALLY GOOD rolls. I got mine from the bakery and they are so much better than what I can buy at the grocery store. Once again, small stores and markets tend to have fresher and better products than the grocery chains.

I have also included a recipe for making Aioli. Since I discovered Aioli, I have experimented with the basic recipe and found some wonderful variations. If you are watching calories, you can use a low fat mayonnaise and still get some of the same great taste.

Aioli (eye-oh-lee) is an wonderful garlic mayonnaise sauce that hails from the Provence region of France and is as natural on the dining table there as butter, salt and pepper.

Crab Rolls with Lemon Aioli

Recipe by Chef Jason McCullar of Cure


1. 1 1/4 cups aioli or mayonnaise

2. 2 large celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice

3. 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4. Cayenne pepper

5. 1 1/4 pounds crabmeat

6. Salt

7. 8 hot dog buns or 16 mini brioche rolls, split

8. 8 Boston lettuce leaves, sliced

In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the celery and lemon juice and season with cayenne. Gently fold in the crabmeat and season with salt. Fill the buns with the lettuce and the crab salad and serve.

Most of my friends like fast and easy and would not dream of making mayonnaise from scratch so here is a quick Aioli that is made from Readymade Mayonnaise:

1 cup mayonnaise (I use low fat)

6 fresh garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and other seasonings of choice. Cover and chill well.

You can serve your aioli after chilling it for about 30 minutes, but it's better if you allow several hours for the flavors to meld and mellow.

King Crab and Avocado Shooters

This is a fun recipe as an opening to a Mexican dinner. You can change it up and mix just about any fresh vegetable or fruit in.

I make this recipe when my vegetables are absolutely fresh and just coming out of the farmers market. You can play around with the ingredients ---sometimes I use crab and sometimes I keep it pure and just add to the basic gazpacho.

King Crab and Avocado Shooters

Serves 8

2 small avocados—1 cut into 1/2-inch dice, 1 cut into 8 wedges

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 pound king crabmeat

3 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger

One cup of gazpacho (look on the recipe page under soup: Gazpacho – Farmers Market.

In a shallow bowl, coarsely mash the diced avocado with a fork. Add the heavy cream and lemon juice and mash the mixture just until combined. Stir in the chopped cilantro and season generously with salt and pepper.

With kitchen scissors, cut the crab leg shells and pull out the crabmeat. Cut the crabmeat crosswise into 1-inch pieces and shred the crab. In a small bowl, combine the coconut milk and ginger. Fold in the crab and season with salt and pepper.

Spoon gazpacho and avocado into 8 small glasses. You can also top each shooter with an avocado wedge before serving. I ran out!

Crab and Guacamole Appetizers

I love this appetizer for a summer party. Don’t forget the chipotle chile in adobo sauce because it absolutely makes this recipe. You can also top it with a little diced tomato before you serve.

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce

1 pound crabmeat

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 large avocados, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 small onion, minced

1 large jalapeño, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus small leaves for garnish

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons pure olive oil

5 dozen round tortilla chips

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, heavy cream and chipotle. Fold in the crab. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.

In a large bowl, combine the avocados, onion, jalapeño, chopped cilantro, lime juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.

To serve, put a heaping teaspoon of the guacamole on each tortilla chip, then spoon a tablespoon of the crab salad on top.

A Footnote on Crab Cakes

Whenever I’m served crabcakes, it’s usually been about the breading and never about the crab.

Here is a meaty recipe that takes crab cakes to a whole new level. The recipe said to serve with a little lemon but I also like cocktail sauce. This recipe has so much fresh crab it reminded me of the crab cocktail that I use to appreciate so often when I was in Seattle.

2 slices bread

½ pound crabmeat (I use fresh King Crab)

2 Tbsp Mayonnaise

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 large egg, beaten

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Tear bread into small pieces and put in a bowl with the crabmeat. Add mayonnaise, Worcestershire, 2 Tbsp egg, and a pinch of salt. Mix together and form 4 patties. Heat butter in a skillet and cook crab, turning once, until golden brown, about 6 minutes in total.

