My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

"To Master The Art . . .

I was assisting two friends of mine in hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for about thirty people here in Chicago when I met one of the guests named David. By the time I was introduced to him, he knew that I was a Julia Child cook and blogger, so they asked if I'd been to "the Julia Child play."

"The what?" I queried.

The play about Julia Child. "I think it's called 'Mastering the Art' or something like that",  he said. It was a play about Julia Child and her husband when they lived in postwar France and her discovery of cooking.  "But it's been sold out for a long time," said another one of the Davids. 

"To Master the Art"

He said that the theatre might be adding a couple of performances and that I should call the Timeline Theatre the very next day. Maybe I could get a ticket. . . .

I called the theatre the next day, the very minute the box office opened. All performances were sold out, But! . . alas! .They had added one more performance on December 15th and had only two tickets left. . .
"Did I want them?"

"Yes . . . innocently . . . Implicitly. . . .

My bestie foodie friend, Liane, accompanied me on a blisteringly cold night to a performance of "To Master the Art".  Within the first thirty seconds of this performance, I had tears streaming down my face. The performance was that stunning. Liane was, hopefully, not embarrassed by my reaction; I doubt that she was surprised by it. (After all, that's why I brought my bestie foodie friend to accompany me to the world premier of this performance.)

Needless to say, the performances were brilliant throughout. Whenever there was a scene in a restaurant, a kitchen, or the Cordon Bleu, the audience was permeated with exquisite different aromas: roasted chicken in tarragon, and, (I swear) the smell of beurre blanc blasted the audience.

The theatre was small and intimate, perhaps six rows seated in-the-round, so we could really enjoy every facial expression. (I'm dying to see what some chef-musician wanna-be will do to Julia's vocal line when this is crucified into an off-Broadway musical -- and don't think for a moment that I won't be the one to take a stab at doing it!)

Please know that "To Master the Art" the stage performance was written BEFORE the movie "Julia and Julia" - - that abominable, trite thing. 

I'm truly sad that I saw the last performance of "To Master the Art."  During the next two-and-a-half hours of the performance, I laughed, was surprised, cried some more and continued to be overwhelmed  - - - at how much joy can be obtained from food. . . . Such joy from food! 

But, you know, . . . . the same thing happens whenever I prepare any one of Julia's recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Whenever I follow Julia's precise instructions, pure unalloyed joy -- and some euphoria - - are always the results. How many endeavors such as that can one claim?

"To Master the Art" conveyed precisely what I've felt about Julia's work all along. That's why I wept within the first thirty seconds.

"To Master the Art" will be a huge hit, mark my words.
My only frustration is this - -

- - that everyone I truly love didn't get to see it with me.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kofta Balls in Tomato Sauce

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare . . .

Did you know that devotees of Krishna have a cuisine all their own? Go to any restaurant owned by Krishna devotees and the food items will be readily identifiable.

For about ten years, I lived in Dallas Texas which has a large, vibrant Krishna community. Every year on World Food Day, they would provide free meals all day long and I volunteered my services in the kitchen of their gorgeous restaurant, Kalachandji's. So, that’s how I became familiar with their cuisine.

First of all, one will notice a vegetarian vein. Being strict believers in the principle of karma and reincarnation, nothing is served that involves the killing of animals. "Every meal gives the gift of life," is one of their beliefs.  Dairy products are used but eggs are not.

Being that the Krishna movement is a form of Hinduism, most food items will have an Indian flavor to them with one notable difference. In addition to meat and ova, Krishna devotees (along with Jains,) strictly refrain from eating onions or garlic. It has something to do with them being offensive to God or that they arouse sexual desires. Maybe both. But whatever the reason, one will find Krishna (Vedantic) and Jainist cuisine without garlic or onions.

I think Julia would have looked upon their food beliefs with suspicion, especially the non-use of garlic or onions. She had a disdain for anyone who "feared food" in any shape or form. (Conversely, did not she "fear" vegetarian or vegan cuisine?) However, the means by which our Vedantic friends did utilize and enjoy their cuisine would have, I believe, eventually brought her around. 

In the place of garlic and onions, you’ll find the ever-present and very unique spice called asafetida. It is the powered, dried gum resin of a herbaceous plant and, in its raw state, has a very strong odor reminiscent of . . . well . . . cat urine.

Believe me, if you spill it or leave it uncovered, your dwelling will smell like a tom-cat has left his mark. However, once cooked, it does impart a musky, evocative flavor reminiscent of onions and "that" flavor is the truly the mark of Krishna cuisine.

One of my favorite dishes is their Kofta Balls in Tomato Sauce. We served many cafeteria trays of it every year on World Food Day in Dallas and it was always a staple in the countless daily meals that the Krishna community provided to the homeless and shut-ins. A more tasty, appealing, nutritious, and inexpensive entree would be really hard to find.

It’s a first cousin to spaghetti and meatballs but with a Vedantic twist. Garbanzo bean flour (besan) is mixed with spices, including the ever-present asafetida, grated cauliflower, grated cabbage, rolled into balls and deep fried. These are served with a flavorful tomato sauce (yes, with asafetida) over pasta.

Oh, and another quality about asafetida is that it prevents flatulence. We've got cauliflower, cabbage and bean flour going on here, but nary a toot follows the meal. Maybe that's the non-offensive part.

