Thursday, December 31, 2009



As we have in previous years, we relied on the kindness of strangers (well, not strangers, but good friends) to supply our Christmas Eve party w/ desserts, though I did make my annual brownies.

However, Richard has discovered baking and has fallen in love w/ Cat Cora's olive oil cake.  Yes, really - olive oil.  No butter. (Don't tell Julia!)  No shortening.

The recipe calls for a 10" cake pan, but our round cake pans are only 9".  Didn't matter.  He used the ones we had and though the cake overflowed the edges and was a little difficult to 'de-pan' - it was moist and delicious.

However (Pt. 2), when he was foraging through the storage space above our refrigerator for the platters and bowls and sterling serving plates and bowl we use once a year, he found a 10" square cake pan.  The cake came out beautifully - no overflowing edges. 

However (Pt. 3), when he 'de-panned' the cake, we discovered we didn't have a plate large enough for a square 10" cake -- a round 10" cake would be fine -- but the corners of the square over-reached the plate.  No matter, it still looked good, if not a perfect presentation, and was still moist and delicious.  It's not spinach, but Popeye and Olive Oil would have loved it.

Recipe courtesy Cat Cora

Prep Time:     20 minutes
Level:             easy
Cook Time:   1-hour
Serves:          12

3 large eggs, beaten
2 cups granulated sugar
12 ounces extra-virgin olive oil - Richard found that 12 ounces is way too much and only
        uses 8 ounces, sometimes 9
10 ounces milk
2 ounces orange liqueur
2 ounces fresh orange juice
3 teaspoons lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces blanched almonds, finely chopped
powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
Butter a 10" cake pan (Richard also put parchment paper on the bottom of the pan)

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, olive oil, milk, liqueur, orange juice and lemon zest.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture.  Whisk until well blended.  Fold in the almonds.

Pour the mixture into the buttered cake pan.  Bake for 1-hour.  Place on a rack to cool.  Run a knife around the edges and place it on a plate.  Sprinkle w/ powdered sugar and serve.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009



Cassoulets (casseroles for us American folk) are a great, hearty and 'cheap' way to feed a family -- well, cheap if you make your cassoulet with leftovers.  If you're buying all the ingredients, it's a tad more pricey -- but it's still a delicious, not too expensive way to feed a crowd.  And a crowd is what we had Christmas Eve.

As y'all know from reading my blog, Julia Child has infused herself into our cooking (eating for me) lives, so this year Richard thought he'd do "Julia" (translation: French) for our party and decided to make a French peasant Christmas cassouslet.  According to Julia, no two cassouslets are the same and that adds to their 'intrigue' not to mention they get better w/ age.  In fact, in these days of sub-zero freezers (or just any ole freezer), a cassoulet can be made a couple of months in advance and frozen.  Richard hadn't decided on making a cassoulet that far in advance, but he did start making it three days before the party.  Here is the French Christmas Cassoulet recipe he followed:


2 pounds dry great northern beans
16 cups cold watter
12 cups cold water
2 medium onions, skin removed
8 whole cloves
16 cloves garlic, minced
8 large stalks of celery, with leaves
12 sprig of parsley
2 teaspoons salt
4 bay leaves
4 pounds of beef spare ribs
1 pound cooked pork (3 cups)
1 pound cooked lamb (3 cups)
2 pounds cooked goose, pheasant or chicken (6 cups) (one 10 pound goose, roasted - Richard
                    roasted a couple of 5 pound chickens)
2 pounds pork sausage (Richard used turkey sausage)
6 medium onions, chopped
2- 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups meat gravy
2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed
2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups soft breadcrumbs
1/4 cup cooking oil

Rinse beans and divide between two 4-quart oven-safe Dutch ovens.  Cover w/ 8 cups cold water each and soak overnight in refrigerator (or bring beans to boiling; reduce heat, simmer for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for one-hour)  Drain and rinse beans.  In the same pots, add 6 cups water to each.  Stud each whole onion w/ four of the cloves.  Add each onion along w/ 2 cloves of the minced garlic, 4 stalks of celery, 6 sprigs of parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and two bay leaves to each pot of beans.  Add ribs to each.  Bring mixture to boiling.  Reduce heat.  Cover and simmer the beans for 35 minutes (beans will be firm, yet tender).

