Thursday, October 30, 2008

Food Fun -- Cooking Blog Event at Alicia and Annie's

Need some inspiration to try out some new recipes? Consider participating in Cooking with Alicia and Annie's ongoing blog events. You'll gain new recipes for your menus and will be entered for a chance to win some great cooking related prizes.

In a nutshell, you choose a recipe (or recipes) from the over 20,00 available, make the dish, and blog about it. For full details on how to participate in this event, click here. Deadline for the next event's entries is November 30.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to Buy and Cut Pineapple plus Fresh Pineapple Recipes

My great niece had a friend visiting a while back, and the child's eyes lit up when she saw a fresh pineapple on my counter. It was if she she was looking at a big chocolate layer cake.

"Are we going to eat pineapple," she asked hopefully?

When I said sure, she had a look of pure joy. My ears were even pierced by that excited squeal that only tweens can do.

A kid excited about fresh fruit. She's OK in my book. This same little angel also took home leftovers of my pasta and pesto cause she'd never tasted anything like it before and she liked it so much. I love this kid!

In any event, my young house guest explained she only got pineapple out of a can, unless she was visiting her grandmother, because her mom didn't know how to cut fresh pineapple (yeah right).

So in her honor, I want to include easy instructions for how to cut pineapple and how to pick a good fresh pineapple. When you get a good fresh pineapple, there's nothing like it. Pick a mediocre one and you might as well have gotten a can.

When buying fresh pineapple, the only way we have of really knowing if it's ripe is by smell (color doesn't really matter). Pick up the pineapple and smell the bottom of it. If it smells like fresh sweet pineapple it's ripe; if it has no smell, it's not ripe yet; and if it smells like wine, it's over ripe and well on its way to rotting.

How to Cut Pineapple
Cutting a fresh pineapple isn't as intimidating as it appears. The first thing to realize is that there will be some waste. With that in mind, here's a simple method.

1. Chop off the top about a 1/2 inch below the leaves.
2. Cut off about 1/2 inch off the bottom.
3. Cut Pineapple into quarters (photo 1).
4. Cut out the inner tough core of each quarter (photo 2).
5. Discard core and cut away skin of pineapple, making the cuts as shallow as possible, while still removing the "eyes" from the fruit (photo 3).
6. Slice quarters into slices of desired thickness.

Favorite Fresh Pineapple Recipes
Food Fun -- Pineapple Alligator Food Sculpture (pictured at the top of this post)
This awesome alligator is no swamp-lurker, he'd much rather be front and center on your buffet. Creative genius Sidney Escowitz, designed the clever alligator. He generously shared the instructions with Click here for how to make this project.

Sidney has included 50 clever food sculptures in his book Entertaining Edibles. Click here for details.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Orleans Muffuletta Sandwich Recipe and more N.O. Recipes

Here's a my version of New Orleans' famous Muffuletta Sandwich. Missing my youthful adventures in The Big Easy, I came up with this recipe for a picnic at the Hollywood Bowl -- a night of New Orleans music with Dr. John and Pete Fountain. This is also perfect fare for tailgate parties or even watching the big game at home, or any other kind of entertaining. Since you can make it well in advance, it helps makes the event stress free for the host/hostess.

While we used ham and salami, you could substitute your favorite blend of cold cuts instead.

This sandwich was invented and made famous at New Orleans' Central Grocery Store, a French quarter landmark. It's the olive salad that makes this sandwich what is is. You could pay a bunch of money and buy a muffuletta type olive salad in a jar at a gourmet shop. But if you have a food processor, it's quick and easy to make at home.

Although technically a salad, this recipe is usually served as a spread, as in this sandwich. However, it is a versatile ingredient that can be used to season pastas, vegetable and meat dishes as well. Think of using this much in the same way you could use pesto.

Muffuletta Olive Salad

1/2 cup black brine cured olives, such as kalamatas
1/2 cup green olives
1 cup finely chopped celery, with leaves
1 cup Giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables)
1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
3-4 clove garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pit olives (if necessary) and combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process until mixed, but still somewhat chunky -- do not puree (see photo). For the best flavor, cover and refrigerate for a few hours before using.

Muffuletta Sandwich -- Serves 6

1 recipe olive salad (see above)
1 8-10 inch round loaf of French bread
4-6 ounces sliced smoked ham
4-6 ounces sliced Genoa salami
4-6 ounces Provolone cheese
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced

Cut the bread horizontally in half. Remove some of the soft center to allow room for the filling (use bread centers for another purpose). Spread half the olive salad on the bottom of the bread. Follow with a layer of cheese, followed by layers of meat and veggies. Finish off with another layer of cheese and the remaining olive salad. Wrap sandwich tightly in foil and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving (you can make this a day ahead of time and it will still be great). Let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. Cut into 6 wedges to serve.

Recommended Reading:
New Orleans Food: More Than 225 of the City's Best Recipes to Cook at Home
by Tom Fitzmorris

It's obvious that New Orleans native Fitzmorris knows these recipes intimately well. His descriptions and background information really help to bring this vibrant cuisine even more to life. His instructions are clear and concise yet detailed, making the recipes well within the grasp of even beginning cooks. Many of the recipes in this book are based on those served at classic New Orleans restaurants, some are historic recipes. Not to worry, Fitzmorris has adapted them for today's home cooks, and always gives tips and details to make preparation seamless.

Long respected as one of New Orleans' premier restaurant critics, his radio program The Food Show is broadcast daily on WSMB. Netsters can subscribe to The New Orleans Menu, a daily internet New Orleans restaurant review newsletter ( With this book we predict Fitzmorris will reach a much larger audience. Even if you can't visit the Big Easy, these recipes will bring the flavor of it into your home kitchen, and Fitzmorris's entertaining commentary is the next best thing to being there.

A portion of the benefits of this book will benefit Habitat for Humantity.

