Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Soup That Made This Place a Winter Wonderland
The winter break is in full swing. Kids are out of school and enjoying the time they have off to play with their Christmas presents. Adults get some playtime too, as offices just don’t run at the usual clip this time of year. Some of us won’t clock back in until it’s 2013. Folks are going to the movies, having big elaborate family dinners, and some of us are even playing outdoors. That would be us this year!

You can see us gathered right here, in the photo with the morning winter sunlight coming through the windows.
We’re all getting ready to go sledding—and we get back from all that fun, but nevertheless intense exercise in fairly deep powder for the mountains of North Carolina, we’re going to be hungry!
So I pulled out a favorite from Fresh Traditions and dusted it off for a special Sunday lunch with the family: Red Onion Soup with Sun Dried Tomato andGruyere Crouton. Since hours of sledding can feel a lot like the first day of a New Year’s resolution to beat yourself up at the gym, I can guarantee you that we earned the grilled cheese sammies we dipped into the cheese laden soup. I made our soup in the morning and placed it under the broiler, just as soon as I took off my boots. On the side, I served a fresh tossed salad and the whole presentation made for an easy-tummy filling meal.

Just a note on the ingredients: I like to use the robust red onion in this soup for both the taste and the color, but you can use Vidalia if you want. You can alter the slab-of-bread topping; what I call “croutons” in my Sunday Best frame of mind—by substituting chopped olives or marinated artichokes for sun dried tomatoes.  You can also substitute with your favorite combination of cheeses, providing you choose a soft cheese - one that will melt in just a few seconds. Don’t you just love this kind of talk? What’s best about this dish is that it’s a lot of food that comes together for you in just one hour, and it’s the perfect thing to take with you into the room with the big fireplace—like the one pictured (thank you, Chris!) here.
I can’t wait to hear what you’re eating over the winter break. I’m sure your breakfasts, brunches, lunches and dinners are, in and of themselves, satisfying dishes that are every bit as special as the time you’ve had together this holiday season. This is the last weekend of 2012 and boy was it delicious. Happy New Year everyone!

Red Onion Soup with Sun Dried Tomato and Gruyere Crouton

Servings:  6 to 8
Preparation Time:  1 hour

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 large red onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 quart beef broth
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme

8 (1/4-inch) slices French bread baguette
4 tablespoons julienned sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
4 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese (about ½ cup)

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium high heat.

Stir in the onions and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the onions are soft and just beginning to brown, stirring often, about 20 minutes.

Pour in the red wine and stir in the tomato paste. Pour in the beef broth.  Add the bay leaf.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in the fresh herbs.  Simmer for 5 minutes more.

Preheat the broiler.

Toast the bread slices on one side until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Spread a teaspoon of sun dried tomatoes onto the center of each slice.  Ladle the soup into oven proof crocks.  Place the crocks into a baking dish or jelly roll pan.

Top the soup with a bread slice and generously sprinkle with both cheeses.  

Broil the soup until bubbly and just beginning to brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sunday Best Shopping Excursion...You Won’t Believe Where!

When was the last time you were at Costco? Its been years and years since I went, but a tip from a friend sent me back. Apparently, Costco is one of the few places one can find “prime” meat. In preparation for my annual holiday party I went in search of beef tenderloins. What I found was a series of boutique counters within the gargantuan warehouse. There were sausage tastings and seafood so fresh the crabs’ claws were still moving! The bakery put out muffins and croissants, and the gourmet cheese counter was to die for. Costco made me forget I could also buy a pallet of swivel office chairs and a corrugated shed while I was still in foodie heaven.

Just look at the crabs I was talking about!

Look at the meat!

And look at all those little white crockpots full of surprisingly high end nibbles.

Costco is Perfect for Big Party Prep, and that’s why it gets my “Sunday Best” Seal

What I loved the best is that Costco has changed their packaging. When I used to go, I would buy bulk poultry and beef, and then come home and spend another hour or so packaging them into smaller portions for the freezer. This warehouse retailer has figured it out.  You can still buy 18 chicken thighs, but they come in 6 different packages all bundled together. It’s wonderful!

Yes, there are still long lines at the checkout counter, but the packagers are friendly and helpful. Luckily, I was on a schedule, or I would have spent the entire day shopping at Costco. I’m back home now, and getting ready to start preparing for my party. Here’s a sneak peek at the menu and a link to the item that I think will be my guests’ favorite: Chipotle Spiced Candied Bacon.

