Chef David Pratt’s Salmon Baked in Paper, en Papillote Drama and Flavor Wow


David Pratt, executive chef-owner of Brick in San Clemente, says that cooking “en papillote” is an easy, delectable and make-ahead way to cook fish when entertaining at home.

It’s the classic technique that bakes ingredients sealed in a parchment-paper pouch. Each parcel contains one serving, and as it cooks the food inside steams in its own juices.

Toward the end of baking, each packet balloons into an alluring golden dome. Packets are slipped onto individual plates, and each guest tears or cuts open the package at the table, filling their nostrils with the aroma of fragrant steam.


Wild Alaskan salmon fillets are a Pratt favorite.

Before enclosing them in parchment, he pairs them with thinly sliced fennel, fruit, tarragon and black rice (often dubbed “forbidden rice”).


Because the packets cook quickly, he uses a mandoline to cut the raw produce into very thin slices.

ploutsHe used pluots the day we taped a video in my kitchen; that fragrant stone fruit, a cross between apricots and plums, added color and sweet-sour vibrancy to the dish. In fall or winter, he suggests substituting peeled citrus segments. And maybe some shelled fava beans.


Before opening Brick three years ago, he was the General Manager of Studio at the Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach. But it was his work at Mirabeau that first brought him into the local spotlight. Between 2002 and 2006, he was the executive chef and co-owner of that authentic French bistro in Dana Point.

A father of three, his wife Jaimie is an ER nurse at Hoag Hospital. They live in Capistrano Beach.

Culinary Mentor: His early career included experience as executive sous chef for Julian Serrano at the acclaimed Picasso Restaurant at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He grew to appreciate Serrano’s minimalism. Rarely were there more than a handful of ingredients used to create a dish. His theory – food should be easy to recognize and easy to enjoy.


The Competition: Flour+Water in San Francisco is one of his favorite restaurants. As with Brick, the eatery is recognized for its made-from scratch pasta and wood-fired pizzas. He says that he is envious of their creative freedom when it comes to making pasta dishes.

Never been to BRICK? Here’s a video that Curt Norris and I made that shows what the restaurant looked like before Pratt redesigned it, AND what it looked like after it opened.

Folding the parchment to enclose the fish and its ingredient sidekicks isn’t difficult, but it is hard to visualize without seeing it. Watch the video. Once you see how easy it is, the make-ahead technique will be yours. Chef Pratt used a 16-by-24-inch sheet of parchment, but you can use a smaller (more common size) of 12-by-16 1/2-inches (just make the folds a little smaller). If you can’t find black rice substitute wild rice or basmati.


Pratt’s Salmon en Papillote (Salmon en Cartoccio)
Yield: 2 servings
2 sheets parchment paper – about 16 1/2 by 12 inches
4 teaspoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup cooked riso venere or forbidden rice (black rice)
Two (7 to 8 ounces each) salmon filet, lightly seasoned with salt
1/4 medium-size white onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup very thinly sliced seasonal fruit, such as pluots, plums or fava beans or peeled citrus sections
1/4 fresh fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2-3 sprigs of fresh tarragon, leaves finely chopped
Splash of dry white wine
1 teaspoon Pernod (licorice-flavored liqueur)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg yolk
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Fold each parchment sheet in half (like a book). Open parchment. Spread butter (or oil) in a small area next to the fold on one side of each sheet (about 4-by4-inches). Place rice next to fold (on the butter) in an elongated rectangle the same length as the salmon. Place salmon next to rice.
2. In a medium bowl, toss onion, fruit, fennel, juice and tarragon; spoon mixture between rice and fish. Add wine and Pernod on top and around fish on paper, keeping it next to and on ingredients (do not let run off paper). Add a little salt and pepper.
3. Watch the video; it’s easy once you see the steps. Brush egg yolk around edge of paper and press to seal like a closed book. Fold parchment to seal making several partially-overlapping folds (when complete each will be shaped like half of a heart). The first small fold should be at a 90 degree angle. Be sure each fold overlaps the one before it so that there are no gaps. The last fold needs to be folded 2 or 3 times. At this point it can be refrigerated up to 3 hours in advance.
4. Place paper onto rimmed baking sheet. Please baking sheet on stove (at high heat) for about 15 seconds, for liquids to heat. Immediately place into oven for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness of fish and desired doneness. Remove from oven and carefully transfer to plates. Open paper in front of guest (or have them do it).
Source: David Pratt, executive chef-owner Brick, San Clemenente

Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s



Try this Turkish Breakfast, a cinch-to-make hummus paired with sliced tomatoes, cucumber, olives and whole-wheat toast.

Add a slab of watermelon and serve it for a luscious eat-every-bite dinner.

Or serve it as a communal first course – kind of a party platter.