The result is meat-less meatballs that are surprisingly juicy. Very juicy in fact. I frequently prepared this dish when I was a Franciscan friar and, even though one funny friar referred to my kofta balls as "coughed-up balls", they all enjoyed them. Especially the funny friar.

Start with 1 ½ cups of besan (garbanzo bean flour), Soy flour could probably be substituted.
1 Tbs garam masala (an Indian spice mixture usually containing cloves, cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek and coriander)
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½  tsp turmeric
½ tsp asafetida
½ tsp cayenne

Mix in:

2 cups grated cauliflower (which is really 1 whole cauliflower)
2 cups grated cabbage

Mix it all together with your hands and really squoosh it together. (I like to don latex gloves for hand-mixing and squooshing) The grated cauliflower and cabbage exude just enough juice to bring it all together. You’ll have a moist paste which can be formed into 1-inch balls.

Tomato Sauce:

1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium carrot cut into 6 pieces
½ tsp asafetida
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves

Fry the spices in the oil and butter, add the tomatoes, carrot, and water. Simmer for 30 minutes. The carrot draws out a lot of acidity. Discard the carrot when the sauce is finished. Taste one and you'll be surprised how sour it is. Italian grandmas have done the same with their tomato gravy for generations.

Fry the kofta balls in hot oil for at least 12 minutes, 6 minutes on each side, until dark golden brown. (You really want to avoid undercooked insides, so don't make the balls any more than an inch in diameter.)

Incidentally, Krishna cooks use clarified butter called "ghee" for deep-frying. Although deep-frying in ghee is incredibly rich and appealing, it can be hugely expensive for a one-shot deal. Trust me, Julia would have swooned had she seen a Krishna deep-fryer filled with clarified butter.

Place them in the tomato sauce for 10 minutes and serve over pasta.

Devotees offer a prayer over each food item and set aside one serving of each recipe as an offering to Krishna. However, I never saw what they mysteriously did with it afterward.

If there's a Krishna temple in your city, check it out and see if they have a restaurant --  many of them do. I’ve always appreciated their unique cuisine. The smell of jasmine incense is usually wafting in from the adjoining temple giving the restaurant its own other-worldly ambiance.

Aside from its very identifiable flavor, thanks to the asafetida, there’s just something very appealing and special about consuming “spiritualized” food, regardless of the faith from whence it comes.

Hare Krishna . . .

Sunday, November 28, 2010

British Cuisine

About three thousand years ago, a young shepherd in France named Jacques-Francois was tending his sheep when one of the lambs wandered from the flock and into a cave. Not wanting to lose the lost lamb, Jacques-Francois followed the lamb into the cave and promptly got lost.

All he had with him was a leather satchel full of sheep's milk. After some effort, he was finally able to make his way out of the cave but left the satchel full of sheep's milk in the cave. About two months later, he returned to find the satchel filled with a tangy, wonderfully marbled Roquefort cheese.

It was delicious and French cuisine was born.

Meanwhile, a shepherd in England named Clive was tending his sheep among the green, misty hills of Cambridgeshire when one of them wandered into a cave as well. (The only difference was that Clive's leather satchel was filled with cow's milk.) About two months later, Clive returned to find the satchel filled with a delectable, tangy, beautifully marbled Stilton cheese.

He threw the cheese out, boiled the leather satchel for three hours and ate it.

British cuisine was born. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dixie Dressing

Probably no other holiday invokes family food traditions more than Thanksgiving Day. Having been raised in The South, I can certainly attest that we had ours. One of the most unique and appealing recipes came from my paternal grandmother in Texas who would make a cornbread dressing chocked with jalapeños, ground sausage, extra spices and lots of green onions -- definitely the epitome of a Texan food item.

Here's a photo of my grandmother with her brood: (I'm on the right.)

For years, I thought this recipe came from my Aunt Dixie since we would often have Thanksgiving dinner at her house. It was only a few years ago that I learned that it was actually my grandmother's recipe. I've often referred to it as "Dixie Dressing" and since it hails from The South, I see little need to change the name.

I've made this creation for folks near and wide, from New York to Chicago to Toronto (where, incidentally, Thanksgiving is observed on the third Monday in October) and everyone really seems to love it.

Like a lot of cooks, I've never really followed a recipe for this. I doubt that my grandmother ever had one written down either. A couple of friends recently asked for a recipe, so as I was making it last night I immortalized my grandmother's creation.

This recipe will probably yield about twenty servings:


I like this recipe for cornbread as it doesn't contain any flour, yielding a really "corny" tasting cornbread. Make it the day before if you like.

4 cups yellow cornmeal
4 cups buttermilk
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Mix all ingredients together, pour into a greased cast iron skillet and bake at 425 for 25-30 minutes. 


1 recipe of cornbread, crumbled
8 slices white bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, toasted
2 lbs Jimmy Dean ground sausage (use the hot variety if you really want an extra kick.)
4 cups chopped green onions, (including all the green part)
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped parsley
1/2 stick butter

Brown the sausage, add it to the cornbread and bread. Saute the vegetables (except the parsley) in butter and add all the vegetables to the mixture.
Then add:

3 Tbs ground sage
1 Tbs dried thyme
1 tsp ground bay leaves
(or: 4 Tbs poultry seasoning)

5-6 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 1/2 cups (12 oz jar) diced pickled jalapeños

Mix everything together in the large pan that you'll bake it in. (I like to don latex gloves and really get in there with my hands.) You should end up with a pretty moist mixture.