Mayan (Mexican Celebration for 40 guests) I had a little bit of fun with all the end of the world talk this December!
Christmas 2012 


Merry Berry Margaritas
Chipotle Spiced Candied Bacon
Chorizo Hogs in a Blanket
Grilled Shrimp Mini-Tacos
Taco ‘Shrooms
Five Layer Mexican Dip n Chips
Ham and Potato Chip Tortilla


Latin Spiced Tenderloin Sliders
Chipotle Chicken Thighs
Pescado a la Veracruzana
Veggie Enchiladas with Mole Sauce
Chopped Salad with Peppery Thousand Island Dressing
Spanish Rice and Sherried Black Beans
Creamy Corn Bread


Cinnamon Pound Cake with Sangria Spiked Cherries and Lime Sorbet
Pumpkin Tres Leche Cake
Chocolate Chipotle Brownies
Salted Caramel Brownies
Pumpkin Flan
Mexican Coffee

Sunday is the day for food exploration—it’s also a golden standard; if I wouldn’t serve it Sunday, chances are I won’t serve it at all. Sunday is also the day for Sunday excursions – afternoons spent strolling through markets, galleries,  and country fairs. The next time you are looking for a eye-opening food experience – check out Costco.

I look forward to raising my glass with you and toasting to a 2013 that’s filled with Sunday Best dishes. 

Chipotle Spiced Candied Bacon

1 pound bacon
1 cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon dried ground chipotle pepper or chili powder

Preheat the oven to 400°. Mix together the brown sugar and ground chipotle pepper.

Cut the slices from 1 pound of bacon in half (about 4 to 5-inch lengths). Dredge each piece in the brown sugar.
Place onto a rack set into a baking pan with lip. Bake until the bacon is crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove to a parchment paper lined pan. Cool to room temperature.
Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Going Dutch on SUNDAY BEST Short Ribs

Behold. These are my lovingly assembled ingredients for the best slow roasted short ribs on earth—at least this was the general consensus among my family members, who ate the ribs before I had a chance to photograph the finished product. Thanks guys. I can’t take all the credit for how good they came out; I think I owe some of the success to the Kitchen Must Have du jour: my Le Creuset Dutch oven. I put the ingredients into it first thing in the morning, put it in a screaming hot oven and walked away—but not too far. I’ll save my Sunday Excursions for a slow cooker day. That’s one of the chief distinctions between a Dutch oven and slow cooker; you don’t want to leave the house with the oven on. The good news for this ribs recipe is that it’s easily done in a slow cooker as well. Just reduce the liquid ingredients by half and put the setting on high for about 8 hours. You’ll see my note when you click the recipe link for Chipotle Spiced Slow Roasted Beef Short Ribs.    

Le Creuset is, well...a little expensive, but pays for itself in less than a dozen dinners, so good you’ll remember them forever. The background information about this company almost seems like a deleted scene from a movie about Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Creuset translates into simply “cauldron”, and the first one off the French assembly line in 1925 was in the color of flame—because its creators wanted to mimic the vibrant color inside a caldron when it reaches boiling point.  Le Creuset has the special glory of being the first kitchenware company to make cast iron pots and pans in a rainbow of enamel glazed colors. You could say they prettied up gray metallic kitchens around the world. I know my Dutch oven has been responsible for its share of smiles on Sunday—and this short ribs dinner couldn’t be a better way to show what it can do.  
What happens when you go Dutch?

Some may ask, “why not make short ribs in a slow cooker?” Well, my answer to that is, you definitely could; a slow cooker produces the same result, really, as a Dutch oven and many will turn to the slow cooker because they feel more comfortable leaving the house with it switched on than they would an oven. I do believe, however that a Dutch oven is better at locking in hearty beefy flavors that stand up to robust sauces, like the sweet fire of commingling cinnamon and hot peppers. I think the Dutch oven reduces sauces better, leaving them thicker and juicier—and I also love how you can braise and bake in the same dish when you use one. When you go Dutch, you won’t miss a pan sear as much; you can skip the browning of the meat in a skillet as a first step.

And since we’re using short ribs in this recipe—not side ribs or spare ones—the meat is going to be a little tougher (think top sirloin tough) until it’s slow roasted into the rich, soft texture my own family has seen falling right off their forks when I serve this favorite as a Sunday dinner. And, oh goody, so many more of these days to come! Look how many Sundays between now and forever, that I can bring you my weekly Sunday Best edition! Au Revoir, until we meet again!    

Chipotle Spiced Slow Roasted Beef Short Ribs


Melt in your mouth comfort with a hint of heat. Prepare these ribs in the morning and slow roast in the oven while you enjoy your Sunday afternoon. 