Drain the beans and reserve the liquid.  Discard celery, onion, and bay leaves.  Remove any meat from rib bones and set aside.  Meanwhile, cut pork, lamb, and goose (roast chicken) into bite-size pieces.  Cut sausage into 1-inch pieces (or roll bulk sausage into 1-inch balls) and divide between the two Dutch ovens.  Cook over medium heat till browned on all sides.  Remove sausage, drain, reserving drippings and set aside.

In each Dutch oven, cook 3 chopped onions in reserved drippings till tender.  Add 1 can tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 cup reserved bean liquid, 1 cup gravy, 6 cloves minced garlic, 1 teaspoon basil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to each Dutch oven.  Bring mixture to boiling.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5 minutes.  Divide beans and all the meats between Dutch ovens.  Stir and combine well.

Bake, uncovered in a 325 degree oven for 1-hour.  Stir.  (If beans seem a little dry during baking, add additional bean liquid.)  Toss breadcrumbs w/ oil.  Sprinkle over top of bean mixture.  Continue baking one more hour.  Serve directly from pots onto dinner plates.  As noted previously, we served ours right from the Le Creuset pot.  If you're gonna go French, go all the way!

Serve w/ crusty bread.

Makes 24 servings.
Variations:  Above is the recipe as given, but remember, "no two cassoulets are alike" so... because several of our friends don't eat pork, no pig was harmed in the making of this cassoulet.  Nor was any lamb, because Richard didn't find any of that either.  He replaced the one pound each of pork and lamb with more chicken and beef ribs.  His only worry was the amount of liquid fat to flavor the beans, since he was using turkey sausages, but he dropped in a few tablespoons of olive oil after sauteeing the sausages.  It seemed to work.  There wasn't a bite left at the end of the night!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Continuing the Christmas party recipes.... here's Nigella Lawson's heavenly pasta w/ walnut sauce.

Food Network Episode # NESP01

6 ounces shelled walnuts
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1 slice bread, crusts removed
2/3 cup whole milk
1 ounce grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil (preferably Ligurian)
salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds any flat short pasta (Richard used bowtie pasta)
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley, for garnish


Put a large saucepan of water on to boil, and toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan until they begin to make a nutty aroma.

Put the bread in a bowl and cover with the milk. 

Put most of the toasted walnuts (reserving about one ounce for garnish) into a blender along with the garlic, bread soaked in milk, and Parmesan.  (Note from Richard:  make sure you include the milk, not just the bread - otherwise the pasta's too dry.)  Blend until it turns smooth and creamy, then pour in the oil and season well with salt and pepper before blending again.
Pour into a bowl, and set aside.

Add pasta to boiling water with salt and cook for the required amount of time.  When the pasta is al dente, reserve a cup of the pasta cooking liquid and then drain the pasta, but put it into a large bowl while it's still dripping slightly with water.  Sprinkle a little olive oil over the pasta to prevent it sticking together, and then add the walnut sauce, mixing it into the pasta (splash in a little pasta cooking liquid to make the sauce less thick if needed).

Roughly chop the remaining walnuts and toss them over the top along with some more Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Richard tripled the recipe for the party.

Monday, December 28, 2009



As promised, the Christmas party recipes begin... but this truffled delight is for all seasons.