Turkish Breakfast
Yield: 8 servings
2 cups cooked or canned garbanzo beans, drained (reserve liquid)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
2 tablespoons tahini, see cook’s notes
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground paprika or ground cumin (or both)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
6 tomatoes, cored, sliced
1 cucumber, peeled if you like, sliced
1/2 cup green or black olives, pitted
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
For serving: whole-grain toast, cut into triangles
Cook’s notes: Tahini is a paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds. It is sold at natural food stores and supermarkets with large specialty sections.
1. Combine the garbanzos, 1 tablespoon oil, tahini, juice, paprika (and/or cumin) and salt in food processor. Puree until very smooth, adding some garbanzo liquid if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning.
2. Arrange tomato and cucumber slices on large platter. Add olives and a large dollop of the bean mixture. Sprinkle everything with a drizzle of remaining 1 tablespoon oil, salt, pepper and parsley. Serve with toast.
Nutrition information (per serving using 1/3 cup hummus and 1 slice whole wheat toast): 299 calories, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 42 g carbohydrates, 10 g protein, 768 mg sodium, 8 g fiber
Source: “Eat Vegan Before 6:00” by Mark Bittman (Clarkson Potter, $26)




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Fun Times with Zoodles, Vegetable Pasta Made with Spiral-Cutter Gizmo


“Spiralize” has become a verb, at least in the lingo of spiral slicer enthusiasts. The spiral slicer gizmos, affectionately dubbed “zoodlers” or “spiralizers,” cut raw vegetables and fruits into thick or thin pasta-like stands (as well as wide ribbon-like strands or slices, an option out-shined by the first two).

Different shapes are achieved by using one of three blade options. Spaghetti size (blade 3 or C), fettuccine size (blade 2 or B) and ribbons of pappardelle (blade 1).


Fans tout the gluten-free, lower carbohydrate qualities of substituting fresh vegetables for pasta, as well as the ability to make vegetable rice-like dishes by chopping stands just-so in a food processor.


I use Sur La Table’s three-blade model ($35). The hand-powered lightweight gadget sticks to the counter via four suction cups. The handle held in one hand puts light pressure to push the fruit or vegetable towards the blade, the device cleverly stopping long before digits are in peril. The opposite hand turns the crank.


It’s amusing and empowering, a small effort producing oodles of noodles tumbling in long spiraled threads from the blade. It sure made this zucchini bread a lot easier to prepare.

(Note that there is also a small OXO Hand-Held Spiralizer – about $15 – with only one blade that just cuts spaghetti-size strands with more effort and is limited to only a few produce varieties.)spiralzucchiniworking

spiralSaladBut zucchini noodles are plump with water. Chef Kelsey Kinser, author of “The Veggie Spiral Slicer” (Ulysses Press, $14.95) recommends lightly salting the strands and leaving them in a colander while other ingredients are measured out. Afterwards she gently squeezes out excess liquid (in small handfuls), and then sometimes follows with a 3- to 4-minute sauté. Serve immediately, especially if the zucchini noodles are napped with tomato-based sauce.


Pesto sauce is delicious option for zoodles. Ali Maffucci, author of “Inspiralized” (Clarkson Potter, $19.99) pairs raw spaghetti-sized zucchini strands with basil pesto and halved cherry tomatoes. It’s a delicious made-in-minutes cold dish, thus avoiding excess liquid in the pasta bowl.

spiralbook2Other spiral-slicer heroes include potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, butternut squash (neck), apples, pears and English cucumbers. Beets, too – they are messy but delicious (try pickling the strands). Vegetables that denser and harder work too, but with less success and more effort, such as broccoli stems or large carrots.

The device is easy to clean. A rinse in cold water does the trick, and if anything proves a little stubborn, I have a vegetable brush at the ready. My spiral slicer hangs in my pantry.


Tips for “Spiral-izing” Success

  1. Cut partially (just half way) in half lengthwise if short lengths are desired.
  2. Choose fruit or vegetables that are as straight as possible.
  3. Get everything ready to go because veggie noodles or veggie rice cook very quickly.
  4. Half-moon shapes result when a vegetable moves off center. Stop and reposition vegetable to keep it centered. Or decide to be happy with half-moons.
  5. If you spiralize a vegetable with no breaks, they are amazingly long. Either cut them with kitchen scissors and knife into manageable lengths.
  6. If making “rice,” don’t overcrowd the food processor with the thin strands because uneven pieces will be the result.
  7. Steady pressure works best, but if the teeth of the crank bend because the vegetable is hard (such as sweet potato or butternut squash), ease up and check to make sure vegetable is properly aligned.

Zoodles with Pesto and Cherry Tomatoes
Yield: 3 servings
1 large garlic clove, peeled, see cook’s notes
3 cups fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 medium zucchini, spiralized with blade 3 (C)
3/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes
Cook’s notes: If you want to use store-bought basil pesto, skip the first step and the first seven ingredients. I like to add a small pinch of dried red pepper flakes to the pesto. Add prepared pesto to taste, generously coating the ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve this dish cooked or raw (cold), see Step #2.
1. For pesto: With machine running drop garlic in food processor. When minced add basil leaves and process until chopped. Add pine nuts, olive, salt, pepper and cheese. Process until mixture is coarsely ground and paste-like.
2. Cold or hot: Serve the zucchini raw as a cold dish or for a hot dish, lightly salt the zucchini strands and set in a colander for about 5 minutes, then squeeze dry. Spray a nonstick skillet with nonstick spray. Add zucchini and cook about 3 to 4 minutes on medium-high or until wilted and cooked through. Remove from skillet with tongs (leaving any liquid behind) and place in bowl; toss with pesto and tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning; serve.
Source: adapted from “Inspiralized” by Ali Maffucci (Clarkson Potter, $19.99)