Note: You might want to add only 1 cup of diced jalapeños at first, taste it and add more if you want more of a punch. Keep in mind that the heat of the jalapeños and the taste of the spices will increase when you bake it. If you're making it for Texans, tump in the whole jar.
For New Yorkers, try half the amount. You don't want to hear any kvetching.
For Canadians, it really doesn't matter; they're too polite to express an opinion either way. 

Cover with foil, bake at 375 for 30 minutes, uncover and bake for another 30 minutes.

This year, I was asked to make it gluten-free. Since the cornbread doesn't contain any flour, all I had to do was use gluten-free bread. I found some bread made with brown rice flour. It worked fine.

This dressing is really rich and tasty. Don't be alarmed if it appears a little, well -- greasy.
We like it that way in the Land of Dixie.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Smoothies

While recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking might not be the healthiest things to eat on a consistent basis, here's a healthy way to balance it all out.

Green Smoothies. It's the newest thing on the food scene. Just google it and you'll see what I mean.

They say we're supposed to be eating a lot more fresh fruits and veggies these days. We used to have to eat five servings per day, but that's been bumped up to seven-to-nine now. Our modern, mass-produced, hormone-inflated, genetically modified produce basically has the nutritional value of sawdust compared to fifty years ago.

So, green smoothies are a great way to get your green veggies and fruit into you. Trust me. They're great.

Start with some tart, fleshy fruit. I keep frozen mango on hand, but pineapple, oranges, peaches, bananas or a combination of them all will also do.

I don't like apples or pears in smoothies for they seem to produce mealy, pulpy smoothies.

Now add your greens. Here, we've got fresh spinach, collard greens and parsley.

I know that sounds strange, but trust me, the tart fleshy fruit takes away any "greenness" of the raw greens, even the bitter ones. No matter what greens I use, I always add fresh parsley, stems and all. They really make for a tasty smoothie. Believe it or not, cilantro & grapefruit is also one of my favorites.

I also add a knob of ginger and some lemon juice to give it a "ping".

Add some water (or fruit juice) and blend it up.

If you're blender isn't a heavy-duty, powerful monster like mine, be sure to blend it a good long time. The longer you blend it, the smoother it will be.

There you go. You'll be surprised how good it tastes.

Drink two of these a day and you'll be way ahead of the fruit and vegetable requirement. Not to mention that you'll feel a lot better and it'll curb your appetite throughout the day.

And when it comes time for Boeuf Bourguignon, you can enjoy it guilt free.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Butter and Budgie

"Food should be cooked with lots of love and lots of butter."

My grandmother, "Budgie", had those words hanging in black wrought-iron on the wall of her kitchen for as long as I remember.

From age 10 to 18, I was raised by my mom and Budgie. 

A more loving, extroverted, exceedingly happy woman would be hard to find. She was a frantic, joyous, Edith Bunker-Hazel-Ellen Degeneres being all rolled in one spastic whirlwind of exuberant overwhelming LOVE whenever you met her.

Budgie was THE most appealing person you'd have ever met.

Needless to say, such a lover of everyone could hardly spend any time in the kitchen. As a wee lad, I can still see her plopping a pot on the stove and then scurrying out to enjoy any guests; to revel in anyone who might happen by.

The quality or quantity of food seldom mattered as far as Budgie was concerned. If there was company, there was enough to feed them. It was the company that mattered; not the stuff in the kitchen.  Anyway, everyone loved her and any experience to "be with Budgie" was in-and-of-itself what any meal at her house was all about.

I never recall any meal being served in dishes on Budgie's table and passed around.
No. Never.

Whether there were two or two-dozen guests, everyone filled their plates from pots and pans from the stove. Never, EVER was a meal served from anything than the kitchen stove, from the pot or pan from it was prepared. We'd never have a Sunday dinner without several guests, but everyone would have to file into the kitchen, scoop out the pot roast, potatoes and carrots from that speckled navy-blue roasting pan on the stove and then scoop out some mac-n-cheese and then some gravy from the pot laying beside it to spoon over white bread.

Every Sunday before church, I'd hear her searing a big chuck roast. She'd have it in the oven, surrounded by potatoes, carrots and onions, and whisk us all off to Sunday School (She had been the Sunday School teacher at the local Baptist church since 1945 - - none of her children or grandchildren had ever NOT attended Budgie's Sunday School classes!)

Back then, a Baptist preacher gave a good-ol' 45-minute sermon. I remember when we got a new, young preacher who liked to give shorter sermons. This was back in 1972 or so. Budgie invited him and his family over for Sunday dinner. She told him, "Now, Brother Thornton, I have my roast timed for your sermon. If you preach too long, you're gonna get a burnt offering. If you don't preach long enough, there might be a blood sacrifice!"

Then she just laughed and gave him a big hug.

To this day, I prefer to serve a meal buffet style or to plate everything up in the kitchen. To place an entree and sides in serving dishes to be passed around -- well -- that just seems to be so inefficient.

I still recall all the Thanksgiving meals and of every Sunday dinner with everyone traipsing through the kitchen past the aqua Formica counter tops and serving themselves from the stove.

It never mattered to anyone, I guess.

And I never knew what butter was until I was 25 years old. 