I love deviled eggs - be they fancy or plain -- but these truffled eggs have become my favorite and when we served them Christmas Eve - they were gone in a NY minute.  But if you're someone who just doesn't care for the earthy, mushroom-y taste and aroma of truffle oil, these deviled eggs are also good without it.

compliments of Cottage Living, August, 2007

Makes:   18 deviled egg halves
Prep:      25 minutes
Cook:    10 minutes
Stand:    10 minutes

12 large eggs
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons white truffle oil (optional -- well not for me )
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)

fresh chives, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Place eggs and water to cover in a saucepan; bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, and let stand covered for 10 minutes.  Drain the eggs, and rinse w/ cold water for several minutes.  Peel eggs, and cut in half lengthwise.

Place 6 egg halves (including whites) and all additional egg yolks in a food processor.  Add mayonnaise, mustard, and 1/4 cup grated cheese; blend well.  Add salt & pepper and, if desired, truffle oil.  If too thinck, add olive oil (or more truffle oil if you want a stronger flavor), 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to desired consistency.

Place mixture in a pastry bag w/ a plain or star-shaped tip (or as Richard does, a small zip-top plastic bag w/ a corner cut out) and pipe the mixture into the remaining egg halves.

Garnish, if desired.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


(Pierre Deux - it's a Julia/French Christmas)


Is everyone still stuffed from the holidays? I know I am and we still have one last Christmas party to go to. It seems as if we’ve done nothing but eat since Thanksgiving! Not that I’m complaining, but wow, a week of lettuce leaves sounds tempting. Well, not that tempting!

This year’s foodie last hurrah began at our “The Food & Wine’s The Thing, Never Mind The Book” Book Group holiday dinner we hosted (and I blogged about) last week. We decked the halls, maybe not w/ boughs of holly, but w/ garlands, candles, twinkle lights and mementoes tucked here and there on our two fireplace mantels.

Each room had a Christmas tree, a traditional wreath hung on our front door, and the outside of our house was covered w/ little white lights welcoming everyone. We sipped wine, talked and talked and ate and ate… and ate and ate.

Fast forward to 6 days later and the door to our “Christmas” house was opened again for our annual Christmas Eve dinner party for friends and foes and people we met on the village streets – well, not really, but we had a lot of people.

As our guests arrived and Christmas carols caroled from our IPod, we poured them a glass of champagne ‘cosmo,’ a holiday cocktail made w/ champagne, Triple Sec and cranberry juice.

Then… let the eating begin! To continue the Julia theme started over Thanksgiving, I made my “Pate Therese” a “family” recipe given to me by my cousin’s French mother-in-law (who was also a cook of some renown) that I shared w/ y’all in November. Also on display (but not for long) were two French ‘liquid’ cheeses w/ a robust ‘kick,’ deviled eggs w/ truffle oil, the roasted garlic/sun dried tomato/parmesan spread we served at the “Book Group” dinner (this time I remembered to take the picture)

 and salmon poached in champagne w/ a Dijon, dill mustard sauce – another repeat performance from the “Book Group” dinner.

The bar was stocked w/ the champagne cocktail, white or red wine, scotch or vodka or clear, bubbly Pellegrino (I know, I know – Mon Dieu! We should have gotten Perrier, but Pellegrino was on sale).

As everyone mingled, cheese’d, pate’d, salmon’d and egg’d, Richard brought out the evenings main events:

A pear and greens salad w/ burrata, toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds in a honey mustard dressing;
string beans and sauteed red bell peppers;

A creamy (but no cream) toasted walnut pasta;

Crusty breads; and
A Julia-ish Christmas cassoulet (made without pork – Mon Dieu Pt. 2!) served, as instructed, directly from the oven in Le Creuset.

Divine desserts included:
rum cake

Richard’s olive oil cake

We didn't have a 10" round cake plate

a spiced cranberry cake

pumpkin flan

fudge brownies
the gingerbread wo/men cookies I’ve already blogged about
assort other cookies
pumpkin pie
and, a Christmas tiramisu

We sipped, we talked, we laughed and wished each other wonderful things for the new year… and we ate and ate and ate. Okay, we binged.