Bon Appetit!

Berry Tiramisu Cake

I was actually thinking about finding a recipe for this Berry Tiramisu Cake and making it at home but I made the mistake of trying Gerhards version first.
All it took was one bite and I was hooked.

I can’t imagine that anyone on the planet… or another for that matter, can make this dessert better but I am challenging you and if you can I’ll publish it.

P.S. These Gerhard obsessions are really hard to one up!

Bon Appetit!

Iced Tea Italiano

This is a refreshing summer drink recipe and the Prosecco is definitely the key ingredient. Prosecco is becoming more popular as a less expensive substitute for champagne. Although I happen to adore Champagne, I am slowly coming around to the taste of Prosecco.
I made a non-alcoholic version of this recipe using green tea and a little sparkling water. You can also add a few raspberries.


2 ounces amaro (bittersweet Italian liqueur), such as Meletti

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

2 ounces chilled Prosecco

1 lemon wheel

Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add the amaro and lemon juice; stir in the Prosecco. Garnish with the wheel.

Bon Appetit!

Candy Bar Cupcakes

Here is the cupcake recipe that Jessica made on Saturday. Yes, these cupcakes are so addictive and regrettably I always fall victim to the chocolate fix.

If I had it my way I would have gotten right in there with Shawn, their adorable puppy who devoured 3 of them and licked the frosting off 2 others while we were wondering around the twilight market.

These cupcakes are a treat to make for kids… both little and big!
My favorite part: the frosting- what else?

Makes 18


1 c. sugar

1 c. buttermilk ( 1%)

2 T. canola oil

2 T. FF yogurt (we used vanilla)- if you do not want to use yogurt, then use 1/4 c. canola oil

1-1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. vanilla

1/3 c. baking cocoa

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt


6 oz. FF cream cheese

2 T. powdered sugar

1 egg

2 Snicker's candy bars ( 2.07 oz. each), finely chopped (yes – my favorite Candy Bar!)


1/3 c. butter

1/3 c. packed brown sugar

3 T. skim milk

1-1/2 c. powdered sugar

In a large bowl, beat the sugar, buttermilk, oil ( yogurt if using) and vanilla.

Combine the flour with cocoa, baking soda and salt. Gradually beat into sugar mixture until well blended.

For filling, beat cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and mix well. Stir in candy bars.

Fill 18 paper lined muffin cups about 1/3 full with batter. Drop filling by tablespoonfuls onto the center of each cup.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until done.

Cool completely

For frosting, in a small saucepan, melt butter. Stir in brown sugar and bring to a boil; cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in the milk, then powdered sugar. Cool until frosting reaches spreading consistency.

Bon Appetit!

June Cleaver In Disguise!

                                                                                                                                 This photo by the Dunns

I don’t remember June Cleaver being quite as outgoing as Gina Dunn but she was certainly as well organized…and also had the perfect family.

Gina Dunn home schooled her kids, cooks and bakes new recipes…and I mean every day. You could be jealous of Gina Dunn but she is so darn nice… and perfect.

She lives in a charming house in Kenosha with a little vegetable garden. Mind you she has planted everything you can imagine when I am just starting to get my act together with my neighbor.

Her daughter, the beautiful and artistically talented Jessica, bakes cupcakes anytime Gina happens to ask. Yes you heard me and after that she made a beautiful 6 layer lasagna. Poof – close your eyes and Jessica will whip up an Osso Bucco Milanese…I swear, she makes it look that easy.

I want that perfect daughter Jessica – who looks like a mini Audrey Hepburn, sketches whatever creative ideas happen to pop into her head and makes perfect cupcakes and lasagna.

Me - I was a really good influence on the two of them. I dragged them to Tacos To Go where they had to sit and watch me eat chicken gizzards. They winced but it was almost in unison.