8 beef short ribs, about 3 pounds (choose ribs that are thick and meaty)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 cup (or more) unbleached all-purpose flour for dredging
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, diced, about 1 cup
2 large carrots, diced, about 1 cup
2 medium celery ribs, diced, about 1 cup
6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced, about ¼ cup
2 large jalapeno peppers, seeded and deveined, diced, about 2 tablespoons
1 750ml bottle red wine
1 quart home made beef broth, or low sodium beef broth
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup chili sauce
1 large chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, seeded and diced, about 2 tablespoons
2 cinnamon sticks
Chopped, fresh cilantro

Preheat the oven to 250°. Season the ribs with chili powder, salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or large roasting pan) over medium high heat. Dredge each rib in flour, shaking off the excess. Place each rib into the oil and brown on all sides. Remove the ribs to a platter. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic and jalapeno to the pan. Cook until the veggies are soft.

Pour in the wine and beef stock. Stir in the tomato paste and chili. Bring the liquid to a boil. Return the ribs and any juices on the platter to the pan. Bury the cinnamon sticks in the sauce.
Cover the Dutch oven with the lid (or place aluminum foil over the pan). Place the pan into the oven and cook until the meat is tender and pulling away from the bone, about 6 to 7 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven. Remove the cover. Place the ribs onto a platter and spoon the sauce over top.

**The good news for this ribs recipe is that it’s easily done in a slow cooker as well. Just reduce the liquid ingredients by half and put the setting on high for about 8 hours.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Sundays Mean From Now On. It starts with Chunky Chocolate Cookies!

If this blog post were written down on a piece of paper there would be a few crumbs left behind. I couldn’t think of a better way to begin my Sunday series: between now and Easter Sunday, EVERY SUNDAY, you’ll find food and creature comfort on my blog that’s worthy of your Sunday best. That old saying “your Sunday best” refers to so much more than clothes. It’s a state of mind—when you’re in the mood to roll out something extra special.
That being said, there’s nothing better than home baked cookies. Picture it: a little coffee klatch after church, where there’s a cookie exchange, or better yet, blue winter skies, great smelling cookies straight out of the oven and hence the perfect excuse to take a batch of treats over to a friend. Chocolate, peanut butter, lemon and sugar, ginger bread, oatmeal, cranberry and pecan….the litany of possibilities when it comes to Christmas cookies is longer than that holiday parade you can hear coming down your street.

Cookies are such a grand idea when it comes to gifts, that the concept is practically a franchise at Christmastime. Everyone is doing it; packaging up their homemade creations, and bringing them over to friends and family with a big smile. It’s affordable, it’s sweet and if you have a reputation for making really good cookies, people actually look forward to it. Seriously! They’re so used to enjoying your holiday confections, that seeing you come over with that loaded December plate helps them know it must be that time of year again. Drag out the treadmill, folks. Those cookies are goin' down with a big ol' glass of milk!
So in the spirit of all this, I’d like to introduce my Sunday Best Chunk Cookies. What makes them worthy of the Sunday badge? Well, in a word: add-ins! You can take the basic cookie recipe from the back of the semi-sweet chocolate package, and add anything—virtually ANYTHING sweet—to make it your personal best. For instance, I used Ghirardelli’s 70% Cacao Extra Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar and their White Chocolate bar to make these chunk cookies.

Last Sunday when I made them, it was a teachable moment indeed. I learned that toasting the walnuts for a few minutes in my preheating oven, gives the cookies an extra nutty crunch! The oats, aforementioned walnuts and two different kinds of coarsely chopped chocolate helped these cookies earn the name “chunk”! 
So spend a couple of minutes this Sunday creating your own favorite chunk cookies and share them with everyone at Life is Sweet. If you don’t stop and have a cookie every once in a while, you could miss it!

Sunday Best Chunk Cookies


These cookies are just what you need on a Sunday afternoon. Chewy on the inside and packed with surprises, they are a mouthful of cookie bliss.

2 ¼ cups whole-grain pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup shortening, room temperature
1 cup peanut butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon into a bowl. Use an electric mixer to combine the shortening, peanut butter and sugars until smooth. Stir in the eggs and vanilla until all of the ingredients are combined.  Stir in the oats, chocolates and nuts.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (or you can use Silpat liners).  Drop the batter by rounded tablespoons into about a 2-inch ball. Bake until the cookies are golden, about 10 to 12 minutes.  Cool on baking sheet for several minutes.  Transfer to a baking rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Proper Tree Trimming Deserves Your Sunday Best!

Ask your decorator-in-chief to pop over for Herbed Parmesan Popovers, dipped in velvety red Pappa Al Pomodoro 

So, word is out on my new project, Sunday Best Dishes, and my heart is full.  I couldn’t be more thankful for the loyal friends who are testing the recipes inspired by those Sunday inspirations we all, whether we realize it or not, bring home to our kitchens.  The muse I’m talking about struck me in an Italian restaurant, on a recent cold night.  I came up with an idea for what to serve the night your Christmas tree goes up.  It’s tradition in our home to invite friends and family over for some gnoshing and decorating on the heels of Thanksgiving, and I wanted to change things up a bit from standing rib roast and creamed spinach. 

