Sunday, December 4, 2011

War and Peas

I remember that my first positive experience with split pea soup was in December 1989.  My then boyfriend and I were driving our 1978 VW Bus to Altadena to spend the holidays with his brother.  As luck would have it, the grapevine had frozen over that year and the outside temperature was no longer an interesting fact but more a life and death struggle.  If anyone has ever owned a vintage (old) VW Bus, you are privy to the fact that the heater is more of a novelty than something to rely on to, oh I don’t know…keep WARM.  In addition to the ‘pilot light’ heater, the floorboards where the foot pedals came up from had a very visible hole around the perimeter of each pedal stick, to which you had a clear view of the…road, yes the road.  Normally, nothing too alarming in tepid Sacramento, but when driving in below freezing temperatures, your feet actually go numb from the constant onslaught of cold air.  At one point, we pulled off the highway and into a gas station to procure plastic bags.  My boyfriend then wrapped his socked foot in three layers of plastic bags before he stuffed them back into his shoes.

Finally, out of fear of hypothermia and gut gnawing starvation, we pulled into Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella.  Now mind you, neither one of us was a fan of split pea soup, but we were cold, tired, hungry and low on funds.  They had an all you could eat option…but ONLY for split pea soup with toppings.  SOLD!  We ate buckets of the stuff.  I can’t even say if we stayed and ate so long because we were that hungry or we were just putting off getting back into the bus.  Either way, I had a new found respect for split pea soup.  

We eventually arrived at our destination somewhere around 2:00 in the morning and found a note waiting for us. 

“Glad you made it!  But, since you are the last ones to arrive, you get to sleep on the sofa bed. Better luck next time. See you in the morning!”

I believe my spine had never recovered from the last time I had slept on that sofa bed.  Ironically, we opted to sleep in the bed, back in the bus. 

In the 20 plus years that have passed, I have seldom enjoyed a bowl of split pea soup as much as I did on that cold long night.  Not sure if it was a distant memory or the chill in the fall air, I decided it was time for a big pot of soup.  Here’s my take.

  • 3-4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 cups of chopped celery (include celery leaves)
  • 2 cups of chopped carrots
  • 10-14 whole garlic cloves
  • 3 pounds of smoked ham hocks
  • 3 teaspoons dried French thyme
  • 3 cups green split peas
  • 16 cups of water
  • Salt and Pepper
  • ½ cup of chopped fresh parsley.

Melt butter in heavy large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, garlic and carrots. Sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add pork and thyme; stir 1 minute. Add peas, then water, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Partially cover pot; simmer soup until pork and vegetables are tender and peas are falling apart, stirring often, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Transfer hocks to a bowl.

At this point, some people elect to remove half of the soup contents to puree.  However, if you refrain from putting salt in the soup until it has completely cooked, the peas will take in more water and this will allow the peas to break down themselves.  I have never pureed this soup and it has always been a perfect mix of pea puree, vegetables and pieces of pork.

To complete, cut pork off bones, dice and return to the soup. Season with salt and pepper. Finish with the fresh parsley.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


As a society, we all seem to be rushed; packing too many things into too few hours. I often catch myself scurrying around, frantic to get it all done. It’s no wonder that when it comes to food, shortcuts seem to be inevitable and ultimately sought after. The idea of spending hours preparing one meal seems indulgent, archaic even. But there are some things that cannot be rushed. One of my absolutely favorite things to eat is something that takes hours and is only at its best when time and care are taken. Short ribs were once looked down upon; a lesser cut of meat that required moisture and hours to be edible. However, like many things; what’s old is new again. Short ribs are now a staple on any self respecting bistro menu. And having a well done short rib dish puts that stamp of approval on many people’s list. It’s important to understand that if a restaurant is willing to do the diligence to properly prepare short ribs, then you might be in the company of true food respect and artistry.

So, take advantage of the downtime during the cooking process and pour yourself a glass of wine. I have adapted my short rib recipe from Anne Burrell.

3 bone-in short ribs and 3 boneless short ribs (about 6 pounds)
Olive oil
1 large sweet onion, cut into ½ inch pieces
2 ribs celery, cut into ½ inch pieces
3 peeled carrots, cut into ½ inch pieces
10-12 garlic cloves
1 ½ cups (12 ounces) tomato paste
2-3 cups of hearty red wine (I tend to use a ratio of 3 parts red wine, 1 part port)
2-3 cups of water
1 bunch of thyme tied with kitchen string
2 bay leaves

Generously season each short rib with salt. Coat a large Dutch oven with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Add the short ribs to the pan and brown very well, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd the pan. You may need to cook in batches; remove ribs if need be to a plate until you have finished browning them all.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

While the short ribs are browning, puree all the vegetables and garlic in the food processor until it forms a coarse paste. When the ribs are all very brown, remove them all from the pan. Leave a small amount of oil in the pan and add the pureed vegetables. Season with salt and brown them until they darken and from a crust on the bottom of the pan; approximately 5-7 minutes. (Onions often hold a good amount of water and this water may hinder the browning. If this is the case, add a teaspoon of sugar during the browning to aid in caramelizing the vegetables.) To assist in the browning, scrape the crust and redistribute to insure even browning. Add the tomato paste to the vegetables and brown paste mixture for 4-5 minutes. Add the wine/port and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze all the bits. Lower the heat to avoid burning the mixture and reduce it by half.

