Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Second Life: Ginger Pork and Rice Turns into a Delicious Soup

"Never waste food." When my grandmother showed me how to cook scrambled eggs, she ran her finger inside the shell to get out all the egg. Waste made her crazy. My mother was the same way. When we'd go to a restaurant, what we didn't eat, came home, much to my father's embarrassment.

To my mother, the prime rib my father didn't eat at Lawry's, reheated at home, made a great snack, and it was free. The gigantic baked potato with sour cream and chives I couldn't finish, turned into the best breakfast potatoes. I learned that the food we brought home from the restaurant had a second life...if you know a couple of tricks

Yesterday I was doing an errand and stopped at Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese supermarket, that always has great sales on high quality meats and produce. The food court inside doesn't make allowances for Western tastes. Mitsuwa has the feeling of a Tokyo-style market.

From Misasa, one of the half-dozen food stands, I bought a bento box lunch with ginger pork, miso soup, a small piece of tofu with bonito flakes, steamed Japanese rice, and pickled daikon. Everything was delicious but I couldn't finish the ginger pork or the steamed rice, so I packed them up and took them home.

In the morning I turned the left-over ginger pork and steamed rice into a hot soup with rice, pork, carrots, and broccoli. The flavors from the bento box lived on, reconstituted into a nourishing soup, perfect for the rainy day. Which made me happy, because it tasted great and because I didn't waste any food.

Creating a hearty soup, using a cooked meat and rice, fresh vegetables, and a stock, is really very easy. All it takes is remembering to bring home the left-overs.

3 cups homemade chicken stock
1 cup ginger pork, cooked, sliced
1 shallot, peeled, sliced
1 carrot, washed peeled, cut into 1" long batons
1 small broccoli florette, washed, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 cup steamed rice, cooked

Heat the chicken stock on a medium flame. Add the pork, shallot, carrot, and broccoli. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cooked rice and cook another 5 minutes.

Serves 1. Preparation Time: 5 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Snack Food Good Enough for a Super Bowl Party

Having friends over to watch a game or just hang out means I'll make a lot of different kinds of finger food. Lavash pizza with a dozen different toppings. Grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp. And my absolute favorite: prosciutto wrapped mozzarella and avocado.

The recipes I like the best are ones that are easy to make and have a lot of flavor, even though they use very few ingredients. What gives this simple dish it's rich flavor is dredging the mozzarella and avocado in olive oil that's been seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper before they're wrapped in the proscuitto. Sandwiching that layer of seasoning between the clean tasting mozzarella/avocado and the salty proscuitto, makes all the difference.

The mozzarella can be wrapped by itself, so can the avocado, or you can put them together. It's entirely your call.

10 sheets of proscuitto, paper thin
2 large pieces of fresh mozzarella
1 medium avocado, ripe, skin and pit removed, thin sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

When you buy the proscuitto, ask to have the fat cut off and the slices cut paper thin. That means you only want one layer of proscuitto between the paper sheets, with very little overlap. Thin proscuitto will stick together, so ask the deli man to minimize the overlap.

Clean off the counter so you have room for several large plates. Take the mozzarella out of the water and gently pat dry. Put one slice of proscuitto on the cutting board and cut 4 equal pieces. Use a chef's knife and cut a ¼" thick slice off the mozarella. Cut that slice into 4 strips.

Slice the avocado into ¼" strips.

Pour the olive oil onto a small plate and season with the sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. How much is up to you.

Dredge each piece of mozzarella through the seasoned olive oil on both sides, then lay it on one of the proscuitto sections. Carefully roll the proscuitto around the mozzarella so it overlaps the cheese. The olive oil should allow you to stick the proscuitto to itself. Add a slice of avocado if you want, or wrap the avocado by itself.

Serve the proscuitto-mozzarella-avocado wraps with napkins and ice cold beer or white wine.

Serves 6. Preparation Time: 30 minutes.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Time for Something Special: Broccoli Spigarello and Sausages

Michelle's been out of town for three weeks. Given the rainy weather, curling up in front of the fire is a great way to celebrate her homecoming. I wanted to cook her a special dinner. Not that my plan was to spend hours making sauces or a complex recipe. Going to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, I looked for ingredients that weren't the same old-same-old vegetables. Luckily I saw broccoli spigarello, making a very infrequent appearance in the market.

Described as a wild form of broccoli, broccoli spigarello is similar to kale, all leaves, without any florets. The stems are woody and should be cut off and disgarded.

