Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pears & Pomegranate Seeds Make a Delicious Thanksgiving Dessert

A last minute dessert suggestion before Thanksgiving. Poach pear sections in a lemony-brown sugar liquid and add pomegranate seeds for a pleasing crunch to counterpoint the soft, sweet pears. Serve the pears as a small plate dessert or as a topping for ice cream or yogurt.
For our meal, I'll make whipped cream to put on top of a bowl with the pears and pomegranates with a few tablespoons of the poaching liquid.

Sweet and Lemony Poached Pears with Pomegranates 
Serves 8

Time to prepare: 10 minutes

Time to cook: 5 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes


2 pounds unblemished small Bosc pears, washed
1 cup golden brown sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds


Peel the pears. Discard the peels and the stems. Cut each pear length-wise into four pieces. Cut and discard the inner stem and seeds. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, over a medium flame, heat the golden brown sugar and lemon juice. Stir and heat until the sugar dissolves.

Add the pear sections to the saucepan. Stir well to coat with the sugar mixture. Cover.
Check ever 2 minutes to stir the pears so they cook evenly and are well coated with the poaching liquid.

After 5 minutes, remove the lid and set aside. Add the pomegranate seeds and stir well.
If making the pears a day or two ahead, transfer the pears, pomegranates and poaching liquid to an air tight container and refrigerate.

The pears can be served cold, hot or at room temperature, depending on taste.


Add 1 tablespoon golden raisins to the poaching liquid and simmer 5 minutes before adding the pears.

Add 1 teaspoon finely chopped candied ginger to the poaching liquid along with the pears.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Spice Up Thanksgiving with a Side Dish Straight Out of Mexico

On Thanksgiving I like the side dishes as much as the turkey. Maybe even more. Cranberry sauce, stuffing with dried apricots, pecans and sausage with fennel, Brussels sprouts with charred onions and almonds....I'm getting hungry thinking about those delicious dishes.
And yet.

As much as I'm looking forward to the sides we have every year, I also want to bring something new to the table. A dish that fits in and yet has a new flavor, something that surprises.

For Zester Daily, I interviewed chef Keith Stich in the Red O Santa Monica kitchen, across from the Santa Monica Pier. He did a video cooking demonstration of an easy-to-make succotash that he created for Thanksgiving.
Red O Santa Monica is part of a group of restaurants in Southern California, Chicago and the east coast created by Rick Bayless who has spent his career popularizing the foods of Mexico. His restaurants serve well-prepared, quality dishes with clean, fresh flavors.
At the Red O Santa Monica restaurant, my wife and I are big fans of his menu. We especially enjoy the ceviche, which may be the best we've eaten. The squid, shrimp and fish are fresh tasting. The sauce is lime-tart and hot in just the right way. And the plantain chips are crisp and delicious. I'm getting hungry again as I think about the ceviche.
Ok, back to Thanksgiving.

As part of the Red O menu, Stich serves Mexican street corn as a side dish. If you've traveled in Mexico you've seen street vendors selling corn on the cob from their carts. Charred and covered with flaky cotija cheese and eaten either in a paper tray or on the end of a stick, the corn has a wonderful smoky, salty flavor.
Stich took the kernels off the cob to serve the corn as a side dish to go with a menu focused on seafood and steaks. For a Thanksgiving side, he combines the ideas of Mexican street corn with a fall classic, succotash. Switching out the beans that are traditionally in the dish, he added butternut squash and he included poblano chiles to amp up the latin flavors.

Helpfully, most of the recipe can be prepared the day ahead which eases the craziness of Thanksgiving day.

Please take a look at the article and video on Zester Daily. The dish is really delicious and chef Stich is fun to watch in the kitchen.

Have a great holiday.

Adding Mexican Spice to Thanksgiving Succotash

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Passion Fruit Custard - Easy to Make, Delicious to Eat

Passion fruit are in season.  The small fruit packs a big flavor when added to cocktails, sauces and custards.

