Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chopped Salad with Creamy Lemon Basil Dressing

One of my favorite salads is the chopped salad. The miracle of this salad is you can use any combination of ingredients from the farmers market to ethic influenced ingredients such as Asian or Mexican. It could be simple, refreshing mix of greens and vegetables, or a hearty combination of grilled flank steak, blue cheese crumbles and meaty mushrooms.

My husband and I both enjoy going to Ruth’s Chris for dinner and always order the Ruth’s Chop Salad or as he likes to call it, “Can Salad”. They form the salad in a ring and looks like it was molded with a can. My husband Charles has a great sense of humor and always makes me laugh.

After a long day at work at the beginning of the week, all I wanted was a delicious but simple hearty salad and thus this chopped salad was born. Enjoy and I look forward to hearing about your favorite combinations.

Chopped Salad with Creamy Lemon Basil Dressing

Serves 4

1 head of Iceberg lettuce, julienned
½ Medium red onion, thinly sliced
5 Large basil leaves, chiffonade
1 C. Grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 ½ C. Salami, julienned
1 ¼ C. Crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
4 to 5 Deli slices, provolone – julienned
1 C. Chopped turkey
1 ½ C. Garbonzo beans
8 Bacon slices, cooked, crumbled, set aside to garnish


¾ C. Sour Cream
¼ C. Mayo
3 T. Lemon juice, fresh squeezed
½ t. Garlic powder
¼ to ½ t. Season salt (taste before adding second ¼ teaspoon
10 grinds fresh pepper
¼ C. Fresh basil, chiffonade

Add all of the ingredients to a bowl and mix. Only add ¼ teaspoon of the season salt, then taste, if you desire add the second ¼ teaspoon of season salt.

To assemble:

Add all of the salad ingredients, except the bacon. Toss together and then add the desired amount of dressing to your preference. Divide among your guests and top with the crumbled bacon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Butternut squash has a rich, nutty flavor, which can be enjoyed in both sweet and savory dishes. It's distinct blazing orange color, has a creamy texture once it is cooked. Can be enjoyed in lasagna, ravioli, and savory bread pudding or in a soup. Pairing butternut squash with apples balances the soup and creates a perfect marriage of two great ingredients. You can opt to roast the butternut squash prior to adding to the broth, which would give a more sweet and intense flavor to the soup. I actually purchased the prepared butternut squash that is already cut into one inch cubes - a big time saver!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bacon and Orange Marmalade Sandwich

Bacon and Orange Marmalade Sandwich

This a simple, yet sophisticated sandwich with a unique flavor profile. It has the “ying and yang” of the toasted, earthy bread, smoky bacon and sweet marmalade. Strangely delicious and intriguing. A great sandwich for breakfast, lunch, dinner or midnight snack. I promise you will crave it a few days later!

Recipe for one sandwich

2 Slices of dark brown or pumpernickel bread, remove crusts and toast
3 Slices of Apple wood smoked bacon, crispy
Orange Marmalade

Spread the orange marmalade lightly on each side of the toasts. Add the cooked bacon and place the two sides together. Cut in half and enjoy!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beef Wellington with Brandy Peppercorn Cream Sauce

Beef Wellington is a preparation of beef tenderloin or filet mignon coated with pate and duxelles, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked until golden brown. I wish I loved pate, but I don’t, so I have eliminated it from this recipe. Now on the other hand, I absolutely love Mushroom duxelle, which is a mixture of mushrooms, butter, shallots and thyme that are finely diced and sautéed. To add to the richness of this dish, I recommend putting the cooked mushroom mixture through the food processor to give it more of a paste texture.

Beef Wellingtons take a bit of time to prepare, but if you are looking for an elegant dinner entrée to impress your guests, this is the dish.

Quick tip: You can use the duxelle mixture along with the puff pastry to make mushroom turnovers for your next appetizer.

Mushroom Duxelle Recipe

2 T. Butter
2 Shallots, finely chopped
8 oz. Button mushrooms, finely chopped
1 t. Dried Thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan, melt the butter, add the shallots and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and thyme, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have browned and the liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature or chill.