Richard’s three days of cooking were rewarded with praise from all and, for the first time in the more than 20 years we’ve been doing this party, all the food was gone. Nothing to freeze! The platters and bowls and plates were empty. It was all that good! So… recipes? Of course. I’ll be posting them separately for you all this week.

By the time our guests were ready to go home to wait for Santa, everyone seemed sated and happy. Thank you Julia (and Julie) for inspiring me to keep my blog going. And thank you Richard for inspiring me, loving me and feeding me (and our friends) so well over the year, and indulging me by making such glorious dinners to write about when I’m not reviewing a restaurant or musing on life.

Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, December 25, 2009



Like so many men "of an age" Richard grew up loving Marilyn Monroe - her sexiness, her beauty and her vulnerability - so when Hallmark a decade ago put out a series of limited edition Marilyn Christmas tree ornaments, I had to buy them for him.  They've hung proudly on our tree ever since and thought I'd share a couple of them with y'all.   And what does this have to do with gingerbread men?  Absolutely nothing, but so what? 

On to gingerbread wo/men...

While eating Finnish pulla (pronounced bulla) toast for breakfast this morning (a Christmas morning ritual we have courtesy of my brother who bakes these 'coffee cake' breads each holiday season), Richard and I talked about last night's open house, sharing our home with friends we love, the food we made, the desserts friends made and I thought I'd begin blogging about the party by introducing you to my friend, Ann, and the crisp gingerbread wo/men cookies she brought to our party.  Like me, she's a food blogger and below is the link to her 'unusual' take on gingerbread wo/men cookies.  As advertised they're crispy AND they're delicious.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


As Richard and I do the last minute preparation today for our Christmas Eve dinner, I just wanted to take a minute to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

So.......... MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009



As some of you know from my “I Love Meat, But…” blog in October, I have been in a Book Group that’s morphed into a “The Food & Wine’s The Thing, Never Mind The Book” Book Group. Over the years we’ve had a couple of brief ‘intermissions’ and members have come and gone, but those of us ‘left standing’ have become a ‘family.’ We try to meet once a month at each other’s homes to catch-up, eat and drink. And for those of us who don’t love to cook all that much, there’s wonderful gourmet, heat-it-up “take-out” (and, at times when it’s my turn, my husband’s wonderful cooking).

Every few years our The Food & Wine’s The Thing, Never Mind The Book, Book Group (hereafter referred to TF&WTTNMTBBG) has a holiday dinner party that includes our husbands… a progressive dinner in that each couple provides a course. We had a truly lovely party last year, so I wasn’t thinking about one for this year, but at our last TF&WTTNMTBBG meeting I was carried away by impending holiday spirit (or the wine) and volunteered to host a TF&WTTNMTBBG holiday party… I mean the house would be decorated anyway, right?! Just because we were having our annual Christmas Eve open house for the entire county of Los Angeles (OK, I’m exaggerating – but at least 30-35 people will be coming and Richard does all the cooking – I make brownies) doesn’t mean we can’t host a sit-down dinner for 13/14 the week before, right?! I mean we’re only providing the appetizers and champagne cosmos, a bottle of white and a bottle of red … No big deal, right?! Yeh, right.

Heaven forbid I put out a cheese platter and a few ‘spreads’ from our local gourmet shop… Not with my husband co-hosting! So for three days before the party I decorated, washed more than a dozen champagne glasses, more than two dozen wine glasses (the red & white thing), more than a dozen ‘cordial’ glasses and more than a dozen water glasses… figured out how to make my antique pine dinner table that sits 8 comfortably expand to over a dozen (a long, wide piece of plywood on top helped)… iron holiday linens… set the table, set up a bar area, etc., etc. WHILE Richard made his appetizers.  Sadly, I was so busy washing glasses and ironing linens I was a little 'lax' in my food picture taking, but I did remember to snap the table.

The first appetizer was a ‘canape’ straight out of Thomas Keller’s “French Laundry” cookbook, page 49 (or on-line): Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps w/ Goat Cheese Mousse.