Sample Recipes from New Orleans Food
  • New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp -- One of the four best dishes in all of New Orleans cooking, this dish was created in the mid-1950s at Pascal's Manale Restaurant.
  • Redfish with Sizzling Crab and Herbs -- Use your favorite white fish to make this crab stuffed fish recipe that's topped with clarified butter.
  • Bread Pudding Alaska -- This rich, beautiful and really delicious bread pudding, made with lots of eggs, cream, and cinnamon, is a thing apart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fabulous New Products We Love

As the editor of a food and cooking website and an author working on a cookbook, I am constantly trying new kitchen gadgets, products, and foods. Some I happen across in my travels and shopping expeditions. Others are sent to our offices by manufacturers hoping to get a mention.

Most of these products are adequate -- they do what they need to do. Still others are nothing to write home about (the $8.00 brine mix that wasn't even enough for a small turkey comes immediately to mind). Others are truly worthwhile. It is that last rare category that is featured here.

It's been a while since we've brought readers up to date with some our latest product and food finds -- the items the folks at really use in our own kitchens, whether we're cooking for business or pleasure. Here are some our favorite recent finds:

Escali Digital Scale (pictured above) -- Cooking, and especially baking, experts agree, the best way to accurately measure is by volume. The Escali Digital scale makes volume measurements effortless. We love the ease of use (even for the electronically challenged). A push of a button subtracts the container's weight to obtain the weight of its contents, and the stainless steel removable top makes clean-up fast and easy. In addition, the scale has five units of measure: cups, tablespoons, ounces, pounds+ounces or grams; measures volume in cups and tablespoons for a wide range of ingredients from 17 types of flour to eggs, corn syrup etc.; and comes preprogrammed for precise volume measurements of more than 150 ingredients. Click here for more information or to order through

Dremel Rotary Tool Pumpkin Carving Kit -- Take your pumpkin up to a whole new lever with the Dremel pumpkin carving kit. This small battery operated rotary tool carves off layers of pumpkin flesh to let the light glow through (unlike traditional pumpkin carving that cuts all the way through the pumpkin). You can shave off a little or a lot depending on the effect you want and how intricate you want to go. If you have any artistic ability at all you will love this tool, as it's almost as easy as drawing with a pen once you get used to it. The rest of us can still get great results by using a pattern (several are included with the kit and we have lots of free patterns on this website as well). Powered by four AA batteries, it's got two speeds for superior pumpkin-stock removal, 6,000 and 12,000 rpm, so it's not a child's toy. Click here for more information or to order through

Thermolon Green Pan Nonstick Cookware -- Looking for non-stick cookware but concerned about toxic chemicals leaching into your foods and your body? You’re not alone as many folks are concerned about the effects of nonstick coatings that flake off traditional nonstick cookware. Help is now here in the form of the Green Pan -- the first cookware to have Thermolon nonstick technology. The ceramic based, nano nonstick Green Pan with Thermolon Technology does not contain any PTFE nor is it manufactured with PFOA. It was developed to be the last cookware you'll have to buy and it won't break down or wear over time. The superior 850-degree nonstick release feature is a first! Because nothing will stick, this cookware allows you to cook healthier with no need for added butters, fats or oils. We’ve been using a Green Pan in the test kitchens for a few months now. We have to say it has held up well (and we’re notoriously not careful with cookware). We have had foods stick at lower temperatures, but as long as you take the time to preheat the pan, it functions just as well as traditional nonstick cookware. Click here for more information or to order through

Fresh & Fit Lunch Products -- We love the Fit and Fresh line of lunch storage containers. Why didn’t someone think of this sooner? Each item has a built in reusable chill pack that keeps food and drink safely chilled until lunchtime. Whether you’re packing lunch to go to school or office, or snacks to have in the car, these products will find use everyday. One of the best ways to lose weight, control portions and calories and generally eat healthier to is to take healthy foods with you in order to avoid eating out so often (you’ll also save money). These handy take along containers that come in a variety of sizes and shapes will eliminate all excuses. Click here for more information or to order through

Air Force Nutrisodas -- We loved, loved, loved the flavors of Air Force Nutrisodas (one house guest became addicted after a weekend of taste testing these healthy drinks, he's been their biggest customer since). These sodas don't just refresh you, they revitalize you. They're delicious, refreshingly carbonated nutrient-enhanced sodas with zero sugar, caffeine, sodium or aspartame. Natural fruit flavors, with meaningful levels of vitamins and minerals, improve wellness with every sip . Different flavors come with different nutritional focuses, but they all taste good, they're good for you. And, they do good, too, with a commitment to social and environmental causes. Learn more about these great beverages at

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Making Tiramisu

This classic Italian dessert is one of the most popular sweet endings ordered at restaurants, but it isn't difficult to make at home. While traditional Tiramisu calls for raw egg yolks, I substituted Zabaglione, another classic Italian dessert that is an egg custard flavored with sweet wine. The flavor is out of this world, with the dessert wine in the Zabaglione giving the Tiramisu even more depth. Know that, Tiramisu aside, the Zabalgione also makes a great dessert served over fruit like berries.

This recipe makes enough to layer the Tiramisu ingredients in a shallow 8-inch square pan. For the Tiramisu in the photo I doubled both recipes to create a giant version of the dessert to feed a crowd at a party. As you can see, I serve this version in a trifle bowl.

Mascarpone is a very mild cream cheese available in gourmet stores and specialty markets. Ladyfingers are small oblong sponge cakes sold in most stores.

2 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup espresso or strong black coffee
3-4 tablespoons cocoa powder
about 24 ladyfingers
1 recipe Zabaglione (follow this link for recipe)

Beat the Zabaglione with the mascarpone cheese until smooth.