1 bunch broccoli spigarello, washed, stems trimmed off, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
4 shallots, peeled, roughly chopped
2 Italian sausages, washed, grilled
1 carrot, peeled, cut into thick rounds
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup pasta water
2 tablespoons butter
¼ box pasta, penne or ziti
Olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese

Boil a large pot of salted water. Add the pasta, stir frequently, and cook until al dente. Strain, saving 1 cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot, add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil, stir and cover to keep warm.

Sauté the shallots, garlic, and broccoli spigarello with olive oil in a hot pan. Stir frequently until lightly browned, season with sea salt and black pepper, then add the chicken stock and pasta water. Add the tablespoon of butter. Reduce the flame. Cover loosely with a piece of tin foil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the carrot rounds. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Grill the sausages until browned on all sides. Remove and cut into thick rounds. Add the sausage rounds and the cooked pasta to the sauté pan. Stir well and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 30 minutes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Braised Chicken with Vegetables

It's raining outside. The wind is banging against the front windows. I just made matzo ball soup, but that's not enough to get rid of the chill and feed my hunger-caused-by-the-cold. I need a rich soup, with meat falling off the bone and enough carbos to boost my internal temperature a couple of degrees.

Braised chicken legs and thighs with parsley, potatoes, and carrots hits the spot.

2 chicken legs, washed
2 chicken thighs, washed
4 shallots
2 large cloves garlic, peeled, julienned
2 cups Italian parsley, washed, chopped
2 medium sized, Yukon potatoes, washed, peeled, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, washed, peeled, cut into thick rounds
10 shiitake mushrooms, dried or fresh, sliced
6 cups water
Olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

If you are using dried shiitake's, submerge them in hot water for 30 minutes or until soft, then cut off and discard the stems. Squeeze the excess water out of the mushrooms, then slice. Reserve the soaking water. If you're using fresh shiitakes, wash and trim any dirt off the stems, but use them as well as the caps.

Sauté the chicken in the olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper, until lightly browned on all sides. Remove the chicken and sauté the shallots, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, and parsley. Put back the chicken and add 6 cups of water. If you used dried shiitakes, use 5 cups of water and 1 cup of soaking water.

Lightly cover the pot with a piece of tin foil and simmer on a medium flame for 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for another 20 minutes. Add the carrot rounds and simmer for a final 10 minutes.

Serve in a soup bowl so each person gets a generous portion of the thick soup. If the potatoes aren't enough carbos, top each serving with homemade croutons.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 75 minutes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Little Bit of Honey is a Dangerous Thing

If T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock didn't dare to eat a peach, he would never have eaten anything as dangerous as honey. Dense, viscous honey seems to have a mind of its own. No matter how carefully I handle it, invariably there's a sticky dribble on the counter to clean up. But given its deep, primal flavor and sweetness, it's worth the risks.

I recently spent a long weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, where I saw 8 films in 2 1/2 days. The always difficult part of the festival is finding time to eat. the films are scheduled so close to one another. Usually all you can do is grab some fast food or an appetizer at a reception. The trick is to eat something that's nourishing and not too unhealthy. I decided I needed to make something to eat I could stuff into a shoulder bag or the inside pocket of a ski jacket.

Tired of trail mix and power bars, I tried cut up fruit and carrot sticks, but they weren't satisfying. After several failed experiments, I discovered a simple and surprisingly flavorful snack that, in any cold climate, will satisfy your hunger and help preserve body heat.

Honey and cheese compliment each other perfectly. Organic honey tastes best. To subtly affect the flavor, try the different honeys: orange blossom, avocado, clover, lemon...the list is endless.

Honey and Cheese Sandwich
1 croissant, sliced in half the long way or 2 slices of bread
1 tablespoon honey
1 slice of cheese (cheddar, muenster, or jack)

Lightly toast the croissant halves or the slices of bread and spread on the honey. Put on the cheese and the other half of the croissant or 2nd piece of bread. Cut the sandwich in half. If you're carrying the sandwich around with you, use plastic wrap to prevent the honey from making a sticky mess. Seal the wrapped halves in a sandwich bag.

Serves 1. Preparation Time: 5 minutes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Perfect Meal: Salad, Pasta, and a Good Stiff Drink

A friend and I had a tough day and we needed a quiet place to have dinner and recover. We happened across Matteo's, a West LA fixture since the Frank Sinatra Rat Pack days.