The second was shrimp on a fork w/ avocado salsa, also straight out of the Thomas Keller cookbook, page 46 (or on-line).

The third was an Ossabaw dip. Translation: roasted garlic and sun-dried tomato cheese spread (recipe below).

And the fourth appetizer was salmon poached in champagne w/ a mustard dill sauce make from cream cheese, mayo, champagne honey mustard and chopped fresh dill – blended to taste.

See what I mean, between marketing, prepping, cooking, assembling = 3 days!

But everyone else outdid themselves.

Our first course was a rich butternut squash/pumpkin soup. It was so good you felt buttered, squashed and pumped.

The salad course was a sensational concoction of arugula, radicchio, pomegranate seeds, sliced persimmons w/ prosciutto and fresh burrata cheese in a honey mustard dressing.

The entrée was delectable curried chicken and rice w/ many tasty toppings including homemade chutney, raisins, peanuts, toasted coconut, chopped scallions, and cilantro w/ a side of fresh, sautéed (in butter!) string beans.

Sorry, the only pic I remembered to take
of  the tasty toppings was when we
were all cleaning up - but on the plus side you get to see
one of the leftover Ossabaw dips, too 

And then came the dessert, an amazing cheesecake w/ a raspberry grand marnier sauce which you can read all about on my friend’s own food blog:

We ate, we sipped wine, we sipped port and we stole each other’s grab bag presents and when the dinner party was over, we felt sated and happy and very ho, ho, ho’d…

Happy Holidays everyone!

Ossabaw Dip
(Roasted Garlic & Sun-dried Tomato Cheese Spread)

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
Cool: 15 minutes


5 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons olive oil
¾ cup sun-dried tomatoes
½ cup dry white wine
1-1/2 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Place garlic on a piece of aluminum foil; drizzle w/ oil. Fold foil to seal. Bake at
425 degrees for 25 minutes; let cool 15 minutes. Squeeze pulp from garlic cloves into a small bowl.

Combine tomatoes and wine in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes or until wine evaporates and tomatoes are soft. Process tomatoes and garlic in a food processor until smooth. Add cream cheese, and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed.

Spoon mixture into a small bowl; stir in green onions and Parmesan. Serve warm w/ crackers. Richard served the spread w/ toasted slices of baguette.

Makes 2-1/3 cups.

Monday, December 14, 2009



My mom was a mom who baked cookies.  She even taught me and as a little girl we would bake together, especially at Christmas.  We'd make her delicious butter cookies and roll out the dough and use cookie cutters to cut out stars, Christmas trees, angels and Christmas bells... we'd make gingerbread cookies and roll out the dough and cut out gingermen AND gingerwomen ... but the cookies I remember loving the most (and I did love them all) were ranger cookies.  One reason... it didn't have to be Christmas to bake them.  It could be my birthday, or my brother's birthday, a brownie troop meeting, 4th of July or just a plain Tuesday... but whatever the reason, ranger cookies fit the occasion. 

I haven't had a chance to make cookies this holiday season, but wanted to share the recipe with y'all -- start a cookie tradition with your own children, or just make them for yourself.  These are truly my very favorite cookies EVAH.


1 cup shortening
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon of milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups cornflakes
2 cups oatmeal
1 cup walnuts

Cream shortening and sugar well.
Add beaten eggs, milk and vanilla
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together
Add to first mixture
Lastly add cereals and nuts

Best to mix by hand… Mix well, then make into small balls (use teaspoon) and place on a greased cookie sheet, then press down w/ a fork.

Bake in 350 degree over for 8 – 10 minutes…

Makes 9 dozen +

Sunday, December 13, 2009



I truly love it when friends come for dinner and Richard’s in a cooking “frame of mind.”  The other night we had a ‘sit-down’ for six (well, two of the six were us) and the house smelled like heaven for two days.