So here’s how the idea hit.  I won’t say which restaurant, since you’ll probably guess once I describe it. Carefully plated entrees and desserts were lined up in a glass display case. Big vases of calla lilies were everywhere, and cans of San Marzano tomatoes lined the shelves. Those tomatoes always excite me; they’re the highest quality canned product out there. Suddenly my imagination was bubbling like a big pot of tomato gravy. Once we were seated, I began to take notes.  Okay, I didn’t really take notes, though I could have under the soft glow of white lights strung over the tables.  A packet of crayons and a kids’ menu sat beside a giant carafe of red wine—a look that’s both elegant and incongruent, especially on a paper tablecloth. I wanted to pick up a fire-red crayon and write “Pappa Al Pomodoro” right there on the butcher paper.
My Sunday Best Pappa Al Pomodoro, which translates to “Tomato Soup with Bread” contains the highest quality plum tomatoes, olive oil, dry red wine and chicken stock one might use for this dish. I’d also like to point out that this recipe is a golden opportunity to use fennel, one of my all-time favorite ingredients. Fennel is in its natural season from late fall through early spring. You’ll want to pick up a fresh batch from your farmers market while the getting is good, before it bitters up in rising temperatures. You can store fresh fennel in a Ziploc bag for up to 10 days in your fridge, and use it in comforting chicken slow-cooker dishes all winter long.

But of course, one can’t have a savory soup without a savory bread to go with it—now of course I realize there are big chucks of ciabatta cubes already in the soup, but this is Christmas decorating night, and we can never be too much in the way of carbs! That’s why I’m pulling one off the menu from an old Tree Trimming Party: Herbed Parmesan Popovers. They resemble a Yorkshire pudding so they’re perfect for this time of year. Piercing them with a fork when they’re straight out of the oven is a great idea if you’re cold; a pillar of steam will warm those cheeks right up! Feel free to dip a popover into your soup, and get back to your decorating after just one bowl. No lollygagging about when there’s work to be done!

Soup’s On, And So is my Book Launch and Sunday Best Recipe Contest!
If you have a delicious dish, worthy of Sunday night dinner, I’d love to hear about it. I am now accepting submissions through March 30th of your Sunday Best dish; just email the recipe to On Easter Sunday, 2013, I’ll announce the winner and send a grand prize of my newly launched book, plus a goody basket filled with high quality pantry staples. Bon Appetite, holiday gnoshers!           

Herbed Parmesan Popovers

Servings: 12
Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus baking

4 large eggs
3 cups milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ cup butter, melted (1/2 stick)

Heat the oven to 450 degrees

Place a 12-cup muffin tin into the preheated oven.  (Or use two 6-cup popover pans.)

Place the eggs and milk into a blender.  Pulse to combine. Add the flour.  Pulse to combine. Add the cheese, fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper.  The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream.

Carefully remove the hot muffin tin from the oven. Pour a small amount of butter into the bottom of each cup.  Use a potholder to swirl the pan around to coat.

Pour the batter into the pan, filling each cup ¾ full.

Place the pan back into the oven.  Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Do not open the oven door while the popovers are baking.


Sunday Best Pappa Al Pomodoro

Serves 6
Prep Time: about an hour and 30 minutes

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced, about 1 ½ cups
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and chopped, about 1 cup
1 fennel bulb, tops trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, about 1 cup
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
3 cups ciabatta, crusts removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano plum tomatoes
4 cups good quality chicken stock
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 ½ tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1/2 cup


Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook about 10 minutes, or until tender. Add the ciabatta and cook for 5 more minutes.

Place the plum tomatoes into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Add the tomatoes to the stockpot, with the chicken stock, dry red wine, basil, salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, and cook with lid allowing some heat to escape for 45 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with shaved parm and a few basil leaves if desired.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sunday Best Duck Confit

First, what is Duck Confit? I know that anything French produces slight intimidation in the home cook, but it really shouldn’t as the explanation of this divine dish is, well, divinely easy. Duck Comfit comes from the Gascon region of Southwestern France and involves salt curing duck legs for several days, and then slowly poaching them in fat. This method preserves the duck allowing you to use the rich, tender meat in other dishes later on. My streamlined recipe is a Sunday cook’s best friend. Cooking the duck in a slow cooker renders the fat and flavors the meat. Finish the dish in a sauté pan to crisp the skin. You can eat the duck right away, or transfer to an airtight container for later use. Pair with a dry, crisp white wine like Sauvignon Blanc.                                                                                  

So what got me thinking about duck? A recent trip to the Watauga Farmers’ Market led me back to my favorite vendor, New Life Farm and Jenny, the matriarch of the family and foodie extraordinaire. Her special this week is Muscovy Duck, which she touts to be less greasy and more like veal than poultry. We got to talking and the French delicacy, duck confit came up. Jenny mentioned that in between family and farm duties, she planned to embark on a tutorial to cook the classic dish. As it is one of my most favorite things, I too rose to the challenge. I posed the question, could I come up with a recipe that produces delicious duck comfit that every home cook can prepare?

