Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall Pear Parfait

So Richard and I were watching the food network this morning (shocking, I know) and Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello was on. Normally I kind of think he's kind of a schmuck, but today he was preparing this "winter pear" dessert that I must say- looked irresistible.

Cheap, easy, and totally festive; I couldn't not share it with everyone.

Ingredients (to serve 6)
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • a pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 red Bartlett pears
  • 3 Comice or Bosc pears
  • 1/4 pound almond or vanilla flavored Italian biscotti
  • 1/2 pound mascarpone cheese

Combine sugar, vinegar, pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a bowl. Mix well to incorporate. Let stand for 15 minutes.

In the meantime cut the pears (skin on) into thin wedges with the seeds and stem removed. A good trick is to halve the fruit then use a melon-baller to scoop out the seeds. Then just trim both ends.

Place pears in a mixing bowl and carefully mix. When the balsamic-sugar mixture is ready, pour over the fruit and mix gently to coat evenly. Gently crush the biscotti into 6 serving bowls. Divide the pears into each dish then top with a dollop of the mascarpone cheese.

A few tweaking notes, as always..
  • At 9pm in Mesa, AZ biscotti is not so easy to come by. Instead, we used French Vanilla Pirouette's. This was definitely a "tweak" and not a compromise. Those things are delicious!
  • We used 4 different kinds of pears. The difference in texture and flavor was great!
  • I served them in martini glasses using the pirouettes as straws. It was a fun way to present them and allowed you to see all the beautiful colors.
AND an alternate idea...

So, mascarpone by itself is a little too cheesy and gummy for me on a dessert. (Richard disagrees. In fact, he might be licking it out of the tub right now...) So, I like to make a little "mascarpone cream" instead.

Take half a tub of mascarpone (about 1/2 pound), 1/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup heavy cream and 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract. Throw in the blender (or hand mix) for about a minute.

It should be the consistency of sour cream.

Prep time for the whole thing is less than 20 minutes! Enjoy!


Monday, September 28, 2009

Bought this magnet for Richard while I was in Indianapolis. I just can't get over how funny I think it is.

A must for any foodie's fridge. :-)


Thursday, September 24, 2009


Who knew it was such a big deal.

I didn't even know what it was (other than leafy and green) until a few weeks ago.

Similar to arugula, it's slightly bitter and peppery in taste. And, contrary to popular belief- it is not a type of lettuce. It's actually a member of the mustard family.

Come to find out, watercress is the most ancient green vegetable known to man and its use can be traced back to the Persians, Greeks and Romans.

Not only that, but it's like the healthiest thing you eat.

Recent chemical analysis revealed that it's numerous nutrional benefits are due to its generous content of vitamins A and C, and the minerals calcium and iron. Watercress also contains folic acid (needed to promote growth, produce red blood cells, and prevent anemia).

Studies have shown that eating watercress on a regualr basis even prevents cancer!

Honestly, the uses for watercress are immeasurable. It's been used as a migraine reliever, hang over cure, hair tonic, tea to ease aches and pains, and ingredient in numerous soups, stews, salads, and sandwiches.

It has more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk and three times as much Vitamin E as lettuce. And- it's low in calories.

I'm sorry- but why isn't watercress marketed a little bit better. Seriously, who does it's PR?

After googling it, I came across http://www.watercress.com/
(a whole site dedicated to fans of the veggie. Check it out it's loaded with facts and recipes!)

And hidden on the bottom of the page was the following:

Some call watercress the most underrated, underused green in the garden, and suggest that its regular consumption could effectively reduce, if not eliminate, many of the world’s problems with disease and hunger.

I don't know about you, but I feel robbed. Where has watercress been all my life?


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Amaro Gayo

So Shea brought home a small bag of whole bean coffee the other day. Not an unusual occurrence at our house, and I was excited because I love to drink coffee but this was no ordinary coffee... and I was not as excited as I should have been...

The coffee in the bag was the world's best coffee. Literally.

It had been voted the best coffee in 2008... in the world.

A friend who works in a coffee shop had been telling her about it and had brought her a bag when they roasted it. It's an Ethiopian coffee grown on the only plantation run entirely by women. Its called Amaro Gayo. The coffee beans were harvested in 2008 and were shipped, un-roasted, all over the world. But coffee from a specific plantation harvested at a certain time on another continent; not exactly easy come by.

Once Shea told me all of this I was very excited. Extremely excited. Grown man jumping up and down and repeating "do you want some coffee now! do you want some coffee now!" over and over again, excited.