On the first day – the day before the dinner party – he made a creamy mushroom and roasted onion soup and I just wanted to drown in it after I tasted it. It was that good!   It was adapted from a Gary Daniel recipe of the Cave food and wine bar at the Ventura Wine Co. (a retail shop).

On the second day – the day of the dinner party – Richard started early by baking Cat Cora’s Olive Oil cake: Ladi Tourta (with orange liqueur), a recipe he found on-line at the Food Network website. Don’t tell Julia, but this is truly an olive oil cake. No butter! We have a small, cottage-y, style house which holds food aromas. Sometimes that’s NOT a good thing – especially when cooking fish, but not that day… our house smelled deliciously of baking till it was time to make the entrée that evening. This cake not only smells delicious, but is an orange flavored delight.

We put out an array of appetizers including a Boucheron goat cheese, a concoction of roasted beets, blue castello cheese and walnuts with a balsamic dressing scooped into endive ‘boats’

(this picture was taken when he made these endive 'boats' as
a salad.  It looks the same on an appetizer platter)

 and an eggplant appetizer Richard also found on-line. I liked the eggplant, but he thought it was bland. The next time he’s definitely making my cousin’s eggplant “poor man’s caviar,” but that’s for another blog.

The entrée, however, was far from bland. Mustard crusted rack of lamb with a separate sour cream mustard sauce.

I love lamb. But like most of my peers, I grew up with leg of lamb, lamb shank or the occasional (special ‘occasional’) lamb chops. I never even heard of a rack of lamb. Well, not until my first trip to Paris when I was in my twenties. Sadly, that’s almost too long ago to remember, but I do remember that first time culinary experience – the time I lost my rack of lamb virginity. I couldn’t believe how tender and delicious this dish was and wondered why my mother, who also loved lamb, never made it. Of course, when I was back home in the States and saw how much a rack of lamb cost, I got it. It’s expensive and doesn’t go far when you’re feeding a family of four.

Fast-forward to the Trader Joe’s and Costco era of pricing and importing food from around the world. Rack of lamb is now affordable. It’s still not something you feed a crowd and we did have to buy three (yeh, 3) racks to feed the six of us, but it was a dinner party for good friends and a slight splurge was warranted. So, Richard made his trek to Costco and found three beautiful racks from New Zealand and did them proud.

This recipe is a “Dinner for Two” from Good Housekeeping Magazine, so double or triple it, depending on your number of guests:



1 New Zealand lamb rib roast (rack of lamb), 8 ribs, flap trimmed (1 lb), bones ‘frenched’

salt & pepper
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard w/ seeds
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint or basil leaves
2 Tbsp. chopped shallots (2 med)
¼ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
3 sm. Red potatoes (9 oz), each cut into 4 wedges
2 Tbsp. water
½ bunch broccoli rabe (8 oz), tough stem ends trimmed
1 tsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. reduced-fat sour cream


1. Preheat over to 425 F. Place lamb, meat side up, in a small roasting pan. Sprinkle lamb w/ ¼ teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper. In small bowl, stir together mustard, mint (or basil) and 2 tablespoons shallots. Reserve 2 tablespoons mustard mixture for sauce; spread remainder on lamb. Pat on panko to coat.

2 Roast lamb in oven 25-30 minutes for medium-rare (140 F on meat thermometer) or until desired doneness.

3 Meanwhile, heat 4-quart saucepan of water to boiling on high. In microwave-safe medium bowl, combine potatoes and 2 tablespoons cold water. Cover w/ vented plastic wrap and microwave on High 4 minutes or until fork-tender. Drain; toss w/ 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground pepper. Keep warm.

Richard did not microwave his potatoes. He pre-boiled them, then sautéed them in butter and added freshly chopped rosemary.

As you can see from the pictures, Richard has substituted carrots for the potatoes on occasion (didn’t have time to take a pic the other nite).