When our son lived in Rio, we visited Brazil for ten days. In the time he had spent there going to college, he had become fluent in Portuguese. With him as our guide, we experienced the city the way locals do. We had several meals at his apartment. One of his signature cocktails was a caipirinha made with cachaça, lime, sugar and lots of ice. To a regular caipirinha, Franklin added fresh passion fruit. The cocktail was delicious.
When he came back to Los Angeles, he continued to serve caipirinhas. To make the drink, he would strain out the seeds and add only the juice from the fruit. He would toss the seeds and husks into our compost bin. We used the compost in the vegetable garden and after a few months we had dozens of passion fruit plants growing along the fence. Ever since, we have had passion fruit vines trellised on the fence.

Some years we had a bumper crop of several dozen passion fruit. Other years, like this past summer, the plants produced only a handful. In any case, flavoring the custard takes only two, so we had enough from the garden to make passion fruit custard for dinner last night. And it was delicious.

Passion Fruit Custard
An easy to make custard requiring a minimum of effort. Use quality fresh ingredients, farmers market eggs and good heavy cream. To my knowledge only Trader Joe's sells a heavy cream without additives or preservatives.

The custard tastes the best when it is only 1" deep. Creating a taller custard means the top and bottom will cook but not the middle.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Passion Fruit puree soaks overnight in custard

Baking time: 45-120 minutes depending on the size of the baking dish


2 extra large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup white sugar
2 fresh passion fruit, washed


Cut open the passion fruit. Use a small spoon to remove the seeds and any liquid. Set aside. Discard the husk.

Beat together the eggs and white sugar. Add the cream and passion fruit puree to the sugar-egg mix. Stir well. Cover in an airtight container and place in the refrigerator over night.

In the morning, pour the custard through a strainer and into a bowl. Remove the passion fruit seeds. Use a rubber spatula to scrape off the custard on the bottom of the strainer and add to the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Pour the custard into a large 9" round oven-proof baking dish or 6 porcelain ramekins. Prepare a water bath by pouring 1" of water into a baking pan larger than the baking dish by several inches.

Bake for 45 minutes (the ramekins) or 90 minutes (the baking dish). Every 15 minutes rotate the baking dish and ramekins so they cook evenly. If the custard is browning too quickly, lay a piece of tin foil over the top.

The custard is done when it doesn't jiggle when moved. Depending on your oven, the baking time could be as much as 2 hours or even longer.

Serve at room temperature.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Having a Very Good Time in New York State's Finger Lakes

Last month I went on a road trip in the Finger Lakes. Flying to Rochester, I rented a car. For the next three days I drove south, then east, then north until I dropped the car off in Syracuse. With guides from the county tourism boards, I saw as much as I could on a too-short trip. I had a great time enjoying the lakes, visiting with farmers, looking at the beautiful countryside and meeting people who have lived their whole lives in this very special part of the country.
The focus of the trip was distilleries. Specifically, those distilleries on orchards. These are family owned farms. Those farms were allowed to produce distilled spirits because of law that was passed by the state of New York in 2007.
The Finger Lakes region is well-known for its vineyards. Now there are good products originating in the orchards. For the most part, that means apples. All kinds of apples, which are used to make hard cider. In the past when I tried hard cider, I didn't enjoy the sweetness. The hard ciders I tasted at Apple Country SpiritsEmbark Craft  Ciderworks both in Williamson, the orchard collective at Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm in Interlaken and 1911 Spirits at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard outside of Syracuse were dry and light like champagne.
The real surprise was when I tasted the vodka, gin and brandies made from the products of those orchards. At Apple Country Spirits, I had Tree Vodka, Apple Jack and brandies made from cherries, plums and pear. At 1911 Spirits, I had 1911 Gin and 1911 Vodka. All were very good.
The vodka and gin at both distilleries were made from apples. That doesn't mean the spirits tasted like apples. They were delicious clean tasting and mild.

At the end of the trip, on my last night in Syracuse, I visited Al's Wine and Whiskey Lounge in the downtown area. The bar is relatively new but looked and felt as if it had been there since the turn of the 20th century. Tall ceilings. Brick walls. A pool table in the back. A lounge with leather couches and chairs. And a 35 foot long wooden bar backed by floor to ceiling shelves filled with bottles of spirits. The bar list is as thick as the phone book for a small city.
After a very busy trip, I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my labors, so to speak. I wanted a cocktail. One made with a local product. The way it works at Al's is instead of reading through a cocktail menu, you tell the bartender how you are feeling, which in my case was tired and what kind of spirit you like, which in my case was either vodka or gin, whichever was local.
The result was a very delicious cocktail made with Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard's 1911 Gin. I wrote up the recipe for Zester Daily. Please take a look. I think you'll want to make the cocktail for yourself. It is that good!