The menu is Old School, with sections for Antipasti, Salumi, Insalta, Pasta, Seafood, Chicken, Chef's Specialities, and Weekly Specialties. I'll definitely come back for Tuesday's Roast Pig alla Porchetta Dinner. Tonight I settled on a Caesar salad, Spaghettini alla Vongole, and a Perfect Manhattan with a twist. I have to say, the combination was about as right as it could have been.

The dinner reminded me that a salad, pasta, and a drink was a good way to settle down and switch gears from work-manic to social. Tonight I decided to do my own version of this trifecta and make an Arugula Salad with Feta and Olives, Spaghetti with Parsley and Bacon, and a Perfect Manhattan.

Perfect Manhattan

A Perfect Manhattan mixes up easily and should be the first thing you make, so you can sip while you cook.

Yield: 1 serving

Time: 2 minutes


4 oz. Bourbon or Whiskey
½ oz. Sweet Vermouth
½ oz. Dry Vermouth
1 twist of lemon peel, 1" long, ¼" wide


Keep the Bourbon in the freezer so it will be extra cold. Pour the Bourbon and both vermouths into a martini glass, stir, drop in the twist, and sip contentedly.

Arugula Salad

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 5 minutes


1 bunch arugula, washed, dried, the leaves pulled off the stems
10 oil cured black olives, pits removed, cut in half
1 scallion, washed, trimmed, sliced, the white and green parts
¼ cup feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons reduced balsamic syrup
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt


Toss the arugula, olives, scallions, and feta in a salad bowl, then drizzle the olive oil and reduced balsamic syrup. Taste and season with pepper and sea salt as desired.

Spaghetti with Parsley and Bacon

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 45 minutes


1 pound dried spaghetti
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, the leaves finely chopped, the stems not used
4 strips of bacon, already cooked, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup homemade chicken stock or pasta water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
Freshly ground Parmesan or Romano cheese


Put a large pot of salted water (1 teaspoon of Kosher salt to 1 gallon of water) on a high flame while you sauté the parsley, finely chopped bacon, and garlic in the olive oil until softened, not browned. Add the dried pasta to the boiling water, stir well, and check every 5 minutes, stirring each time, until cooked al dente.

To capture 1 cup of pasta water, put a measuring cup in the sink next to the colander. Empty the pot into the colander, filling the measuring cup with pasta water as you do. To keep the pasta hot while you finish the sauce, put the spaghetti back in the pot, drizzle with olive oil, stir well, and cover.

Use the chicken stock or the pasta water to deglaze the pan, adding the butter and mixing with the parsley-bacon-garlic mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Taste and season with sea salt or black pepper if needed. Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chicken Breasts with a Cilantro-Butter Sauce

Chicken breasts are boring. No question they pick up some flavor when grilled, but all too often they are served dried out, with little to recommend them, except that they're lean. More of a "jumping-off point" than a flavor-destination, chicken breasts need a sauce to make them worth while. Trying many different combinations, I remembered a Thai style chicken stir fry that featured a cilantro and black pepper sauce. Looking for a way to better meld the flavors, I added caramelized onions and a pat of butter.

1 bunch cilantro, washed, dried, finely chopped
2 cloves, garlic, peeled, julienned
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, cut into thin rings
4 chicken breasts, skinless, washed, dried
½ cup homemade chicken stock
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl marinate the chicken breasts in 1 tablespoon olive oil for 30 minutes.

Sauté the cilantro, onion, garlic and black pepper in the olive oil on a medium flame, turning frequently, until lightly brown. Add the chicken stock and the butter. Reduce by half over a low flame and spatula the sauce into a bowl.

On a medium flame, sauté the chicken breasts in the other teaspoon of olive oil until each side is browned with a crust. 5 minutes on each side.

These two steps can be done ahead. Just before serving add back the cilantro-onion sauce and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Taste and season with sea salt, if necessary.

Serves 4.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes. Cooking Time: 45 minutes.

An Easy Sauté with Carrots and Brussels Sprouts

Rushing home with no time to cook anything complicated. That doesn't mean I'm ok with a throw-together dinner that is boring or visually uninteresting. The carrot and Brussels sprouts sauté turns a simple grilled chicken breast, piece of fish, or steak into a satisfying meal.

4 carrots, peeled, cut into 1" long slabs
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, washed, stem trimmed, quartered
1 garlic clove, peeled, jullienned
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup water

Sauté the carrots, Brussels sprouts, and garlic in the olive oil and butter until lightly browned. Add water and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Serves 4.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 30 minutes.