4 Add broccoli rabe to boiling water in saucepan, and cook 3 minutes. Drain well; wipe pan dry. In same saucepan, heat oil and remaining 2 tablespoons shallots on medium high; add broccoli rabe and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Toss w/ 1/8 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground pepper. Keep warm.

5 Stir sour cream into reserved mustard mixture. Cut lamb into 2-rib portions, and place on 2 dinner plates with potatoes and broccoli rabe.

6 Serve lamb w/ sour cream mustard sauce.

Each serving is about 420 calories, 28 g protein, 43 g carbohydrate, 15 g total fat (5 g saturated), 5 g fiber, 73 mg cholesterol, 823 mg sodium.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009



I fell in love with pizza the first time my parents took my brother and me to Sal’s, the only Italian restaurant in Bayside, Queens, Long Island, New York. Sal’s was a red sauce restaurant and I thought it was the finest restaurant in the world. I was eleven. It served spaghetti & meatballs, lasagna, baked ziti and other familiar Italian dishes in the 50’s and 60’s, all with sliced Italian bread with pads of iced butter. It served tomato, white onion and iceberg lettuce salad with chunks of blue cheese dressing… something I thought was so delicious I truly believed it was made by some food gods. AND Sal’s made pizza. I don’t know if I had ever had pizza before Sal’s (pizza parlors had not taken over the country yet – hell, this was long before McDonald’s and the franchising fast food ‘restaurant’ frenzy, but I digress…), but my memory of seeing a bubbling cheese pizza brought to our table, then taking that first glorious bite is something that’s embedded in my brain as the greatest food experience of my life.  I was eleven.

My brother and I grew up in a White Castle, Howard Johnson world so going out as a family to a “restaurant” was a big deal. We went to Patricia Murphy’s Candlelight Inn (the very best popovers EVAH – digressing again) farther out on Long Island for special occasions like Mother’s Day, but once in a while we walked downstreet on Bell Blvd. (Bayside’s Main Street) for dinner at Sal’s. So, needless to say, my love affair with pizza started with Sal’s, coupled with my mom and dad and brother as a sort of Ozzie & Harriet memory of ‘family’ that changed after my dad died. He was 41. Our mother was 39. I was 13 and my brother was 9. Life was never really Ozzie & Harriet again even though I did have a mad crush on Ricky.

Sadly, when Richard and I went back to Bayside two summers ago to do my ‘roots’ thing, Sal’s was gone -- but not my childhood memories or my love for pizza. Pizza is almost perfect in its conception. And today pizza has become art.

Many of you have been reading me for a while and you read how pizza played a supporting role in my “Dinner in LA in Three Chapters” short story posted not too long ago on this blog and as you’ve probably guessed I have an almost religious feeling about pizza. So, when we were in Sacramento during Thanksgiving week and my brother suggested we go to Hot Italian Pizza & Panini Bar + Motors & Gears for dinner after our day of wine tasting in Amador County, it didn’t take a nano second for me to say “yes!”

Hot Italian Pizza & Panini Bar is a fun ‘industrial’ designed pizza and panini restaurant in the heart of Sacramento. Patrons can sit at one of the tables by the open kitchen

or sit in the ‘lounge’ on sofas and chairs encircling ‘coffee’ tables in the section of the restaurant that is also a showroom for motorcycles and vespas (well, I think they were vespas), racks of tee shirts and other wares for sale. We chose the lounge.

We started with a salad of gorgonzola dolce cheese, pears and honey -- a gourmet version of Sal’s salad with chunky blue cheese dressing and while eating this mix of mold, fruit and honey it confirmed my eleven year-old belief that there definitely are salad food gods when it comes to blue cheese dressings! We then ordered three pizzas to share among the four us:

#01 - Bellucci – a tomato sauce pizza with a delectable, not too spicy sausage, mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Bellissimo! Bob, Nguyen and Richard’s favorite.