Budgie was always there, chirping, laughing, hugging and making everyone feel like they were the most loved person on this earth. She really had that innate ability to instantly make you feel as though you were the most appreciated and loved being in the whole wide world. Her love toward you was always genuine; the moment you'd walk in her door, she'd let out a little shriek of delight, run up and hug you, "Oh, Baeebeee!"

She had lots of "sayings". One of her favorites was, "If you ain't lovin', you ain't livin'!"
And then she'd laugh and say, "Now, that's from the 1st Book of Budgie!"

To this day, just about everyone in my home town will probably give you a first-hand account about how much Budgie loved them.

Budgie passed away, quietly, at the age of 91 in 2002.

I was SO extremely fortunate to have her as a primary caregiver since the age of ten. Budgie was always my best friend; she was my soul mate. She and I loved writing letters to each other ever since I was a child. We continued this practice well into my adulthood and into her old age. I've saved all her letters and she, apparently, save quite a few of mine.

I have 865 of her letters dating to 1981.
They're an incredible treasure of wit, love, and wisdom.

Oh, and I was 25 years old when I first tasted butter. I do not once remember Budgie ever using butter. Not once. "Oleo" was much less expensive. Margarine could serve more people and that what was important.

I never obtained any "grandmothery" recipes from Budgie. The woman spent as little time in the kitchen as possible. The minute she'd put something on the stove, she'd scurry out to the front door to greet a guest or to grab the phone for a 2-hour chat with one of her best friends (Louise, Bess, Clint, or Claire) There was the occasional root-beer float and then she'd whisk my brother and me away to wade in a creek or pick wild blackberries.

Recipes handed down from my Budgie?
Never.None at all.
Same goes for her two daughters, my mom and aunt.

She had that wrought-iron plaque in her kitchen saying  
"Food should be cooked with lots of love and lots of butter."

Budgie never, ever used butter that I can recall.

She made up for it with lots and lots of pure, unfettered love.

More than you can imagine,.
An over-abundance.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Yes, I have actually tried "balut" -- that infamous, popular food item in the Philippines in which a halfway developed duck egg is cooked and eaten.

I've always been very interested in trying all kinds of strange food items. So, one day I was presented with a balut egg and actually took the opportunity to try it.

Here is the cooked, peeled balut egg.

Strangely enough, it smells a lot like freshly boiled crab.

Here, you can see the yolk and the white:

After separating the yolk part from the white, one comes across some of the "meaty" part of the egg.

And then, there's the partially-formed baby duck thing.
And yes, I tried a bite of it. Actually, it's not as horrible as you'd think. It tastes like a very rich egg mixed with chicken liver.

I don't particularly care for chicken livers at all, so I only ate one little nibble of it. However, I can see how this would be a very nutritious food item.

I wonder if Julia Child ever tried it? Balut a l'Orange?

I don't think so. . .

Monday, November 1, 2010

Scampi Fra Diavolo

Not feeling up to a full-fledged Julia entree and also wanting something really tasty without involving a heavy cream sauce, Scampi Fra Diavolo truly fit the bill.

Italian isn't one of my languages, but I think it means something like The Devil's Brother's Shrimp. It's a light, full-flavored pasta recipe and, quite frankly, would probably be a big hit at  - -  ahem - - The Olive Garden. The "devil" part obviously comes from the hit of red pepper in the recipe.

I searched through a number of recipes for this dish and combined what I thought would work best. Some recipes called for just a whisper of red pepper (well, that's no fun) while Emeril LaGasse's called for an overblown, theatrical Bam! of the stuff.

One recipe didn't have much in the way of tomato sauce, others had little fresh herbage.
Julia never published this recipe but that didn't stop me from employing what I've learned from her. I used her technique of reducing the white wine, then reducing the diced tomatoes to concentrate the flavors, and adding the shrimp at the very last minute. French techniques to make an Italian dish -- why not?

Here's my recipe:
  • 1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus additional as needed
  • 2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup white wine (I like Sauvignon Blanc for cooking)
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Saute the chopped onion in olive oil until soft, add the garlic and red pepper and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the white wine and simmer on high heat until reduced to a thick consistency. Add the diced tomatoes, salt and reduce until thickened. Reduce heat, add the shrimp and simmer until the shrimp are barely done. Stir in the basil and parsley just before serving. Serve over thin spaghetti and drizzle each serving with olive oil.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Morning Scene

This is the view from my balcony on the 50th floor of Marina Towers in Chicago.
I really love this old building. . .

Friday, October 29, 2010

You're Never Too Old . . .

You're never too old to learn new tricks. I'd like to think that Julia Child kept learning new cookery ideas into her nineties.

There always seems to be tricks-of-the-trade when it comes to prepping food items. I love watching cooking shows and reading endless cookbooks. When I learn a new shortcuts, all the better.

When I was a restaurant manager in my late twenties, a little woman with Down syndrome showed me a really cool method that I have never seen or heard of from any chef, book, or TV program. To this day, no one has ever demonstrated this. . .

She had been a prep cook for years at the same restaurant. One day, I was helping her by prepping a whole case of grapes, picking them off the stems. She brushed me aside, took an entire bunch of grapes between her hands and rubbed them back and forth, quickly and firmly, between her hands. The grapes fell off the stem and into a bowl almost by magic.