Upstate N.Y. Craft Distillers Get Creative With Gin

Friday, September 25, 2015

Figs Tart Up

A chance encounter with a discounted flat of perfectly ripe figs led to a day of baking in pursuit of a great tasting fig tart for a recipe I contributed to Zesterdaily.  
Although it might look complicated, because there are a number of elements (tart dough, custard, roasted almonds, fig confit), each element can be made several days ahead.  

On the day you want to serve the tart, you'll only spend a few minutes putting everything together.  The tart goes in the oven while you're having drinks with your friends.  Easy.

The tart can be made into half a dozen small tartlets (above) or one very large tart that serves a dozen or more.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Shrimp Steam Up and Go to Town with Remoulade and Charred Shallots

Often the most ingenious cooking techniques are the simplest. Years ago I met a Thai chef who graciously showed me some basic cooking techniques. One particular technique I loved was cooking raw shrimp in an aluminum foil pouch. The resulting shrimp were plump, juicy and sweet. Of course the freshest, highest quality shrimp needed to be used.

I loved the technique not only because of the result but also because as the shrimp cooked, the pouch expanded. That reminded me of the way stove-top Jiffy popcorn puffed up.
Long before there was microwavable popcorn, Jiffy satisfied the hunger for easy-to-make snack food. Prepared correctly, the popcorn came out nicely steamed. But if you weren't careful, the bottom kernels burned and gave the whole bag of popcorn a harsh charcoal flavor. The same is true of cooking the shrimp in an aluminum pouch, be careful not to burn the shrimp.

Preparing the shrimp this way can produce perfectly steamed shrimp to use for an icy-cold shrimp cocktail to accompany an equally icy-cold vodka martini (dirty, of course, with an olive and an onion) or to be served hot and steaming on a platter.

With the shrimp cocktail, serve a horseradish-hot cocktail sauce. With the hot shrimp, remoulade is a good accompanying sauce or chermoula.

After steaming, the shrimp can be quickly charred on a carbon steel pan to add a bit of color and sweetness. That's what I did tonight for dinner when I made the shrimp with charred shallots and remoulade.


Raw shrimp that have been shelled and devined can be used, but I prefer to go the distance and do the prep work myself. That way I know when the shelling and deveining was done and I will harvest the shells to make a light and delicious shrimp-shell sauce. More about that in another post.

Use any size shrimp you like. Smaller shrimp will cook more quickly and are more trouble to shell and devein. In general, I would recommend medium to large sized shrimp.

Time to prepare depends if you are shelling and deveining them yourself. The cooking time will also vary, depending on the size of the shrimp.

Choosing a mustard to use to make the remoulade is a personal choice. Dijon has a good clean flavor but can be intense. A milder choice is deli-style mustards. In either case, buy a good quality mustard.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Time to prep: approximately 15 minutes

Time to cook: approximately 5 minutes

Total time: approximately 20 minutes


2 pounds raw shrimp, washed, pat dried
1/4 cup mayonnaise preferably Best Foods or Heilman's
1/4 cup good quality mustard, either deli style or Dijon
1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5-6 large shallots, washed, skins removed and ends trimmed and discarded
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 sheet aluminum 15" long


To make the remoulade, mix together the mayonnaise, mustard and capers, seasoned with black pepper. Place in an air tight container and refrigerator.

If the raw shrimp are shelled and deveined, wash and pat dry. If not, peel the shells off, starting with the legs and rolling them off the flesh, pulling off the tail at the same time.
Using a sharp paring knife, cut a shallow incision in the back of the shrimp, remove the black vein and discard. After shelling and deveining, rinse the shrimp again in clean water, drain and pat dry.

Lay the sheet of aluminum on a flat surface. In the middle of the sheet, lay the shrimp snuggly together, all facing the same way. Imagine they are coodling in bed.
Fold the foil over the shrimp and neatly seal the ends being careful to keep the shrimp flat. The objective is to create an air-tight pouch. The ends of the pouch should be folded over 3-4 times so that as the pouch expands, the ends do not pop open releasing the heat and liquid.