Did I mention that chicken gizzards are an acquired taste? I never got a clue however that I could talk either Gina or Jessica into fixing them.

Chicken gizzards do not fit into a perfect world.

Bon Appetit!

More on a day at the Dunns.....
Gina’s sister Kerrie taught us how to make meatballs. I never loved meatballs until now and here is her secret ingredient…sauce. Sauce…well, that was Gina’s speciality and it was clearly one of the better sauces I had tasted in a long time.

I’m trying to get measurements for these recipes because both Italian sisters clearly cook from the head.

Yes, and here is the ever famous Franks which was featured with Guy Fieri on the Food Network series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.This unusual diner celebrated more than 80 years in business and it is the spot that I am having lunch tomorrow.

You Pick Farms

A number of farmers offer consumers the experience of harvesting their own food. U-pick farms are a growing trend since the issue of eating and sourcing locally reminds people just how good local produce is.

Most farms charge about 20-25 percent less than market prices to pick. Weather conditions can alter the picking schedule so always call ahead.

And whatever it is you pick, be sure to invite me over for dinner!

Bon Appetit!

Spring 2010 Food Video

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Salad

Bacon, lettuce and tomato is the perfect summer salad. This was a really easy recipe and all of my guests asked for it before they left. It’s the perfect compliment to grilled meat.

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Salad

4 thick slices crusty sourdough bread

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1 ounce finely shredded cheese (use parmesan or cheddar-jack mix – depending on what you are making)

3 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

6 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and Pepper

8 slices bacon

8 cups baby spinach and red lettuce mix

12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Using a serrated knife, remove the crusts from the sourdough bread. The tear into 1” pieces. Place on baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8 minutes. Remove from oven but leave the oven on. Melt butter and drizzle over croutons. Toss. Arrange croutons in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with cheese and return to oven. Bake 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Place vinegar in a bowl. Slowly add oil. Whisk in the parsley, and season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

Preheat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook. Transfer to paper towel to drain.

In a large bowl, toss the lettuce with vinaigrette to coat. Divide the salad among 4 plates. Add bacon. Garnish with cherry tomatoes and croutons and serve.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Big Star - Chicago

The king of Alfresco, Big Star is a bar that happens to serve tacos. It was apparent when the bouncer told us to go to one of the three communal picnic tables to eat because the patio tables were for people who were going to order drinks. This was at 11:30 AM when they just opened and the huge patio was empty. Sitting at the communal table, I ran into a twenty something who told me the same story…except this had happened to him more than once. Ouch!

Lesson One: Maybe we should start drinking at lunch or who made up these silly rules anyway? A paying customer is a paying customer.

Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, and the Publican) and Michael Rubel(Violet Hour) are partners in this successful venture which was written up by Chicago Magazine as one of the Best New Restaurants.

You’ll love the price point but come armed with plenty of cash because credit cards are not accepted… and maybe you can use some of it to pay off the bouncer to get a table?

When I rounded the corner on to Damen I was taken by surprise. This space looks a lot like a garage with an oversized, make shift patio in the parking lot. Lesson Two: Don't judge a book by its cover!
For tacos, we ordered the lamb shoulder, pork belly and tacos al Pastor. These were served on house made mini (itty-bitty to be exact) corn tortillas. Of all the flavors, I liked the al Pastor the best which had just the right amount of pineapple and spice but a little too much grease but that's good hangover food and remember you're here to drink!

The queso fundido was also really good. You can wash it down with a michelada – a $4 Tecate in a salt rimmed glass with tomatoe juice, lime and house made hot sauce or order the $1 Schlitz shorty.

Since the few tables inside are for parties of four or more and you can’t sit on the patio unless you order a drink, be prepared to hit the carryout window and get your food to go.

     Order# 0001

My lunch came in at $7 and we split so we tried a lot of food for twice the price. Make sure to tip the kitchen staff at the take out window. They were all really friendly and amusing so learn a little Spanish to speak with them and you’ll get the royal treatment.