Salad with Apple “Noodles,” Asparagus and Pecans
Yield: 2 servings
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon minced shallots
Salt and pepper to taste
8 large asparagus spears, tough ends removed
1 to 1 1/2 cup packed clean watercress
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans, or nut of choice
1 apple, spiralized with blade 3 (C), see cook’s notes
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese, Gorgonzola preferred
Cook’s notes: To spiralize the apple, cut it in half from top to bottom leaving it unpeeled; place it skin side facing the blade (that way the seeds and core rest against the spiked edge, and the portion that doesn’t get cut is the core that is left behind).
1. Prepare dressing: Whisk dressing ingredients in medium bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning.
2. Shave asparagus: To shave the asparagus into thin strips, hold it on the work surface just below the tips. Use a shrivel-bladed vegetable peeler to make long slender strips, leaving the tips behind. If you like, blanch the tips as a special treat for the cook. Place strips in large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and vinaigrette; toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Source: adapted from “Inspiralized” by Ali Maffucci (Clarkson Potter, $19.99)


Zucchini Bread
Yield: 1 large loaf, about 12 slices
Nonstick spray
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce, see cook’s notes
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 medium zucchini, spiralized on blade 3 (C)
1 cup chopped hazelnuts, or nut of choice
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Cook’s notes: I use both applesauce and vegetable oil, but the author says that if you wish, use one or the other (either 1 cup oil or 1 cup applesauce). My favorite way to serve it is to toast it: lightly butter cut side of slice and place on sheet pan, and then broil about 2 minutes. It’s a perfect breakfast treat.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan with nonstick spray.
2. In large bowl, whisk flour, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda and sugar; set aside.
3. In small bowl, combine applesauce, oil, eggs and vanilla. Whisk with a fork until blended and eggs are well combined. Add to dry ingredients and stir until almost combined.
4. Using a spatula, fold in zucchini, nuts and chocolate chips. Place in prepared loaf pan. Bake in middle of preheated oven about 1 hour, or until a knife poked into center comes out clean of batter. Place on rack and cool 5 to 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cool and store airtight.
Source: “The Veggie Spiral Slicer Cookbook” by Kelsey Kinser (Ulysses Press, $14.95)




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Zov and Louie Will Cook at the James Beard House in NYC

Many say that cooking at the James Beard House for a chef, is like performing at Carnegie Hall is for a musician.


Zov Karamardian, executive chef-owner of Zov’s Bistro, Zov’s Cafes and Zov’s Anaheim, with join culinary director Louie Jocson on October 6th in New York City to cook in the former home of the late James Beard.

It is a special honor and a chef appears only by invitation. This will be Zov’s third time cooking for the prestigious event.

Known for her signature blend of Middle Eastern, Armenian and Mediterranean flavors, the team is sure to knock their socks off in The Big Apple.

How do  I know? I ate a “sneak peek” dinner that showcased each and every dish on the duo’s Beard Dinner!


Four Appetizers: Kalamata-Shrimp Salad (wrapped in a thinly-shaved Watermelon radish).


And …Salmon Kibbeh Nayeh, Skuna Bay Salmon with Bulgar (and red peppers and preserved lemon). Also Red Lentil Cakes with Red Pepper Paste and Armenian Cheese.


Sea Scallop Crudo with Lemon Zest, Yuzu, Coriander Oil, Cucumber, Aleppo Pepper, Sumac … zovbeardseamicrogreenand sea microgreens (those luscious feathery sprigs).


Jidori Chicken Meatball in Savory Broth with Rice and Spices


Chermoula Salmon with Pickled Onion, Shaved Fennel and Lebni


Lamb Shoulder Tagine with Pearl Couscous Risotto, Pan Jus, Roasted  Carrot and Urfa Biber

Still room for dessert? Come on, you can’t stop now!


Banana Brulee with Caramelized Bananas, Custard, Salted Cardamom Butter Crust, Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream, Caramel Sauce

Lucky New Yorkers!

Lucky me!



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Moulin’s Croque Madame, Extraordinaire

 occhefLaurentCroque475Mais Oui, Ham and Eggs are More Than Breakfast

Oozing with melted Gruyere cheese-spiked béchamel sauce layered with thin-cut Parisian ham, the croque monsieur sandwich has been the menu star at French cafes for over 100 years. When a sunny-side egg is added atop the warm treat, it’s dubbed “croque madame,” the gender-change name fueled by the egg garnish. Seemingly it resembles a lady’s hat.


The egg-topped version is an impressive bunch entrée, hangover remedy or any-time snack, especially the oh-so-generous version at Moulin Bistro in Newport Beach.