Using my trusty slow cooker, and a packet of Jenny’s fabulous duck portions, I think I may have done it. Check out the recipe below and let me know what you think. You’ll notice in this photo, a duck breast with the leg/thigh portions in the slow cooker.
Using this recipe is not the way to cook the breast. I did it only to produce additional fat, as Jenny had run out of legs by the time I barged up to her stand. To cook the duck breast, slit the skin, season it, and cook the bird skin side down in a sauté pan until the skin is nice and crisp. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook just until the duck is rare (about 135°).

If all of this is just a little much, but your taste buds are in “must have duck confit” mode, go to D’ and order it already prepared!

You’ll notice that I call this recipe Sunday Best Duck Confit. I do this as a sneak peak and preview of my new e-book, Sunday Best Dishes, A Cookbook for Passionate Cooks due out this spring. I’m looking for recipe testers now, so if you like dishes like this one, send a note to and I’ll give you more info!

Sunday Best Duck Confit

Serves: 4
Prep Time: Slow cook the meat up to 5 hours; actual hands on time, about 15 minutes

4 duck thigh/leg pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 large shallots thinly sliced
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

Season the duck with salt, pepper and thyme. Place the shallots and garlic into a slow cooker. Place the duck legs, skin side down on top of the veggies. Set the slow cooker on the low setting for 4 to 5 hours.

Transfer the duck legs and fat from the slow cooker to a sauté pan over medium high heat. Cook until the skin crisps, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Suggestion: To store the duck for later use, place the legs into an airtight container. Cover the meat with the remaining fat. Seal and refrigerate for up to one week. To serve the duck later on, cook it in the remaining fat (or you can add duck fat to the pan). If you have extra fat, it is wonderful for cooking potatoes and vegetables. Use duck comfit as a substitute for pork belly in Pork Belly and Sweet Potato Hash, or as an additional ingredient in Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Strudel.






Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tricks for These Treats

A Candy Maker’s Kitchen Must Haves, Chewy Caramels & More! 
We’re plowing through October, leaving fall leaves in our wake. Is it just me, or is 2012 wrapping up faster than a re-gift? All joking aside, have you thought much about the upcoming holidays? My chewy caramels are not just fun to have on hand Halloween night, but make nice Christmas presents too. Whether it’s now or later, rolls of wax paper showing up at the house can mean only one thing: Mom is making caramels to wrap up like penny store candy!

Not to knock the candy companies, but the incredible sweetness and goodness of homemade caramels cannot be matched, and that’s why this post focuses on tricks for these treats; making them with ease is a matter of two Kitchen Must Haves: 1) a candy thermometer and 2) poultry shears that do double duty cutting through the chewiest of cookies, caramels and bars you’ll be making this holiday season.


I like to use my slow cooker or double broiler when I make caramels—the deeper the pot the better. As your confection bubbles away, you’ll want to stick the candy thermometer in for a reading of around 250 degrees; this is the temperature that allows you to dredge a spoon through. Note: you’ll be looking to see that the track of yummy caramel doesn’t fill back up immediately—then it’s time to spread your treasure into the baking dish you’ve coated in vegetable oil spray and wax paper—or better yet, a Silpat Liner; a priority Kitchen Must Have since I started in the cooking biz. Once the caramel cools, you can cut pieces for wrapping later on, or….

You COULD skip the cooling and cutting, and dip up to 10 apples in the caramel while it’s still hot and melted in the pot. I think offering caramel apples is the ultimate TV viewing snack when ABC puts on its annual It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” I’ve checked TV listings and the exact date is not yet available, but do touch base with me on Facebook to see my near daily notes (and admitted obsession with) sitting down to this sixties classic with an apple on a stick. I think it’s airing somewhere around October 27th this year.
I’ve decided to make a make a day of prepping a half dozen apples or so before show time—and my readers, especially the ones who cook with kids—might want to do the same. It’s got great memory making potential! Whether you prepare the caramel the old-fashioned way, or tear open a bag, the Youtube instructional video you’ll find posted to my Nana Network gives the best dipping and decorating 411 on candied apples you’ve ever seen. I hope you’ll visit the page next time you’re on Facebook, “like us” and submit a fall photo for the contest we’re running until Halloween. The prize is a $25 gift card to Yankee Candle—where candied apple scented tallows are bound to be on sale!   

