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Caramel Roasted Pears With Cheese

October 4, 2013



I don’t need a sweet ending….so this works for me!!! Cheese course and dessert all in one. Warm pears and ginger snap crumbles drizzled with caramel sauce play well against the creamy, earthy cheese. A hint of thyme is added to the finishing sauce for a woodsy accent. This dessert is a perfect accompaniment to any seasonal entrée.

Caramel Roasted Pears With Cheese     (Adapted from the Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson/ WSJ)

Serves 4

1 small (10-12 ounce ) wheel soft cheese like triple cream brie, room temperature

4 ginger snap cookies, crumbled

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 ripe pears (Bartlett or other soft-fleshed variety), cored and halved

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 sprigs thyme

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Divide cheese and crumbled cookies evenly among four plates. Set a small pan over medium heat. Once hot, add oil. Season pears with salt and pepper. Place pears, skin side up, in pan. Once surfaces of pears are caramelized, about 5 minutes, flip pears and add butter and thyme to pan. Cook pears, constantly basting with butter, until warmed through and just fork tender, about 4 minutes. Place one pear half over cheese on each plate. Add honey and vinegar to pan with thyme and browned butter. Cook over medium heat until sauce begins to bubble aggressively, about 1 minute. Discard thyme and stir sauce until it darkens and thickens, about 2 minutes. Drizzle caramel sauce over pears. Serve.





Cumin Lime Roasted Carrots

September 27, 2013



Yep, I know another side! Hey, very often this course is the star…or can set the tone. These roasted carrots are a nice Fall accompaniment to your roasted chicken or a flavorful marinated flank steak. Use similar flavor profiles to marry the entrée and side together. Serve with roasted potatoes.

Cumin Lime Roasted Carrots

1 pound baby carrots

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice and fresh grated zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Small handful fresh mint leaves, chopped

Cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the tops off the carrots. Toss them on a baking sheet with the olive oil, lime juice and zest, honey, and spices. Roast about 20 minutes, until the carrots are just tender. Transfer to a plate and top with the green onions and mint.




Grilled Pear, Brie And Prosciutto Sandwich

September 19, 2013


When the air turns crisp and the leaves start to change, I think comfort food. On a chilly Saturday afternoon, I whipped up a flavorful soup pairing it with a dressed up grilled cheese. Take the combination of sweet, creamy brie and pear, savory prosciutto, a bit of honey mustard, finished with a peppery note of arugula and you’ve got yourself a grilled cheese sandwich which screams… FALL!. Add soup …..oh, any will do, but try this easy, delicious butternut squash (recipe here) and welcome this magical season.

Grilled Brie, Pear And Prosciutto Sandwich

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

2 sage leaves, minced

1 ripe pear, sliced (use about half)

2 slices prosciutto

4 slices of brie

Grainy mustard


2 pieces of country bread, sliced

Mix sage with butter. Spread half the butter on one side of bread. Take a few tablespoons of grainy mustard and add 1 teaspoon of honey (or to taste). On the non buttered side, spread a bit of honey mustard. Layer with cheese, pear, prosciutto, brie. Butter the other slice of bread. Spread with a bit of honey mustard. Top the sandwich. Heat skillet to med-high. . Put a skillet on the stove-top and turn the heat on medium. When it’s warm, put the sandwich in the skillet, heat til browned. Flip to the other side, let cook for a few minutes til browned.


























Grilled Sweet Onions With Blue Cheese And Balsamic Glaze

September 12, 2013


DSC_0119 One of our favorite sides this summer has been grilled sweet onions and blue cheese, drizzled with balsamic glaze.  The lightly charred sweet onions balance the salty richness of the cheese….making it the perfect combination. I used skewers to keep the rings together to make flipping easier. This is a delicious accompaniment for your favorite grilled meats. We love them along side a grilled strip steak!!

Grilled Sweet Onions With Blue Cheese And Balsamic Glaze

2 sweet onions, sliced approximately 1/2″ thick ( I used just the center slices to make the same size…about 4-6 slices)

4 tablespoons blue cheese

Balsamic glaze

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

4 skewers

Soak skewers for 15-30 minutes. Heat grill. Slide skewer through onion to hold the rings together. Brush with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on grill and cook for approximately 10 minutes or until grill marks show. Turn onions and place blue cheese in center. Cook until cheese is melted. Place on platter and drizzle with glaze.
















Thai-Style Grilled Corn Soup/ Spring Rolls And Dipping Sauce

September 6, 2013


This meal came from cleaning out the vegetable drawer after a busy weekend. Leftover grilled corn, miscellaneous farmstand vegetables and fresh herbs from the garden were all on hand. A quick run to Whole Foods to pick up the wraps and coconut milk……and a fresh, healthy dinner done. This meal hit the spot after two dinners out last weekend. Now… back on the right track!!

Thai-Style Grilled Corn Soup / Spring Rolls and Dipping Sauce        (Soup: adapted from Fine Cooking)

Serves 4

2 medium ears corn, shucked and silks removed

Olive oil, for brushing

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups lower-salt chicken broth

1 14-oz. can light unsweetened coconut milk

1 tablespoon red curry paste (more to taste)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Thinly sliced fresh hot red chile, for garnish

Prepare grill. Brush the corn with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the corn 8 to 10 minutes. Cut the kernels off the cobs.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the chicken broth, coconut milk, and curry paste over medium-high heat until simmering, about 2 minutes. Add the corn and simmer, stirring until hot, about 3 minutes.

