Although vastly multi-cultural, San Pedro, CA is home to a large population of Italians and Croatians who are predominantly Roman Catholic.  We attend Mary Star of the Sea Parish which celebrates all of these ethnicities.  Every March our Italian brothers and sisters invite everyone in the parish to a light lunch of Pasta e Fagioli, rolls and Italian cookies. 
Small pasta, tomatoes, borlotti beans


Beans, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves and olive oil

After about an hour

Using an immersion blender to puree some of the bean mixture

Pasta e Fagioli, a favorite Italian soup that is comforting and satisfying.

Pasta e Fagioli


1 ½ cups dried borlotti or cannellini beans

14 oz can plum tomatoes, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

6 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups water

½ lb ditalini or other small pasta

Chopped fresh parsley

Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Extra virgin olive oil, optional

  1. Soak the beans in water overnight.  Rinse.  Drain.

  2. Place the beans in a large pot and cover with water.  Boil for 10 minutes.  Rinse.  Drain.

  3. Return the beans to the pot and cover with water by about an inch.  Add the chopped tomatoes and their juices, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and olive oil.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 1 ½ hours or until the beans are tender.  You may need to add more water.

  4. Remove the bay leaves.  Take about one half of the bean mixture and run through a blender or food processor.  Return to the pot and add more water.

  5. Add the pasta and allow to cook.  Stir in parsley.  Adjust seasonings. 

  6. Ladle into bowls.  Drizzle about one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil into each bowl.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese on the side.



As you may have guessed, Pasta e Fagioli started out as a peasant dish, made with whatever ingredients were at hand.  Depending on the region, recipes vary.  Some variations do not use tomatoes at all preferring instead to flavor the soup with broth or pancetta.  Others serve all of the beans whole without running some of it through a food mill, blender or food processor.  It all depends on your taste.

I pretty much stuck to the recipe above the last time I made this dish.  With two exceptions.  Using an immersion blender I blended some of the bean mixture with one bay leaf right in the pot.  I did this by not moving the immersion blender all around the pot.  By blending one of the bay leaves in with the soup, it added to the overall flavor of the dish.  I also mixed some of the grated Parmesan cheese into the soup to flavor and thicken it.

Let’s take a look at two of the ingredients.  Dried borlotti or cannellini beans.  These are traditional.  If neither of these are available to you Great Northern Beans or most any other kind of beans may be used.  I would shy away from garbanzo or lentils though.  And then, “ditalini or other small pasta”.  Ditalini and small elbow macaroni are probably two of the most available shapes in any grocery store.  For this recipe I used mezze penne rigate which is a short ridged penne.  You may also use small shells, cappelletti or bowtie. 

If you want to get fancy, you can render and brown chopped pancetta, add different kinds of herbs, use broth instead of water, use different grated hard cheeses, etc.  Whatever your heart desires!  Me?  I prefer to stick with the simplicity of this recipe, the way it was originally eaten.  And it is good.  It is hearty and satisfying.

What is your favorite “peasant” dish and why?

Osso Buco originates from Milan, in the northern part of Italy.  Cross-cut veal shanks are slowly braised in the oven with vegetables, wine and broth.  It is served with gremolata.

Browning onions and veal shanks

Sauteeing vegetables

Addition of tomatoes and liquids

Veal shanks, vegetables and sauce in baking pan

Ingredients for gremolata

Lemon zest, chopped garlic, chopped parsley

Osso Buco alla Milanese

Osso Buco alla Milanese


4 tablespoons all purpose flour

4-5 pieces cross cut veal shanks

1 small onion, sliced into ¼” rings

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

2 medium carrots, finely chopped

 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 cups chopped tomatoes, or 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes

1 ¼ cups dry white wine

1 ¼ cups chicken or veal stock

2-3 strips thinly pared lemon rind

3-4 bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste


2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Zest of 1 lemon

1 garlic clove, finely chopped


  1.  Preheat the oven to 325°F. 

  2. Season the flour with salt and pepper.  Dredge veal shank pieces in the flour, and shake off any excess flour.

  3. Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven.  Brown the onion rings and veal shanks on all sides.  You may have to do this in two batches.  Drain on paper towels and set aside. 

  4. In the same olive oil, sauté onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves and garlic.  Cook about 5 minutes to soften the vegetables.

  5. Add the chopped tomatoes, wine, broth and lemon rind.  Scrape bottom of pot to bring up the fond.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, stirring gently.  Return the veal shanks to the pot and spoon sauce over them.  Cover and cook in the oven for about two hours or until veal is tender.