When I was searching through my Food and Wine Magazine this morning, I came across the recipe for Tacos al Pastor that they adapted from the Big Star recipe so I made it today.

I know this looks like a lot of ingredients and it is but this recipe is so good and worth the extra effort to acquire all of the chilies.

I get mine at a Mexican Market in Highwood and many of the fresh chilies can also be found at the Spice House (which is also mail order) on Central Street in Evanston.

Once you’ve done the marinating, the rest of this recipe is a coast…and once again, there is Coca-Cola in the recipe.

See How Good This Looks? Fresh Ingredients Are The Key.

Tacos Al Pastor

4 dried guajillo chiles (about 1 ounce)

1 dried ancho chile

2 dried chipotle chiles

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/4 cup Coca-Cola

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon annatto seeds

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 whole clove

1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for grilling

2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

Salt and freshly ground pepper

12 corn tortillas, warmed

Grilled pineapple, chopped red onion and cilantro, for serving
1. Stem and seed all of the dried chiles and place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with water and microwave at high power until softened, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly, then drain and transfer to a blender. Add the orange juice, lime juice, soda and vinegar. In a spice grinder, grind the annatto with the oregano, cumin, clove, sugar and garlic powder until fine. Add the spice mixture to the blender and blend until smooth.

2. Transfer the marinade to a saucepan. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until very thick, about 5 minutes; let cool. Transfer the marinade to a large resealable plastic bag. Add the pork and onion and seal the bag. Refrigerate overnight.

3. Light a grill. Remove the pork and onion from the marinade and scrape most of it off. Brush the pork and onion with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat, turning, until the meat is cooked through, 15 minutes. Transfer the pork and onion to a work surface, cover loosely with foil and let stand 10 minutes.

4. Cut the pork into strips. Serve the pork and onion with the warmed tortillas, grilled pineapple, red onion and cilantro.

Lesson Three: Yes, you can cook this stuff at home and once in awhile, it's better!

Queso Fundido

When I lived in Guadalajara, there was a restaurant that made the best queso fundido. Honestly, I think we ate there just about every day after school.

There is only one way to eat it – like the natives do with salsa verde and a dash of salt. The cheese can be tricky to find but many WalMart’s carry it.

This straightforward recipe is addictive and great for parties. Serve with a bucket of ice-cold tecates rimmed with salt and a fresh lime squeezed into each.

1 package flour tortillas, warmed

1 Bag Supremo Queso Chihuahua

1 Cup Salsa Verde

1 shaker salt

Spread the queso on a pizza pan. Put under the broiler and melt. Just when it turns a little brown, pull out the cheese.

Serve with flour tortillas, chili verde and a dose of salt.

Bon Appetit and Salud!

Agua Fresca ...A New Twist On An Old Tradition

Spanish for "fresh water," agua fresca is a refreshing, fruit-infused drink that is served throughout Mexico. I use to drink it off of the street carts in Tonola, Mexico. Depending on the ripeness of the fruit, adjust the amount of sugar for desired sweetness.
Here is the original recipe and you can make it with any type of fruit.

Yield: 8 cups (serving size: 1 1/3 cups)


• 4 cups water

• 1/3 cup sugar

• 6 cups fresh fruit

• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)


Combine water and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Place fruit in a blender, and process until smooth. Combine the sugar mixture, fruit puree, and juice; stir well and serve.

Now, here is a variation on the traditional Auga Fresca and I could not get over how much I really love this refreshing drink.

The texture of the berries and the combination of the fruit juice with the sparkling water makes for a really healthful summer drink.

Serves 2

3/4 cup fresh blackberries

3/4 cup fresh raspberries

2/3 cup fresh blueberries

5 fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered

½ lime, quartered


1/3 cup Cranberry juice cocktail

1/3 cup sparkling water

Combine the berries and lime in a bowl and crush the berries until they are exuding their juices. Fill 2 glasses with ice and spoon berry mixture over ice. Pour cranberry juice and sparkling water over the berry mixture and serve.