WATCH-IT VIDEO:  French-born executive chef Jeoffrey Offer joined me in my home kitchen to share secrets of his luxurious rendition, a generously-sized delicacy accompanied with a side salad of mixed greens napped with balsamic vinaigrette.

Offer started by preparing béchamel sauce, the basic French white sauce made by heating milk with a butter-flour roux. Set aside to cool, he cut thick slices of pain de mie, soft but not spongy white bread. It had a texture similar to the kind French bakers make in special covered molds. He recommended that home cooks substitute Pullman bread or dense-not-squishy sandwich bread.







After toasting one side of the two slices of bread, two hearty sandwiches were layered with cold béchamel, grated Gruyere and ham (jambon de Paris). In the oven the tops would brown beautifully, offering texture contrast as well as visual appeal. Meanwhile, eggs were masterfully and patiently cooked so that the whites were set and uniformly opaque without any brown edges. The yolks were delightfully runny.

Chef Offer says that his goal is for Moulin’s guests to leave feeling that they had a great meal as well as a truly memorable experience.

Look It Up: His favorite cookbook is Auguste Escoffier’s “Le Guide Culinaire,” but recently Alain Ducasse’s latest book has caught his attention. “My Best: Alain Ducasse” (Ducasse, $19.95) features recipes that defined the acclaimed chef’s career.

Best Veg: Artichokes are a favorite due to their taste and versatility. Enjoy them raw or cooked. Puree them in soups or add them to salad.

Ooh-Lah-Lah Info: Asked about something that most people don’t know, he referenced the color of his underwear. Blue.

Moulin Bistro’s Croque Madame
Yield: 2 servings
Béchamel sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg, or to taste
4 thick Pullman bread slices (or pain de mie or dense sandwich bread)
Clarified butter or olive oil, see cook’s notes
2 cups cold béchamel sauce
6 ounces Emmental, or Gruyère or Swiss cheese, grated (3 ounces per sandwich)
6 ounces jambon de Paris (or another type of thin-sliced ham that is not smoked or flavored with honey)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons fresh herbs (chives, or a combination of chives and parsley)
2 tablespoons of either clarified butter (preferred) or olive oil or butter to coat pan
Cook’s notes: To clarify butter, heat 1 stick unsalted butter in saucepan over very low heat; simmer gently until foam rises to top. Off heat, skim off the foam with a spoon. Line mesh strainer with cheesecloth or gauze and set over heatproof bowl; pour butter in strainer.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare béchamel sauce: Melt butter in a heavy saucepan, blend in the flour with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until butter and flour foam together for about two minutes (do not brown). Add remaining béchamel ingredients and whisk until boiling. Reduce heat to low, simmer gently stirring occasionally until sauce thickens. Cool and chill.
2. Toast two slices of bread in a skillet on one side with enough clarified butter to barely cover surface. These will become the bottom slices of the croque madame – with the toasted side facing up. Spread a generous layer of béchamel sauce on the toasted side; top with ham and 1 ounce of the cheese on each (the remaining cheese is for the top of the sandwich). For the top slice of bread, spread a thin layer of béchamel and place béchamel side down on the sandwich. Top the sandwich with another generous layer of béchamel and sprinkle top of each sandwich with the remaining cheese. Place on rimmed baking sheet.
3. Place in a preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until nicely browned and piping hot.
4. Meanwhile, heat clarified butter or oil in a pan over medium heat and cook the eggs sunny side up. Remove from heat when the egg white is just opaque and the yolk is still runny. Using a spatula, place one egg on top of each sandwich. Chop herbs and sprinkle on top of the sandwich.
Source: Jeoffrey Offer, executive chef Moulin Bistro, Newport Beach



Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!


Asparagus in one of the most nutrient dense vegetables that grows on the planet.

I love it in this tasty stir-fry along with chicken tenders or chunks of chicken breasts or chunks of chicken thighs! Often instead of rice, I serve it atop farro (delicious heirloom wheat – chewy and delicious).

Chicken Tenders and Asparagus Stir-Fry
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided use
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces, patted dry
3 green onions, trimmed, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds
1. Heat vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil in wok on high heat. Add asparagus and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus. Add chicken; cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except nuts. Cook 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in nuts. Serve with cooked rice, farro or serve solo, as is.


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Full-Fat Leads the Way, Yogurt Fans


FULL-FAT yogurt is a game changer.

Thicker, creamier, and more alluring, its luxurious texture and flavor  … enables it to masquerade as ice cream or sour cream, the plain unflavored style edging out more complicated savory toppings on dishes such as couscous, pureed soups or spicy braised chicken. Yogurt-based marinades make meat tender, juicy and beautifully browned.

Sales of full-fat yogurt are soaring, with increasing varieties of the whole-milk superstar lining up side by side in dairy aisles. With either Greek-style thick or softer standard yogurt, the milk fat contributes a seductive mouth-feel and butter-like richness.


Janet Fletcher, author of “Yogurt” (Ten Speed, $19.95), specifies that the plain yogurt used in most of her recipes shouldn’t be nonfat. Often she calls for whole-milk yogurt, but a low-fat product can be substituted in many of her recipes.