  6. In the meantime, make the gremolata.  Mix together chopped parsley, lemon zest and chopped garlic.

  7. Remove the casserole from the oven.  Discard bay leaves and lemon rind.  Serve hot with gremolata sprinkled over it.



When I first heard of this dish I knew I had to have it.  The name alone sounds rich and hearty.  I was not disappointed. 

While preparing to make this dish for this post, I had to pick my daughter up from school and take her to her swimming class.  So I prepped all of the ingredients beforehand.  As I opened the door on my return, I was greeted with the aroma of garlic, onions, tomatoes, wine, broth, and lemons.  “Oh,” I thought, “we’re going to have a great dinner!”

Browning or searing the meat gives the meat a beautiful color and seals in all of the juices.  We add the onion rings to the browning veal shanks to flavor the meat and the oil.  When we add the other vegetables, we build more flavor.  The wine deglazes the pan and allows for easy incorporation of the fond, that brown stuff at the bottom of the pot which holds the caramelized meat and onion juices.  And that long slow braise gently but thoroughly cooks the meat and breaks down the collagen and tough connective tissue.  Braising tenderizes tough cuts of meat and infuses them with the bouquet of the other ingredients’ flavors.

As you can see from my pictures, I had to cook the Osso Buco in a baking pan.  The five pieces wouldn’t fit in my Dutch oven.  I covered it tightly with aluminum foil and placed the baking pan on top of a roasting pan.  This was to catch any sauce that seeped under the foil, as well as to add an extra layer of insulation between the heating element of the oven and the baking pan.  By doing this, I mimicked using a Dutch oven.  Half way through the cooking time I checked my dish.  The vegetables were breaking down.  I also adjusted the seasonings.

At this point I made my gremolata which traditionally accompanies Osso Buco alla Milanese.  Gremolata always includes garlic and lemon zest, but after that the ingredients vary.  Some cooks use mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, or a combination of herbs.  Some cooks even add anchovies!  The reason for using gremolata is to cut the richness of a dish.  Or simply to add a fresh flavor. 

Finally, the 2-hour time was up.  The whole house smelled divine!  I carefully removed the pan from the oven.  Steam arose when I uncovered the dish.  I placed a veal shank in each soup bowl, and then ladled some vegetables and sauce over it.  Then I sprinkled the gremolata. 

Osso Buco is traditionally served with Risotto alla Milanese.  It may also be served with plain boiled rice, polenta or even bread.  The vegetables were tender but not mushy; they must have retained their texture because of the gentle heat.  The meat was very tender and was falling off the bone.  It was beefy and satisfying.  The crowning glory of this dish for me is the marrow which is nestled inside the large shank bones.   The marrow may be scooped out but I prefer to hold the bone firmly with one hand and thwack it against my other hand.  It then comes out in one piece.  I took half of it and spread it on my bread…ah, it was so rich!  I kept going back for more gremolata because it complimented the dish so well.  Although this dish isn’t quick to make, it is well worth the effort. 

So when are you going to make Osso Buco?

Basil, pine nuts, grated cheese, EVOO, garlic and salt


Garlic pulsed twice

Processing after 5 seconds

Pesto alla Genovese

Pesto was born in Genoa, in the Liguria region of Italy.  Genoa has a unique climate which basil and pine trees favor.  Although there are many variations of pesto, this simple recipe captures the essence of the original.

Pesto alla Genovese


2 cloves garlic

6 cups fresh basil, packed loosely

1/3 cup pine nuts

2/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese

4 oz extra virgin olive oil

Large pinch of salt

  1.  Wash basil and dry thoroughly.  Remove leaves from stems.  Discard stems and flowers.

  2. Place garlic cloves in food processor and pulse twice.

  3. Add basil, pine nuts, grated cheese and salt to food processor.  Process for about 5 seconds. 

  4. Continue processing while pouring olive oil into food processor bowl, about 10 seconds longer.

  5. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

  6. Pesto is ready for use.  Or, transfer to a clean dry airtight container or jar.  Pour extra virgin olive oil over pesto to cover by ¼”.



I first tasted pesto in a small trattoria over twenty years ago.  I was transfixed!  I had never heard of a green sauce for pasta!  It was beautiful to look at for sure, but the taste was so unlike any other sauce I’ve had.  Somehow I managed to find a packet of “pesto mix” at my local grocery store.  The resulting sauce was just a shadow of what I had eaten at the restaurant.  Sure, I could taste the cheese and the pine nuts.  But nowhere was the bright taste or color of fresh basil.  Then sun-dried tomatoes came into the scene and pervaded most of the dishes so pesto sort of fell off my radar.  It wasn’t until the nineties when I acquired an Italian cookbook did I finally make my own pesto.