Try it! In just a few seconds, you'll have a bowl of grapes and the "grape bones" left behind. To this day, I've never known of any TV cook or chef know of that technique. They're too busy telling us to wipe every mushroom off with a damp towel - - - like any of them have actually ever done that to a whole case of mushrooms - - - bah!

We love pomegranates nowadays but those delicious, pulpy kernels are a pain to get out. Solution: Simply cut the pomegranate in half across its hemisphere, hold the cut side down over a bowl and whack the skin side with something heavy. (I prefer the side of a large cleaver.)  Really give its backside a good spanking all over. The kernels will magically tumble into the bowl -- every one of them -- and not a bit of the bitter pith.  (Thank you, Nigella Lawson, for that tip.)

Here's something I learned just recently. Grape tomatoes. I really enjoy them because they taste just about as close to home-grown tomatoes as you're gonna get. However, one can spent an inordinate amount of time cutting each of the little boogers in half.

Here's the solution:

Thanks to Chuck Hughes of Chuck's Day Off for that one. It's brilliant.

I would love to think that some young kitchen assistant showed him how to do that.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I recall one of Julia’s cooking segments which was a nod to vegetarian cuisine. In this program, she acknowledged that some folks don’t eat meat, so she acquiesced and offered a vegetarian option. It consisted of crepes, sautéed vegetables and grated cheese all layered in a mold which was then filled with a cream and egg mixture and baked.

Cheese, crepes, eggs, and cream. That was Julia’s foray into vegetarianism.

During the program, she acknowledged that there were vegetarians who don’t eat any animal products such as her beloved cream, eggs and cheese. She said, “In that case, I suppose you could serve them something like -- oh, I don't know -- maybe granola with tomato sauce.  A better option would be not to invite these people to dinner at all.”

Doncha just love her?

I have to admit that I eat a do vegan diet much of the time and even enjoy it. Eating a healthy, plant-based diet at my age makes me feel good and enables me to enjoy Julia’s boeuf Bourguignon without any guilt, so there you go.

Awhile back, my friend Diane had heard about the Raw Food diet and wanted to try it. Diane loves just about anything New-Agey and enthusiastically wants to try it. (We love that about her.) From reincarnation to Reiki, from crystals to colonics, our Diane is "in on it."

The Raw Food restaurants in Chicago were awfully expensive and trendy. Here's a menu example.  So, I decided to prepare and serve an entire Raw Food meal for our Diane and friends. Everything was plant-based. Nothing was cooked.

Julia wholly disdained a “fear of food”. Can you imagine what she would think of the Raw Food movement in which there’s not only a fear of any animal products, but also a fear of cooking food? 

Oh my gosh!

So, from Julia's boeuf Bourguignon to a complete Raw Food meal, here we go.

Appetizers: Portobello mushrooms stuffed with macadamia nuts and a sauce from dried tomatoes, dates and fresh basil, then dehydrated a bit. These were awfully appealing and very rich. They could have been an entree.

Tomatoes stuffed with raw peanuts, parsley and mint. Very light, but packed with flavor.

Not pictured: Lettuce wraps stuffed with mashed avocado, raw corn and cilantro. (From here on out, I will always add raw corn to my guacamole. It’s fantastic that way.)

Main course: “Fettuccini” and “meatballs”.

The “fettuccini” was comprised of shaved yellow squash that had been marinated in olive oil and lemon juice. The sauce was the aforementioned sun dried tomato-date-basil concoction but with the addition of garlic. The “meatballs” were made from ground cashews, a bit of the sauce, and then dehydrated. It was all served on baby spinach. Again, this was very, very rich and tasty.

That was one recipe that I got off the internet. It was for Salsa Finta and Almond Polpetta, but I adapted it for cashews to make it richer. Also, I'm not fond of the texture or taste of almonds.

Dessert: Ice cream made from pureed macadamia nuts and mango served with fresh raspberries and pomegranate. It was a big hit.

I was pretty proud if this meal. A meat-lover enjoyed it. Everyone did. 

Yes, I admire the Raw Food diet but, my goodness, it is time consuming. A lot of recipes call for beans and grains, all of which have to be sprouted since you’re not cooking them. (If you're wanting to make flat-breads or tortillas out of those grains, they have to be sprouted, ground, pureed with sprouted beans and then dehydrated for 24-36 hours. Whew!)

What I do like about Raw Food is that everything in the recipes is something one should be eating. Take a look at the menu above. Every ingredient is good for you. That’s pretty remarkable.

Yes, it’s tasty. Yes, it’s all good for you. But one bite of Julia’s steak au poivre and you realize what food should truly be about. I would never find myself ecstatic over a raw, vegan meal. Appreciative, yes; enthusiastic, perhaps; delirious? hardly.

However, I am continually astounded whenever I prepare Julia's recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (Not to mention appreciative, enthusiastic and delirious.)

On that note, if you’re serving steak au poivre and you have friends who are strict vegans, take Julia’s sage advice: Simply don’t invite them.

Problem solved.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sortilège - Still Life

Here's a nice photo of the Canadian liqueur, Sortilège. 

It's that incredible blend of Canadian whiskey and maple syrup liqueur. You can order it here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Paella to the Rescue

Sometimes, sheer necessity can decide a menu. My apartment doesn't have a dishwasher and only one studio-sized sink in the kitchen. After Saturday night's Julia extravaganza, the last thing I wanted to do was to face any more dishes to wash. I'd been soaking and washing dishes for two days.
What to do? 