P.S. Nothing wrong with paying a local treat shop to do all this—I love the Confectionary at Disney that lets you custom create your candied apple! But if you decide to save a ton of $$ and make your own, feel free to write me with your experience. And don’t forget to count the apples in the Charlie Brown special! I think the party dunks for a few…          

Chewy Caramels

Makes approximately 3 pounds of caramels
Prep time: about 30 minutes

2 cups dark corn syrup
1 cup milk
2 cups sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Confectioners’ sugar

Place all of the ingredients into a large deep pan. Heat over medium high heat stirring constantly. Remove the caramel mixture from the heat. Cool to room temperature.

Spray a 13X9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Line the sprayed pan with wax paper. Spray the waxed paper. Pour the caramel mixture into the pan. Let the caramels continue to cool until they are firm.

Turn out the caramels onto a cutting board. Remove the waxed paper.

Use poultry shears to cut the caramels into ½ inch squares and drop them into a bowl of powdered sugar.

Wrap each one in wax paper twisting the ends.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Being a Vegan is Easy?

Well, my recipe for Quinoa Tabbouleh is, anyway!
When likeminded professional foodie, John Tanasychunk (of The Sun Sentinel) talks, hungry people listen. He wrote about “The Vegan Poet” and her upcoming appearance in a Broward County library. About 200 people showed up. I know it’s a bad pun, but Holy Cow!
As a cookbook author myself, I can’t afford to ignore how popular vegetarian/vegan lifestyles are becoming. Sublime Restaurant is a smashing success in my home base of Ft. Lauderdale, on the periphery of every savvy South Florida diner. In fact, veganism is such a lingering hot topic that when I started my food blog in 2009, I was encouraged by other bloggers to climb aboard the vegan train and try for the astonishing number of followers they seemed to have over us meat eaters.
Well, I said then “welcome to my uphill battle” and I still say it. As a meat lover on the same wave length as Anthony Bourdain (who dismisses veganism as “a first world phenomenon; completely self-indulgent), I still take note when I run into articles hypothesizing that climate change could present meat lovers with real problems by the year 2050. Read about it on Blisstree). So I looked to the Vegan Poet, aka Butteflies, for proof that becoming a vegan is easy.
Whether it is or it isn’t remains to be seen. Members of the audience were treated to a 9 minute clip of a documentary called Earthlings, which deemphasized our place in the food chain, and just about chastised those in the room who think farm animals belong outside. The disappointment was palpable; the notes takers with celiac disease and faulty gall bladders left their pages bank. It was easy to get the idea that most had come that day to learn about where to find vegan ingredients (the unusual stuff like agave syrup and tempeh), substitutions in lieu of dairy and meat products, and see if it was practical to give the lifestyle a try. If there hadn’t been food and plant based-hypoallergenic samples available (pictured here), I feel sure 90% of the audience would have walked out.
A fair number stuck around and paged through Butterflies’book. She’s a chef in New Zealand, currently touring the U.S. She’s got 6,000 followers on Facebook, and as someone who has worked very hard just to climb to 2,000 fans on the Nana Network, I can appreciate how interesting her subject matter must be to people. Her food that day had a super fresh, unprocessed taste. You could identify each and every herb from its Hari Krishna inspired spice rack, and there was also that comfort that subsequent heartburn was next to impossible.
I wrote this post so that my fans could have one-click access to some very good shortlists on how to stock up your vegan pantry: Here they are.
There’s also this cheat sheet/palm card I’ve typed up for you here:
• Nuts of all varieties
• Quinoa
• Chia seeds (for fiber)
• Oatmeal
• Dates
• Beans of all varieties
• Hummus
• Tofu
• Non diary milks (i.e. almond or soy)
• Nutritional yeast
And there’s my foolproof recipe for Quinoa Tabbouleh that functions almost like a currency among New Age eaters. I whipped this us last night and found that it has spot-on portions of the ingredients that make tabbouleh, tabbouleh: mint, parlsey, lemon juice, garlic….and the English cucumber that makes you feel special and refreshed just looking at its super-skinny, shrink-wrapped shape. Try it before September’s over—it’s National Yoga Month after all, and the enlightened eaters are more on our radar now than ever. Namaste, everyone.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Quinoa looks like a grain, acts like a grain and tastes like a grain, but for all those gluten-free types, the good news is that quinoa is really a seed akin more to spinach and beets than to wheat. Using quinoa in tabbouleh is a brilliant way to add a bunch of protein to your salad.