These days being into DIY projects, I usually only make pesto in the summer when I can get fresh basil from my backyard.  Although traditionally made with a mortar and pestle (Italian: pestare, meaning to pound or crush), I employ a food processor which is quicker.  I also think that since it is quicker, the basil doesn’t have time to bruise and thus retains its color better.  Regardless of the method you use, it is still better to make your own.  Store-bought stuff no matter how well known the brand just doesn’t measure up.

Some recipes call for grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or grated Pecorino Romano, or a mixture of both.  Actually, you may use any grated hard cheese you want such as Fiore Sardo or Grana Padano. 

So the recipe calls for pine nuts.  I have to tell you that pine nuts are expensive.  They will run several dollars per ounce!  So if you’re watching your budget, you may substitute them with almonds or walnuts.  Try toasting them a little before grinding to intensify their flavor.

And finally, the olive oil.  Using extra virgin olive oil is non-negotiable.  Buy the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford because it is what will carry and blend all of the other flavors for you.  Inferior olive oil “blends” or “pure” olive oil, or even some EVOO won’t have that greenish tinge or fruity flavor.  Extra virgin olive oil should never be used for cooking.  Its flavor is so delicate that cooking would destroy it.  Use it as a condiment.

Salt? Kosher or sea salt.  Period.

In Step #6 above, I said to put the pesto in an airtight jar if it won’t be used immediately.  I also said to pour about ¼” of extra virgin olive over the top.  This is to keep the basil from being exposed to air.  Basil, like cut avocados, apples and pears will oxidize if exposed to air.

What to serve with it you ask?  Any kind of pasta will work.  As will gnocchi. Traditionally, pesto is served with potatoes, green beans and sun dried tomatoes added to the dish.  But pesto isn’t just for pasta or gnocchi.  You can spread it on sliced tomatoes or potatoes, pizza, sandwiches, bruschetta and crostini.  You can use it as a dip for veggies or bread.  You can also mix it into salads.  You can use anywhere you want that rich herbaceous flavor. 

So when are you going to make pesto?

Just in time for Lent, this is a delicious and meatless dish.  Catholics around the world abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and all of the Fridays of Lent.  Some people forego meat throughout Holy Week: from Palm Sunday until Holy Saturday.  Still, others abstain from eating meat during the entire Lenten season. 

Of course, you can serve this anytime of the year.  When I serve this during those times, I usually accompany it with roasted chicken or pork, grilled beef, or sausages.

Pasta with marinara sauce

Pasta with pesto

Pasta with Alfredo sauce

Pasta Tricolore

Pasta Tricolore


1 lb dry pasta

1 cup Marinara Sauce (see 2/17/14 Post)

1 cup Pesto (see 2/27/14 Post)

1 cup Alfredo Sauce

Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Chopped Italian parsley for garnish

  1.  Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Cream Sauce (Alfredo Sauce)


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

2/3 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

  1.  Melt butter in a medium sauce pan.  Add the cream and grated cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.

  2. Stir sauce over medium-low heat until cheese has melted and the sauce has thickened.



As you might have guessed, the green white and red represent the Italian flag which is called il Tricolore.  Some say the colors have meanings: green represents the country’s hills and plains, white for the snow capped Alps, and red for the bloodshed in the wars of independence.  The other meanings have a religious significance to them: green for hope, white for faith, and red for charity, which are the three Christian theological virtues.

I first had this dish when my husband and I were just dating many years ago.  I thought the different colors made for a lovely presentation.  Whether in a single serve pasta bowl or on a large platter, it is very appealing.  Sometimes, “pasta tricolore” refers to a kind of pasta, usually penne or rotini, which are colored green, white/uncolored, and red.

When serving on a platter, different shaped maccheroni  (the Italian word used to reference all types macaroni pasta) may be used for an interesting combination.  Even gnocchi may be used.  I’ll teach you how to make gnocchi later.  For this post I used cellentani, kind of a very loose rotini.

This dish calls for 3 kinds of sauces: Marinara, Pesto and Alfredo.  The first two I taught you the past couple of weeks.  The third one is super easy.  You basically combine everything in a saucepan, stir and let thicken.  The neat thing about this being so easy to make is that you can keep making more if your guests are still hungry and you’ve run out of the other two sauces! 