I realized that I had a tiny plastic box of saffron that had been hanging around in my cupboard for about ten years. Presented with that, paella was the answer.

I'd never made paella before but, to me, it seemed like a Spanish risotto free-for-all. A sofrito of Cuisinarted onion, tomato and garlic went into olive oil. Chorizo, chicken and red bell pepper were close behind. Medium-grain rice was sauteed. Soaked saffron, chicken stock, turmeric, and pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika) did the cooking. 

By the way, if you don't have pimentón on hand, get some. It's just about the sweetest, smokiest thing ever and can zhoozh up just about anything.  

Shrimp came at the end. Lemon wedges, parsley and olive oil were festooned. 

One pan on the table, two plates, two forks, a good friend, laughter . . .  I can see why the Spanish are such happy, relaxed people. We couldn't stop eating.

And the dishes are done and put away as I'm writing this.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bavarois au Chocolat Blanc - White Chocolate Bavarian Cream

On Saturday night, I had four friends over for another Julia Child meal. I knew that my friend, John, really likes Julia’s boeuf Bourguignon, so that was definitely on the menu. Besides, it’s easy to serve; no fiddly last-minute sauces to prepare.

Here’s a table setting.

Yes, I had a course in napkin folding when I went to restaurant management/cooking school many years ago. This one, the “artichoke fold” is the only one I remember.

John's wife, Carla, has to have salad with every meal and here’s one of our favorites: Spinach with grape tomatoes, mangoes, with an orange-balsamic vinaigrette. Besides, I really like the primary colors of red and yellow on my blue plates.

And here you go: Heaven on a plate. Julia’s boeuf Bourguignon and asparagus with Julia’s beurre blanc.
Incidentally, beurre blanc tastes fantastic on boeuf Bouguignon. I don't know if it's ever been served that way; perhaps I'm just being an obscene American, but maybe it should.

Dessert was my favorite (something you’ll rarely hear me say.) I’ve been preparing Julia’s Bavarian creams in all their variations: Orange, strawberry, plain, almond praline, and chocolate. There were no more variations left in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I had done 'em all.

My favorite cookie is a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie – why not make a white chocolate macadamia nut Bavarian cream?

I melted lots of white chocolate into the custard which became the Bavarian cream. For the topping, toasted macadamia nuts went into the whipped cream. Here it is.

Perhaps I need to figure out a way to make it more presentable. This sort of has a Rachel Ray glop-n-slop thing going on here. Next time, I’ll pipe the whipped cream around the sides and mound the nuts on top.

But, holeee COW this was incredible! Somehow the white chocolate caused the Bavarian cream to have a double layer. One layer was fluffy, as it should be, and a larger layer was thick and custardy with white chocolate. It's definitely my favorite dessert now.

Now this is what I love. After making all five types of Julia's Bavarian creams, I can honestly say that she taught me how to make a Bavarian cream. Now that I had Mastered the Art of Bavarian creams, it was time to venture out on my own.

So, here's the recipe for Bavarois au Chocolat Blanc:

2 Pkgs gelatin
1/2 cup warm milk

Scatter the gelatin over the warm milk. Stir until dissolved.

7 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar

Gradually beat in the sugar into the egg yolks and continue beating for 2 to 3 minutes until mixture is pale yellow and forms a ribbon.

1 1/2 cups boiling milk
8 oz. white chocolate chips (2/3 pkg)
2 tsp vanilla

Beat the milk in a thin stream of droplets into the egg yolk mixture. Pour into a large saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir with a rubber spatula until mixture thickens enough to coat the spoon lightly. Do not overheat or egg yolks will scramble. Remove from heat and immediately add the milk and gelatin mixture, white chocolate chips and vanilla, stirring until the gelatin and chocolate have dissolved completely.

5 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 Tb granulated sugar
Large bowl of ice.

Beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the hot custard. Set over the ice. Fold delicately with the spatula frequently while mixture is cooling to keep it from separating. When cold and almost but not quite set, proceed with the recipe.

1/2 cup chilled whipping cream

Beat the cream over the preceding bowl of ice with a balloon whisk until it has doubled in volume. Fold in the whipped cream into the custard. Line a 9-inch springform cake tin with plastic wrap, leaving extra plastic wrap over the sides. Pour the mixture into the tin, gently place the overhanging plastic wrap over the mixture and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

1 cup chilled whipping cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup toasted macadamia nuts, chopped.

Beat the cream as before, adding the sugar halfway during the process and fold in the chopped nuts once the cream is fully whipped. Unmold the chilled Bavarian cream on a serving platter. Spread the whipped cream and nut mixture over the top and serve.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nigella's Roasted Seafood

Besides Julia, I also enjoy the talents of Nigella Lawson whose motto is “maximum pleasure with minimal effort.” Yes, I find a lot of pleasure in the maximum effort that some of Julia’s creations entail. But there are times when one is pressed for time, when the workday leaves you a bit worse for wear, and the idea of creating a perfect beouf bourguignon seems insurmountable.
Enter Nigella.

I have made a few of her recipes and, yes, they are amazingly effortless and tasty. (Her chocolate Guinness cake is absolutely astounding and, true to form, is very easy to create. On a recent episode of her new program, Nigella Kitchen, she featured a “roasted seafood” that caught my attention. I made it after a harrowing day at work and am very glad I did.