Bon Appetit!

The One Temperature PERFECT Popovers…Did I Say Perfect?

A one temperature setting for a popover that turned out perfect? This was a culinary high mark for me because these popovers were not only light and airy but also enormously PERFECT!
I’ve never made perfect popovers before so I celebrated by having 2 when they came out of the oven. They were delicious and memories of my mother’s popovers informed me that I had finally arrived. After all these years I made the perfect popover. This was a real triumph for me.

DON'T PEEK! Popovers are leavened by steam and heat is required for the rising of the popovers. If you open the oven door, the heat escapes, the oven cools down, the steam inside the popovers condenses, and the popovers collapse. I know. The last batch I tried to make I ruined because I peeked. I never looked at these until 37 minutes had ticked off my clock.

If you love popovers like I do and plan to make them often, use the professional-quality popover pan from William Sonoma. It turns out moist popovers with crisp magnificent heads every time. I found my pan – which had never been used- at the second hand store for $5.

I also love to have popovers for breakfast on the weekends. They are a real treat with fresh squeezed OJ, a huge bowl of mixed fruit and greek yogurt.

They taste so good it’s hard to believe they are only 105 calories and 2.3 grams of fat.

Lemon Popovers

• 3/4 cup whole milk

• 1/4 cup water

• 2 large eggs

• 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

• 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

• no fat vegetable spray


Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in lower third. Generously spray popover cups with a no fat vegetable spray.

Whisk together milk, water, eggs, and zest in a bowl, then whisk in butter. Add flour, salt, and pepper and whisk until batter is combined well but still slightly lumpy.

Divide batter among popover cups and sprinkle tops with additional pepper as garnish if you like. Bake until puffed and golden, about 40 minutes. Cut a slit about 1/2-inch long in top of each popover with a small sharp knife, then bake 5 minutes more.

I can eat popovers plain but they are also great served with (and this is where you add the calories):

Maple or Honey Butter:

Mix 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter (1 standard stick) with 2 tablespoons maple syrup to honey and 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Strawberry Butter:

Beat together 1/2 cup of butter with 1/2 cup strawberry preserves

Bon Appetit!

Summer's Best BBQ Ribs

I use to cook ribs for the masses at the 4th of July parties. These were my ribs and people really loved them. Then, last year, I made Adam Perry Lang’s BBQ Rib recipe. I spent so many years perfecting my recipe and here was a recipe that was perfect the first time I tried it. Not fair - You’re suppose to work at this!

Fire up the grills and see if you can out-cook Charlie, who won the Lake Forest rib cookoff last year with a modified version of this recipe that I sent out to hundreds of foodies last 4th of July.

Here it is again for anyone who missed it.

Send me a new recipe if you happen to spend the better part of the summer perfecting this one because we think it’s pretty perfect already!

• 4 racks baby back ribs (approximately 1 1/2 pounds each)

For the spice paste:

• 1/2 cup mustard

• 1/2 cup water

• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

• 1/4 cup chili powder

• 2 tablespoons garlic salt

• 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

For foil packets:

• 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

• 1/2 cup honey

• 1/2 cup apple juice

• 1 cup softened butter

For the fortified barbeque sauce:

• 1 cup favorite BBQ sauce

• 1/4 cup apricot jelly

• 1/4 cup honey

• 1/2 cup water


Preheat an indirect BBQ to 275˚F (use fruitwoods if possible, such as apple).

Spread ribs evenly with Spice Paste.

Place the ribs in the cooker and cook indirect (meaning not in direct exposure to fire) for 2 hours.

While ribs are cooking, combine the fortified barbeque sauce in a bowl and set aside.

When the 2 hours has elapsed, tear off 4 large sheets of aluminum foil (enough to accommodate two racks of ribs side by side). On first sheet, place half of the packet mixture on the foil, top with a rack of ribs meaty side down, and wrap in the foil, crimping to seal securely. Wrap with the second sheet of foil. Repeat for the remaining 2 racks of ribs.