Beef Wellington

4 Filet Mignon, approximately ½ pound each
Salt and pepper
1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
2 T. Butter
1 egg

Prepare the beef by trimming of any excess fat. Season each side with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, melt the butter and turn the burner to medium. Sear each side of the filets for about 2 minutes each. Remove and place onto a plate and put into the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, take out and remove any excess liquid with a paper towel. Meanwhile, on a large board, lightly flour and gently roll the puff pastry sheet just slightly. Cut into four equal squares. Add into the center of each square about 1 heaping tablespoon of the mushroom duxelle mixture. Place a seared filet on top of each duxelle mixture. Gently fold the pastry dough around the filet. May need to gently stretch the dough. Turn upright, so the smooth side is face up. Beat one egg with a splash of water and brush the top of each one.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place each beef Wellington on a large cookie sheet and cook for about 20 - 25 minutes or until the pastry is lightly golden brown.

Quick tip: I used a small cookie cutter and placed a “leaf” on each one. If you are having a dinner party, place the initials of each guest on the individual Wellingtons to add that extra special touch.

Brandy Peppercorn Cream Sauce

1 large shallot, finely diced
1 T. Butter
½ t. crushed dried green peppercorns
½ C. Cream
½ C. Brandy
¾ C. Demi-glace broth (1 T. demi-glace into ¾ cup boiling water, let melt and mix)

Using the same pan that you seared the filets in, add the shallots and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the brandy, off the flame. Cook over low heat and deglaze the pan with a wooden spatula. Then add the demi-glace liquid and cook for about 5 minutes on medium high heat. Add the crushed peppercorns and cream. Cook for 5 minutes on medium. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve. Return to the pan and keep on low heat or off if you are not ready to serve.

Quick tip:  If when you are adding the brandy and the pan catches on fire - don't panic!  Simply take off the burner and hold over the sink until the alcohol burns off.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chocolate and Butterscotch Chip Cookies

What is the quintessential cookie that pops into everyone’s head? Of course it is the chocolate chip cookie. Most of us were introduced to this cookie and then discovered the enormous varieties of cookies that exist. These cookies can be crunchy with crumbs that crack & pop if they fall to the floor and stepped upon. Or they can be soft, chewy and moist, where barely a crumb falls to the plate.

All depends if you use butter or shortening in your cookie recipe. Butter adds the crispy texture and the shortening will give it the squashy, pliable and soft consistency. Whatever your preference is, there is nothing better than a fresh baked, out of the oven chocolate chip cookie with the melted chocolate dripping from breaking it in half and enjoying with a tall glass of ice cold milk.

Chocolate and Butterscotch Chip Cookie

1 ½ C. Sugar
1 2/3 C. Brown Sugar
1 ¼ C. Shortening (Butter flavor)
3 Eggs
2 t. Vanilla
1 ¼ t. Salt
2 ¼ t. Baking Soda
1 T. Cornstarch
3 ½ C. Flour
11oz. Pkg. Butterscotch Chips
12 oz. Pkg. Nestle Dark Chocolate Mini Morsels

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a kitchen aid mixer, add and cream the sugar, brown sugar and shortening together until smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla, salt and baking soda. Mix together. Add the cornstarch and slowly add the flour one cup at a time until blended. Add the butterscotch and chocolate chips. Mix until combined.

Use a small ice cream scooper to form uniform cookies. Place onto a non-stick cookie sheet and bake for about 10 to 11 minutes until golden brown. Remove and let cool on a wire rack. Yields approximately 6 dozen cookies.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Annual Team Appreciation Lunch

Since 2002, I have hosted an annual appreciation lunch for the team members who directly report to me. With the challenging economic year in 2009, my entire team worked extremely hard and endured quite a bit of stress along the way, not unlike the majority of individuals around the globe. Hosting this lunch at my house is one small way to annually express to my team, how much I appreciate all that they do.

Cooking truly connects me with people since it is both creative and my gift that I can share with other people. I enjoy the entire process of entertaining from A to Z - from planning the menu, making the shopping list, preparing the food to setting the table. My endorphins get charged up and it makes me so joyful to make people happy.

December is a time in my industry that we take our clients out to lunch to thank them for their business and the calendar gets quickly booked up. I scheduled this years lunch in the first week of January and it gave the team an opportunity to relax and reflect on last year and get charged up for a much brighter year in 2010.

Everyone arrived around noon with a vigorous appetite. I created three different appetizers for everyone to munch on before the main event. We had Gruyere Olive Poppers, Walnut and Pinenut Pesto Crostini and Italian Crostini. My team was hungry and everything, with the exception of a few was devoured.