When I served this dish to my family, my daughter remarked, “Oooh, fancy!”  I encouraged everyone to get a small serving of each kind of sauce so they could compare and determine which they liked best.  So although the marinara was good, it was the one left over.  I did have to make a second mixture of pasta with the Alfredo sauce.  I’m guessing their enthusiasm was because we don’t have pesto or Alfredo that often.

So what pasta shape or shapes will you use for this dish?

Ingredients for Polenta

Pouring polenta in a thin stream

Adding grated cheese

Stirring constantly

Polenta pulling away from the side of the pot

Cooked polenta cooling in a glass dish

Slicing cooled polenta

Sauteeing polenta slices

Polenta with Marinara Sauce

Polenta with Marinara Sauce


6 cups water

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups coarse polenta

½ cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese

Oil for sautéing

Chopped Italian parsley for garnish (optional)

  1. Bring water to a rapid boil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven.  Add salt and butter.

  2. Pour polenta into the boiling water in a thin stream.  Whisk or stir continuously to prevent lumps from forming.  Turn heat down to low. 

  3. Switch to a long handled wooden spoon.  Continue stirring the polenta.  After about 15 minutes add the grated cheese.  Continue to stir the polenta for another 15 minutes or until it pulls from the side of the pot.  This process will take 25 – 50 minutes depending on the quantity being cooked and the coarseness of the polenta.

  4. When the polenta is done, pour it into a loaf pan, baking pan, roasting pan or other similar container.  Cover loosely and let cool, about 2 hours.

  5. When ready to cook, unmold polenta onto a chopping board.  Cut into ½” thick slices.

  6. Prepare serving dish by spooning 4 tablespoons of marinara sauce on the bottom of the platter.  Place in a 200°F oven.

  7. Heat oil in a shallow skillet.  Carefully place sliced polenta into hot oil and cook until golden.  Turn and cook other side.  Transfer slices to prepared platter.  Return to oven to keep warm.

  8. When all of the slices have been cooked and plated, spoon more marinara sauce over the polenta.  Sprinkle chopped parsley on top of the dish.

Marinara Sauce:


2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup diced onions

1 tablespoon crushed garlic

2 bay leaves

1-28 oz can crushed tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup basil chiffonade

  1.  Heat olive oil.  Sauteé onions for 2 minutes or until softened.  Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.  Add bay leaves and cook for 1 minute.

  2. Add crushed tomatoes with its juice.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add basil if using.

  3. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.  Adjust seasoning if necessary. 

  4. Ladle over polenta or pasta.  Or, let cool and transfer to clean container or jar.  It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 3 months.


Polenta is a grainy flour made from ground maize.  Maize, or corn, was introduced to Italy from the New World in the 17th century and soon replaced most of the other local grains in use because polenta adapted very well to the regions’ dairy products.  Generally, there are two kinds of polenta: fine and coarse.  Fine polenta cooks faster but I prefer the coarse kind because it has a more interesting texture.

Polenta can be served plain which is just boiled in water, or it can be dressed up.  I like to cook it with butter (prevents it from sticking to the pot) and cheese which makes it good enough to eat on its own.  It can be served soft like porridge which is often accompanied with meat and gravy.  It can also be poured into a mold, sliced, and fried or grilled. 

I have served polenta in different ways.  There was polenta with chipotle en adobo which was highly flavored and didn’t need a sauce.  There was Polenta al Forno which is sliced and baked with chopped tomatoes and cheese.  And then there is Polenta Elisa in honor of my daughter’s birthday, which is a 2-layer dish with sage and cheese.  My father-in-law’s family hails from Casali in the Abruzzo region of Italy.   He told me that Nana (his mother) always served polenta with pork sausages.   And so this is how we eat polenta. 

This marinara sauce recipe is something I came up with when I volunteered to bring a hot pasta dish for 40 people for lunch to my daughter’s Academic Decathlon competition.  I must have been crazy to make this sauce from scratch when we had to leave the house at 6:00 in the morning to get to the competition which was 50 miles away!  Or maybe, this is just how much I love to cook J.  You can multiply this recipe and store the leftovers.  I froze mine which will be good for other pasta or polenta dishes. 

I like using the canned crushed tomatoes because it is thick and is packed in its own juices.  No, I wasn’t crazy enough to start with fresh San Marzano or Roma tomatoes!  Onions and garlic added depth to the flavor.  And of course, the basil added an herbaceous flavor which made this sauce transcendent.  Overall, this marinara sauce was thick without being chunky.  It clung to the pasta and bathed it with a majestic flavor.  Best of all, it is easy to make and versatile to use.

So what are some of your family’s favorite dishes?