Extremely Filling Chicken-Vegetable Soup

When my mother moved back to California after 20 years in Costa Rica, I started filling her freezer with easy-to-reheat meals. My own, personal version of meals-on-wheels. At first freezer burn was a problem, until I discovered that as long as the meat and vegetables were submerged in a liquid or coated with sauce, the food survived remarkably unaffected by their time in her freezer. Now that our older son, Frank, is back from college, living in his own place, I've added his freezer to my list of must-fills.

Freezing chicken soup works great and with enough meat and vegetables, the soup satisfies as an entree. I'll only use homemade stock. Not because I'm an overly fastidious foodie, but the high sodium content of prepared stocks puts me off. Making my own, I can also control the quality of the stock. Using raw bones makes a mild almost "neutral" tasting stock. If the bones come from a roasted chicken, the flavors have a deeper flavor. They're both good, either working well for a soup, although the milder stock is closer to the Jewish chicken soup of my childhood.

2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped
2 broccoli crowns, washed, roughly chopped (1 cup)
2 Yukon gold potatoes, washed, peeled, roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley, washed
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
6 cups homemade chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame and saute the onions and garlic until lightly browned so the onions caramelize, then add the rest of the vegetables and chicken, stirring and cooking until softened, being careful not to over-brown the vegetables. Deglaze the pan with the butter and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour in the chicken stock and simmer 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasons with additional sea salt and pepper, as needed.

To serve, ladle out a generous portion of the vegetables and chicken and top with homemade croutons.

Serves 6.

Preparation Time: 30 minutes. Cooking Time: 30 minutes.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Comfort Food: Meatballs, Sausages, and Spinach Soup

When it's cold, I want to eat something substantial. Tramping around in the snow all day, when we get back to the condo, we're cold and very, very hungry. With a fresh baguette or a bowl of steaming pasta, the Meatballs, Sausages, and Spinach soup is really satisfying. Add in a glass of Merlot or Pinot and it's all good.

1 ½ lbs. extra lean ground beef 7%
2 sweet Italian sausages
3 cloves garlic, peeled--2 finely chopped, 1 roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled--½ onion cut into thin rings; ½ finely chopped
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano
1 bunch spinach, washed
4 cups homemade chicken stock
Sea salt
Black pepper

In a bowl, combine the lean ground beef, finely chopped garlic, ½ an onion, and the Parmesan. Using your hands, mix well and form 48 medium-sized meatballs. Sauté the onion rings and roughly chopped garlic in olive oil on a medium-high flame until lightly browned; remove to a plate. Return the pan to the stove and sauté the meatballs with 1 teaspoon olive oil. When they’re browned on all sides, remove and drain. Do in batches.

Cut the sausages into ¼” rounds and sauté until brown. Remove and drain. Pour off the excess oil and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Heat again and add the spinach. Turn frequently until the spinach wilts, then add the onions, meatballs, and sausages. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes.

To eat as a soup, serve hot, with grated Parmesan on the side. To have with pasta, cook 1 pound of spaghetti and add to the meatballs and sausage. Serve with grated Parmesan

Serves 8. Preparation Time: 30 minutes. Cooking Time: 60 minutes.

Comfort Food: Sausages and Chicken Wings with Shitake Mushrooms

Every winter we go to the Sundance Resort in Utah where my wife runs a feature film program at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. She stays for most of the month but I go back to LA after a long weekend, then fly back four days later to go to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

When we're at the resort, my sons go skiing. I tried it a couple of times and realized it just isn't my thing. I wish I had my sons' athleticism. I don't. But I'm completely happy because Sundance is the perfect setting to cook. The condo has a simple kitchen set-up. No oven and only a 2-burner stove top, but outside the snow covered mountain is postcard perfect and inside it's nice and warm.

I do a lot of cooking at the resort, but I'm not cooking for the time we're here. I'm cooking and then freezing the food so we can have home-cooked meals when we're at the Festival, where watching 3-4 films a day means there's no time to cook. If you're lucky there's the occasional party where you can grab a mini-crab cake or some cheese and crackers.

I wanted to make comfort food. Nourishing, warm dishes that would revive us after a very long day.

Before we came up to the resort, we stopped at Macey's, one of the local supermarkets, and picked up basics: 2 Gold'n Plump organic chickens, a couple of pounds of extra lean ground beef, a package of Italian sweet sausages, and a selection of fresh vegetables.