Return the short ribs to the pan and add 2 cups of water or more until the ribs are just covered. Add the thyme and bay leaves. Cover with a lid or tightly secured foil and place in the oven for 3 hours. Check the ribs during the cooking time to ensure that the ribs remain under liquid; add water if necessary. Turn the ribs over halfway through the 3 hours. During the last 30 minutes, remove the lid to release moisture, thicken the braising liquid and encourage additional browning.

Remove the pan from the oven and taste the braising liquid. If necessary, adjust the flavor by adding additional salt and/or sugar to balance out any acidity that may occur when tomatoes are included in a recipe.

I prefer to serve my short ribs over a basic soft polenta. They would also pair well with mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sweet Victory

I think anyone that has a passion for cooking and all things food also has their own Achilles Heel. Mine, has always been pie pastry. That is not to say that I did not have success from time to time, but it was never something that I could hope for much less count on. I like having ‘home-runs’ in my cooking arsenal, so a wild card like pastry had no place. I guess many people would just opt to purchase prepared pie pastry and call it a day, but I like to know that what I make has mostly come from my own blood, sweat and swears. Shortcuts are nice, but I feel like a poser and just want to go take a shower. However, I just could not let it go…I was capable of so many things; I should be able to work this out. I sat down with Rose Levy Beranbaum’s, Pie and Pastry Bible to find enlightenment and perhaps some big pastry secret I had missed. Although it is one of the best reference cookbooks out there, I just wasn’t getting what I needed.

Then as I was checking out my friends' Facebook status updates, I saw that Garrett, a local food blogger, placed a post about a Potato and Onion Galette. Normally, I would have read through the post and admired his pastry (secretly hating his ability to do something I can’t) but he caught my attention when he explained that he had become quite skilled with pastry thanks to Elise Bauer, another local food blogger. He provided a link to her recipe (which I had the pleasure of tasting first-hand when she brought a pie to a party) and I followed it; WORD for WORD. And it work. And it worked again. And it continues to work EVERY TIME I prepare it. I have used it for sweet and savory; simple and complex. Finally, I have bested this beast and I am no longer apprehensive about having a pastry item in my cooking arsenal. One of my favorite things to prepare with my “oh so reliable pastry” is a Nutella Galette.

Nutella Galette

Preheat oven to 375

v One prepared pastry using Elise’s recipe

v 1/3 cup of Nutella Spread plus additional for drizzling


v Almond Extract

v ¼ cup of high quality bittersweet chocolate chunks

v ¼ cup of chopped toasted hazelnuts or almonds

Use an inverted sheet pan and cover with parchment paper.

Roll out to a 12 inch diameter, about 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface leaving a 1 ½-2 inch border. Place dough on parchment paper

Spread the 1/3 cup of Nutella and toss the chocolate chunks and hazelnuts/almonds over.

In a bowl, mix 3 TB of the additional Nutella and 2-3 TB of milk until you have a syrup consistency. Add 1-2 drops of the almond extract.

Drizzle over the Nutella, chocolate and nuts and then fold over the border slightly over the filling to create a crust.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Growing up, the news that stuffed bell peppers were for dinner was met with the same response held for liver and onions. Needless to say, not well received. Perhaps I would have been more receptive had my Aunt Virgie served said bell peppers with a Syrah or Pinot...but I digress. Along with less than youthful skin, age has brought with it some wisdom and a refined palate.

And as is often the case, meals are made to make use of items that are on their way out. I had purchased some beautiful bell peppers at the farmer's market but had yet to find a use for them. They seemed destined to be cooked. And then I thought of those once dreaded stuffed bell peppers and I was on my path. In keeping with my mantra to 'eat clean', I changed things up a bit; grass fed substainable beef and brown rice. I guess this is where that aged wisdom occasionally makes an appearance.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

4 bell peppers


4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped

4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

1 lb of lean grass-fed ground beef or buffalo

1 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice

1 cup chopped fresh plum tomatoes

4 tbsp chopped fresh italian parsley chopped

1 teaspoon of dried oregano or italian herb blend

1/4 cup fresh grated hard parmesan

Preheat oven to 375

Cut the top off of the bell and remove the stem and seeds. Chop any parts of the bell pepper cut to remove the top and stem. Boil the peppers completely immersed in salted water for 3-4 minutes to soften. Remove and set them upside down to drain and cool.

Place tomatoes, rice, parsley and oregano in a large bowl.

Heat 3 TB of the olive oil and cooked the onions and chopped bell peppers over medium heat, stirring often until they soften, 5-6 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes. Add to the bowl with the tomato mixture and then add beef and parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Mix with hands to ensure that everything is evenly dispersed.

Place peppers in a baking dish and fill with stuffing. Add 1/2 cup of water to baking dish and bake for 50-60 minutes until you reach an internal temperature of 155-160 F.