1 cup quinoa
1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
Juice from 1 large lemon, about 2 tablespoons
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon yellow mustard
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse pepper
1 large English cucumber, diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
4 to 5 green onions, thinly sliced, about ½ cup
½ cup chopped, fresh Italian parsley
½ cup chopped fresh mint

Place the quinoa into a saucepan. Add 1 ¼ cups water and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid and simmer until the water disappears and the quinoa is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Whisk together the lemon juice, garlic and mustard in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season the dressing with ½ teaspoons salt and pepper.

Transfer the quinoa to a bowl. Stir in half of the dressing. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or overnight). Add the cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, parsley and mint to the quinoa. Toss with remaining dressing.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just another Sunday Dinner With the Fam

Not really…these BBQ’d pork tenderloins were SMOKIN’!!!!!!
I don’t review cookbooks, so much as act them out—so when I fell in love with Adam Perry Lang’s best seller Charred & Scruffed, I asked my cousins, who were visiting me for one last vacation this summer, to come on out to the Blue Ridge Mountains to taste some truly inspired PREMIUM barbecue. You could say we were the GRILLS next door; these ladies and cherished friends traveled far to be with me, so of course we had to make the most of it. When we get together it’s not about site seeing or shopping, it's about gabbing, gossiping and goofing around. What made our conversation flow better than anything? I’d say a few good sips of wine and a couple of over-the top meals helped.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and I needed—as a meat lover—to read something by a fellow carnivorous foodie.  While I used many of Adam Perry Lang’s techniques to create this most memorable dish, it did of course feature my own twists and tweaks. Sunday Best Grilled Tenderloins were born. It’s an entrée that’s going to star in an upcoming cookbook I’m writing about meals that are best reserved for those lazy Sundays after church. You know…those uber-laid back weekends where friends who identify with your love of fire, salt and meat gather round the grill. I love those Sundays. Before long you’ve got the whole neighborhood jealous of those heavenly wood smoke smells coming from your backyard.

My grilled tenderloins, pictured above, are EXTREME in flavor, tenderly brined and skillfully basted; these are simply the best pork tenderloins you will ever slice; served with creamed spinach and au gratin potatoes; in these you have a pig that tastes like a Kobe steer!

For side-dishes (what my muse Adam Perry Lang calles “co-stars”), I served creamy cheesy au gratin potatoes and velvety creamed spinach. My niece, present for this Extreme BBQ gave me this compliment: “No one does au gratin like J-Mo.” Aw, thanks Megan. Of the pork tenderloin, my sweet girl also enthused:

“It was juicy and tender with loads of flavor. She tried this new brine and board-dressing technique where you baste the brined meat on the grill with butter and garlic using a brush made of tied together sage, rosemary, thyme (and other herbs) then finely chop herb, garlic and the juice of a lemon on the board you leave the meat to rest on. Once you take the meat off the grill you roll the tenderloin(s) in the herbs and then let it rest and soak up the flavoring.”

Megan isn’t the only one I wanna thank. The whole crew deserves a round of applause for their tirelessness at clean-up. The dishes were sky-high after our over-the-top feast, but all of us cousins rose to the occasion like an enactment from The Big Chill, blasting “I’ve Had the Time of my Life” from my husband’s iPod . I didn’t know it was possible to dance and dry dishes at the same time—at least without breaking any. Thanks again for making everything sparkle after such a stupendously messy and delicious meal; it certainly wasn’t the only chargrilled indulgence that weekend: we also had (pictured above left) Grilled Rib Eye & asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, and spicy onion rings. For dessert there was ice box cake, and you’ll have to private message me to get my sister’s family recipe.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the food porn, and have a great rest of the week!


Sunday Best Grilled Pork Tenderloins


¼ cup coarse salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
8 cups water
1 large lemon, sliced
4 fresh bay leaves
1 large head of garlic, cloves peeled
4 (8 to 10-ounce) pork tenderloins

Place the salt, sugar and peppercorns into a large pot. Pour in the water. Add the lemon, bay leaves and garlic cloves. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cool to room temperature. Place the tenderloins into the brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. (You can alternatively place the tenderloins into a large plastic bag and pour the brine over top.)
½ cup butter, 1 stick
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 3 tablespoons
1 bunch of mixed herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage leaves, oregano, parsley, mint)
2 tablespoons Montreal Steak Seasoning
2 teaspoons coarse salt

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add the garlic. Remove from the heat.
Tie the herbs together at one end to make an herb brush. You will be dipping this herb brush into the butter.

Remove the tenderloins from the brine and pat dry. Rub the seasonings into the meat, using the herb brush.

Heat an outdoor grill. Place the tenderloins onto the grill. Carefully brush the tops with the herb brush, dipped in butter. The fire will flare, so be careful. Turn the tenderloins every 3 to 5 minutes, a quarter of a turn, and baste with butter. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 135°.