Since all the dishes had to be able to survive freezing and reheating, everything would have a sauce or be in a soup, that would protect against freezer burn and drying out. That meant the first thing I needed to do was to make chicken stock.

Cutting up the 2 chickens, I had the carcasses and wing tips for the stock. Simmered on a low boil with 16 cups of water for 1 hour, then strained to remove the bones, I had 8 cups of stock. I pulled 1 cup of meat off the bones, perfect for chicken soup. Because I needed a lot of stock, I used the now-picked-clean bones for a 2nd boil by covering the bones with water and simmering for 30 minutes. Straining out the bones gave me an additional 2 cups of stock. If possible, refrigerate the stock overnight so the fat can be removed.

wings, washed, cut into pieces, the tips used for stock
2 Italian sweet sausages, cut into ¼” rounds
½ bunch spinach, washed, roughly chopped
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, fresh, or dried, soaked for 2 hours in hot water, stems removed
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup shiitake mushroom soaking water
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

On a medium flame, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Saute the chicken wings until brown on all sides. Remove and sauté the sausage rounds until brown, drain and remove. Pour off the excess oil.

Add the 2nd tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the shiiake mushrooms and garlic until lightly browned. Deglaze the pan with the 2 stocks, add the spinach, then put back the wings and sausages. Simmer for 30 minutes lightly covered with a sheet of tin foil.

Serve in a bowl with soup spoons and lots of napkins because this is finger-eating food. Or, to make a more substantial entree, add pasta or rice to the bowl.

Serves 2-4. Preparation Time: 20 minutes. Cooking Time: 60 minutes.

For everything going into the freezer, I use an airtight container, like the ones made by Ziploc, and make sure that the liquid covers the meat and vegetables to avoid freezer burn.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Shrimps on Fire

I started teaching my sons how to cook when they were barely tall enough to reach the kitchen counter. The first thing anyone needs to learn is good knife skills. I still remember his mom looking in horror when she walked into the kitchen to find me showing 5 year old Frank how to use a 10" chef's knife to chop Italian parsley. No blood was spilled that day, but the quality of my parenting was a topic of discussion for many months afterwards.

When Frank went away to UC, Santa Cruz, I put together a cookbook with recipes I thought would be quick, easy, and economical. Periodically I'd get calls from him for cooking tips, like the time he was in Costco and he wanted to know what he could do with frozen red snapper, since it was on sale for $1.35/lb.

What's really fun is when the student becomes the teacher.

On one of his trips home, Frank taught us how to make shrimps wrapped in bacon, an appetizer he used to make for parties. Hors d'oeuvres are my favorite part of the meal. Nothing is better than little bite sized taste treats. For a vision of heaven, check out Mark Bittman's episode of his Best Recipes in the World about tapas in Barcelona.

Frank's bacon wrapped shrimp is on my 10 Best Appetizers list. Since I can't resist tweaking any recipe, I added a bit more flavor by coating the shrimps in a seasoned olive oil marinade, otherwise, the recipe is his.

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes


1 pound shrimps (25-35 count/lb.), washed, shelled, deveined
10-12 strips of bacon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped


Heat the olive oil in a pan and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté the finely chopped parsley, garlic, and shallot in the olive oil until lightly browned. Let cool.

Spoon the seasoned olive oil over the shrimp. Toss well and let sit for 30 minutes.

Get organized so you can work assembly-line.

Cut the strips of bacon into 3 equal pieces. Toss the shrimp again, then take one shrimp and lay it on the piece of bacon, rolling the bacon around the shrimp. Take a toothpick and push it through the bacon-shrimp-bacon to hold it together. Set aside and do the rest.

Using tongs, put the shrimp on a hot grill and close the hood. If you're using an oven, set it at 450 degrees and put the shrimp on a wire rack over a cookie sheet.

Turn every 2-3 minutes so they cook evenly and don't burn, about 10 minutes. Serve on a platter with napkins.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Persimmons, Pomegranate Seeds, and Arugula: A Salad of Unusual Qualities

Sometimes lettuce is just not good enough. With its peppery spiciness, arugula has a refreshing bite. In Southern California, even though it gets cold in the Winter, arugula thrives in the year-round sunshine, so we're able to buy fat bunches any time of the year for $1.00/bunch.