Prior to serving, I like to brush the top with a very fruity olive oil and finish with a fresh grate of parmesan. However, this step is optional.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Coming Home to Roast

Now that the seasons are starting to change, I move more toward the comfort foods that fill the home with warmth and intoxicating smells. Nothing pleases me more than something as simple as a roasted chicken. To me it’s one of those basic meals that come from the heart of nurturing that you prepare for those you love. It speaks of family Sunday dinners and the kind of time and patience you practice when you prepare a meal rather than fix a dinner.


1 (3 1/2 to 4 pound) chicken
1 small yellow onion, quartered
1 lemon thinly sliced
1/2 cup celery leaves
One carrot, chopped to fit in the cavity
5 whole garlic cloves
Fresh rosemary and parsley
Salt and black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, and/or parsley
2 cups chicken broth


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Wash the chicken in hot water and dry thoroughly. Season the cavity with salt and black pepper and stuff with the onion, lemon, celery leaves, carrot, garlic, rosemary and parsley. Rub the chicken lightly with softened butter and season all over with salt and pepper. Tie the drumsticks ends together and set the chicken, breast side up, in an oiled v-shaped rack or on an oiled roasting pan in the oven.

Roast for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees, baste the chicken, and roast for 15 minutes. Add the chopped onion and carrot to the pan, basting them and the chicken. Continue roasting the chicken until the juices run clear, for a total of 45 minutes plus an additional 7 minutes for each pound. (In other words, a 3 1/2 pound chicken would take a basic 45 minutes plus an additional 25 minutes, for a total 70 minutes or 1 hour and 10 minutes of cooking time.)

Remove the chicken and spoon the fat out of the roasting pan. Into the pan, stir in the herbs and blend in the broth and, stirring constantly, boil for several minutes on the stovetop to concentrate the flavor. Correct the seasoning and strain the sauce into a warm sauceboat. Carve the chicken and serve with the warm sauce

Thursday, October 27, 2011

As Requested

As anyone can see….I have been highly neglectful of my blog. I blame it all on Facebook. When it comes right down to it, I can only claim plain old laziness. However, in using Facebook as my vehicle to share parts of my life, photos, and food, I have been asked several times for recipes of things I have made that I have posted to my page. So, for my next few posts, I will be providing those requested recipes.

Poached Salmon with Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce

1/3-1/2 cup of dry white wine
1 green onion chopped
2 6-ounce, 1 inch thick skinless salmon fillet
Pinch of lemon zest
Half a clove of garlic finely chopped.

Prepare the fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce (recipe below) prior to poaching the salmon
Bring wine, onion, lemon zest and garlic to a simmer in a heavy-gauged large skillet. Add fish, cover and simmer until salmon is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Transfer to plates and season lightly with sea salt to taste. Spoon the sauce over the fish.

Fresh Tomato-Basil Sauce

2 very ripe roma tomatoes, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
¼ cup of fresh basil chopped (to prevent basil from darkening, sprinkle lightly with a little olive oil prior to chopping)
1/8 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A splash of Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper.

Combine the tomatoes, garlic and basil in a bowl. Add the olive oil and the vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

1 pound of brussel sprouts trimmed and halved.
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 TB of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450⁰

Toss together the brussel sprouts, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper on a sheet pan. Roast in the upper third of the oven stirring once halfway through until sprouts are brown on the edges and tender. About 25 minutes total.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Seeds of Change

So a couple of months ago, my friend Chris had just seen a movie and had what I could only call an epiphany. The movie was Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Much like the man in the movie, Chris’ health was at an all time low and he really couldn’t see how, when or where he would make a change. In the last couple of years he had been handling a tremendous amount of stress and it had physically manifested itself and taken his body prisoner. He was unsure how to get it back… And then he saw this movie. And then he watched it again. And then he bought a juicer. And then he quite literally committed himself to 60 days of a pure juice fast. Due to our busy schedules, I hadn’t actually really seen him in weeks, 6 to be exact. To say that I was astonished would be an understatement. It wasn’t just that he had dropped a serious amount of weight, more importantly; he had a sparkle in his eyes that I hadn’t seen before. It’s like he had his life handed back to him. He was energetic, engaging and happy. And, it has been utterly contagious. From that get together, he’s inspired not just me, but other friends of ours on juice journeys. All of us have different goals and committed days, but he has initiated change in each and every one of us. From this little seed of inspiration, four of us will be meeting the man who started this phenomenon, Joe Cross; the man from the movie. On Friday we are heading to Benicia for a screening and Q&A with our Juice Gandhi. That day will be Chris’ 59th day of juicing; a significant day just on its own, but he will get to meet the man who help him get his health, and with it, his life back again. It’s just a reminder that anyone of us can be the inspiration for change.

On Monday, I will be beginning my 10 day pure juice fast. I have been juicing for my breakfasts and the occasional lunch, but this will be a pure juice fast. I seriously cannot wait.

Of course, there are some negative aspects to a juice fast…body odor and frequent trips to the restroom. The price we pay for better bodies; I’ll take it!

My Juicing Station