“Whole-milk yogurt is richer, smoother, and fuller in body,” Fletcher says. “Reduced-fat yogurt tends to be tangier, chalkier and less silky … Milk fat balances yogurt’s acidity in the way that cream softens coffee.

Calorie-wise, no biggie as an ingredient:

“Almost any dish will taste better if made with a whole-milk yogurt, and the calorie difference per serving is minimal. In a recipe that serves four that uses one cup of yogurt, choosing a whole milk product over nonfat raises the calorie count by about 50. When divided four ways that’s a modest investment in better texture and taste.”

Drained or spun, pure or augmented:

Many manufacturers use filtration to concentrate the milk before it is cultured, or they centrifuge it to eliminate the whey after the fermentation process. Some add cornstarch, powdered milk protein or whey protein. Many add stabilizers, such as pectin or tapioca starch. Fletcher says that it isn’t harmful but she doesn’t like the pudding-like texture it renders.

She looks for yogurt labels that list just milk and active cultures.


The best: She often prefers the softer texture of plain standard yogurt rather than Greek-style that she says is too thick. She prefers to cook with home-drained yogurt, especially in salads. Home draining allows her to control the thickness (see recipe).

There is an exception. She sites Straus Family Creamery’s Greek-style organic yogurt as an exception to the “too-thick” categorization. She says that she loves it, explaining that it is made with just milk and cultures. No additives. And as for sugar, she says that most flavored yogurts have it.

Is it alive? Extending shelf life makes sense for manufacturers, but pasteurization after it is cultured to accomplish that extended goodness, kills most of the probiotics. Those health-promoting bacteria benefit digestive heath.


Yes, yogurts with active cultures are made with milk that is pasteurized, but it is cultured after that process. The label will reveal if the yogurt contains live and active cultures.

OC chefs embrace full-fat yogurt as a rising culinary star:


Raj Dixit, executive chef of Stonehill Tavern, Dana Point, uses it in savory and sweet dishes.

He uses it to cut some egg yolks and unnecessary oil from his kale Caesar dressing, advising that it adds nice acidity and helps the body to digest minerals from the kale.



Azmin Ghahreman, executive chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, uses full-fat yogurt at his restaurant, but utilizes nonfat in the school lunches prepared at for Sapphire at School, the school lunch program he orchestrates. For the restaurant he prepares zahtar-dusted lamb sirloin served with a yogurt-tahini sauce. He also makes a dried wild shallot spiked yogurt mixture as a garnish for grilled meats or a dip for lavosh crackers.


Zov Karamardian, executive chef-owner of Zov’s Bistro and Bakery in Tustin (plus eateries in Anaheim, Newport Coast, Irvine and John Wayne Airport) uses full-fat Greek-style yogurt in her mezze platters as an Aleppo pepper-topped dip served with a wide variety of Eastern-Mediterranean appetizers. She also uses it as the base of marinades for her chicken kebobs, and to temper the broth for a dumpling dish called manti.


Harissa-Roasted Chicken with Sweet Peppers
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 cup plain drained yogurt (page 22) or Greek-style yogurt (not nonfat)
1/2 cup coarse harissa paste, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin
2 large red bell peppers, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
2 large gold or yellow bell peppers, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
Cook’s notes: Harissa paste comes in tubeslike toothpastebut Fletcher’s favorite brand is a jarred oneLes Moulins Mahjoub Organic Traditional Harissa Spread. The recipe includes hot red peppersun-dried tomatoolive oilcarawayand garlic. If you can’t find harissa pastepurchase dried harissa powder from a spice shop and add enough extra-virgin olive oil to make a paste. Ask the merchant about the ingredients in the powder. If the blend doesn’t contain ground carawayadd a good pinch. Look for Les Moulins Mahjoub harissa in specialty foods stores that sell Mediterranean products. It is also available from several online sourcesincluding Zabar’siGourmetMarket Hall Foodsand Bklyn Larder.
If your menu includes several other dishes, figure one chicken thigh per person. Otherwise, you may want to allow two thighs per person. The roasted chicken benefits from a brief rest to allow the juices to settle.

1. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, harissa, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Add chicken; use rubber spatula to coat chicken all over with marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.
2. Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
3. Toss sliced peppers and onions together. Season with salt and make a bed of the vegetables in the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer. Using rubber spatula redistribute marinade so that it evenly covers both sides of chicken, and then place chicken on top of vegetables. Bake until chicken is well browned on top and the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
4. Transfer chicken to a serving platter. Using tongs, toss the vegetables to coat them evenly with the drippings from the chicken, and then place them on the platter with the chicken. Serve immediately.
Source: “Yogurt” by Janet Fletcher (Ten Speed, $19.95)


Fresh Pineapple Lassi
Yield: 1 serving
3/4 cup diced fresh pineapple, preferably chilled
1/2 cup plain drained yogurt or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 thin slice peeled fresh ginger, about 1/4-inch thick
2 ice cubes
Cook’s notes: Ripe fresh pineapple makes an irresistible lassi, with creamy body, bracing acidity, and natural sweetness. A quarter-size coin of fresh ginger gives it a kick. If you have the pineapple already prepped in the fridge, this lassi takes all of two minutes.
1. Put all ingredients in blender; blend until drink is smooth and frothy and you can no longer hear the rattling of ice. Pour into glass and serve immediately.