Place the wrapped ribs back in the cooker, and cook for an additional hour.

Remove the wrapped ribs from the cooker and carefully remove from foil packets.

Coat with fortified BBQ sauce. Place back in the BBQ meat side down for 15 minutes, flip over, brush with additional sauce then continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Bon Appetit!

Cooking Finds From The Green City Market

Saturday, when I was at Green City Market, I found some great white oyster mushrooms, beautiful purple and green asparagus and a whole slew of fresh organic herbs.
I love an asparagus salad. This can be served on top of grilled meat but I like it as a side. As always, only use the freshest ingredients.

This is a recipe that can be switched up. I have used crunchy radishes in place of the tomato and have also added avocado when I have one to use up.

Shaved Asparagus Salad

1 large bunch of fresh purple and green asparagus, mixed. Use the larger diameter spears.

Small box cherry tomatoes

2 tsp fresh cilantro or parsley, finely chopped

1 tbsp lemon juice

4 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp fresh ground pepper

Shaved parmesan

Trim off the bottom of the asparagus. Cook in microwave with water for one minute until slightly cooked but still crunchy. Shave or cut thin the asparagus very thin. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Arrange on plates. Top with fresh cilantro or parsley. In a small bowl, add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk well. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a sprinkle of shaved parmesan cheese.

Poached Egg with Asparagus and Prosciutto

A poached egg on a pile of tender steamed asparagus is a healthy meal; a shaving of hard aged cheese, such as Parmesan, is an added indulgence. I sometimes have this for dinner when I am in the mood for a light meal.

You’ll love the combination of the eggs with the salty prosciutto and asparagus. I use purple asparagus when I can find it because it is sweeter, more tender, and milder in flavor than the customary green variety.

Serves 4

16 asparagus spears, trimmed

4 large eggs

4 wide slices parma prosciutto

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Parmesan cheese, thinly shaved

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Tie asparagus into a bundle using kitchen twine. Place in the basket of an asparagus pot filled with 1 inch water. Cover, and bring water to a boil. Steam asparagus until tender, 2 to 6 minutes or you can do it the easy way like I do. Put with a little bit of water and cook in the microwave for 1 – 1 ½ minutes.

Fill a large saucepan with 4 inches of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. When water is barely simmering, break 1 egg into a small heatproof bowl. Gently tip bowl, sliding egg carefully into water. Repeat with remaining eggs. Cook until whites are set but yolks are soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggs to paper towels, and drain briefly.

Divide asparagus among 4 plates and wrap each bunch with a piece of parma prosciutto and top with an egg. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus Frittata

1 TB of olive oil

6 eggs

3 TB milk

½ cup of mozzarella

½ cup of chopped asparagus (cut into ½ in pieces)

½ cut red pepper

salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in cast iron skillet or frittata pan. Add asparagus and red peppers and cook a few minutes . Combine the eggs, milk, and half of the cheese, then add the egg mixture to the pan. Top off with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

White Oyster Mushrooms

I bought the oyster mushrooms because one of the chefs at the NRA Show told me she loved their rich flavor. She sautés them on the stovetop with a little garlic. I added a bit of shallot because I had one to use up. She was right – these mushrooms are really delightful and a great side dish to chicken.

Feeds 2-4

extra-virgin olive oil

½ pound oyster mushrooms, cut up into chunks

½ shallot, chopped

5 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

salt and pepper

Pour the olive oil into a large heavy-bottomed frying-pan or casserole pan. Heat on a low flame, add the mushrooms, shallots and garlic and season well with salt. Cook the mushrooms for 4-5 minutes. Taste a slice and if you think it tastes cooked, remove from heat, otherwise give them a few minutes longer. The cooking time will depend on the age and quality of the mushrooms you have found. When they are ready, pour into a deep serving plate or bowl, complete with all the garlicky juices for bread-dunking.

Bon Appetit!