# 06 - Stella - (probably not named for Tennessee William’s immortal heroine in “Streetcar Named Desire,” but some relative in Rome – oops, digressing…). This was made with prosciutto parma, mozzarella and crescenza cheeses with a mushroom medley. Bellissima!!! (It’s a ‘feminine’ pizza.) Definitely my favorite.

And the last was #04 - the Cannavaro, a simple tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil pizza. After the first two spectacular pizzas, this pizza was a disappointment, but we still ate every slice save one. It had too little cheese and though all the pizzas had wonderfully thin crusts, I’d rather my crust have more on it than tomato sauce with a sprinkling of basil and cheese. But, hey no restaurant is perfect.

The next time we’re back in Sacramento, I want a return visit to Hot Italian – I’m dying to try their #10 Pantani – bresaola (cured, salted beef) arugula, mozzarella, shaved grana padana cheese and #11 Ligabue – basil pesto, mozzarella, pine nuts, pecorino romano cheese… oh, but then there’s #12 Citterio – fior di latte mozzarella, spinach, prosciutto cotto ham, parmigiano and then there’s # 25, #50 .... stop me before I digress………

Saturday, December 5, 2009



You’ve sipped wine from Napa and Sonoma, you went “Sideways” into Santa Ynez and watch Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen murder merlot – but have you enjoyed the blended grapes from Amador County?

When Richard and I were visiting my brother Bob and his wife Nguyen Thanksgiving week, we discovered some new joys to living in Sacramento. First, there are some really fantastic restaurants including a great new pizza place (soon to be its own blog) – and I love pizza… then there’s Jack’s, a supremely satisfying sandwich place (and, yeh, I really love sandwiches, too) … But Sac, as the natives fondly refer to their city, has more than great food, it has the most varied selection of gorgeous, mature trees outside of Paris, it has a funky, hip, thriving mid-town, parks galore and it is the capital of California. Arnie and Maria live there (well, for now anyway)… Ron and Nancy lived there and Jerry Brown dated Linda Rondstadt when he lived there. One of the city’s biggest assets, however, is that it’s an hour and a half from San Francisio, an hour or so from Tahoe, an hour from Napa/Sonoma and less than an hour from Amador County. Talk about being centrally located!!!

Still sated from the boeuf bourguignon dinner Bob and Nguyen had made the night before (see earlier blog), we packed up some of the leftover cheeses, crackers and fruit for a picnic and headed for wine country in the Sierra foothills.

It was lunch time when we hit Young’s, the first winery on our real life ‘Sideways’ tour. With a rolling hill vineyard, lush, unpretentious gardens, a serene pond, two huge, friendly dogs and a big, ol’ funky barn-like building for tasting, I decided I could live there.

And the wines were good. Especially the reds. In fact, Amador County is famous for its Zinfandels. After the tasting, we found an umbrella-ed picnic table in one of the terraced gardens overlooking the pond and broke out the cheeses and fruits and reveled in the scenery.

Who knew grape vines had ‘foliage?’

Well, I didn’t.

After lunch, we hit three more tasting rooms: Karmere Vineyards & Winery

Toscano Shenandoah Valley Estate Wines

and the Story Winery

Each had lovely tasting rooms, beautiful scenery and fine wines. Richard and I especially loved Story’s 2006 bottle of Gold Hill zin and 2005 Creekside zin from old vines… so much so that Bob & Nguyen bought us a bottle of each for Christmas (nothing like starting the gift giving early when it tastes so good!).

Another bottle they had given us awhile ago was a Karmere La Petite Drew Syrah (named after a grandchild, if I recall) which I’m looking forward to having one night with dinner since we liked the syrahs we tasted at that winery.

Sipped to saturated satisfaction we headed home with Nguyen, our designated driver, behind the wheel. While we hopped from one vineyard to another, we asked her if she was having fun even though she didn’t sample any of the wines. Her answer was a resounding yes. The beauty of these Sierra foothills is breathtaking and transported us to wine country in Italy or France (at least in our dreams) and we all had a great time being together, taking pictures, laughing, talking and, of course, sipping.