Fletcher’s Drained Yogurt
She often drains yogurt, especially homemade yogurt, even if only for an hour (not Greek-style yogurt that is already drained). Draining dramatically improves the texture, making any yogurt thicker, creamier, and mellower by removing whey. Draining also extends the yogurt’s life by removing water and lactose. Reducing the yogurt’s lactose deprives bacteria of their food source. And if you are lactose-sensitive, you should find drained yogurt more digestible.
To drain homemade yogurt, chill it thoroughly first until it is firm. You can drain it as soon as it is cold. Store-bought yogurt has already been chilled, so you can drain it immediately after opening.
Line large sieve or colander with triple thickness of dampened cheesecloth or—her preference—with Plyban, reusable cheesecloth made from a food-grade resin (Plyban’s weave is tighter than cheesecloth, so you don’t need multiple layers, unless yogurt is very thin).
Set sieve or colander over a bowl to collect whey. Gently pour yogurt into the lined sieve or colander. Cover with a plate or cloth—you’re just protecting the yogurt, not pressing it—and refrigerate. Drain yogurt until it has the consistency you like. After an hour, it will be noticeably thicker, and she usually stops at that point. Scrape drained yogurt into a clean container, cover, and refrigerate. (Wash cheesecloth or Plyban well in hot, soapy water; rinse well and air-dry). You can usually get two or three uses out of cheesecloth before it frays. Plyban is much longer-lasting and easier to clean. If you drain the yogurt more than you intended, no problem. Simply whisk some of the whey back in until you have a texture you like. To keep the whey, pour it into a glass jar and refrigerate; it has many potential uses. Source: adapted from “Yogurt” by Janet Fletcher (Ten Speed, $19.95)


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Pumping Up Roasted Vegetables – Chef Jeffrey Boullt, SOCIAL in Costa Mesa, Masters Veg

 Roasted Vegetables with French Feta and Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde



I ate his Kurobuta pig head, carnitas style with warm tortillas and assorted sauces. The experience was a combination of sublime enjoyment and suppressed jitters, an off-the-beaten path encounter that made me perch on the edge of my seat.


Jeffrey Boullt isn’t menu timid. The executive chef at SOCIAL, a new-American restaurant in Costa Mesa, Boullt favors vibrant flavors.


socialroastedvegetables450socialmocajetesalsaverde450He says many of his dishes have a strong Southern backbone but use fresh California ingredients. They reflect thought and talent, using components that echo a career spent working in highly creative, demanding kitchens.

The prestigious list includes Commander’s Palace (New Orleans), Tavern (Los Angeles) and Playground (Santa Ana).

(Thanks to Curt Norris for his videography, editing, and photography.)

He joined me in my home kitchen to show me how he enriches roasted vegetables with crumbled feta and salsa verde, a sauce that’s a twist on the Italian version. Along with fresh green herbs, extra-virgin olive oil, capers, anchovies and garlic, he included finely diced Meyer lemon (the thin rind included) in the sauce; the citrus variety contributed a blend of lemon and orange tastes and scents.




It was delicious with the roasted veg, but would be equally seductive atop grilled pork or fish, goat cheese or poultry.

And the good news for home cooks is that the sauce can be prepared a day or two ahead and refrigerated.


Eat Retreats: Vacations with his wife focus on good eats. She tries to keep up with him, but often he gets caught sneaking out of hotels alone while she is still sleeping, excursions meant to sample more out-of-town dishes. The last time was in Portland, OR, where he was morning solo-noshing at Pok Pok, an eatery famous for their Thai-themed street food.

Cutting edge: His favorite chef’s knife is made by Richmond Addict, an American-made knife that he says sits a little taller around the blade, important because he describes his paws as “monster hands.”

Home Roots: He grew up in Fountain Valley and attended Huntington Beach High School where he took his first cooking classes. He and his wife live in Long Beach with their Basset hound, Lionel.

Roasted Vegetables with French Feta and Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde
Yield: 4 servings
1 pound assorted vegetables, washed, such as asparagus, spring onion, heirloom carrots (peeled), sugar snap peas (strings removed)
1 cup scrubbed morels or other fresh mushrooms of your choice (if large halved or quartered)
2 heads of garlic, halved through equator
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled chilled French feta cheese, such as Valbreso
Optional: 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
1/2 cup Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde, recipe follows
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prep and trim vegetables (he cut carrots and spring onions in half lengthwise, left asparagus and sugar snap peas whole).
2. In a large mixing bowl combine all vegetables, mushrooms, garlic, 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon ground black pepper. Set a roasting rack in a large rimmed baking sheet. Put vegetables on rack, leaving space between them. Place in oven and cook for 6 to 10 minutes, then rotate sheet pan and toss vegetables to ensure equal cooking on all parts. Let veggies cook about 5 to 7 minutes more; keep an eye on them – they should be tender-crisp and lightly browned – some may cook faster than others and will need to be removed.
3. Place vegetables on serving platter. Sprinkle with feta and Aleppo pepper, if using. Spoon the Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde on top of vegetables. Garnish each plate with halved head of garlic.
Source: Executive Chef Jeffrey Boullt, Social, Costa Mesa