Heat a pan large enough that the pouch can fit in the center. Turn the heat onto high. Have a pair of long tongs at the ready.

To determine that the pan is hot enough, dip three fingers into a bowl of water and fling drops of water into the pan. If the water skitters across, the pan is hot enough.

Have a large plate ready.

Place the pouch onto the hot pan. When the pouch inflates, the shrimp are cooked on that side. If the pouch is not sealed completely, the pouch may not inflate. The shrimp will cook regardless. In which case, assume that 3 minutes on each side will cook the shrimp.
Carefully use the tongs to turn the pouch over. Lay the pouch in the middle of the hot pan. If the pouch had inflated, turning it over will deflate it. When it inflates again or the pouch has been on the hot pan for 3-4 minutes, the shrimp should be cooked.

Using the tongs, hold the pouch over a bowl and cut open the pouch. Remove the shrimp, reserve the liquid to make a sauce for another dish and, if you are not immediately serving the shrimp, refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 24 hours.
Just before serving, finely slice the shallots the long way (end to end). Toss with olive oil. Heat a frying pan. I like using a carbon steel pan which will quickly add a beautifully flavorful caramelization on the shallot strands. Place the oiled shallots into the pan. Using tongs, toss well and sauté until the shallots are charred. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the pan again. When it is hot, place the shrimp in the pan for a few seconds on each side, just long enough to lightly char the sides. Remove.

Serve the shrimp topped with the charred shallots accompanied with a small bowl of remoulade.

The shrimp can be accompanied with steamed rice, freshly made pasta or a tossed green salad. And don't forget the dirty martini!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Latin Flavors Spice Up Our Love of Corn

Piled high on tables at farmers markets and in supermarkets, sweet corn is everywhere. At the beginning of summer after a cold, dark winter, the sight of corn leads to a stampede of shoppers.
Every week we brought home bundles of corn because who can resist the fat ears with their light green husks and wispy tassels? And so, happily, we have cooked corn every which way--boiled, grilled on the BBQ and roasted in the oven. 

But now at mid-summer, we feel corn-fatigue.  We have begun to take corn for granted. We need a way to rekindle our love affair with corn.

The solution was easy. All we needed was some Latin excitement.
Elote Mexican Corn Salad
My newest favorite corn salad borrows from the flavors of Mexican street corn called elote where ears of cooked corn are skewered on sticks and flavored with grated cotija cheese and dusted with red pepper powder. I turned that street food snack into a salad, tossed with freshly chopped Italian parsley. 

The recipe is on Zester Daily, please try it and let me know what you think. I love it!

Turn Salsa into a Salad

Salsa and chips or salsa and tacos is the perfect summer light snack. Freshly made, salsa brings the best of the garden to the table. Personally, I like to use cherry tomatoes to make salsa because they have a good sweet-to-acid balance. Toss in charred or roasted corn kernels and the salsa brightens with sweetness.

Grilled Corn Salsa

Adding corn caramelized from light grilling gives this salsa its distinctive sweetness. When you buy corn from the market, look for plump kernels. Avoid ears with wrinkled or shriveled kernels. 
You can use any kind of ripe tomato you enjoy, but I prefer cherry tomatoes because they are sweet and they hold their shape after being cut up. For added color, select a basket with a mix of yellow and red cherry tomatoes.
Serves 4
1 ear of corn, husks and silks removed, washed
1 8-ounce basket of ripe cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
1 large shallot, ends and skin removed, washed and roughly chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste (optional)
1. Preheat the grill to medium-hot.
2. Drizzle the olive oil on a large plate and season with sea salt and black pepper. Roll the ear of corn to coat. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill. Turn frequently to prevent burning. Remove the corn when all the sides have light grill marks. Let cool. Cut off the kernels and place in a large mixing bowl.
3. Use a rubber or silicone spatula to transfer the seasoned olive oil from the plate into the mixing bowl with the corn.
4. Add the quartered cherry tomatoes, shallot and parsley. Toss well and season with the cayenne. Taste and adjust the flavors with more sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and lemon juice (optional).