Ingredients for Coq au Vin

Chicken with lardon

Sautéed mushrooms and pearl onions

Flambeeing the chicken

Simmering the chicken in wine

Beurre manie

Coq au Vin

Coq Au Vin


4 oz bacon

6 tablespoons butter, divided

2 ½ - 3 lbs frying chicken, cut into 8 pieces

¼ cup cognac

3 cups full bodied red wine

1-2 cups brown chicken stock, or canned beef bouillon

½ tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves mashed garlic

¼ teaspoon thyme

1 bay leaf

12-24 pearl onions, peeled

½ lb mushrooms

3 tablespoons flour

Salt and pepper

Parsley, optional


  1.  Remove the bacon rind and cut into lardons (1/4” across x 1” long).   Simmer in a pot of water for about 10 minutes.  Rinse in cold water, drain, and set aside.

  2. In a large casserole or Dutch oven sauté the bacon slowly in 2 tablespoons butter until very lightly browned.  Set bacon aside.

  3. Brown the chicken pieces in the casserole.  Season with salt and pepper.  Return lardons to the casserole.  Cover and cook slowly for about 10 minutes. 

  4. Uncover the casserole but have the lid ready.  Pour the cognac into the casserole.  Using a long match or utility lighter, ignite the cognac.  Shake the casserole back and forth several times until the flames subside.

  5. Pour the wine into the casserole and add enough stock to cover the chicken.  Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer slowly for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.  Remove chicken pieces and set aside.

  6. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the mushrooms and onions.  See instructions below.

  7. Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a couple of minutes and skim fat.  Raise the heat and bring to a rapid boil.  Reduce the liquid to about 2 ¼ cups.  Turn heat to low, and remove the bay leaf.

  8. Soften 2 tablespoons butter and blend with 3 tablespoons flour until it becomes a smooth paste (beurre manié).  Whisk the paste into the hot liquid.  Simmer for another couple of minutes.  The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon lightly.

  9. To serve, arrange the chicken pieces on a platter and surround with the mushrooms and onions.  Pour the sauce over the chicken.  Sprinkle with minced parsley.


Sauteéd Mushrooms:

Combine 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet.  Place over high heat.  When the butter foam starts to subside, add the mushrooms.  Shake the pan for about 4 minutes.  Remove mushrooms from the pan when they have browned lightly.


Sauteéd Onions:

Combine 1 ½ tablespoons butter and 1 ½ tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat.  When the mixture starts to bubble, add onions to the pan.  Cook for about 10 minutes, gently rolling the onions so they will brown evenly. 


This recipe is adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, Knopf 1976.



I made this dish because it is one of the most popular French dishes.  I’ve made other French dishes so this was sort of a rite of passage for me.  I felt that I couldn’t say I’ve cooked French food without having cooked Coq Au Vin!


I was excited to make this dish as I imagined how the chicken would taste after having been simmered in stock, cognac and wine.  Yes, there’s that cognac waiting to be lit again!  You’ll notice that the recipe calls for a whole frying chicken but my pictures show several chicken breasts.  Like most recipes, it’s just a matter of preference: my family likes white meat, although I like dark.  You’ll also notice that my bacon/lardons look quite lean.   It’s because this is my homemade bacon which I cut on the thick side.  I’ll teach you how to make bacon in a future post.  


I learned something new with this recipe which is how to make beurre manié.  This is what transforms the simmering stock and wine into a velvety sauce.  It is similar to a roux in that they both contain wheat flour and fat, and are used as thickeners.  However, a roux is made at the very start of a dish and oil or lard may be used for the fat, while a beurre manié is made with butter and is incorporated into the dish while it is cooking. 


As I was making this dish I imagined Julia Child and her cohorts cooking at L’Ecole Des Trois Gourmandes.  It must have been exhilarating to talk about, develop and test all sorts of classic French dishes.  It must have also been neat to learn different cooking techniques from them.  I was feeling a bit like a gourmande as I cooked the different parts of the dish and then set them aside, and then cook something else and set them aside, and so on.  In the end when everything came together it was sublime!


For anyone who wants to learn how to cook French food, I highly recommend getting the book this recipe was based on.  It’s not merely a collection of recipes but a cooking school in print.  Sure there are cooking videos, but reading a recipe step-by-step recipe ensures you won’t miss anything there is to learn. 


Merci Julia, Louisette et Simone!

Deviled Eggs.  The red topping is paprika, and the green is basil.