Persimmons and pomegranates are more seasonal. When they're all available, our favorite salad is a simple combination of all three, sprinkled with crushed roasted hazelnuts, tossed with a vinaigrette dressing.

The combination of tastes is near perfect: peppery arugula, sweet persimmon, tart pomegranate seeds, and crunchy hazelnuts, all held together by the emulsion of olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar.

Arugula Salad with Persimmons & Pomegranate Seeds

Yield: serves 4

Time: 10 minutes


1 bunch arugula, washed, stems trimmed
2 persimmons, washed, peeled, thin sliced
1/4 pomegranate, washed, peeled, to yield 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1 tablespoon hazelnuts, roasted, peeled, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, slowly reduced to 1 tablespoon


Tear the arugula leaves off the stem and put into a salad bowl. Add the sliced persimmons and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Crush the hazelnuts with the flat of a chefs knife and sprinkle them on the salad.

Toss and season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

Brussels Sprouts the Easy Way

There are some vegetables I remember my mother cooking that I didn't like. Beets and Brussels sprouts were high on my list of vegetables-to-avoid. And all of them were served after they'd been boiled until they were soggy.

Years ago I learned to oven roast whatever my mother boiled. Most importantly I learned that Brussels sprouts, either whole, if they're small, or quartered when they're on the large size, caramelize beautifully when oven roasted, seasoned only with olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Their flavor is even better when they're available in the local farmers' market.

A mainstay of our dinner parties, roasted Brussels sprouts go with just about any meat: chicken, turkey, duck, steak, roast, or pork loin.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30-45 minutes


1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed off
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil and seasoning, then put them into a roasting pan with enough room so they don't sit on top of each other. Roast in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, turning them every 5-10 minutes.

They'll come out of the oven so warm and sweet, they'll get eaten before they arrive at the table.

Chicken and Dumplings with Sweet Potato Stuffing

Chicken and dumplings is the classic comfort-food entree, no question about it. Stuffing the dumplings with a savory sweet potato puree takes them to another flavor level. Adding that little touch, makes the dish perfect for a dinner party.

Chicken and Dumplings with Sweet Potato Stuffing

Yield: 4-6

Time: 2 1/2 hours


1 medium sized sweet potato or yam, washed, wrapped in tin foil
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
8 cloves, garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 4-pound chickens, washed
1 yellow onion, peeled, roughly chopped
1 ear of corn, the kernels removed
3 large carrots, peeled, cut into thick rounds
1/2 pounds mushrooms, washed, sliced thin
4 cups chicken stock, homemade
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Bake the sweet potato in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour (turning it over after the 1st 30 minutes) until soft. Remove from the tin foil and peel off the skin and mash with a fork. (For a chef's snack, try the skin with a little sea salt. Yummy.) Saute the finely chopped shallots and 2 of the garlic cloves in olive oil until lightly browned, then add to the sweet potato puree and put aside.

Cut apart the chicken, separating the legs, thighs, and wing parts (cut apart the three wing bones, keeping the 2 and using the wing tip for stock). Debone the breasts and remove the skin. Put the meat into a bowl and season with 1/4 cup olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper.

To make the stock, put the carcass, wing tips, and breast skin into a large pot with 1/2 gallon of water and simmer on a medium flame for 1 hour. The water should have reduced by half. Strain out the bones and put the stock aside.

Cutting apart the chicken and making the stock the night before has a couple of advantages. You don't have to deal with it on the day you're cooking the meal, the meat will tenderize in the seasoned olive oil, and you'll be able to strip off the fat that will solidify on top of the stock. These are all good things.

In a large skillet or dutch oven, brown the wings, legs, and thighs in olive oil on a medium flame, turning them frequently so they don't burn. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Pour off the fat and discard. Measure 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute the onions, garlic, corn, and mushrooms until lightly browned. Add the wings, legs, thighs and chicken stock. Cover with a lid or piece of tin foil and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Add enough stock or water to cover the chicken and vegetables.

Make the dumplings by first mixing together the flour and baking powder. Using a fork, crumble the butter into the flour, then season with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir the flour mixture and slowly add the cream until the texture is like thick porridge.

The dumplings will take 30 minutes to cook, so save this last step until your guests have arrived and they're enjoying drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Ask someone to keep you company or help with making the dumplings. They're fun to make but a bit tedious.