Meyer Lemon Salsa Verde
Yield: 3 cups
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 anchovy filets
1/2 cup capers, rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 thinly sliced Meyer lemon, remove seeds, cut into 1/4-inch dice including rind
Salt and black pepper to taste
1. In a mortar (with a pestle) or food processor, add garlic, anchovies, capers, lemon juice and 1/4 cup oil; process into a paste. Add parsley, mint, and 1/4 cup oil; pound or pulse until incorporated but still coarse. You may need to do this in two batches if your mortar is small.
2. Place in bowl. Add Meyer lemon and 1/2 cup oil; season with salt and black pepper, but be cautious with salt; anchovy and capers will give a natural strong salt content.

Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s!

Roast cauliflower with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, and get ready to be dazzled.

It is scrumptious!

To roast cauliflower, preheat oven to 450 degrees and blanch the unpeeled cloves from 1 head of garlic in boiling water for 25 seconds. Drain and peel garlic. If cloves are large, cut in half lengthwise. Toss garlic with 1 large head of cauliflower (cut into 1- to 2-inch florets) and 3 1/2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Roast 18 to 24 minutes, tossing twice during roasting. Season to taste with course salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To see how, watch the video (the cauliflower how-to is at the end). Yum.

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Dinner Tonight, Easy Peasy!



I always feel a proud sense of accomplishment when I prepare an inviting evening  meal in less than 30 minutes.

A tasty weeknight dinner with fresh ingredients and loads of vibrant flavors.

I get a little smug.

Happy-smug. Here are three to make you feel happy-smug, too.


1. Let’s start with the easiest of all, a delicious fresh asparagus soup made in minutes. The garnish is prepared basil pesto, and the flavors make the soup sing.

Some crusty artisan-style bread quick-heated in the oven, some good butter and a glass of wine.  Maybe some cheese and fruit for dessert. Delicious.

Easy Asparagus Soup
Yield: 4 servings
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed
1/2 baking potato, such as Russet, peeled, diced
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: basil pesto, store-bought or homemade
1. In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus and potato; cook 1 minute. Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Puree in batches in blender or food processor. Season to taste.
2. Ladle into bowls and spoon on about a teaspoon of pesto in the middle of each serving.asparagushorizontalNick

(See the time-saving tricks in this short video!)

2. Fresh tarragon tastes completely different from dried. Its hint of licorice pairs beautifully with salmon and just a little goes a long way in this simple recipe.


Round out the meal with some green beans or asparagus, plus some boiled fingerling potatoes. The recipe is from “Fine Cooking Roasting” created by the editors of Fine Cooking magazine (Taunton Press, $14.95).

salmonmayomustardRoasted Salmon with Mustard and Tarragon
Yield: 6 servings
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse whole-grained mustard
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
6 (6-ounce) center-cut, skin-on salmon fillets, preferably wild
Kosher salt
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with foil.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, lime juice, and tarragon. Arrange the salmon skin side down on the baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with salt. Spread the mayonnaise mixture evenly over each fillet (there may be a little left over).
3. Roast the salmon until just cooked through, 10 to 14 minutes. Using a spatula, lift the fillets off the baking sheet, leaving the skin behind, and transfer to plates.

Use a coarse, whole-grain mustard for this dish.


3. These Brussels sprouts that are so good, they turn haters to lovers!

The recipe is from Marcus Samuelsson’s new award-winning book, “Marcus Off Duty” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35).

slaw2Pair it with some roast chicken, either home-cooked or a store-bought rotisserie bird. And to make the dish come together more quickly, you can buy shaved Brussels sprouts at Trader Joe’s.


Hot Brussels Sprouts Slaw
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
3/4 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced in food processor or mandoline, divided use
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, coarsely grated, squeezed dry in clean kitchen towel
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Pour bacon fat into a small bowl.
2. Turn heat under skillet up to high and add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons bacon fat. When butter stops sizzling, add half of the Brussels sprouts. Cook, stirring often, until softened – with some of the sprouts browned and others still bright green – about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and scrape out into a bowl. Cook the rest of the Brussels sprouts in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons bacon fat. Return the first batch of sprouts to skillet; add apples, vinegar, ginger, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until apples are heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Pile slaw onto platter, scatter bacon on top and serve.
Source: “Marcus Off Duty – The Recipes I Cook at Home” by Marcus Samuelsson with Roy Finamore (Houghton Mifflin, $35)



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Retired Ice Hockey Star- Restaurateur, Teemu Selanne Grills and Thrills At Home – Dinosaur Bones

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

The allure of grilling seems obvious, especially when it comes to meat cookery. The taming of flame and smoke has a primordial vibe, the welcome challenge of creating scrumptious flavor and texture while conquering flare-ups, cool downs or interruptions.