Typically, one or two team members volunteer to assist me with preparation of the plates and service. Much appreciated! First course was Bibb lettuce and Endive Salad with Warm Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese Medallion. Simply dressed the salad with olive oil, fresh lemon juice and fleur de sel and pepper. Tasted until the proportions were perfect between the oil and acid component of the lemon juice. The best tools for mixing are your hands. Each salad was adorned with pomegranate seeds and the warm goat cheese medallion.

(My assistants:  Christine and Deb)

Now onto the main course, what I called “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” which was Pan Roasted Chicken, Winter Vegetables, Wine Infused Pears, Mustard au Jus with Country Biscuits. The chicken bone in breasts with the skin on and quickly pan seared on high to crisp the skin, then placed onto a large baking dish adorned with potatoes and carrots. All of the chicken breasts sat on top and chicken stock were added to preserve the moisture with in the chicken. The mustard au jus was made with chicken stock, white wine, grainy and Dijon mustard and a bit of cream, then seasoned with salt and pepper. Best to make after you have pan seared all of the chicken breasts, so the flavor from the searing gets into the sauce.

Final event was handmade crème brulee. This decadent dessert is so simple and a true crowd pleaser. My team literally scraped each bit from the ramekins. Glad that everyone had a nice time and was able to take a menu home as a token.

Thank You Deb, Laurie, Matt, Christine, Patti and Stefanie!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Porcini Pizza with Truffle Oil

The other night, a good friend of ours came over to join us for dinner. He is single and doesn’t have too many home cooked meals. Typically Jack in the Box or Carl’s Jr. is his dinner entrée of choice. He shares his dating adventures with us and we give him our advice. Hopefully, our guidance is appreciated. We look forward to the day that he finds “Miss Right”, since we know he is a terrific catch for the right girl.

Now onto the food - I perused the refrigerator to see what creative dishes I could create quickly. I had been craving mushrooms and had a package of Lavash bread from Trader Joes. First thing that came to mind was a flatbread pizza.  The combination of the earthy porcin mushroom, nutty gruyere and peppery arugula, and of course the drizzle of truffle oil, I knew it would be a perfect combination. The lavash bread makes the absolutely BEST thin crust pizza and is super simple to make. The combinations are endless.

Porcini Pizza with Truffle Oil

1 Flatbread or Lavash
½ C. Re-hydrated Dried Porcini Mushrooms (04 oz)
1 ½ C. Grated Gruyere
Olive oil
Garlic powder
3 Sprigs fresh thyme
1 C. Arugula
Truffle oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a cup of boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes or until completely soft.

Tip: You can save the porcini liquid for a mushroom risotto.

Place the flatbread or lavash bread on a baking sheet. Drizzle about 2 teaspoons of good olive oil and using a pastry brush, spread over entire surface. Sprinkle garlic powder over entire surface lightly. Remove the thyme leaves and sprinkle over pizza. Place 2/3 of the porcini mushrooms over the pizza and then sprinkle the cheese. The remaining mushrooms can be strategically placed on top. Season the top with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 9 to 10 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and edges are brown. Remove from oven and distribute the arugula leaves. Lightly drizzle a tiny bit of truffle oil. A little sea salt on top enriches the flavor. Cut into desired number of slices and enjoy.

Let me know what your favorite combination is!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Roasted Chicken Soup with Riso Pasta

After my husband and I returned to the “real” world on Monday after some wonderful time off during the holidays, we knew the magical time of year had come and gone. Saturday was deemed the day to take down the holiday decorations. We put them up the day after Thanksgiving since we were hosting the annual Ornament Exchange party this year. They had been up long enough. We dreaded the task since there was so much to take down and put away. The good news was that we were extremely organized and efficient; it only took us just under three hours.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Roast Beef Crostini with Blue Cheese

Roast Beef Crostini with Blue Cheese

1 Sourdough baguette
Olive oil
8 Large slices of deli roast beef
1/3 C. Blue Cheese
1/3 C. Crème Fraiche
24 Flat leaf parsley leaves

Purchase your favorite sour dough baguette. Cut 24 slices approximately ½ inch thick. Brush each side with olive oil. Lie onto a cookie sheet and turn oven on broil. Place under broiler and toast each side until golden brown. Watch carefully so the do not burn.

In a small mixing bowl add the crème fraise and blue cheese. Mix well until most lumps are gone. Season with a few grinds of fresh ground pepper.

Lay the deli roast beef on a cutting board and cut each slice into thirds.