One last thing before you start making the dumplings. This is the moment when you can decide if you want to include the breast meat or save it for another dish (like grilled chicken paillard or breaded chicken breasts). If you want to have both white and dark meat in the dish, then cut the breasts into 1" cubes and lightly saute them in a olive oil for 2 minutes on each side, then add them to skillet.

Put the flame onto medium and start fashioning the dumplings. Using 2 large metal spoons, scoop up a quarter-sized amount of the dumpling mixture in one of the spoons. With the other, take a dime-sized amount of the sweet potato puree and spread that over the dumpling mixture, then scoop up another quarter-sized portion of the dumpling mixture and spread it on top of the other spoon so the sweet potato puree is completely hidden.

Describing how to make the stuffed dumplings makes it sound difficult, but it's very simple. You'll quickly get the hang of it.

There should be enough liquid in the pot to reach 1/2" above the meat and vegetables, because the dumplings need liquid to stay moist. Once the dumpling has been formed in the one spoon, use the other spoon to gently slide it off into the pot so it rests on top of the chicken and vegetables.

As you make the dumplings, set them into the pot, one next to the other--no overlapping--until the top of the pan is completely covered with dumplings. It's best if there's a little space between dumpling so they have room to expand.

Cover the pot and come back in 30 minutes. Use a large soup plate to serve the chicken with a sampling of vegetables and a dumpling.

Caipirinhas, the New Mojito

The national drink of Brazil, the caipirinha, has 4 ingredients: cachaça, sugar, limes, and ice. Simple, delicious, and strong. Cachaça is harsher than rum but more flavorful than vodka.

Off and on for three years our older son, Frank, lived in Brazil. We visited him in Rio where he introduced us to the pleasures of sitting on the Leblon beach, enjoying the incredible view and feasting on "appetizers" sold by vendors who walk up and down the beach.

The variety of delicious treats carried by vendors is amazing. Grilled chicken, saladinhos ("little salty snacks"), cheeses melted on a small brazier, shrimp on skewers, ice cold agua de coco from a freshly opened coconut, and a variety of fruit beyond belief. After you've eaten enough or want a break from watching the parade of beautifully tanned and under-dressed Cariocas (what the natives of Rio are called), a short walk to any of the restaurants and bars that line the beach and a caipirinha is waiting for you.

Because Brazil has such a bounty of tropical fruits, it was only a matter of time before the caipirinha enjoyed the addition of other flavors. Frank had learned to make variations. Going to a nearby farmers' market, we picked out different fruit to add to the basic ingredients.

Back at his apartment we spent the afternoon working our way through many combinations. What we liked best was adding kiwi fruit and pomegranate seeds, then we experimented with the proportions.

When it was time to leave Rio, we packed our suitcase with as many bottles of cachaça as we could legally bring home.

2 ounces cachaça
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
1/2 lime, cut into 8 pieces, mashed in a mortar and pestle
1/2 kiwi, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds
ice, cubed or crushed

Pour the cachaça in a 12 ounce glass, add the sugar and stir well. Pour in the lime, kiwi, and pomegranate seeds. Mix and fill the glass with crushed ice. Serve with an espresso spoon so you can eat the kiwi and pomegranate seeds while you sip your caipirinha.

Serves 1.

Smoky Leek Soup

It's January cold. The sky is overcast, a very heavy rain storm on the way. Of course in Southern California, a day like today is an 'event' and that means we can indulge in an East Coast afternoon, with the fireplace going and a comfort-food lunch.

The Sunday farmers' market had baby leeks, so it's going to be Smoky Leek Soup and a corned beef sandwich with coleslaw--leftovers from yesterday's visit to Nat 'n Al's in Beverly Hills.

To put a bit more flavor into the soup, add sauteed smoked bacon and lightly brown the garlic and leeks.

Smoky Leek Soup

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 40 minutes


1 bunch leeks, green stems and roots cut off and discarded
1 tablespoon finely chopped smoked bacon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet butter (no salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
3 cups stock, duck or chicken
1/4 cup homemade croutons


Wash the trimmed leeks in a bowl of water, letting them soak for 5 minutes to get rid of any grit. Heat a saucepan on a medium-low flame. Sauté the bacon until lightly browned. Cut the leeks into thin rounds. Add the leeks, olive oil, butter, and and garlic to the bacon.

Traditionally leeks are only supposed to be softened, but lightly browning them gets more sweetness into the soup and adds a layer of flavor.

Sauté for 10 minutes on a medium-low flame. Add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes.

Laddle the soup into 2 bowls and top with the croutons.