Pour the remaining butter baste onto a wood cutting board. Chop the (now cooked) herbs on the board. Remove stems. Transfer the tenderloins to the board. Turn to coat with herbs and butter baste. Cover with foil and rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut the tenderloins into thin, diagonal slices.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Best Side Dish for Alfresco Dining: It’s Gotta Be Potato Salad

If my cooking and catering background has taught me anything, it’s that summer represents two golden opportunities: (1) to do a lot of alfresco dining and (2) trade plenty of recipes, which summertime makes easy because it brings so many interesting people to the table. You may entertain an exchange student, somebody’s sweetheart or a visiting relative; these friends have different ways of preparing recipes you grew up with.  It’s always such a pleasant surprise to see colorful new versions of one of your family favorites at a pot luck or BBQ—“oh, you make it THAT way? Hmmm. I never thought of substituting that particular ingredient. Does going the extra mile make that much of a difference?”  Questions like these are really fun to pose between forkfuls, because the taste almost always gives you your answer.

When I began contemplating the best recipes for alfresco dining, I have to say that the first thing that came to mind was Greek Salad; simple, light and refreshing—yet somehow fulfilling enough to serve as a whole entrée, it’s a no brainer—but it’s just not universally loved enough. However, the bed of potato salad that is so often found at the bottom of a Greek Salad is, so I asked around for different takes on good old potato salad, and sampled—near pool sides, under Sycamore trees and on mountainside picnics—versions that ran a gambit of color from pink and red, to yellow, to flecked with the bright green of chives and dill.
It was the RomanianPotato Salad that intrigued me the most; I got the recipe from a friend of a friend who has traveled a good deal in Eastern Europe. Served to me straight out of the refrigerator, its coldness was the perfect complement to its ingredients and the mercury bursting temperatures outside. I loved the beets in it, and the way the sour cream melded with those and kidney beans to make the whole thing look so pink and creamy.  I made a note to serve it at my next Valentine’s Day luncheon, but hope to dish it up long before that; in the few steamy weeks of summer we have left, it’d be a cool and creamy reprieve.

Let me know what your favorite dish to fiddle with is, and I’ll post it to my blog. Do you have a killer roasted corn recipe, like to make bright purple coleslaw, or something else that’s incredibly out of the ordinary, yet supremely delicious? The hungry public wants to know—because we’re all looking for fresh ideas as well as refreshments on our next trip down the buffet line.
Hope to hear from you before the big Labor Day feast : )

Romanian Potato Salad

Serves 6
Prep Time: About 30 minutes
6 to 8 medium beets, scrubbed
1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced, about ½ cup
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced, about 3 cups
1 (12-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)
In a large pan of water, boil whole beets and potatoes, skin on, for about 20 minutes or until soft. Remove to a platter, and peel the skin off both vegetables with a knife. Chop beets and potatoes into small pieces and place in a large salad bowl. Bring a pot of water to boil over medium high heat. Cook until soft, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the kidney beans to the salad bowl.
Peel and dice the onion. Add it to the salad bowl. Mix in the sour cream and sun flower oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley leaves.
Suggestion: You can substitute canned beets in this recipe. For a better presentation, choose a smaller salad bowl in order to tightly pack the salad; flip it over to create a potato salad mold and garnish with parsley leaves.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Flavorful Fava Beans

When my friend, Rose and I hit the farmer’s market this past week, we discovered a vendor with a large basket of fava beans. Also known as broad beans, you see them in the spring usually as a garnish on fresh salads. Most of the shoppers we observed shied away from the large pods. I suspect this is because either they did not know how to get the bean from the pod or they did not know how to cook them. Undaunted, I stuffed my plastic bag with a couple of handfuls of bean pods and off we went.

And then a funny thing happened. After we got the beans home, and I offer to give them a try, Rose finds a link to a grilled fava bean post on the Food 52 website.

You know what comes next – a fava bean showdown! Rose followed the grilled recipe and I made them for a fresh salad.

First, you slice a slit down the seam of the pod and pry it open with your fingers. 

Remove the beans from the pods and plunge them into boiling salted water for about 3 minutes. 

The outer shells will open to reveal the bright green fava bean inside. 

Remove the outer shell and the beans are ready to use in a colorful salad like this one!

Although you might think that the fava bean is similar to a lima bean, you will be surprised to taste the clean, crisp flavor. Use the beans in a fresh salad or sauté them quickly to add as a garnish for any dish. I say garnish because you need about a pound of fava bean pods to produce about 1/3 cup of fava beans!

Rose’s grilled beans uses a flavorful marinade to season the entire pod. Grill the pods and return them to the bowl with the marinade. Add chopped anchovies and toss to create an entirely edible fava bean pod with the tender beans a surprise inside.

Let me know how you like your fava beans – grilled or blanched!
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