To assemble:
Lay out the toasted crostini and roll up each slice of roast beef. Lay each rolled piece of roast beef on top of each crostini. Add a dollop of the blue cheese mixture and garnish with a parsley leaf.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Creme Brulee

Crème Brulee

8 egg yolks
1/3 C. sugar
2 C. Heavy Crème
1 t. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
Caster sugar or fine sugar for caramelized tops

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, using a wire whisk, stir the egg yolks and sugar together until mixture is creamy pale yellow and sugar is dissolved well.

Cut the vanilla bean in half and with a sharp knife, scrape the vanilla bean and add to the egg mixture. Stir well. Add the cream, vanilla extract and whisk well.

Divide the mixture among 6 ramekins. Place in a water bath, so the water is half way up the ramekins. Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes until the custard is lightly firm. Remove from oven and let cool in the water bath. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and best overnight.

For the caramelized topping:

Sprinkle the sugar on top and with a hand held torch, melt the sugar. Re-chill the custards for about 30 to 60 minutes prior to serving.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Pecans

While shopping at Trader Joe’s, I came across these intriguing stalks of Brussels Sprouts and had to purchase one. Besides the farmer’s market, how often does the average consumer see these? Typically there are large bins filled with all sizes of these little gems. Here is a quick and simple recipe for Brussels sprouts that have wonderful flavor, crunch and textures.

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Pecans
Serves 4

4 C. of Fresh Brussels Sprouts cut in half
3 T. Olive Oil
½ C. Pancetta, diced
¼ C. Pecans, chopped and toasted
Salt and Pepper

Prepare the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the bottom stem and then in half. Remove any of the extra leaves.

In a large skillet, add the olive oil and then place the Brussels sprouts cut side down. Toss in the olive oil using tongs and season with salt and pepper. Return to the cut side down. Add the pancetta. Cook on medium for about 10 to 15 minutes until they are golden brown and tender but not overcooked. You can add more olive oil if desired. Taste to determine if you need to add salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the pecans just before serving.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bouchon in Yountville

Bouchon in Yountville is part of the Thomas Keller restaurant empire. For Keller, great cooking is all about the virtue of process and attention to detail. Most notably he began his food dynasty with the iconic French Laundry. With his passion for Bistro cooking, he opened Bouchon. Bistro is to Paris as Bouchon is to Lyon. Parisian bistro food is typically slow-cooked (braised), whereas Lyonnaise cuisine revolves around cured and forcemeat processes. Lyon (and not Paris) has the reputation as the French capital of gastronomy.

Restaurant Club was making its final journey for 2009 and it was my turn to make the selection. After careful thought and keeping to the cardinal rule that we can only choose a place where none of us have been before, Bouchon was my choice. We arrived about 15 minutes prior to our 11:30 reservation. Visited the Bouchon bakery next door and selected a box of treasures to bring home. The chocolate Bouchon’s (corks) are to die for along with the macaroons. I even selected a couple doggie biscuits for Max.

We checked in for our 11:30 reservation and were seated right away. The restaurant is authentically French in décor and is a feast for the eyes. We were seated at a table for four in the middle of the restaurant with a large palm tree in the middle and the other three tables flanked the palm tree. Our server promptly arrived and let us know that the paper wrapped around the napkin was our menu – very cleaver. The bread and butter arrived shortly, just as you would expect, crunchy outside, fluffy inside, quintessential French bread with a twist.
The menu was robust with such wonderful choices along with the daily specials; it was a challenge to make our selections. We wanted to all choose different dishes, so we could have more to sample and enjoy. Bouchon highlights local vintners and has a “vin de carafe” board next to the bar. Today there was a Viognier and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Lynette selected the Viognier and I had the Cabernet. Both were outstanding and a value along with being unique.

For our starters, we had Salade de Celeri-Rave et Choux de Bruxelles which was a salad of caramelized celery root, black trumpet mushrooms, cranberries & Brussels sprouts with brown butter gastrique. It was an amazing dish and the gastrique and cranberries simply put the dish over the top. Next we had Salade de Saumon Tiede that was warm poached salmon salad with frisee, black truffle, potatoes & salmon roe with lentil vinaigrette. Final starter was a Lyonnaise Salad with frisee lettuce, crispy largons, soft poached egg and brioche toasts.