And if it hadn't been 1:30 in the morning I'm sure I would have ground and brewed it right then and there. But with sleep on the horizon, or maybe below the horizon at this point we decided it best to wait until the morning.

Shortly after getting up I was in the kitchen wishing I had better coffee brewing equipment... I wanted to do this coffee justice. I really wanted a burr grinder and a french press, but had to settle for the blade grinder and drip coffee maker we have. I did, however, reach for the bottled water. :-)

The smell of the coffee coming out of the grinder was profound. Complex, earthy and fruity, toasty and warm. Soon after the brewing began the smell of coffee filled the kitchen and my mouth began to salivate...

Now we like our coffee with heavy cream, (which may sound odd but if you take milk in your coffee then try it. A little goes a long way) but on this special occasion we started with the coffee black.

The first sip was amazing. I just wish I had a better coffee palate to enjoy it to its fullest. It was one of the best cups of coffee we have ever had. Smooth and complex, it seemed to hit my taste buds from every angle. It was not bitter in the least bit, nor acidic or flat. It had a fruity, full finish. It lacked... well nothing.

I have to admit I was not able to pull out all the exact flavors, but even with my amateur palate I could tell it was an unbelievable cup of coffee.

Here is the description of it that I found online:

Cupping Notes:
Gloriously balanced and thickly sweet. Straight up Sidamo berries. Nuances of orange marmalade, raspberries and cashew fruits. Touches of sweet citrus kiss your tongue and tickle your brain. Super thick and creamy. Loaded with sweet strawberries and cream.

(Now strawberries I'm not so sure about... either way, it was delicious.)

If you live in the valley, go to Village Coffee Roastery in north Scottsdale and pick some up! If not, check out the websites below where you can order beans from the 2009 harvest. Maybe not the world's best coffee... but still pretty tasty.





Monday, September 14, 2009

Barrio Cafe

The other night we went to a Phoenix landmark; Barrio Cafe. Richard and I first heard about it last year reading Phoenix magazine. It had been voted the best Mexican restaurant in the valley. As you can imagine living in a state bordering Mexico- that's no easy feat. Soon, we seemed to be hearing about it everywhere. The problem was- no one really knew where it was.

Part if what makes it such a local treasure is how inconspicuous it is. Even with Google map directions, we almost drove right past it.

The picture above is extremely deceiving as it's a tiny building on the side of a major street in the actual barrio (hence the name). There's no signage, no parking. Just this little, unassuming house turned into a restaurant that has been serving authentic Mexican food (with a twist) and all the tequila you can drink for decades.

Everything there was delicious and I loved the atmosphere. An old Hispanic man sat in the corner playing the guitar and singing in spanish. Waiters made guacamole table side- one of the restaurant's signature dishes, and the tiny bar in the front of the restaurant was jam packed with rows and rows of tequila bottles.

I had an "organic" margarita. I'm not really one for tequila and I'm not really sure what made it organic- but it was delicious. And so simple to make:
- patron silver
- fresh squeezed lime juice
- fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
- pomegranate juice (I always suggest Pom)
- ice
- sugar rim (they offered sugar or salt so this one's a preference call)

And of course we tried the guacamole. It was very similar to what I make at home with one interesting twist; fruit. In season they use pomegranates. This time of year they had cranberries.

The key is not to over-mix it, use really fresh ingredients, and taste as you go.

Ingredients: (to feed 2-4 people)
4-6 avocados
1 white onion (they used red, but I prefer white)
1-2 green jalapenos (depending on how much kick you want)
2 tomatoes
1 bunch of cilantro
1 lime
3/4 cup of dried cranberries

1. Cut the lime into 6 wedges.
2. Cut the avocados in half and take out the pits. Cut each half into 6-8 pieces. Scoop all the avocados into a large bowl. (use the same bowl you're using for service)
3. Squeeze a lime wedge over the avocados. By doing this throughout the process you add flavor and keep the guacamole from turning brown.
4. Dice the onion, jalapenos (don't forget to seed them first!), tomatoes, and cilantro. Add them all in the bowl.
5. Squeeze on another lime wedge.
6. Important! Do not mix with a spoon! Take a knife and "cut" the guacamole to mix it without turning it to mush.
7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
8. Add in cranberries and repeat the "cutting" process. It should only take a minute to get them thoroughly mixed. Do not over-mix!
9. One more lime wedge on top, and a little more salt and pepper (if you like).