Pour the espresso into a shallow dish. Quickly dip a ladyfinger, turning to dip both sides and taking care to wet it, but not so much that it falls apart. Place a layer of soaked ladyfingers over the entire bottom of your dish. Spoon half of the mascarpone mixture over the soaked ladyfingers. Repeat with another layer of espresso soaked ladyfingers, followed by another layer of the mascarpone/zabaglione mixture. Sift cocoa powder over the top, cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

For a decorative striped effect on the top of your Tiramisu, cut out 1 inch wide strips of waxed paper and arrange in stripes on the top layer of mascarpone. Sift cocoa over the top, then carefully life off the waxed paper strips. The Tiramisu will now have cocoa stripes on the top layer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mark Your Calendar for Special LA Dining Opportunities

Residents of, and visitors to Los Angeles, get ready for a unique dining opportunity coming your way!

Times are tough and people are eating out less often these days. If you're in or around the City of Angels, it makes sense to save your restaurant budget up for this truly unique two-week long countywide event. You'll get more from your money while partaking in new culinary adventures.

LA INC., American Express and the LA restaurant community have announced that dineLA Restaurant Week will return to Los Angeles in 2009. Taking place Jan. 25-30 and Feb. 1-6, 2009, dineLA Restaurant Week is the largest countywide food event of the year that allows guests to sample many different types of cuisine, dining neighborhoods and restaurants.

Over the two consecutive weeks, residents and visitors have the opportunity to indulge in specially priced three-course menus from a variety of LA's best restaurants. During its inaugural dineLA Restaurant Week in 2008, more than 100,000 consumers dined out at 143 participating restaurants.

dineLA is a dynamic marketing initiative between LA INC., American Express and the LA restaurant community to promote the scale and variety of LA restaurant and food experiences to locals and visitors.

dineLA's comprehensive website provides detailed information and search capabilities for over 2,000 area restaurants; chef profiles; a culinary events calendar; monthly enter-to-win giveaways; e-newsletter; online chef and restaurant videos; as well as engaging and timely editorial content.

For more information about this event, click to

For more information about Los Angeles restaurants anytime, click to

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blueberry Crumb Cake Recipe and Blueberry Cookbook

For some reason, I have no idea why, autumn seems like coffee cake weather to me. I almost never make these treats any other time of year. Maybe it's because they pack so well in lunchboxes, I associate them with back to school.

For whatever reason, my annual craving returned, and I baked up one of my favorite coffee cakes. It's an easy to make cake that's perfect for a breakfast treat, a pick-me-up with an afternoon coffee break, or a homey dessert after dinner. It travels well, so also makes a great "gift from your kitchen." You can even freeze all or part of the cake, wrapped well in aluminum foil, for future noshes.

I hope you enjoy this cake as much as we do.

Makes 14 Servings

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces sour cream
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.

Beat together butter, 1 cup sugar and cinnamon, continue beating until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and beat in 2 cups flour until well blended and mixture is crumbly. Set aside 1 cup of crumbly mixture.

Mix remaining flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until well blended. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Increase mixer speed and beat for about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl as needed. Reduce mixer speed to low and mix in the flour mixture and mix until just blended. Fold in 1 1/2 cups blueberries and spoon the batter into the prepared tube pan. Sprinkle the reserved 1/2 cup blueberries around the top of cake, followed by the reserved crumbly mixture.

Bake for about 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool cake in pan for about 10 minutes before loosening from the sides of the pan with a knife. Carefully remove cake from pan by lifting up from the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack, crumb side up.

Recommended Reading:

Blueberries are not only one of the most delicious foods we can eat, they're also one of the healthiest. Likewise this little cookbook is a find as it contains over 40 recipes that utilize this super food in lots of scrumptious ways. You'll find traditional blueberry recipes like muffins, pies, and coffee cakes, plus lots of creative new and unexpected recipes utilizing blueberries, like salads, sauces, appetizers and even savory entrees. For any blueberry lover, this is a small but mighty tome, filled with delicious recipes to make again and again.
Sample Recipes from Very Blueberry
  • Blueberry Buckle -- Serve this versatile cake at a brunch with coffee or for a snack in the afternoon. In the evening, it makes an irresistible dessert warmed and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  • Venison with Ancho Chile Blueberry Sauce -- Venison is similar to beef but much leaner, a great alternative for those looking for a healthier choice. The combination of blueberries and venison dates back to the Native Americans in the Northwest Territories. Legend has it that Lewis and Clark's first meals with the natives of the northwest was venison cured with blueberries.
Click here for more information about Very Blueberry or to order through

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cookbook Focus Plus Authentic Chinese Recipes

The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco
by Cecelia Chiang and Lisa Weiss

This book does double duty as cookbook of authentic Chinese recipes that you’ll want to prepare in your own kitchen, and as a memoir that reads like a novel. It tells the story of a courageous woman who lived an adventurous life that spans from the China of the 1920s and 30s to San Francisco in the 60s and beyond.

Cecelia Chiang is largely credited with popularizing Chinese regional cuisine with Americans via her famous San Francisco restaurant, The Mandarin (unfortunately now closed). She started the restaurant against popular wisdom outside of San Francisco’s Chinatown when it was believed she was committing financial suicide. Instead she succeeded and flourished, presiding over what became a restaurant empire.

The recipes in this collection contain many Mandarin favorites along with authentic Chinese recipes from Cecelia’s own family. Interspersed between the recipes are chapters of Cecelia’s life in China during a tumultuous time in its history, her eventual immigration to the United States, and a behind the scenes look into one of America’s most respected and successful restaurants and restaurateurs.

She brings a unique perspective to both Chinese and American cultures in this fascinating memoir, including the immigrant experience and the perspective of an independent woman setting up a successful buisness in a man's world.

It’s hard to choose which of the two sides of this book are more enjoyable. Perhaps its best use would be to cook yourself some delicious Chinese recipes, then read while you eat.

Sample Recipes from The Seventh Daughter:

  • Tea Eggs -- These beautiful marbleized eggs are the ultimate snack food. They’re nutritious, can be served warm or cold, are portable, and best of all, are easy to make. But not only are they perfect for a picnic, they’re quite elegant on a platter at a buffet.
  • Eggplant in Garlic Sauce -- This dish is one Cecelia served since her early days on Polk Street in San Francisco. At first, her customers had difficulty with the idea that eggplant could be served cold. Most eggplant recipes at this time were fired and served hot. But this spicy version quickly won them over.
Click here for more information about The Seventh Daughter or to order through

Monday, October 20, 2008

Making Tempura in a Fondue Pot

A Japanese classic, tempura consists of foods that are battered and deep fried. One of the most memorable meals I've ever had took place at a tempura restaurant I once visited on one of my tours to Japan. This was an elegant pricey place, well known in the region. Each person had a bamboo cup of tempura batter at their place setting. A large artistically designed platter of skewered foods was set out in everyone's reach. In the center of the table a large cauldron-like pot of hot oil stood ready for frying. Each person dipped and fried their own tempura skewers.

Like most cook-at-the-table meals, the experience provided a relaxed, slow, social dinner. People cook, eat, and converse. What better way to spend an evening?

Using your fondue pot, can duplicate it at home -- cooking and serving the tempura right at the table.

Tempura is limited only by your imagination. Traditional foods included a variety of vegetables and seafood such as shrimp or scallops, but don't be afraid to experiment and such western staples as chicken or even cubes of beef.

The fried food can then be dipped in a traditional Japanese dipping sauce or dipped in salt. In Japan you will often be served salt that's mixed with various seasonings. You can do this at home by using coarse sea salt and mixing in curry powder, hot chiles or paprika to taste. In Japan each plate has tiny piles of the various seasoned salts on it.

Tempura Making Tips

It is very important to make your batter just before frying, so make sure the oil is hot first.

Use ice water in the batter and stir only enough to mix, for if you over-beat the batter you will develop the gluten in the flour and it won't work properly. Tempura batter should be lumpy!

Test to make sure the oil is hot enough before frying your foods. To do this, drop a drop of batter into the oil, if the drop quickly floats to the surface, the oil is hot enough. If it takes its time in floating, let the oil heat longer. Cut food for frying into bite sized pieces of about the same size.

Below are some of my favorite foods for tempura. Feel free to use your imagination and add your own.

  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Calamari
  • Chicken Breast Cubes
  • Steak Cubes
  • Mushrooms
  • Asparagus
  • Japanese Eggplant
  • Green Beans
  • Squash

To cook tempura, spear a piece of food on a bamboo skewer or fondue fork, dip into the batter cup, then deep fry it in the oil filled fondue pot. The length of cooking time depends on what is being cooked. Seafood will take less time (2-3 minutes) than chicken or most vegetables. 4-5 minutes will usually be the most time you'll need to leave anything cook.

Tempura Recipe
Tempura batter is simple -- just flour, ice water and egg. The traditional dipping sauce of soy sauce and mirin is also easy, letting the freshness of the ingredients shine through the delicate coating. Click here for a basic tempura and sauce recipe.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quick and Easy Hearty Soups For Busy Fall Nights

I don't what it's like where you live, but here in Big Bear, located in Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains, it's starting to turn cold. We've had a fire going in the fireplace for the last few nights.

It's always at this time of year that my thoughts turn to soup. But I've been so busy lately, I usually don't start thinking about dinner until it's almost time to eat. That's where a quick and easy soup recipe can help. I admit, I usually make long, slow cooked soups (often in the slow cooker), but for spontaneous soup making you can't beat recipes like the ones at the links below. Add a salad and a baguette or your perfect bread of choice, and you have a quick, healthy meal.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Growing and Using Stevia

Looking for an all natural, calorie and carb free way to sweeten drinks, desserts and other foods? The answer may be as close as your local nursery or the garden department of your local home store. Many garden shops are now carrying Stevia plants.

Stevia Rebaudiana is a small perennial shrub which belongs to the Chrysanthemum family. This plant is the only known species that has the ability to sweeten. In its natural herb form Stevia is 10 to 15 times sweeter than granulated sugar. Take a taste of a bit of a leaf and you'll be amazed at the sweet flavor.

Of course, if you don't want to grow it, Stevia also comes in liquid and powdered forms. Trader Joe's stores, if you're lucky enough to have one nearby, carries powdered Stevia in packets (handy for packing in purses), or in a spoonable container.

Stevia is carb and calorie free, and since it does not affect blood sugar levels, is a good choice for diabetics. Stable at high temperatures, Stevia can also be used in cooking and baking. And that's not all -- studies have shown that Stevia can inhibit the formation of cavities and dental plaque (which is why it's frequently used in toothpastes).

Growing Stevia
Growing Stevia from seed can be troublesome, so it's easier to buy small plants from a nursery.

Young Stevia plants are sensitive to cold temperatures, so wait until danger of frost has safely passed and soil temperature range in a 50 and 60°F range.

Plant the perennials about 18 inches apart in rich soil. Adding a mulch or compost is advised. Plant grow to about 30 inches in height and 18 inches in width. Feeder roots remain near the soil surface and are sensitive to excessive moisture so be sure soil drains well. Bring plants inside before the first fall frost.

The Controversy of Stevia
So why haven't you heard much about this product? Why is it not used on soft drinks, ice creams, and baked goods like it is in countries around the world? Because the artificial sweetener lobby is so strong, it has managed to keep labeling laws in place that require Stevia to be only marketed as a nutritional supplement. Yet every nutritionist and dietician I spoke with recommended Stevia heartily while suggesting their clients avoid artificial sweeteners. Our government at work. Click here for detailed information about the controversy.

Shop for Stevia and Stevia Cookbooks
Click here to Shop for Stevia and Stevia cookbooks at

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Making Paella

Ask anyone who has ever been to Spain about their most memorable dish and their eyes invariably glaze over while they murmur in a hypnotic Homer Simpson-like voice -- Paella.

My introduction to it came from a Spanish Gypsy family I knew back in my circus days. Whenever there was a potluck party, everyone would wait in anticipation for Momma Muñoz's famous seafood paella. In fact, I suspect several parties were planned just do we could get another taste of her incredible cooking.

What's not to love about Spain's most famous dish? It's versatile -- you can make it any number of ways -- with meats, seafood, vegetables, or any combination thereof. It feeds a crowd. And the visual impact of the big, beautiful filled pan always elicits WOWs from guests.

Like many legendary dishes, paella seems to intimidate cooks, but it shouldn't. Aside from an occasionally long list of ingredients, all that's involved is a little sauteing and stirring.

On Saffron
Saffron is the magic ingredient that makes paella, paella -- giving it its unique color and distinctive flavor. Made from crocus flowers, saffron can be pricey, but you only need a small amount. I have found you can get reasonably priced saffron at Cost Plus Markets or Trader Joe's stores (if you are lucky enough to have these chains in your area). Supermarkets tend to be much more expensive, if they carry saffron at all. Some people save money by substituting turmeric for saffron in paella recipes, which will yield a similar color, but a different flavor. It's still a tasty dish made with turmeric, but not truly paella.

One of the best paellas I've had in recent years came from and San Chez Tapas Bistro in, of all places, downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan (that's their version of the dish in the photo above). Chef Casey Bell (who lived in Spain for years and considers it his second home) serves some first rate Spanish fare in this trendy downtown hotspot. Check it out for lunch or dinner if you're ever in the area. Find San Chez Tapas Bistro at 38 W. Fulton St. in downtown Grand Rapids, MI 49503; phone 616-774-8272 or click to

With a little coaxing, the resaurant agreed to share their famous paella recipe. And here it is:

San Chez Tapas Bistro's Paella Recipe (pictured above)

Yield: 1 Paella in a 10 inch Round Carbon Steel Pan Serves 2 to 4 People

5 ounces arborio rice
1/2 teaspoons saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
16 ounces vegetable, seafood or chicken stock (use whatever stock best matches your main ingredients – seafood, vegetable or chicken)
3 ounces diced Spanish onion
1 ounce chopped green onion
3 ounces diced Roma tomatoes
3 ounces canned pimiento
3 ounces green peas
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
8 to 10 ounces meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, any combination of these that are to your taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 lemon

Heat the stock so that it is hot yet not boiling, reserve the stock keeping it warm. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat the olive oil in the paella pan on a medium to high flame. Add the onions, tomatoes, peas, and pimientos and sauté until the vegetables are tender. Add the garlic, spices, and parsley; mix evenly into the vegetables. Add in the main ingredients, your choice of meat, poultry, seafood, and/or vegetables; cook lightly. Add the rice and incorporate it evenly into the mixture. Add the reserved stock, a cup at a time, mixing it well with the rice and other ingredients; add salt to taste. Bring the stock to a boil, stirring and rotating the pan occasionally.

When the rice is no longer soupy but sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking (about 5 minutes) transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, about 15 minutes. The rice should be al dente. Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil and let sit for 5-10 minutes to finish cooking.

To serve:
Juice the quarter lemon over the paella and mix it up with a pair of serving spoons.

Caring for your paella pan:
After use, rinse the pan and remove any scraps with a stiff brush. Wipe the pan clean lightly with soapy water and rinse again. Dry the pan thoroughly and apply a light layer of olive oil with a paper towel or brush; this will prevent the pan from rusting.

More Takes on Paella
While the above recipe is a traditional version using a variety of ingredients, you might also want to check out some other versions -- as I've already stated, paella is versatile.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cheri Raves About Waiter Rant

Like many Americans I spent a fair amount of my young adult life waiting tables. It wasn’t a particularly memorable or happy part of my life, and I am happy to say I have left it far behind. So when I got this book to review I looked at with lukewarm interest at best, but nonetheless packed it on an overseas trip that would afford me the luxury having time to actually read a book cover to cover. Boy am I glad I did.

The author, who penned this tome anonymously under the name of "The Waiter,” is one of the best writers I’ve come across in years. In his skillful hands, the subject matter of waiting tables at an upscale Manhattan restaurant becomes the stuff of psychology, philosophy, and the human drama.

While reading this memoir, I found myself laughing out loud, for much of the book is indeed hilarious. I marveled at how you can never underestimate just how strange some people can be. And I even cried, for every now and then in the midst of drama, chaos and hilarity, the author sneaks in a bit of heart warming humanity, humility and grace. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being immersed in the writer’s world, his cutting edge style and keen observations bringing to life a cross section of society in their native habitat from a vantage most of us will never have.

After watching my reactions during reading, and hearing the snippets of prose that were just too good for me not to share at the moment, my traveling companion couldn’t wait to lay claim to the book as soon as I finished reading.

According to The Waiter, eighty percent of customers are nice people just looking for something to eat. That’s encouraging news for the human condition, but it’s the remaining twenty percent, the “socially maladjusted psychopaths,” that make for fascinating reading, replete with tales of customer stupidity and arrogant misbehavior, and restaurant owners, chefs and coworkers with extreme paranoid tendencies and grudges to carry..

On the practical side, The Waiter reveals the secrets to getting good service, proper tipping etiquette, and how to keep servers from spitting in your food (and worse, much worse).

The Waiter’s writing career started via a blog, also called Waiter Rant (click to, or see the blog list on this page). The fact that such a blog could parlay into a full time writing career and a book contract with a major publisher (Harper Collins) is testament to the quality of the writer’s ability to tell a tale and engage an audience. I can’t recommend this fun and insightful read highly enough.

Click here for more information or to order from

Monday, October 13, 2008

How to Make a Roux with Marcelle Bienvenu

I had the pleasure of traveling to Louisiana last year to explore the food of Cajun country. My tour guide was one of the world's foremost authorities on the subject -- Marcelle Bienvenu (she's the gorgeous woman in the photo at right). Marcelle's illustrious gastronomical career includes stints at Commander's Palace, Brennan's, and other top New Orleans restaurants; owning her own restaurant in Lafayette (Chez Marcelle); authoring books on her own and with culinary superstar Emeril Lagasse; and penning a popular column, Cooking Creole, for the New Orleans Times Picayune.

Since rouxs are such an important part of Cajun and Creole cuisine, Marcelle agreed to teach our readers her foolproof method for creating a perfect roux. She also shared her recipes for some Cajun classics (links below).

To non Cajuns, rouxs can seem mysterious. Heck northerners often don't even know how to pronounce the word (roo), let alone how to make a roux.

But according to Marcelle Bienvenu, too many people have made too big a deal out of what is really a simple process, thereby intimidating the uninitiated.

A roux is nothing more than flour and fat, cooked together to form a flavorful thickening agent for cooking. Rouxs are used to thicken gumbos, stews, fricassees and other hearty Cajun dishes. Marcelle's mom's elementary Cajun cooking lesson was always, "If you make a roux, you have a stew."

"Paul Prudhomme fries his roux," says Marcelle, "but this is tricky and if you get it wrong you have a burned mess. The trick to making a good roux is to do it slow and easy."

Marcelle prefers cast iron for making roux, but she admits you can also use stainless steel cookware. Nonstick cookware just doesn't work well for making rouxs.

Block out a little time to make your roux. Marcelle warns that once you begin the roux making process you cannot even THINK about leaving it on the stove. Marcelle playfully claims that family members could have died writhing and screaming on the kitchen floor and still her mother wouldn't abandon stirring the cooking roux.

Microwave Roux
In addition to the method below, you can brown flour for roux in a microwave - start with equal parts oil (Marcelle uses regular vegetable oil) and flour. Cook the mixture, stopping to stir every 5 seconds or so, until browned to your liking.

Make Extra
You can make lots of roux, Marcelle usually does. Keep what you don't use in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator for up to three months.

Making Roux Step by Step

1. Using a heavy cast iron skillet, heat equal parts oil and flour over medium heat (you can use the oil of your choice -- Marcelle used vegetable oil. You can also use lard like they did in the old days.

2. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture, incorporating the flour into the oil and stirring until the mixture becomes smooth.

3. Once the oil begins to foam, it begins to brown. Watch it carefully and stir constantly. When making roux, don't even THINK about leaving it. There's a fine line between a perfectly cooked roux and a burned mess and constant stirring is the key.

4. Rouxs can be used at various stages of cooking -- from lightly golden to deep nutty brown. Your recipe will usually specify. The darker the roux, the more pronounced nutty flavor it will have. The photo below shows this advanced stage of cooking the roux.

Authentic Cajun Recipes from Marcelle Bienvenu
During my trip, I actually got to cook with Marcelle, in her own kitchen on the beautiful Bayou Teche. Each of the recipes includes step-by-step photos so you'll have no trouble recreating the Cajun Queen's recipes in your own kitchen.
More About Marcelle Bienvenu
The petite chef with the engaging smile maintains that she never intended to be in the food business. Fate intervened and soon after graduating from the University of Southwestern Louisiana she was offered an opportunity to work as a contributor to the Acadian-Creole foods edition of the the Time-Life Foods of the World series. That lead to an illustrious gastronomical career. Click here for Cheri's profile of Marcelle Bienvenu.

Check out Marcelle's book:

Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux?
This book was so popular its original publisher sold out. After long being out of print, Acadian House has lovingly republished Marcelle Bienvenu's classic Cajun cookbook.

Fans of Cajun and Creole cuisine will delight in the more than 200 recipes. Many are for well known Cajun classics. Others are more obscure to the uninitiated. But all are authentic recipes culled from Marcelle Bienvenu's life in the heart of Acadian Louisiana.

With its unique combination of recipes interspersed with Marcelle's family photos and essays, the book is an almost voyeuristic view into the author's family history. And like the histories of many Cajun families, its memories are intimately linked with food. It's a terrific bonus, for in addition to a terrific repertoire of authentic Cajun recipes, readers will come away with a fascinating insight into the Cajun way of life in Louisiana, both then and now.

Click here for more information or to order through

Rescuing a Cooking Mishap and Frittata Recipes

This weekend went by in a blur. My agent called Friday with interest from a publisher in one of my cookbook ideas, and wanting to strike while the iron was hot, I spent the last couple of days writing a detailed proposal. I don't want to jinx anything, so I'll tell you more details if it happens, but hopefully a cookbook from yours truly is in the not too distant future.

So when it came time for dinner Saturday night, I decided to turn some leftover grilled lamb into a Masala style curry. The best restaurant here in Big Bear, an Indian and Nepalese place called Himalayan, makes an outstanding lamb Masala curry, and this was my inspiration.

Well, in trying to simplify the recipe for a mass audience , I blew it. While it was edible, it was missing something and just wasn't great (even food writers don't make outstanding dishes all the time). Since we weren't looking forward to the leftovers from this dubious dish, I needed to figure out something else to do with them (as I jsut can't thrown away food, it's just ingrained in me).

Enter the Frittata -- leftovers best friend. I drained off most of the sauce (which came out far too rich), sliced up the potatoes and green beans (the lamb chunks were already small) and added them to skillet, poured over beaten eggs, and finished it all off in the oven. It turned out to be a delicious, lightly curry flavored lunch entree.

If you haven't made a frittata before, check it out. It's like a sturdier, more substantial omelette. Frittatas are even good cold, making them perfect for picnics or lunch boxes. Frittatas make a great way of using up extra meats, veggies and cheese you may have in your fridge. The technique couldn't be simpler -- there isn't even any flipping involved!

For frittata newbies, I've included some recipes below. Get used to making frittatas and you'll be improvising in no time, turning your leftovers into quick and delicious meals for breakfast, lunch, or a light dinner.

Frittata Recipes from

Friday, October 10, 2008

Food Fun -- Dried Apple Shrunken Heads

It's apple season, and getting close to Halloween, so I thought it was a great time to trot out this fun little food/craft project.

The little faces, made from dried apples, can look really nasty and sinister -- the perfect thing to decorate a Halloween party. Tuck them in among the food at your Halloween Buffet. You can also make lots of dried apple heads and string them up like a spooky garland.

Aside from Halloween, another idea is to make apple dolls. Once dry, insert a strong wire to form a body, add clothes or other accessories.

Once dried, these apple faces last and last -- I've had the ones in the photo for years now. So once you make them, pack them carefully away, and use them again next Halloween.

You Will Need:
whole cloves
a few grains of rice
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt

Peel a large apple and coat with mixture of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of salt to prevent browning. With a potato peeler or small knife carve out eye sockets, a nose, mouth and ears. Don't worry about carving small details as they will be lost when the apple dries. Go for the big features and nature will take care of the rest. Just like people, no two apple heads come out the same.

Use whole cloves for eyes and raw rice grains for teeth (the faces also come out looking great without these extra props, just carve and let dry if you want to keep it simple). The photo at right shows the freshly carved apples used to make some of the apple heads in the photo above.

Sit apples on a wire rack in a warm, dry place for about 2 weeks. You can speed the drying process a little by drying in an oven set at the lowest possible temperature. However, the process will still take several days. The longer they sit -- months or even years, the better they look!

More on Halloween is one of the net's most popular Halloween destinations, with tons of content. Click here to access ALL of the site's Halloween features, craft projects, costume and decorating ideas, and of course, lots of recipes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cooking Dried Beans and Legumes

Many people are baffled with how to cook dried beans. Relax, it's easy and beans and legumes are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. Here are some tips to help you cook better with beans:
  • Don't have time to cook dried beans? No problem, dried or canned beans will work interchangeably in most recipes, and you don't need to precook canned beans.

  • Even though they may be dried, the fresher the bean the better -- for flavor and for the amount of nutrients. Fresher dried beans will cook faster than older dried beans, so use the cooking times as a very general guideline. Taste the beans for tenderness early and often during the cooking process.

  • Because bean cooking times can vary so widely from batch to batch, it's best to pre-cook dried beans before using in recipes.

  • Before cooking, rinse the beans and pick through them, removing any small stones that sometimes get mixed in and throwing out any shriveled or discolored beans.

  • Store dried beans in covered plastic food containers.

  • After cooking beans, divide into portions and refrigerate leftovers in their own liquid for up to 4 days or in the freezer for 3 months (longer if you have a vacuum food saver appliance).

  • Reheat cooked beans in the microwave, on the stovetop or even in the oven.
Cooking Method I -- Place beans in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until beans are tender (usually used with smaller legumes such as lentils, for larger beans see Method II or Quick Soak Method).

Cooking Method II -- Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight or for at least 6 hours. Drain and place in clean water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender.

Quick Soak Method: Cover in cold water, bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let soak for 2 hours, then simmer until tender.

Favorite Bean Recipes

Beans Under Pressure!
The pressure cooker is a great time and energy saver when it comes to cooking beans. Click this link for detailed pressure cooker bean cooking instructions and for a time chart for cooking beans in the pressure cooker.

Pressure Cooker Bean Recipes

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Get Your Free Sustainable Sushi Guide and Help Save Our Oceans

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch consumer guide to ocean-friendly sushi makes its debut on October 22, and sushi lovers are invited to join the aquarium in a sushi party as part of a coast-to-coast celebration.

They’re also invited to RSVP for the national sushi party and share their experiences via Facebook

Sushi lovers who sign up online to become Seafood Watch advocates at will receive a tool kit to help them spread the word about the many ways to enjoy sushi without harming ocean habitats.

Kits will be mailed out in time to reach advocates by the week of October 22, said Sheila Bowman, senior outreach manager for Seafood Watch.

Each kit includes printed copies of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new Seafood Watch Sushi pocket guide, a set of reusable, biodegradable chopsticks and colorful cards to leave behind at a favorite sushi restaurant. The cards can be used to thank chefs who serve sustainable seafood or alert them when they’re using items on the aquarium’s “red list,” which identifies seafood that was caught or farmed in ways that harm the ocean.

“Every sushi restaurant serves some sustainable items,” Bowman said. ”We’ve created the tools so people can find those good choices – and enjoy them!”

The aquarium’s sushi recommendations will be available online beginning October 22 and can be accessed through its website and Seafood Watch Mobile service,

The aquarium is one of three leading ocean conservation organizations that will release color-coded consumer guides for popular sushi items on October 22. Blue Ocean Institute and Environmental Defense Fund will also launch their pocket guides rating sushi selections based on whether they’re prepared using seafood that’s caught or farmed in ways that harm the ocean or pose a health risk to people.

“It’s really very simple,” Bowman said. “If you care about the future of the oceans, you’ll want to use the pocket guides and avoid red-listed sushi.”

The pocket guides incorporate human health recommendations from Environmental Defense Fund, and flags seafood items where concerns exist about levels of mercury or PCBs that may pose a health risk to adults or children. Fisheries researchers from the Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium evaluated the seafood species included on the guides.

The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium ( is to inspire conservation of the oceans.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Making Bagels at Home

It used to be difficult to find good bagels, although now they're available even in small towns. In the United States, that is. But a while back I got an email from a reader in Belgium, who said her American-born husband is going crazy looking for good bagels. She wanted to surprise him by making some and wanted to know if I had a recipe.