Fish Sticks with Marinara Sauce

Beef Ribs

Chipotle Parmesan Potato Wedges

Nachos with Beer Braised Carnitas

Buffalo Wings

Today is Sunday, February 02, 2014.  Still feeling a bit tired from yesterday, I immediately set to work in the kitchen after church.  Today is Super Bowl Sunday, or so they say.  To me, it was a day to cook snack-style food for my family to munch on.  To tell you the truth the only people in our house that are into football are my in-laws.  I remember when my son played high school football.  I was a little late to the game because I had come from work.  When the people around me clapped, cheered and yelled I did the same.  After the game my son asked me why I rooted for the other team? 

Anyway, I was more excited about cooking than anything else today.  My initial plan was to make Buffalo Wings, Celery Sticks and Nachos.  But as typically happens, my menu expands as the week or day progresses.  Here is what we noshed on this afternoon:

Deviled Eggs – My mother-in-law taught me how to make this appetizer which was popular in the 50s and 60s.  Thus it’s standard fare at my parties.  It’s easy to make and fun to eat.  Don’t ask me how much cholesterol it has.

Fish Sticks with Marinara Sauce – Siobhan requested this dish as she doesn’t like chicken wings or ribs or anything on the bone.  The serving suggestion on the package (yes, it’s frozen) mentioned marinara sauce.  Well, it just so happened I have homemade marinara sauce from the pasta dish I made yesterday!  The rather-bland fish sticks paired well with my basil-laden crushed-tomato marinara sauce.

BBQ Beef Ribs – This definitely wasn’t on the menu but got the idea when I was at the grocery the other day.  I thought it would be good to have sturdy beef ribs along with the nachos and chicken wings.  I separated the ribs and seasoned them with Montreal Steak Seasoning.  Next time I’m going to make my own rub as the ribs came out salty.

Chipotle Parmesan Potato Wedges – I decided last minute to make these as my menu seemed protein-heavy.  I also had a lot of potatoes.  At first I was just going to season them with garlic salt, pepper and toss them in oil.  But then I thought a little bolder flavor was in order so I added chipotle pepper powder and grated parmesan. 

Nachos with Beer Braised Carnitas – This idea is courtesy of Bon Appetit (  The first thing I made this morning was the beer braised carnitas which is nothing more than cubed pork shoulder, guajillo chiles, lager and salt.  When it was done, I shredded the pork.  Layers of tortilla chips, carnitas, black beans, and cheese formed the basis of the nachos.  I then topped it with radish slices, pickled jalapenos, scallions and cilantro.  Delicioso!

Buffalo Wings – No tail gate party would be complete without Buffalo Wings.  Just like the original, I fried the wing sections and then tossed them in Frank’s Buffalo Wing Sauce.  For my in-laws I made wings with barbeque sauce.  And of course, I also served celery sticks stuffed with Chives Cream Cheese.  To increase the flavor, I sprinkled each celery stick with salt: French Gray Salt, Hibiscus Salt, Himalayan Pink Salt or Smoked Alderwood Salt.

So what did you have at your tail gate party?

Moscone Center in San Francisco. Entrance to the Exhibit Hall.
Food Philippines
France Pavillon
Indian Life
Italy Pavillon
Jose Andres
Locatelli Cheese
Mama Sita's
Mexico Pavillon
Pearl River Chef
Principe Food
Specialty Dairy
The Republic of Tea
Toby with Duff Goldman
Wagyu Beef
Hello friends, and Happy New Year!

You are probably wondering why I haven’t written in over a month.  No, I didn’t fall off the earth.  I have been busy.  Busy doing research.  In my last blog I told you about the debut of Hummingbird Hill Artisanal Jams.  Since everyone’s response was very positive, we (Ray, Toby and I) have been looking into the possibility of turning this into a serious business.  As with any endeavor, a lot of research, testing and refining is necessary.  My sister-in-law Jeanne suggested that we attend the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, CA.  And so we did.

I registered the three of us under our company name: Hummingbird Hill Kitchen, last month.  The cost was reasonable at $45 per person.  Registration and confirmation were both online and was quite easy.  We were receiving emails from the organizers and exhibitors prior to the event.  Jeanne and the website both advised us to wear comfortable shoes as there will be over 320,000 square feet of space to cover.  We dressed business casual as this was a convention after all, and not a county fair.