Off the heat, stir in the lime juice, fish sauce, lime zest, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Serve garnished with the cilantro and chiles.

Dipping Sauce

3 tablespoons  rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup dark tamari soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Spring Rolls

Makes 8-10

Spring roll wrappers

1/2 cup thin rice noodles, prepared as instructed

3 romaine lettuce leaves, sliced thin

5 green onions, sliced thin

1/4 cup fresh herbs (use cilantro, basil or mint)

1/2 cup carrots, grated or julienned

12 small shrimp (optional)

1 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

Toss together all ingredients together except wrappers in large bowl. Submerge spring roll wrapper in hot water until pliable, about 15 seconds. Place about 2 tablespoons of mix on wrapper and wrap your spring roll. Serve with dipping sauce.



Mango Peach Salsa

August 31, 2013


August is national peach month. This is evident by the abundance of peaches at your local farmers market. Peach salsa is a great way to utilize all the fresh produce available and is incredibly versatile. A perfect summer condiment! It’s a sweet and spicy companion for any grilled meat, fish, added to a salad or just serve with tortilla chips. I’m pairing the salsa with fish tacos…yum!!!

Mango Peach Salsa

Makes approximately 2 cups

1 mango, peeled and cubed

2 peaches, peeled and cubed

3 tablespoons red onion, chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and diced

1 lime, juice and zest

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup cilantro

**for tacos; 1 pound halibut (salt/pepper, sautéed in canola oil 3-4 minutes per side)                                                  4 corn tortillas

Toss all the peaches, mango, onions, jalapeno, lime juice, oil and cilantro together in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.











Rustic Heirloom Tomato Tart

August 29, 2013



Tomatoes are abundant right now… make the most of these summertime jewels. This recipe is a twist on the Southern tradition of tomato pie. Layer your tart with heirloom tomatoes and dollop with an herbed cheese mayo and you have a savory and robust side to a summer meal or add a side salad for a light lunch. Another idea for all those tomatoes…… try this tart using caramelized onions and gruyere.

Rustic Heirloom Tomato Tart          (adapted from Fine Cooking)

1/4 cup semolina flour

1 recipe Buttermilk Biscuit Dough  (recipe below)

All-purpose flour, for rolling out the dough

3 to 4 medium ripe tomatoes (1-1/2 lb. total), preferably heirloom, cored and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick

Kosher salt

2 oz. coarsely grated Gruyère (about 2/3 cup using the large holes of a box grater)

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (parsley, basil, and chives)

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano or marjoram

Freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 425°F. Sprinkle a 12×17-inch sheet of parchment with 2 tablespoons of the semolina flour. On the semolina, pat the biscuit dough into a 5-inch round. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 13-inch round, lightly dusting with all-purpose flour to keep the dough from sticking.

Transfer the dough on the parchment to a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons semolina flour over the dough, leaving a 1-1/2-inch border.

Arrange the tomatoes over the dough in two flat, slightly overlapping concentric circles, lightly salting each circle as you go.

Combine the cheese, mayonnaise, herbs, and pepper in a small bowl. Dollop in generous tablespoons over the tomatoes. Fold the dough border over the edges of the tomatoes, pleating the dough as necessary.

Bake until the crust is golden-brown and the tomatoes are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack until warm, about 30 minutes, before cutting into wedges and serving. You can also serve it at room temperature.

Buttermilk Biscuit Dough

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (more if needed)

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3/4 cup cold, well-shaken buttermilk

In a large, wide bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Using your fingertips, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size lumps.

Using a spatula, stir in the buttermilk just until the flour mixture is moistened. Do not overmix; the dough should just come together, and it will be sticky.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and gently knead 6 to 8 times, dusting lightly with flour if needed to keep it from sticking.







Tomato, Stone Fruit And Mozzarella Salad

August 22, 2013



It was Monday morning and I needed to jump-start the week. I love our weekends and I love my weekend Wall Street Journal; my favorite section is Off Duty. I usually find interesting ideas from chefs around the country. Saturday highlighted Chicago chef, Stephanie Izard and her take on a refreshing seasonal salad. This is a perfect entree to enjoy ALL the produce that is in season right now. Izard combines two of Italy’s favorite salads, the panzanella and caprese. Creamy mozzarella pairs well with the acidity of the fruit. To quote Stephanie, “this is summer in a bowl.” To quote me, “it’s the perfect way to start my week.”

Tomato, Stone Fruit And Mozzarella Salad  (adapted from Stephanie Izard/ Wall Street Journal)

Serves: 4-6

1 cup roasted and salted pistachios, roughly chopped

Juice of 2 lemons

2 tablespoons honey

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups roughly torn bread

1¼ pounds heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 ripe nectarine, cut into wedges

2 ripe plums, cut into wedges

10 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into ¼-inch rounds

8 basil leaves, roughly chopped

…and I added a handful of cherries, sliced in half, pitted



Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make the dressing. In a medium bowl, whisk together pistachios, lemon, honey,4 tablespoons oil until well combined. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Make croutons. Toss bread with remaining oil and season with salt. Spread croutons in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until golden about 12-15 minutes. In a bowl, toss tomatoes with stone fruit, season with salt. Divide mozzarella slices among plates and season with salt and pepper. Top with fruit mixture, drizzle with dressing and garnish with basil and top with croutons. Serve immediately.





Poppyseed Coleslaw

August 17, 2013



 Coleslaw…. most people can take it or leave it. Memories of soggy, over-mayonnaised salad may come to mind. Being the ultimate traditional side to a summer BBQ, coleslaw needs a shot in the arm. Give this recipe a try. …. it’s a crowd pleaser that I promise you will add to your summer repertoire. Take some time to chop these ingredients to create this incredibly flavorful and colorful slaw. Two cabbages, sweet apples, scallions, sunflower seeds, the bite of shallots and tangy lemon zest make this unlike any slaw of your past.   *** Coleslaw is not just for your summer menus, this salad can move into the Fall months to top your pulled pork sandwiches!

Poppyseed Coleslaw       (Adapted from Curtis Stone)

1/2 head Napa Cabbage, cored, cut in half and then cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-wide slices, about 3 cups

1/2 head Red Cabbage, cored, cut in half and then cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-wide slices, about 2 cups

1 large Carrot, cut into thin matchstick-size strips

1 apple, diced

8 Scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh Cilantro

Sunflower seeds, toasted and salted

Using your hands, gently toss the Napa cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, scallions, and cilantro in a large bowl to combine. Toss the coleslaw with enough dressing to coat (reserve any remaining dressing for another use). Serve immediately.

Poppy Seed Dressing

1 1/2 cups Mayonnaise

1/4 cup finely chopped Shallots

2 tablespoons Cider Vinegar

1 tablespoon Poppy Seeds

Finely grated zest of 1 Lemon

2 teaspoons fresh Lemon Juice

2 teaspoons Kosher Salt

In a medium bowl, whisk all the ingredients to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to develop the flavors.





One Pot Pasta

August 11, 2013



The trending recipe of the summer. I have come across this recipe a number of times the last few months. It’s such a simple idea but being a bit of a skeptic… I had to try it. I love the idea of one pot dinners, easy to make and even easier to clean up. While these ingredients are not an uncommon combination, throwing them all  together in one pan is. The result… a VERY tasty noodle!! The starch that leaches off the pasta helps create a creamy and flavorful sauce. Dinner on the table in 20 pot…..where was this on those hectic days of  juggling practices, games and a meal???????

One-Pan Pasta     (adapted slightly from Martha Stewart Living)

12 ounces linguine

12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large

1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/2- 3/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish

2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

4 1/2 cups water

Lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil. Serve with oil and Parmesan.











Deconstructed Street Corn Salad

August 8, 2013


What memories are stirred when you sink your teeth into that first bite of summer’s corn on the cobb? I go back to my childhood where Mom would send one of us across the street to the farm stand with pocket change to pick up our daily sweet side to dinner…a food staple during the summer months. As much as I love eating from the cobb…for entertaining, this recipe works well as a side and is easier to serve for a crowd. The dish is a spin-off of ELOTE, a popular Mexican street food. (Grilled corn on the cob served with a variety of condiments, including mayonnaise, cotija cheese, lime and chili powder.) Crunchy, sweet, savory and spicy… soooo easy to prepare and goes great with just about any summer main course. While Randy has the grill filled with this chicken recipe, (minus the basil sauce I can prepare street corn in the kitchen.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 jalapeno, finely chopped

6 cups corn kernels, shaved from about 12 ears


1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated


Heat oil in a large skillet set over low heat. Add jalapeno and saute for 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium, add corn and salt and cook for approximately 5 minutes. In a large bowl, toss corn, mint and vinegar. Add Parmesan and toss again. Serve cold or at room temperature. I like a squeeze of lime to finish.






Spicy Coconut Mussels with Lemon Grass

August 2, 2013



Thank you Pam for introducing me to this light and tasty mussel dish at Girlyfest 2013!! Just one of the highlights of the never-ending happy hour(s)! This was quite the leap for me to rediscover the very shell that hospitalized me in Italy years ago. Now… I’m back in the game! While mussels, the main ingredient, are lovely little saline bites, the brilliance of this recipe is the sauce. The bite of the Chile, sweetness of the coconut milk, bright lemon and fresh herbs leave you wanting a straw!!! Soak up this tasty broth with crusty bread, serve with a side salad and a crisp white wine. Enjoy this recipe and the health benefits of the mussels……a great low-fat, high protein food source filled with lots of nutrients like omega-3 and iron.

Spicy Coconut Mussels with Lemon Grass     (The New York Times) 

Serves 2

2 tablespoons coconut or safflower oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed (outer layers removed) and finely chopped

1/2 to 1 small hot chile ( Thai bird, Serrano, Scotch bonnet or jalapeño), seeded and finely chopped

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 pounds fresh mussels, rinsed well

Zest of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon lemon juice, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon Asian fish sauce, or to taste

1/2 cup whole cilantro leaves

1 baguette

Clean your mussels. I put them in a big bowl of very cold water for about 10 minutes. This encourages them to expel their sand. Scoop them out… one by one and scrub them under running water. Most cultivated mussels have the bissus (beard) removed but if one lingers, yank it toward the hinge or cut it with a knife. Discard any mussels with chipped shells or that are not completely shut.

Heat the oil in the bottom of a large pot until hot. Add the shallot, garlic, lemon grass and chile. Cook over medium heat until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and mussels. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook until the mussels have opened, 5 to 7 minutes (discard any mussels that remained closed). Remove from heat, and use a slotted spoon to transfer the mussels to a large bowl, leaving the liquid in the pot. Stir the lemon zest and juice, fish sauce and cilantro into the pot. Taste and add more fish sauce and/or lemon juice if needed (fish sauce provides the salt).

Serve with baguette to soak up the yummy juices. Add a fresh green salad to complete your meal.





Field Trip

August 1, 2013

Here’s just a “tasting” of what’s been cooking with me this past week or so. (Kitchen closed.) We traveled to Santa Barbara for a very special wedding, which happily included seeing our daughter. After much frivolity and fun, Randy and I headed north to wine country…. Paso Robles. This lovely and approachable Central Coast Region is midway between San Fransisco and Los Angeles making it a great side trip from either direction. We spent two days sipping wines….Rhone varietals which included granache, syrahs, zinfandel, cabernet, malbec, mourvedre, and several other grapes. With over 200 family owned vineyards dotted throughout the rolling hills, beautiful tasting rooms and collectively outstanding wines, this is a destination we hope to visit for years to come.  Though dining was not the main event, we enjoyed some memorable meals in Paso. Enjoy a few photos of our trip and now……..I’m back in the kitchen!!



















Rustic Cherry Tart

July 24, 2013


I needed a dessert and I needed one fast! We had family in for 5 days and I really didn’t plan a lot of sweet endings. While this may have been an oversight, a quick review of my pantry came up a winner. All ingredients were in the house, so without going to the market, I created this overstuffed treat…Rustic Cherry Tart! Using summer’s bounty of cherries, this tart saved me……tart’s always seem to save me! (Don’t overlook this fruit’s reputation as a nutrient packed superfood!)

Rustic Cherry Tart      (Adapted from Kitchen Simplicity)

Serves 8


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons cold butter, cut up

3-6 tablespoons ice cold water


1 pound (approx. 3 cups) sweet cherries, halved and pitted

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


egg wash (1 egg white, 1 teaspoon water, whisked together)

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup toasted almonds

For the Pastry Dough: Combine flour, sugar and salt. Using your fingers, quickly break up the butter, tossing it in the flour mixture, until the butter is roughly the size of peas.  Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing together with a fork, until the dough sticks together to form a ball.  (Make sure it sticks together easily without being sticky to the touch.) Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, into a 14 inch circle. Transfer the parchment and dough onto a baking sheet.

Mix together filling ingredients until evenly coated. Pour onto the center of the tart and spread out to within 2 inches of the edge. Fold up the edges to keep the filling inside.

Brush the pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until filling is bubbly and crust is golden brown. Allow to cool completely before slicing and serving. Sprinkle with slivered almonds.




Momofuku Ginger Scallion Noodles

July 18, 2013


This is not just another noodle dish. It’s special…with only six ingredients! Quoting David Chang himself, “Ginger Scallion Sauce is one of the greatest sauces or condiments ever. Ever. It’s definitely a mother sauce at Momofuku, something that we use over and over and over again.” I’m sold and you will be too. Chang compliments the noodles with roasted cauliflower and pickled cucumbers. You can add pretty much anything (seared tofu, pork, vegetables) to this recipe. I chose shrimp for the protein and pea pods. Serve as an entrée or an appetizer.

Momofuku Ginger Scallion Noodles

2 1⁄2 cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites, 2 to 3 large bunches)
1⁄2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1⁄4 cup grape seed or other neutral oil
1 1⁄2 teaspoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3⁄4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

6 0z. ramen noodles (or rice noodles)

Pea pods and Shrimp (*marinated) medium size, peeled and deveined

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Though it’s best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, ginger scallion sauce is good from the minute it’s stirred together up to a day or two in the fridge. Boil 6 ounces of ramen noodles, drain, toss with 6 tablespoons ginger scallion sauce; top the bowl shrimp and sliced peapods. Optional: Randy drizzled a little soy to finish and I drizzled a bit of chili oil. Great at room temp. or chilled.

*I marinated the shrimp in 1/3 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger, 1 tablespoon green onion and pepper. Whisk together all ingredients. Makes 1 cup. Marinated for 1/2 hour or up to 2 hours. Saute approx. 3 minutes or pink in color. You already have most of these ingredients for the noodles!!






Sweet Potato Chips

July 12, 2013


File this under….needed to be documented. The kids have called for this simple, healthy snack recipe so often that I felt it just needs to be on the record (blog)!! A couple things differ with this method than others…..first, the length of the slice and second, the slow cooking process. Many recipes have high cook times and a quick bake. I find the slower method yields crunchier chips. Using a mandoline is ideal however, turn on the RED CAUTION light!!! Don’t make me tell that story……….wear gloves or use the safety handle!!!!!!  Enjoy with your summer burgers!

Sweet Potato Chips

Yields approx. 50 chips

2 large Sweet Potatoes

Kosher salt

Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Scrub the potatoes until clean. Using a mandoline or a knife, slice the potatoes lengthwise into thin slices, about 1/8-inch thick. In a large bowl, toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place potato slices on parchment lined sheet trays and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, flipping half way through. Remove from the oven once crisp and slightly golden brown. Season with additional salt if desired.

Alternative Cooking Method:  400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Keep a close watch the last 5 minutes.





Maryland Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli

July 10, 2013


This crab cake is delicious. I’ve tried plenty of recipes over the years in search of the cake that really holds together. The key is to not overmix and to chill the mixture in the fridge so it can “set up.” With minimal ingredients, this recipe really lets the crab shine through. Most recipes call for pan frying …well I bake them for less fuss and more stability. You may want to toast mini bread rounds as a base for easy serving. This is such a simple recipe for such a show stopper. Plan on 8 entrée size cakes or 30 minis. To serve… top with lemon aioli and chives.

Maryland Crab Cake with Lemon Aioli

1 lb. jumbo lump or backfin lump crabmeat, fresh or pasteurized (Thank you Diamond Fresh Seafood)

1 large egg

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1-1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1-1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce Kosher salt

1-1/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs (from white sandwich bread) More slices for bread rounds if your making mini crab cakes

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

Lemon wedges

Drain the crabmeat, if necessary, and pick through for shells. Put the crab in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, Old Bay seasoning, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Combine the mixture with the crab and mix gently until  combined. Gently break up the lumps with your fingers but do not overmix.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and the parsley over the mixture, and mix them in gently. Again do not over mix, this should be somewhat loose. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.

For mini crab cakes: preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a 2 inch ring mold cut out bread and place in oven for approx 10 minutes until lightly toasted. Using the 2 inch rings put 1 tablespoon of crab in each mold and place cakes on baking sheet,  brush with a bit of olive oil and butter (optional). Bake for approximately 20 minutes. (I think this method is easier than pan cooking).


Shape the crab mixture into 8 cakes about 1 inch thick. In a nonstick skillet, heat the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. When the butter is frothy, add the cakes to the pan . Cook until dark golden brown on the underside, about 4 minutes. Flip the cakes, reduce the heat to medium low, and continue cooking until the other side is well browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Serve with lemon aoili and lemon wedges.





Lemon Aioli:

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped chives
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together.




Summer Corn Pasta

July 7, 2013


Back on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in May when all the neighbors came out after our winter hibernation, I met my neighbor Courtney. Oh, I’ve known Courtney for the last few years but what I mean is I really met Courtney. Her son Logan was over playing with my husband (!) and Courtney came to retrieve him with her new baby Beckett. After asking about her job she informed me she is home with the kids and has a food blog. Off and running!!! Love her blog. Check it out…. A Life From Scratch. Refreshing meal planning tied in with a lifestyle twist. We’ve had lots of fun since that May Day…. trading, testing, and chatting recipes. This pasta recipe is from ALFS blog adapted from Curtis Stone. Perfect for summer entertaining.

Summer Corn Pasta               (Adapted from Curtis Stone)

1 pound bow-tie pasta (farfalle)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
4 large sprigs of fresh thyme
2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 4 ears)
1/4 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 7 minutes, tender but firm to bite.
Meanwhile, heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then shallots and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally,  about 3 minutes, til tender. Add the wine, thyme, and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by three-quarters.

Add the corn and cream and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes, until the corn is hot. Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.

Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the corn sauce and toss to coat. Add enough of the reserved pasta water to adjust the sauce to the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently mix in the tomatoes and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese, chives, and pepper.





Moscow Mule

June 30, 2013


What’s old is new again. Being introduced to this refreshing cocktail has put me on a “bender” of sorts. A few weeks ago we watched the Hawks game at our good friends’  home (Tom and Maureen) and they served us Moscow Mules. They were delicious. We are superstitious.  So this became THE  drink to bring the cup home to Chi-town. Randy and I traveled to our various Hawks game venues with The Mule. On Saturday this drink showed up at my Mom’s. The first sip had her talking about her job in the 40′s and where she would go to drink Moscow Mules in copper cups after work. It triggered such a memory boost that I looked at Randy and said “who is this women”??? All new news to me!!

Back in 1941, gin was the predominant liquor and vodka was a bit of an after thought. John G. Martin was the president of a large East Coast distributor of food and spirits who had recently acquired the rights to distribute Smirnoff vodka in the United States. Jack Morgan was the owner of the Cock ’n’ Bull Tavern on the Sunset Strip and distributor of  ginger beer. These two, along with the president of Smirnoff,  met in New York to come up with an idea to move their products.  A basket of limes was added to the mix along with ginger beer and vodka, and The Moscow Mule was born.

Thanks to a resurgence of all things nostalgic, the Moscow Mule is making quite a little comeback. And thanks to “the Mule” we now are the proud caretakers of the 2013 Sir Stanley Cup!!!!!!  You’re welcome.

Moscow Mule

1 half lime
2 ounces vodka
4 to 6 ounces ginger beer

Squeeze lime into a tall glass (or copper mug)  and drop in half of lime.  Add ice,  pour in the vodka and fill with cold ginger beer. Add Mint leaves. Randy likes his with Gin! He calls it a Gin-Gin!!!!






Maine Lobster Roll

June 26, 2013



The last time I visited my sister Laura in Connecticut we drove from her home to the Maine coast. Our daily routine consisted of pulling into weathered roadside shacks in search of the perfect lobster roll. Oh...and we found them!! Lots of them. The Maine lobster roll features sweet, succulent lobster meat piled into a buttery toasted split-top roll. Add mayonnaise, a hint of lemon, celery (for crunch) and it’s time to chow. If you can’t make it to the east to experience the natural beauty of the rocky, rustic coastline, lighthouses, red-painted barns and this local favorite….then re-create the traditional Maine lobster roll at home.

Lobster Rolls        (Adapted from  Pearl Oyster Bar)

*Makes 2-4

1 pound cooked lobster meat, chopped roughly into 1/2 and 3/4-inch pieces
1 small celery rib, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (or 4)  top-split hot dog buns   (hard to find in the midwest….found them at Panera Bread!)
Unsalted butter
Snipped fresh chives for garnish

In a large bowl, combine the lobster meat, celery, mayonnaise, lemon and salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate. This mixture will last for 2 days. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a saute pan and toast the insides of the bun til golden. Then toast the outsides. This is the key to the perfect lobster roll!

If you can’t find lobster meat or not in your budget…… lobster with shrimp!

*I made 4 rolls out of the 1 pound of lobster meat. The recipe called for 2 servings (they would be HUGE)








German Chocolate Cake Sundae

June 21, 2013



Randy’s favorite cake is German Chocolate. My Dad’s favorite cake was German Chocolate. (Strange…the only two people I know who love this cake). It was Father’s Day and this seemed like the perfect dessert….but I don’t make cakes! I do however love the traditional flavors of this classic….chocolate, caramel, pecans and coconut. Why not make a sundae? I’m happy to report I no longer need to stress about delivering that cake for special occasions. Randy said that this was the best dessert he had ever eaten!!

German Chocolate Cake Sundae     (adapted from Food and Wine)

Serves 6

1 cup unsweetened wide-flake coconut chips (2 ounces)

3/4 cup pecan halves (2 ounces)

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of sea salt

2 pints coconut ice cream

1 cup coarsely crumbled chocolate wafer cookies

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the coconut and pecans in 2 separate pie plates. Toast the coconut for 5 minutes and the pecans for 10 minutes, until the edges of the coconut start to brown and the pecans are fragrant. Let the coconut and pecans cool, then coarsely chop the pecans.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the granulated sugar with the light corn syrup and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook the syrup over moderately high heat without stirring until a deep amber caramel forms, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully add the cream. When the bubbles subside, stir to combine. Add the vanilla and salt and let cool slightly. Stir in the toasted pecans and all but 1/4 cup of the toasted coconut chips.

Scoop the ice cream into 6 glasses and sprinkle with half of the cookie crumbs. Top with the warm caramel sauce and the remaining cookie crumbs and coconut. Serve right away.

MAKE AHEAD The caramel sauce can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat in the microwave, then stir in the pecans and coconut.








Pan Fried Or Grilled Padron Peppers

June 16, 2013



The Padron Pepper makes a very short annual appearance. “Padrones” are small green peppers, native to Spain. They have a bitter-sweet flavor however, about one per dozen (so it is said) will set you on fire!! We discovered Padrones while visiting Scott when he was studying in Barcelona. Playing “pepper roulette” was a nightly game. No one got seriously burned. Preparing this healthy snack couldn’t be easier. When nicely charred hold by the stem and pop them in your mouth. Good luck!!

Roasted Padron Peppers

1/2 pound Padron peppers. washed and dried

2 tablespoons olive oil

Course salt

Place peppers in a medium bowl and add olive oil. Toss to coat, set aside. Heat a non stick pan and cook peppers for 5-6 minutes (stir) until the skins begin to blister. ( You can also use a grill.) Remove and sprinkle with salt.






















Caprese Eggs Benedict

June 13, 2013


I’m taking a new twist on a traditional Italian staple, The Caprese Salad. This classic is simplicity at it’s best!!! Mild mozzarella, bright seasonal tomatoes and freshly picked basil are the perfect combination of summer flavors. Make it an appetizer…make it a salad….I’m makin’ it for breakfast!!! Leftover’s from your evening party will turn “Eggs Benedict” into  la colazione preferita!

Caprese Eggs Benedict

Servings: 2

2 English muffins, toasted

2 eggs, poached (how to make the perfect poached egg)

1 large tomato, sliced

4 ounces (about half one 8-ounce mozzarella ball), sliced

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly packed

Garnish: chives or ribbons of basil

Hollandaise Sauce       (adapted from Tyler Florence)

Makes 1 cup               (I halved this recipe and  thought it was plenty for 2 servings)

4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice  (or a bit more)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)

Pinch cayenne

Pinch salt

Vigorously whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice together in a heat tolerant bowl and until the mixture is thickened and doubled in volume. Place the bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (or use a double boiler,) the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Continue to whisk rapidly. Be careful not to let the eggs get too hot or they will scramble. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and continue to whisk until the sauce is thickened and doubled in volume. Remove from heat, whisk in cayenne and salt. Cover and place in a warm spot until ready to use for the eggs Benedict. If the sauce gets too thick, whisk in a few drops of warm water before serving.

Chives or ribbons of basil for garnish

To assemble: Place the fresh basil on top of the toasted English muffin.  Top with tomatoes, mozzarella, and poached egg. Salt and pepper to taste. Lightly drizzle the hollandaise sauce over top. Garnish.









Chipotle and Apple Turkey Burgers

June 9, 2013


I am always looking for a good turkey burger. Be honest…. most turkey burgers will leave you choking for liquids!!! You’re welcome…. the search is over. This recipe had me at chipotle. Apples, celery, garlic and onion all combine for a burger even my husband will eat! His reaction,  ”I would order this over any burger.”  The ingredients create a healthy alternative that’s moist, has texture and a bit of a kick!! Serve with baked sweet potato chips! Happy grilling!

Chipolte and Apple Turkey Burgers         (Slightly adapted by The Sprouted Kitchen)

Serves 4

Turkey Burgers
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 green onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 apple
1 pound ground turkey
1 teaspoon chile powder or 1 canned chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped   (I like mine spicy so I used 1 1/2 peppers!)
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
2 tablespoons of fresh chives or thyme leaves

Herb Aioli
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons basil leaves, finely chopped
A healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice

To Serve
Wheat buns, Butter lettuce, tomato slices, avocado slices, caramalized onions

First make the aioli by mixing together all its ingredients and setting it aside.

Heat olive oil over medium to med-high heat and saute the celery, green onions, and garlic until just browned. Turn off heat and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile grate your apple with a course grater. Combine the apple shreds, ground turkey, chili powder or chipotle chili, salt, pepper, chives, and sautéed mix in a large bowl and fold everything in together. Form into 4 patties.

Heat your grill to med.-high. Cook the burgers until the interior reaches 175F on an instant read thermometer, about 5-7 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Grill your bun. Spread with aioli and add the toppings.





I like mine on a wheat pita!

Cucumber Basil Vodka Lemonade

June 6, 2013


Fresh herbs make a wonderful addition to a summer cocktail. Basil adds a savory, sweet note with a peppery edge. Add sliced cucumber, fresh lemon juice and Vodka and you have a refreshing layered cocktail featuring seasonal ingredients. Randy really enjoyed this drink but would prefer Gin. I suggest trying Hendricks. This cucumber infused alcohol enhances the flavor. Garnish with cucumber ribbons basil or mint. Cheers!

Cucumber Basil Vodka Lemonade            (Adapted from wearenotmartha)

Makes 3-4 drinks

1 english cucumber

3 cups water

3 lemons

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 cups vodka

1 small bunch basil

1 cup soda water

Start by cutting your cucumber in half. Peel one half and cut it lengthwise. Scoop the seeds out and chop it into pieces. Put the cucumber pieces in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Put puree in a fine mesh sieve over a container and push with a wooden spoon or spatula, extracting as much liquid as you can from the cucumber puree. Fill a separate bowl or container with 3 cups water. Squeeze 2 lemons into the water and mix in the sugar. Pour lemon and cucumber juice into a pitcher or serving container. Add vodka. Slice remaining cucumber half (un-peeled) and remaining lemon and add to pitcher. Add basil. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve in a glass or jar with ice. Top with a little soda water for some sparkle and some extra basil if you like.







Strip Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

June 1, 2013


This Argentinean sauce is a perfect accompaniment to any grilled meat and doubles as a marinade. With all the herbal components just inches from my back door this became an easy companion to my grilled strip steak. (You may want to grow a herb garden to save tons of money on your fresh summer cooking). While this recipe calls for strip steak any cut will work, especially flank steak. Save any extra sauce for burgers, sandwiches or even grilled veggies!

Steak with Chimichurri Sauce     (adapted from Tim Byres)
Serves 2-3
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 small shallot, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely ground dark-roast coffee beans
2 tablespoons chile powder
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 strip steaks
1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup snipped chives
1 small shallot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
MAKE THE CHIMICHURRI In a medium bowl, whisk the vinegars with the olive oil and sugar. Stir in the shallot, parsley, cilantro, chives and oregano and season with salt and pepper. Let the chimichurri stand for at least 20 minutes and for up to 2 hours.
MEANWHILE, PREPARE THE STEAK In a small bowl, mix the ground coffee with the chile powder, brown sugar, paprika, cumin and salt. Pat the steaks all over with the coffee-chile rub and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Light a grill or preheat a grill pan; oil the grates or pan. Grill the steaks over moderate heat, turning once, until they’re nicely charred outside and medium-rare within, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let rest for 10 minutes.
MAKE THE SALAD In a large bowl, toss the cilantro, parsley, chives and shallot. Add 3 tablespoons of the chimichurri, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat the herbs.
Thinly slice the steaks and arrange on the platter; spoon some of the chimichurri on the meat. Serve with the herb salad. Pass the remaining chimichurri on the side.
MAKE AHEAD The chimichurri sauce can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Asparagus and Ramp Soup

May 26, 2013


Ramps (or wild leeks) are wild onions that resemble scallions. This spring delicacy is usually compared to a combination of onions and garlic. Asparagus, with its grassy green flavors, and ramps make for an elegant, casual soup. The best part of this creamy soup is that no cream is used. The cayenne pepper gives a great kick and the lime adds a fresh finish. Serve for a lovely first course or with crusty bread for a light lunch.

Asparagus and Ramp Soup    (lightly adapted from First Mess)

Serves 4
2 tsp olive oil
12-15 ramps/wild leeks, chopped (or 3 large leeks/white part only)
1 medium waxy potato, peeled and diced
1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 1-2 inch lengths
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
Big splash of dry white wine
Salt, pepper
4-5 cups vegetable stock
1 lime, juiced

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the chopped white ramp bulbs to the pot (or leeks). Stir and cook until slightly softened. Add the diced potato, asparagus and cayenne. Saute the vegetables for about a minute. Add wine, simmer for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a few more minutes.

Add the vegetable stock to the pot. Cover the vegetables by about an inch and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer the soup until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Blend the soup in batches in your blender to puree. Add the lime juice to the pureed soup and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. To serve, bring the pureed soup to a boil and serve. Garnish with asparagus curls, chives and sour cream (if desired).










Marinated Buffalo Mozzarella and Tomato

May 22, 2013



Plenty was a highly anticipated cookbook released in 2010 and has become one of my favorites.   This recipe with its first-rate ingredients, combines a beautiful array of herbs, cheese and fruit. Pairing creamy buffalo mozzarella (do not substitute) with the interesting flavors of toasted fennel seeds, oregano, basil, garlic and lemon zest, plus juicy ripe (peak-season) tomatoes, creates one of my all time favorite recipes to share with you. Last summer I came upon this recipe at the end of tomato season and waited to post until the markets were once again overflowing with those fresh-off-the-vine fruits. Well here it is… enjoy this appetizer for your summer entertaining.

Marinated Buffalo Mozzarella Salad     (adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Serves 2-4

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

grated zest of 1 lemon

15 basil leaves, shredded

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

1 garlic clove, minced

4 teaspoons best-quality extra virgin olive oil

1 pound buffalo mozzarella

2 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges (or a handful of cherry tomatoes)

Salt and pepper

Make the marinade by combining the fennel seeds, zest, basil, oregano, garlic and olive oil in a medium bowl or plastic bag. Break the mozzarella into large chunks with your hands and add it the bowl with the marinade. Smear the mozzarella with the marinade until well coated. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes in the fridge. Serve by arranging mozzarella on a large serving platter, along with marinade. Scatter tomatoes across the platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread.





Soft-Shell Crabs with Aioli Sauce and Sweet Onion

May 16, 2013



Now…while most seafood is available during any season, the highly anticipated soft shell crabs remain seasonal. They are only available from late April thru summer when the Blue Crabs shed their shells in preparation to grow new ones. Harvesting the crab before the hard shell arrives makes every inch of my favorite crustacean edible. These culinary delights are briny yet sweet with a gentle crunch and their unique flavor calls for a simple preparation. In honor of Paul Kahan and his newly crowned James Beard Award for “America’s Most Outstanding Chef,” this is his favorite way to serve these culinary delicacies.

Soft-Shell Crabs with Aioli Sauce and Sweet Onion       (from Paul Kahan)

Serves 8

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 small shallot, minced

1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1 small Vidalia or other sweet onion, cut into thin rings

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 cups rice flour

8 soft-shell crabs, cleaned and prepped (thank you Diamond Seafood!))

*(See Note): Capers, fried (cook in canola oil for about 5 minutes) 

                       Baguette slices, lightly toasted  

In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar with the shallot and 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Add the onion rings, season with salt and pepper and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the lemon zest and juice. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the aioli until chilled.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil until shimmering. Spread the rice flour in a shallow bowl. Lightly dust the soft-shell crabs with rice flour and fry over high heat, turning once, until browned and crisp, 6 to 7 minutes. Drain the fried crabs on paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the marinated onion rings to a serving platter. Top with the fried soft-shell crabs and serve with the lemon aioli.

MAKE AHEAD: The lemon aioli can be refrigerated overnight.
*NOTE: Make it your own. I added fried capers, set the crab on toasted baguette (soaks up all the yummy juices).




Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

May 9, 2013


Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert that literally means “cooked cream.”  Requiring only a few ingredients and just minutes to make, this is an easy ending to your meal that will always impress. When Randy heard balsamic vinegar he was a bit skeptical, however, adding a tablespoon of sugar and a touch of pepper softens the flavor while giving it a little kick. He is now a convert! I promise this silky, smooth panna cotta will be your go-to dessert with all its creative options for toppings and plating.

 Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries     (adapted by Ina Garten)

Serves 4                                             

1 1/2 tablespoons cold water

1/2 packet (1 teaspoon) unflavored gelatin powder

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon

2 pints (4 cups) sliced fresh strawberries

2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated lemon zest, for serving

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on 1 1/2 tablespoons of cold water. Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the gelatin to dissolve.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup of the cream, the yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. Heat the remaining 3/4 cup of cream and the 1/3 cup of sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stir to dissolve. Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Pour into 4 (6 to 8-ounce) ramekins or glasses and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, and pepper 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving. (You don’t want the strawberries to get too soft.) Set aside at room temperature.

To serve, run a small knife around each dessert in the ramkein and dip the bottom of each ramekin quickly in a bowl of hot tap water. Invert each ramekin onto a dessert plate and surround the panna cotta with strawberries. Garnish with mint or shredded basil leaves (delish!) and freshly grated lemon zest (ooops… forgot to zest before the photo, but imagine the how pretty). Serve.