I did some experimenting and came up with a decent one. The thing that sets bagels apart from other breads is that they are quickly boiled, before being baked, resulting in a chewy texture. If you're not familiar with making yeast breads, you might want to check out our the tutorial "How to Make Yeast Bread" before beginning.

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast (or 1 packet)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
4 1/2 - 5 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons molasses

optional toppings of choice:
sesame seeds
poppy seeds
kosher salt
onion bits


Combine 1/4 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Stir to dissolve then let stand for about 5 minutes or until foamy. Stir in remaining 1 1/4 cups warm water, sugar, salt and about 4 cups of flour and mix until well combined. Mix in enough of the remaining flour until you have a soft dough.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes. Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for until doubled, about an hour and a half.

Punch down dough and divide into 12 pieces. Cover with the towel again and let rest for 20 minutes.

With floured hands, roll each piece of dough into a rope 12-14 in length. Wrap the rope into a circle and pinch to close. Repeat with remaining pieces.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water, mixed with the molasses to a boil. Drop a couple of bagel into the water at a time, poaching them for about 20 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer bagels to an ungreased baking sheet, (or one that's covered in parchment paper). Sprinkle with toppings, if desired, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until crusty and browned.

Notes from a Bagel Pro
My good friend Tak Kurtz, a nice Jewish boy who now lives in Japan with his beautiful wife Masami, wrote to me after I first published this recipe. It seems that in Tak's earlier years, before he became known as Japan's favorite street performer, he was a professional bagel maker. (Click here to to watch the Mr. Tak Show comedy juggling and unicycle act on U-Tube.)

When Tak gets into anything he goes full force, and so it was with bagels. He wrote with the fascinating history of bagels, tips on how the pros make bagels and how you can duplicate the results at home. I've included Tak's professional bagel baking tips at the bottom of this page.

Tak Kurtz's Professional Bagel Making Tips

-- The easiest way for someone that doesn't have years of training at hand shaping is to make a ball, stick their finger through it, make the finger and dough do a hula hoop thing, take it off the finger and shape it to look like a bagel.

Boiling -- Drop the bagels into the near boiling water before the dough has a chance to rise, insuring that the bagels will sink. If the bagels are left in the water too long, they will become gooey in the hole, so skim the the bottom of the pot to make sure that the bagels aren't sticking, and will surface. Remove the bagels when they surface and rinse off with cold water, and put the seeds of choice on your bagel (cinnamon raisin, egg, or pumpernickel bagels need a separate dough, of course).

Baking -- Here is the most important part. Bagels are cooked on Bagel boards, but for the home cooked bagel, you can do this by taking a cooking sheet and putting a wet towel on half of it, the bagels are placed on the towel( seed side down), after about 6-7 minutes of baking, use the towel to turn the bagels on to the side that is baked (so that the bagels are seed side up on the hot baking sheet, now they won't stick to the baking sheet). Bagels should not be flat and hard on the bottom, that is the reason for bagel boards. The main idea is to keep the seeds in tact until the bottom has raised enough to not stick to the pan.

-- Very important, never refrigerate a bagel! Freezing is O.K., but refrigeration will make it as hard as a rock!

More on Bagels and Bagel Making

  • A Short History of the Bagel
    Along with tips, Tak Kurtz also included a short, yet fascinating, history of the bagel. Click the above link to read up on the story behind this favorite bread and you'll be prepared should you ever get asked a bagel related questions on a TV quiz show.
  • Bagel Making at --You'll find lots of bagel making recipes and resources here.
  • Bagel Making at the Joe Pastry Blog -- For a technical scientific take on bagel making, check out this tutorial.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fabulous New Healthy Cooking Book and Recipes

Even though this post is a hearty recommendation for Holly Clegg's Trim and Terrific Diabetic Cooking, I purposely didn't want to put "diabetic" in the title because everyone who likes good food and wants to eat in a lighter healthier manner is likely to enjoy this book. readers are already familiar with Holly Clegg, through her six previous Trim and Terrific cookbooks and through her numerous feature articles at this website. Her seventh Trim and Terrific cookbook is every bit as fabulous as her previous works - with an important difference - this is Holly's first diabetic cookbook and her first book published by the American Diabetes Association.

Since a diabetic diet is healthy way to eat for most people, I maintain that this book should have a much wider appeal than just those concerned with living with or preventing diabetes.

In Holly's hands, the diabetic recipes are always tasty, not to mention quick and easy to prepare. There are over 200 recipes here that can be on your table in 30 minutes or less. In addition to recipes, Holly peppers the book with lots of tips and tidbits to make cooking even easier.

Chapters include:
Appetizers; Breads, Muffins, and Brunch; Soups, Stews, and Chilis; Salads; Vegetables; Poultry; Fish and Seafood; Beef, Pork, Lamb, and Veal; Pasta; Sweet Treats; Stock and Pantry; 7 Days of Menus; Recipe Suggestions.

Sample Recipes from Holly Clegg's Trim and Terrific Diabetic Cooking

  • Chinese Chicken Salad with Asian Vinaigrette -- You can throw this salad together in 10 minutes by taking advantage of rotisserie chicken and preshredded carrots.But fresh mint and ginger are a must!
  • Pasta with Shrimp and Feta -- When plump juicy tomatoes are in season, make this pasta dish for a scrumptious summer meal. Or leave out the shrimp for a great vegetarian variation. The leftovers make good pasta salad.
  • Berry Tiramisu --This fabulous favorite stars berries layered with ladyfingers, raspberry preserves, and an orange cream cheese filling. Use your favorite seasonal berry combination and serve this gorgeous tiramisu in individual parfait glasses for extra pizzazz. Garnish with a curl of orange peel.
For more great Trim and Terrific recipes, and to keep up with Holly's many personal appearances as well as television and radio guests spots, be sure to visit her website at