No fiddly techniques are required whatsoever. Bung the following items in an oiled roasting pan: A couple of potatoes cut into one-inch chunks, a sliced onion, a lemon cut into quarter-inch bits, and a head of garlic separated into cloves. Bake at 400 for an hour. You don’t need to peel the lemon, garlic or potatoes (see? easy-peasy). The lemon peel caramelizes and the garlic cloves become crunchy savory-sweet morsels of yum.

After an hour, scatter your choice of seafood over the roasted bits. Nigella used clams (in the shell), squid and unpeeled shrimp. The heat from the roasted potatoes, etc, gets the seafood jump-started. Give the pan a splash of white wine (about a quarter cup) and return to the oven for 10 minutes.

I used a half pound each of scallops, shrimp and a couple of salmon filets. I’m always wary of using clams because one gritty clam can ruin a whole meal. I love squid but the seafood lady didn’t have any.

Plunk the entire roasting dish on the table and dig in.

Even Nigella has mentioned Julia’s motto:
Everything in moderation . . . including moderation.

So, in the vein of obligatory immoderation, I served Nigella’s creation with Julia’s beurre blanc. Each diner was supplied with a bowl of it for dipping and slathering. What a meal!

Trust me, Nigella’s roasted seafood didn’t require it. Lemony, garlicky, savory seafood. It’s pleasurable enough on its own.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sortilège - The Best Liqueur Ever

A few years ago, my friend, Jack, was touring Montréal and came across this very unique liqueur called Sortilège. The tour guide explained that Sortilège had been produced in Montréal for over three hundred years and could only be obtained there in Québec. So, naturally, he bought a bottle of it and brought it home for his friends to sample at the next dinner party.

I was amazed the first time I tried Sortilège. (By the way, sortilège means "magic spell" in French -- a very appropriate name for this elixir.) It's a blend of Canadian whiskey and maple syrup liqueur. Got that? When you taste it, you first get a hit of sweet, vaporous, whiskey followed by . . .
. . . pancakes!

Seriously, the maple syrup flavor comes through after the whiskey makes itself known. Every time I've ever served it, it's been a big hit. People love this stuff. As a matter of fact, when it comes to distilled spirits, I've been more of a gin-and-tonic guy, have never liked "anything brown" (whiskey, bourbon, Scotch) but Sortilège was the exception. 

And yes, you can obtain it outside Québec. It's a little difficult, as distributors seem to come and go, but you can get it. Click here -- this seems to be a pretty good price for it. ($19.99 for a 375 ml bottle.)

A couple of years ago, I ordered a case of it and it was the best money I ever spent. A bottle of it makes the best gift ever. No one's ever heard of it but, like I said, everyone loves it. Need a last-minute Holiday gift? Something truly unique to bring to a dinner party? Having Sortilège on hand comes in so very handy. If you don't want to spring for a whole case, go in halfsies with a friend. You'll both be very glad you did.

The slender, amber-filled bottle is also quite elegant and impressive.

I like it best at room temperature. When served chilled, the whiskey-ness seems to get muted. Once I tried to be clever by adding cream to it -- sort of heading in a Bailey's Irish Cream direction -- and it just made it bitter for some reason. So, yes, room temperature is best in my opinion.

I've been so enamored with this liqueur that I even wrote a song about it called O Sortilège! sung to the tune of O Canada. You can sing it at your next dinner party if you know the tune to O Canada.

First, here are the words to O Canada:

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

And then here are my words to O Sortilège:

O Sortilège!
We drink a toast to thee.
Sipping liqueur imbued with maple trees.
With glowing hearts, oh Canada
With each glass we partake;
We Americans do love thee more
The elixir our neighbors make!
Oh Canada, free up your stores
Sortilège upon our nation’s shores; 
With Sortilège upon our nation’s shores!

The holiday season is right around the corner. Time to put in my Sortilège order. 
Christmas shopping -- done!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Steak au Poivre

Last night, my friend, Carla, came over after her yoga class for our usual Julia Child night. The menu consisted of Julia’s steak au poivre, creamed spinach and buttered artichoke hearts.

I was familiar with steak au poivre – steaks that have been coated with crushed peppercorns with a sauce made from beef stock, shallots, cognac and butter – but I’d never had it before.

I have to say that this is, hands down, the most delectable creation of Julia Child’s that I’ve ever had. I was surprised that such a simple sauce could be so incredibly appealing. My friend, Lorraine, said it best: “It’s beef crack.”

Part of the fun is getting to flambé the sauce. Julia says there’s no need to do so and that it’s a technique done to impress tourists.

Sorry, Julia, but it’s fun.
Lot’s of fun as you can see from the video.

For this recipe, I used Angus rib-eye steaks. We both both like it pretty rare.

Here it is: Beef crack

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Strudel Story

My friend, Jack, and I have known each other well over twenty years now. He had been born and raised in Chicago, the son of Slovenian and Polish parents.

When we met in Texas back in the late 80s, he'd often mention his Slovenian grandma's apple strudel. She made it the "old world" style where the dough is made from scratch and then stretched and stretched until it's paper-thin and covers an entire table surface. Apples, cinnamon, breadcrumbs and sugar are then strewn, the paper-thin dough is slathered with butter, it's rolled up and baked.