We were giddy with anticipation on the morning of Sunday, January 19 as we walked towards Moscone Center in San Francisco, CA.  People wearing Show badges were walking to and from the Center.  As we entered the lobby area, there was a sea of people checking in to get their badges.  The air was palpable with excitement!  We presented our credentials and were given our “Manufacturer/Producer” badges.  We were official conventioneers.  We descended to the exhibit area where security scanned our badges.  As we walked through the doors we were awed and mesmerized!  There were aisles and aisles of exhibitors, and booth after booth of all kinds of specialty food.  There were about 1300 exhibitors showcasing the latest and best in specialty foods and beverages representing 35 states and countries.  Over two aisles were dedicated to cheese alone!   How I wished the convention were at least a week long.  How else would one be able to sample the 80,000 products on offer?  Yes, you read right – eighty thousand!

Our game plan for the first day was to just look at everything and scope out exhibitors we would want to speak with.  Well you can’t just “look” and walk by all that yummy food.  Exhibitors were literally calling our name to try their products.  I never thought I’d say no to cheese and salumi but after about a hundred bites, I sadly declined offers but promised I’d come back.  The variety of these specialty foods was staggering!  There were new exhibitors who proudly showed their single product, and there were large established companies who beckoned you with over twenty products.  Very interesting to see were the pavilions from Italy, Spain, Philippines, Argentina, Turkey,  Japan, Greece, Ecuador, UK and Peru.  There were over twenty product categories such as baby food, baked goods, beverages, condiments, confectionary, dairy & eggs, food services, frozen, grain/cereal/pasta, sauces/seasonings, oils, seafood, snacks, soups, spreads & syrups, vegetables/fruits, vinegars, etc.  Needless to say, our game plan to see everything that first day didn’t work out.  There were simply too many things to see…and sample!  Unlike your typical Las Vegas buffet where you stuff yourself within an hour, this was an eating marathon that stretched from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  Some samples were dainty little morsels of cheese chiseled from a 2 foot wheel of Italian parmesan or pecorino romano, others were sauces or salsas on spoons or chips, others were miniature tarts/quiches/ pastries, and others were full sized bottles of beverages or ice cream bars.  The most opulent sample someone handed me was a small plate of San Daniele prosciutto (14 months and 16 months), mortadella, bresaola and speck which I walked around with savoring the different flavors.  Speaking of prosciutto, I’ve never been surrounded by so many artisanal hams both from Parma and San Daniele.   The meat had an even red color and was rich in flavor without too much salt, while the fat was creamy and luscious!  A fellow attendee commented that I’d better eat the samples or the plate might get snatched from my hand. 

The second day was more of the same: looking and sampling.  We visited with members of the Philippine delegation and I remarked how pleased I was with their presence.  We were proud of some of their new innovative products and are considering how to partner with them.  We visited suppliers of jars, boxes and labels.  On the third day we spoke to two co-packers and learned a little bit of how we would relate to them.

We went to San Francisco with many questions about the jam business.  We came back with more questions about other avenues we would like to explore.  The show filled our tummies with exceptionally made food, and planted seeds of new ideas in our brains.  We have a lot to digest.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

   Burrata with Tomatoes

   I made this dish/appetizer the other night.  Although not on my menu for the week, I couldn’t pass up the burrata on my shopping trip to Costco.  Yes, Costco.  I was actually there to scout out items for my daughter’s upcoming birthday celebration and thus was circling around the refrigerated cases of cheese and Italian salumi.  As I rounded the corner I spied a huge sampling kiosk of mozzarella.  This wasn’t your typical sample-lady-with-a-tray.  No, there were two ladies enclosed by three tables giving out samples of ciliegine, ricotta, scamorza and burrata!  The company is Angelo & Franco, located nearby in Hawthorne.  I was giddy with excitement!  I used to have to drive to Gioia Cheese Factory in El Monte but this is so much closer.  One of the sample ladies told me they sell their products at Whole Foods.  Angelo & Franco’s website is   For those of you who live in the valley, Gioia’s website is
Burrata means “buttered” in Italian, and is made from mozzarella and cream.  This type of cheese starts out like a regular mozzarella and is formed into a pouch.  Halfway in the process, the pouch is filled with mozzarella scraps and fresh cream.  Burrata should be served room temperature. 
There is no recipe for this.  All it is is sliced burrata with halved cherry/grape tomatoes tossed on top.  Extra virgin olive oil is drizzled, and is finished with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. 
Although the extra virgin olive oil I used had a fruity flavor, I would have preferred one with a peppery finish as it would have been a good counterpoint to the sweetness of the tomatoes.  By the way, these tomatoes are from my garden!  They are red grape, yellow pear, green cherry, and Sun Gold.