The first course was amazing and created quite a bit of chatter about what terrific selections we all made. Onto the main event, first was the Poulet Roti; roast chicken with crispy spatzle, winter squash, chestnuts & white wine poached pears with whole grain mustard jus. The flavor profiles were out of this world and the whole grain mustard jus was spectacular. People often do not order “chicken” at restaurants, since they think it is ordinary – well this was extraordinary!

Next delight was the Gnocchi a la Parisienne that was sautéed gnocchi with a fricassee of vegetables & beurre noisette. Final delicacy was the Truite aux Topinambours – pan roasted trout with roasted sunchokes, marinated mushrooms, toasted almonds & beurre noisette. This dish comes with the head on the fish and in an all-clad copper dish – outstanding presentation.

Even though we were quite satisfied, we needed to experience dessert. After much contemplation, we chose the Tarte au Citron. A large slice of lemon tart was placed on our table, that screamed meyer lemon, cream and butter. I ordered a cappuccino to complete the entire experience and to prevent a food coma.

Bouchon was a gastronomic dining experience that transcended us into France and left us wanting to return very soon. The service was outstanding. The food was amazing. Restaurant Club was very pleased with the experience and are already deciding on our next adventure to kick off 2010 .

Friday, January 1, 2010

Perfect New Year's Eve Party

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New Year’s Eve is the one day of the year, where people want to celebrate, declare resolutions and be surrounded by close friends and family. For the eternal host, there is nothing more exciting than putting together a New Years Eve soiree. Planning early is the key to a successful and memorable New Years Eve party.

Here are a few key points and ideas to make your party unforgettable.

Theme - Traditionally, New Years Eve parties tend to be either black tie or cocktail attire, but to spice up the party, add a theme to your party. The perfect New Year’s Eve theme party will be subtle, classy, and easy to pull off. Choose a color theme like black and white, gold or silver. Choose a different era or place in the world and build your theme around it.

Food – A very important element to any party is what food to serve. For New Year’s Eve, best to stay away from dinner, buffets, or anything that requires people to sit down to eat. A better choice for the best New Year’s party is appetizers, both passed and stationary. Build your menu around handmade and store bought to ease the pressures. Consider asking your foodie friends to bring their favorite new appetizer.

Guest List – The perfect party requires a great guest list. Typically the ideal New Year’s Eve party will not include children since it is such a late event and is the one time of year for an adult party. Make sure that every guest invited to the party will know at least one other guest. You want all of your party-goers to feel included.

Adult Libations – New Years Eve is not complete without Champagne or sparking wine. Make sure there are other choices for the hours before midnight. Think about a “signature drink” and tie it in with your theme. Have a large enough selection of adult libations, but do not feel compelled to stock like a hotel. Make sure to have a large supply of ice to last throughout the night.

Decorations – To make your event space aesthetically pleasing, decorations are essential. If you’re having a theme, which you should, coordinate the decorations to the theme. The trick is finding the perfect amount of decorations, without over doing it. The goal when decorating is to stay classy.

Party Favors – Traditional party favors for New Year’s Eve parties are easy. All you really need are noise makers and New Year’s Eve hats and tiaras. Think about adding the extra touch by giving each of your guests a souvenir from the party. Something related to the theme or homemade by you will make it extra memorable.

Music – The type of music you play will depend on the kind of party you are throwing. It is important to get the volume just right. Create a special play list on your i-pod of the favorites from 2009.

Invitations – Best to plan ahead and choose the traditional paper invites with a RSVP date included. “Evite” is easy, but not quite as classy as the traditional choice. Make sure the theme matches the invitations – it gives your guests a peak into what the party will be like.  Sending out early is the key to a great turn out.

Entertainment – When people come to a New Year’s Eve party, they expect to have a good time. While the company, food, and alcohol are large components, you may also need some entertainment. If it’s a classy party, the television is on mute with the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square is probably enough. A smaller crowd could encompass a fun game or two.

Traditional New Year’s Kiss – Everyone wants that special New Year’s Eve and to have the perfect New Year’s kiss with that somebody special.

New Years Resolutions – Each year people take on lofty resolutions that are often forgotten by the end of January. Have each person bring their list and read them out loud to everyone. In addition, have them leave a copy with the host. In turn, you will compile and email out the entire group. Peer pressure tends to keep people closer to achieving their goals. Check in every quarter to see how the group is sticking to keeping them.

Happy New Year to everyone! 
May it be a year filled with prosperity, health, happiness, peace and success!