Occasionally when Jack would go home to Chicago, he'd return with one of Grandma's strudels wrapped in white butcher paper.

O-M-G, I'd never tasted anything quite like it. I was fascinated.

He said Grandma was truly an artist at this. Other family members never learned how to make it and now that Grandma was pushing 90, it might be a lost art in the family.

Chicago 1988: Jack and I went to Chicago to visit his dad and Grandma. I told Jack that I'd love to see Grandma in action and maybe learn how to make her wonderful strudel. He said that Grandma had a strict routine of getting up very early on Saturday mornings to make it, but if I was willing, she'd let me in on a little strudel action.

Well, the night before we stayed up very late drinking Old Style beer with Jack's dad who was quite a character. Great guy. Fun to be around. The Old Style flowed late into the evening.

Grandma reminded me (in her broken English) that she and I had a strudel appointment very early in the morning. Yeah yeah yeah. I was having fun with Jack and his dad.

6:00 am: Grandma rapped at my bedroom door. "You get up! It is time!" she announced, very loudly, in her Old-World accent. However my head was pounding with an Old-Style hangover. Still, I didn't want to miss the chance of seeing Grandma in action, so I roused to the occasion.

A five pound bag of Granny-Smith apples was assigned to me for peeling and slicing. And a big mug a of coffee.

"You vant breakfast?" she asked.

"No, thanks, I'm fine," I mumbled.

"You need breakfast," she replied.

"No, really, I don't. . .

"I make you breakfast."

Eggs and toast appeared. I soldiered on with the apples.

Grandma was in command of the kitchen. I watched as she dumped some flour in a bowl and I really wanted to get the measurements. After some gentle persuading, she did let me measure the ingredients which I wrote down on a yellow Post-it note. Melted butter, oil, water and an egg were added and then kneaded the dough into a ball.


She began hurling the dough against the top of the table. (I later learned that this is to get out any air bubbles). This 89-year old woman shook the whole kitchen with the force of it. If anyone was still asleep from the night of Old-Style, they'd surely be awake by now.

The ball of dough was placed in a buttered bowl and into a warm oven to rest.

"How long do you let it rest?" I queried.

"Vile I go get hair done" was her quick reply, and out the door she went.

Apparently, this was Grandma's routine. She made strudel on Saturday morning and got her hair done down the street.

About an hour later, a newly coiffed Grandma appeared, and continued on with the strudel.

She took the little ball of dough and began stretching it on the kitchen table that had a floured sheet across it. And stretching it. And strrrretching it. Then she was walking around the table, pulling the dough from all sides.

It was amazing. The dough began billowing across the table, so thin you could see her hands though it. She kept stretching it even more until it was hanging down the sides of the table, practically to the floor. It was truly amazing.

She took my apples which had been adequately sliced, mixed them with sugar, cinnamon, lots of buttered breadcrumbs and spread them in an even layer halfway across the paper-thin dough.

"Vee used to put it all de vay across, but vee change it," she said without looking up.

I smiled to myself as I pictured a panel of Slovenian grandmas, weighing the pros and cons of putting the apples all the way across or halfway across.

She finished the strudel by rolling it up, placing more butter on top and baking it.

In this day and age of ready-made this and instant-that, I could certainly see why none of her female offspring took the time to learn her trade. This was truly a labor of love and I felt as though I'd just witnessed something holy.

I didn't want to let this bit of artistry die out with her. I went back to Texas with my little Post-it note of ingredients and practiced. And practiced. And practiced.

And you know what? I got pretty good at it.

Chicago 2001: The house where Jack's grandma and his dad lived was passed on to Jack after they passed away and Jack had the place remodeled.

But here we are back in that same kitchen where Grandma taught me to make her strudel and now I'm the one making for the family.

Oh, and I still have the little yellow Post-it from 20 years ago. I have it clipped to my own grandmother's old little clipboard she got from the local grocery story where she'd keep phone messages. (Just to give you an idea how old her little clipboard is, click on the pic and notice the grocery store's phone number on it -- it has three digits!)

But this little clipboard along with the strudel recipe sits proudly in my kitchen. Such a treasure.

Click HERE to see the strudel making in action. (Be patient, it takes a while to load).

By the way, Jack called me recently and was wondering when I'd be able to make strudel again. So, here we go:

Begin rolling out the dough according to Grandma's recipe. (This is the only strudel dough recipe I've ever seen that calls for an egg in it.) Be sure to drape a clean sheet over the surface. You'll see why later.

 It helps if you have an extra pair of hands to hold portions of the dough as you begin stretching it. If not, I usually place a towel and a heavy bowl in the center of the dough to weigh it down and stretch it from all sides.
Keep stretching it by rubbing it from the underside:
And stretching.
Until you've stretched the dough all the way across the table. Grandma would keep stretching it until it hung far down the sides of the table, but that scares me.  I quit while I'm ahead.
Place a mixture of sliced apples, buttered breadcrumbs, cinnamon and sugar on one end:

Slather the dough with melted butter:
Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumb-butter mixture across the rest of the dough:
Use the sheet to roll it up:

Place on a baking pan, slather with butter and sugar and bake at 375. (I found these wonderful rectangular cast iron baking pans at a Mexican market a few years ago. They're perfect.)

The smell of freshly baked apple strudel is truly a glimpse of heaven.
My grandmother's old note pad along with the Post-it note from 1988 are still displayed it my kitchen: