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I grew up eating that red gelatinous cylinder that came out of a jar every Thanksgiving, and as they say, ignorance is bliss.  I looked forward to eating turkey with a slice of jellied cranberry sauce, never thinking that there was something very wrong if you have to slice your cranberry sauce.  I was in my early twenties when I tasted cranberry sauce made from fresh cranberries for the first time and I have never eaten the jarred stuff since.

And neither should you.  It is the easiest thing to make on the Thanksgiving menu and has the biggest yum factor for the amount of work put into it.  It couldn’t be easier – a 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries, 1 C. of sugar, and 1 C. of water.  Bring the sugar and water to a boil and add cranberries.  Boil until cranberries “pop” and start to thicken – about 5-7 minutes or so.  Cool and refrigerate.  Can (and should) be make days ahead.

I am making a variation to the basic cranberry sauce this year and it is simply yummy.  The candied kumquats add another tart element to the sweetly tart cranberries, and the plump golden raisins add a slight pop to the texture. 

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Cranberry Kumquat Sauce from Epicurious

2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
6 ounces fresh kumquats, quartered lengthwise (about 1 generous cup), seeds removed
20 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries (about 5 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup golden raisins

Combine sugar, 2 cups water, and kumquats in large saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until kumquats are almost translucent, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer kumquats to small bowl.

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Add cranberries to sugar syrup in pan; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until berries burst, about 7 minutes. Add raisins; simmer until soft, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer cranberry sauce to medium bowl. DO AHEAD Kumquats and cranberry sauce can be made 5 days ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before continuing.

Just before serving, add kumquats to cranberry sauce.

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Don’t worry – the sauce will thicken up in the fridge.


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My husband and I had a wonderful dinner at Xochitl on the Day of the Dead after a hard day of getting out the vote two weeks ago.  We ordered from the special Day of the Dead menu, but had to try the guacamole they prepare at the table.  We settled on guacamole with blue cheese and pomegranate, and after the first bite, I knew I had a new party favorite. 

The blue cheese added a rich saltiness to the creamy avocados and the juicy sweet burst of pomegrante seeds finished the experience perfectly.  The color is an added plus:  the red jewel-like seeds atop the green guacamole – I don’t think you can get any more festive than that for Christmas.  I hope you try this at your next party – your guests will thank you.

Guacamole with Blue Cheese and Pomegranate
(serves 6-8)

 3 ripe avocados, halved, pitted and taken out of skin
4 oz. soft blue cheese (gorgonzola or blue cheese) at room temperature
1-2 finely diced jalepeño chiles (to taste)
1/4 medium red onion, finely diced
3 Tbs. chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
¼ C. pomegranate seeds

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Mash avocados mortar and pestle (if you are so lucky to own one, use your stone molcajete since those avocados are slippery little buggers). 

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Add the blue cheese and mash into avocados.

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 Add onions, jalepeño chiles, cilantro and incorporate well.   Salt and pepper to taste.

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Place in serving bowl and sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top.  Serve with tortilla chips and watch them disappear.

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It was been raining steadily all day and I’ve been in the mood for risotto.  Done properly, risotto can be stick-to-your-ribs good and perfect for a dreary day like today.  I came across this recipe in the RSVP restaurant recipe section of the November 2008 Bon Appétit (one of my favorite features in the magazine).  The recipe calls for fairly basic ingredients, all of which make for a classic risotto.  I liked the idea of pairing it with fish since fish always seems like a good idea to me. 

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I used oyster and shiitake mushrooms for this recipe.

Striped Bass with Mushroom Risotto (adapted from San Diego’s Quarter Kitchen’s recipe in Bon Appétit)
yields 4

Mushroom Risotto
6 C. low salt chicken broth
1/2 C. (1 stick) butter, divided in half
3 + 3 Tbs. shallots
1 clove garlic, minced
12 oz. assorted wild mushrooms (chanterelle, crimini, or shiitake)
1 3/4 C. arborio rice
1 C. dry white wine
1/3 C. chopped Italian parsley
1/3 C. Parmesan cheese (plus more to taste)

3 Tbs. olive oil
4 5 oz. striped bass fillets

Simmer broth in medium saucepan and keep warm.  Melt 1/4 C. (1/2 stick) of butter in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 3 Tbs. shallots, garlic, and the mushrooms.  Sauté until mushrooms are soft (about 10 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper.

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Melt 1/4 C. (1/2 stick) in another heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add 3 Tbs. shallots, sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.  Add rice and stir for 1 minute. 

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Add wine and stir until almost dry, about 4 minutes.  Add 1 C. warm broth and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 2 C. broth and simmer 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 2 C. broth, mushroom mixture, parsley, and 1/3 C. cheese.  Simmer until creamy and rice is tender, but still firm to bite, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Meanwhile, set oven on broil.  Add oil to ovenproof skillet on high heat.  Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper and cook, skin side down until skin is crisp (about 4 mintues). 

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Transfer skillet to oven and broil about 6 inches from heat for about 4-6 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Serve risotto with more parmesan cheese to taste and top with fish.  I drizzled with risotto with a truffle olive oil – mmmm.

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I entertain with some regularity and one constant dish I serve regardless of the type of party is spicy almonds.   I usually place dishes of the spicy nuts throughout the house during a party and inevitably, I find the near-empty (or completely empty) dishes at the end along with numerous compliments and requests for the recipe.  I made a batch today for my husband who is going on a canoe trip with some buddies.  I guess spicy almonds aren’t just for parties anymore.

I use a variation of Martha Stewart’s recipe which calls for blanched almonds.  I use dry roasted unsalted almonds since blanched almonds just look so naked.  The sugar will caramelizes into little bunches of sugar, which is such a perfect complement to the spicy crushed red hot peppers and cumin. 

Spicy Almonds (adapted from Martha Stewart)

1/4 C. peanut oil
4 C. whole dry roasted unsalted almonds
1 C. sugar + 1 Tbs. for sprinkling
3 tsp. kosher salt
3 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. red pepper flakes

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In a large, heavy-bottomed saute pan, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add the almonds, and stir with a wooden spoon, coating each thoroughly with oil. Sprinkle with 1 cup sugar, and continue to stir until the almonds become golden brown and the sugar caramelizes, about 4 minutes.

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Remove the pan from heat, and pour almonds into a medium mixing bowl. Sprinkle the remaining sugar, salt, cumin, and red pepper flakes over the nuts, and toss well. Pour the spiced nuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet, and separate with a wooden spoon. Allow nuts to cool for about 30 minutes. Spiced nuts can be stored up to two weeks in an airtight container.

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Despite their openness to try all types of food, my children are quite happy to eat certain kids’ fare, most notably mac and cheese. What’s not to like? It’s got pasta, milk, butter and cheese in it.  I’ve made many variations of it over the years, but this is the one I’ve settled on.  The kids love it and frankly, the adults love it too.

Macaroni and Cheese

16 oz. elbow pasta
5 Tbs. + 3 Tbs. of butter (1 stick total)
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 C. flour
5 C. milk
4 C. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 – 1 C. panko bread crumbs
1/2 C. grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Cook pasta according to directions to the longest recommended time for the softest pasta.  Meanwhile, melt the 5 Tbs. of butter in a large saucepan or dutch oven.  Cook onions until soft (about 4 minutes).  Add flour and cook for about 4 more minutes.  Add milk and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium high and cook for a few minutes until mixture thickens, stirring frequently.  Turn off heat, add cheese and mix well.  Add cooked macaroni to cheese mixture and incorporate well.   Add ground nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer mac and cheese to a large casserole dish or keep in a dutch oven.  Melt the 3 Tbs. of butter and mix with panko breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle buttered panko and parmesan cheese on top and bake for 25-30 until bubbly and brown on top.  (If using a tall dutch oven, you may have to broil for a few minutes to brown the breadcrumbs.)

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We are well into the dog days of summer here and this dish is the perfect solution for a quick, easy, light and cool dinner.  I love making cold soba noodle salad after a day at the pool or when the mercury rises above 90 (the two usually coincide as it did today).  Soba noodles are Japanese buckwheat noodles, higher in protein and fiber than wheat or rice noodles.

This is Korean comfort food, amazingly simple to make yet so satisfying.  I like to eat it without meat, but one can easily add some shrimp, pork or even sashimi.  One key ingredient that may not be easily accessible to all is fresh perilla leaves, available at most Asian grocery stores.  Perilla is a member of the mint family and is not unlike arugula or fennel with a strong, unique flavor all its own. 

Perilla – a staple of Korean summer recipes

In addition to selling it in small packets in the produce section, Korean grocery stores often sell perilla in pots in the late spring/early summer. Once planted in the ground (full to partial sun), you won’t ever have to buy another perilla plant again. The plants go to seed in the early fall and will self-propagate.  By next summer, you will have a profusion of perilla plants growing in a 5 feet radius around the original plant.


Soba noodles usually come in pre-measured single serving bunches.



(serves 4)

4 bunches of soba noodles
10 perilla leaves, sliced thinly
2 C. mixed baby greens
1/4 – 1/2 thinly sliced red onion
1/2 C. soy sauce
1/4 C. vinegar
1/4 C. + 3 Tbs. sugar (more or less to taste)
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. water
crushed toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Cook soba noodles according to package directions.  Rinse under cold water and set aside.   Combine soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, olive oil and water in small bowl.  Whisk until well combined. 


Toss greens, perilla, onions and noodles in dressing.  Garnish with crushed toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.




Roasting Red Peppers

July 2, 2008


What do you do when you see red peppers on sale for $.99/lb. at the grocery store?  You buy as many as you can stuff into your eco-friendly reusable grocery tote and hurry home to make a vat of roasted red peppers, naturally.  It seems there are two approaches to roasting peppers:  oven or open flame.  Roasting in the oven is easier, cleaner and the only option for those with an electric range.  I’ve done it in the past when I was pressed for time, and yes, it works, although it’s not my preferred method. 

Roasting over an open flame (stove-top or grill) is time-consuming and dirty, but the results, in my opinion, are tastier.  The flame magnifies the sweetness of the pepper that you just don’t taste in oven-roasted peppers.  I’ve been been using this method ever since I read The World According to Garp (one of my all-time favorite books) back in grad school where the protagonist roasts his peppers atop his gas range.  When I married my husband, I was happy to discover his Italian family made theirs the same way.


Marinated Roasted Red Peppers

6 red peppers (or more)

1 head of garlic, peeled and crushed

1-2 C. extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Place rinsed peppers over open flame (on grill or gas cooktop).  Completely char all sides including tops and bottoms, using tongs to turn the peppers.  (You might want to temporarily disable your smoke detector or open the windows.  Oh, and be prepared to find little black flecks all over your kitchen for the next three days). 

 You know they’re done when they are completely blackened.

 Place charred red peppers in brown paper bag. 

When completely cooled, rub off as much as the blackened skin as possible.  I try not to rinse the pepper under water since it loses some of its flavor, although many simply rinse off the burnt parts.  It does get very messy, so you will have to rinse your hands off frequently. 

Cut off the tops and remove the seeds.  Slice into 1 inch wide strips.  Place in medium bowl with crushed garlic cloves and cover with good quality extra-virgin olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper. 

Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight (or longer).  This keeps for at least a week (although I’ve never had peppers hang around that long).

Serve in sandwiches, salads, pasta, chicken recipes or my favorite, with crusty bread dipped in the sweet infused olive oil.