Spices for the brine
Brining the brisket in a bag
Brisket encrusted with ground pepper and juniper berries
Smoking the brisket
Getting ready to slice the brisket
Beef Pastrami
So, you may ask, “What brought this about?”  My mother-in-law did.  She knows I like to cook and make stuff (like bacon).  She asked me how long I’ve wanted to make pastrami.  I said, “Oh, a number of years now.”  I printed the recipe almost two years ago but was intimidated by the length of time involved.   When I explained that the brisket is brined for 3 weeks, smoked for 4 hours, and boiled for 2 hours, she exclaimed, “I have new respect for pastrami!”  Who would want to do this when it’s so easy to pick up a package from the grocery store or the deli?  People like you and me because we don’t just like to eat; we want to get to get to know our food at an intimate level.  We want to know how it’s made, and how it feels to make it.

This recipe is adapted from Food Network (Emeril Lagasse, 1999).

Beef Pastrami


2 tablespoons black peppercorns

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons dried thyme

6 bay leaves, crumbled

2 teaspoons whole cloves

¼ cup minced garlic

2 teaspoons whole juniper berries, plus 1/3 cup crushed juniper berries

16 cups (about 4 quarts) water

¾ cup packed brown sugar

¾ kosher salt

1 beef brisket (4-5 pounds)

2/3 cup coarsely ground pepper


1.        Combine the peppercorns, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, garlic and whole juniper berries in a skillet.  Over low-medium heat and stirring constantly, dry roast until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2.       In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine the water, brown sugar and salt.  Bring it to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt.  Remove from the heat and add dry spice mixture and steep for 1 hour.

3.       Place the brisket in a glass or plastic container.  Pour the seasoned brine to cover the brisket completely.  Cover and refrigerate for 3 weeks, turning the brisket every couple of days.

4.       Preheat the smoker.

5.       Combine the crushed juniper berries and ground black pepper in a shallow dish.  Using the palm and heel of your hand, press two-thirds of the berry and pepper mixture into the brisket.  Press the remaining mixture into the other side.

6.       Place the brisket in the smoker and smoke for about 4 hours.  Remove from the smoker and cool for 30 minutes.

7.       Place the brisket in a large Dutch oven, cover with water and place over medium heat.  Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for two hours.

8.       Remove from the pan and cool completely.  Slice into thin slices and serve.


The other reason it took me so long to make this was that I could not find juniper berries.  I finally did find it at Whole Foods: $3.25 for a 0.2 oz sachet of organic whole juniper berries.  I had to buy about 7 sachets.  Hmmmm, plus about $20 for the brisket.  No wonder these deli meats are so expensive! 

Tip #1: One of the steps I added to this recipe was to dry roast the spices.  Cooking with Indian food has taught me that dry roasting spices heats the oils in the spices and enhances their flavor.  Oh, and the fragrance!  If you close your eyes you’d think you were in the middle of the spice market in Marrakesh!

Tip #2:  Whenever a recipe calls for marinating, I use re-sealable plastic bags because I can get all the air out, and the food will always be submerged/surrounded by the brine.  Be sure to double or triple the bags so that even if the first bag leaks you won’t have a mess in the fridge.  The thicker “freezer” bags work best.

Tip #3:  Crushed juniper berries?  Emeril didn’t say how to do that.  Chopping them by hand would’ve resulted in little juniper berries all over the kitchen floor.  So I used my coffee grinder like I do for my other spices.  It’s fast and the ground spices are in one space.  Since I can’t wash the grinder I clean it by grinding uncooked rice in between spices.  Juniper berries have a “piney” fragrance as they are products of conifers.  Did you know that gin is made from juniper berries?

Tip #4:  No smoker?  No problem.  I don’t have one either so I use my Weber kettle grill.  By banking the lit charcoal on one side of the grill and the food on the other side, it works just as well.  See picture above.  Again, Emeril didn’t specify what wood to use.  Since I was working with beef, I excluded apple which I use for my bacon.  I thought the mesquite might be too strong, so I decided on hickory.

Tip #5:  I refrigerated the cooked and cooled brisket overnight before slicing.  This ensured that the meat was compact making it easier to slice.I was giddy with excitement!  I sliced the entire brisket before tasting one of the scraps – it was amazing!!  The flavor was so complex yet I was able to pick out the individual tastes of the ground pepper, juniper berries, and smoke.  It wasn’t spicy or salty.  None of the ingredients overpowered the others; it was like a symphony of flavors on my tongue!!   The pictures don't do it any justice; you just have to taste it.  And it was certainly well worth the time and effort to make this. 

Finally, what am I going to do with 3 ½ lbs of homemade pastrami?  A lot of Pastrami on Rye sandwiches for starters.

What dish have you eaten impressed you so much that you had to make it yourself?