And now you have 3 lime wedges left over for your organic margaritas! Genius!

If you are in the area, try Barrio cafe. It really is worth the adventure into "the barrio."

But if you're reading this from far away- make some cranberry guacamole and a margarita at home and enjoy!


Sunday, September 13, 2009


If you have never been to Disneyland, you're missing out. No, not on the Magic Kingdom or AdventureLand, not on Mickey and Minnie or Donald and Daffy; not even on Space Mountain or the Monorail... you are missing out on the churros!

When Shea and I went to Disney this last spring she introduced me to churros, and about 30 minutes later; the churro and I met again. Soon we were looking for churro stands everywhere we went. And as the sun was setting over the enchanted castle we had churros for the 4th time that day. Needless to say, I thought they were delicious.

While eating them Shea and I pondered over how they were made and what gave them their rigged exterior... I can't say we thought about it for too long but our conclusion was that it was best left to the culinary professionals at Disney.

To my delighted suprise one slow evening at work my grill man, Tino, asked me if I wanted him to make churros. See, at work, when its slow we will sometimes prepare a family meal for the staff.

I am always excited to see what Tino will make because he has a wealth of food knowledge, much of which has been passed down to him from his Mexican desendents.

As he made them, I, of course, paid special attention. As I watched I realized that churros are essentially the same thing as a cream puff only instead of being baked, they are piped through a star tip into hot oil and then rolled in cinammon and sugar.

So with the method locked tightly in my mind- I went home to make some.

In a medium sauce pan I added:
1 cup of water
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

and turned the heat to hight. Once that boiled I added 1 cup of All purpose flour, took the pan off the heat and mixed it until it formed a ball. Then I added 4 eggs, one at a time- mixing each one completely before adding the next. When I was done, my shoulder and arm were tired but I had a beautiful glossy dough that could be pipped through a piping bag.

I dont have a piping bag (who does?) so I just used a plastic ziplock freezer bag, cut a small hole in one corner and inserted my star tip (a large one is better, i got it at a local arts and craft store for 1.49). It works pretty well. (just dont squeeze too hard or you might break the seam of the bag. Yeah, I did it... it was a little messy)

I filled my dutch oven with oil and heated it for frying. After some trial and error, I discovered that anywhere from 375-390 degrees worked great.

I piped 6 inch tubes into the hot oil (just cut them off with a knife or kitchen scissors at your desired length) and cooked them for 2 minutes on the first side and flipped them and cooked for 1-2 minutes on the second side, until they were golden brown.

Let them drain before rolling them in cinnamon and sugar, it will keep them from getting clumps and allow for even distrupution.

Overall, churros are easy to make it just takes a little time and a 1.49 star tip!

The only problem... its almost impossible to stop eating them.


Friday, September 11, 2009


Who doesn't love sangria?

I'm sure there must be someone out there who objects to this sweet, refreshing, summer treat; but I don't know them.

I had never made sangria before; actually- I had ever even thought about how to make sangria before. But once the idea struck me (thanks to the giant hand blown glass pitcher my sister brought me back from Mexico) I couldn't imagine it being that difficult.

I got on cooksillustrated.com and looked up sangria recipes. Surprisingly, they only had two. Being that we were having seafood tacos, guacamole, and homemade churros for dinner; I went with the white- tweaking it along the way. (see tweaking notes below)

Here's how easy it is.


large juice oranges , 1 cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, 1 juiced
1 large lemon , cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
cup sugar
2 tablespoons Triple Sec
1 (750-ml.) bottle fruity white wine (medium-bodied), chilled
ice cubes


  1. 1. Add orange and lemon slices and sugar to large pitcher; mash gently with wooden spoon until sugar dissolves and fruit releases some juice but is not completely crushed, about 1 minute. Stir in orange juice, Triple Sec, and wine; refrigerate for at least 2 and up to 8 hours.

  2. 2. Before serving, add ice cubes and stir briskly to redistribute settled fruit and pulp; serve immediately.

A few "tweaking" notes...

- we doubled the recipe, with the exception of the sugar (we didn't want it to be overly sweet).
- we used a pinot grigio and a bottle of dry brut champagne. (The bubbles add a really crisp, smooth flavor). And don't get crazy buying expensive wines. They actually recommend using cheap wines; they're often sweeter and the fruit and sugar mask a lot of the complexities anyway.
- ice cubes are not a necessity. :-)

So go forth, muddle, and enjoy!


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity. - Voltaire