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

For retired Anaheim Ducks superstar Teemu Selanne, the appeal runs even deeper. He likes the camaraderie that it fuels, the sociability that grilling generates at gatherings for family and friends.

I joined the Finland-born sports hero, known in the ice hockey world as the Finnish Flash, at his home in Coto de Caza.

His four children say that he can grill better than the chef at the acclaimed restaurant that he co-owns, Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach. I was eager to taste.


Clad in a team-themed apron, he stood at the large gas barbecue in his outdoor kitchen. The grill, perched to overlook the spacious patio dining areas, seemed perfectly located for fun and conversation.

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

He placed racks of behemoth beef ribs on the preheated grill. Long back rib bones, clean at one end and meaty on the other, sizzled as they met the hot grate. The day before, he had brined the ribs. Drained, they were oven-braised for 90 minutes covered in his special saucy mixture, a honey-and-bourbon spiked concoction designed to add plenty of flavor while turning them tender. Cooled and covered, they spent the night in the fridge.

Heated on the grill, the sauce-coated meat sent sweet, captivating scents over the patio, pool and sprawling grounds beyond.

After generously brushing additional sauce on the ribs and allowing about five minutes of grilling that browned the underside, he turned them over using a spatula in one hand and tongs in the other.


More sauce followed and then came the Selanne pinch test. He pinched the meat between the bones (next to the meaty end of the bone) to determine temperature and degree of doneness. If it was soft and squishy, he said it wasn’t close to being ready. A little firmness in that region along with some crispy bits on the exterior would signal doneness.

Teemu Selanne grills ribs

Off the grill, he cut them between the bones into individual ribs. We dined on those tasty “dinosaur bones” accompanied with a delicious Finnish-style potato salad made using a recipe from his wife, Sirpa.

Onnellinen Syöminen! (Happy Eating!)


Teemu’s Bourbon BBQ Beef Back Ribs
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 whole rack beef back ribs, cut into 3- to 4-bone pieces
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup honey
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 quarts water
Braising liquid (sauce):
1 cup honey
2 cups Maker’s Mark bourbon (or your favorite brand of Bourbon)
3 cups barbecue sauce (homemade or your favorite brand, Selanne prefers a smoky BBQ sauce)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons dried red chili flakes
2 quarts veal stock or salt-reduced beef broth (Selanne says that good veal stock is preferred and makes a big difference)
Cook’s notes: Selanne says to buy the ribs at a quality meat market or a good supermarket. He buys them at The Meat House in Mission Viejo. He says to serve the ribs hot with a thirst-quenching Moscow Mule.
1. Mix all brine ingredients in nonreactive container large enough to hold ribs; stir until honey dissolves. Add ribs; refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 10 hours. Discard the brine and transfer ribs to a large deep roasting pan, such as 12-by-20-inch hotel pan that is 4-inches deep.
2. Place all braising liquid (sauce) ingredients in large saucepan. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, stirring frequently.
3. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pour the boiled sauce over ribs. Tightly cover pan with aluminum foil. Place in oven for 90 minutes. Remove from oven and let ribs rest for another 30 minutes. Remove ribs from braising “sauce” liquid; reserve braising liquid “sauce.”
4. Preheat grill. Place ribs in single layer on hot, clean grill. Brush with some of the reserved sauce; grill until heated through and caramelized, turning once and brushing again with sauce, grilling about 6 to 10 minutes total (grilling times vary depending on heat of grill and thickness of meat). Cut between bones and serve hot.
Source: Teemu Selanne


Selanne Steak Tavern

1464 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Finnish Potato Salad
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 pounds fingerling or German Bliss potatoes
2 tablespoons cooked, minced bacon
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1/2 cup finely sliced shallots
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
Cook’s notes: “This is an easy traditional Finnish potato salad and doesn’t require any fatty mayonnaise,” Teemu Selanne said. “My wife and I often serve it as an accompaniment to fish or hot steaks off the grill. Nauttia! (Enjoy!)”
1. Boil potatoes until fork tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and place in ice water. When cool enough to handle, drain and remove peel with a small knife (skin should peel off easily); cut crosswise into bite-size pieces.
2. Place remaining ingredients in a large bowl; mix to combine. Add potatoes and toss. Allow to sit for 1 hour for flavors to build. Toss again.
Source: Sirpa and Teemu Selanne


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Chocolate and Hazelnuts: A Blissful Marriage In This Bread Pudding


Sarah Daniels is the first female executive chef to head up a kitchen in a Del Frisco’s Grille, the chain of trendy bar-and-grill eateries that have more than 20 locations from coast to coast. occhefSarahCathyTwocrop


Daniels took culinary charge of Irvine Spectrum location a few months ago, working her magic on everything from hearty salads to wood-oven baked flatbreads to pappardelle Bolognese.

Yes, and desserts, too. The Nutella Bread Pudding is a customer favorite, and she agreed to share every detail of how to prepare it.  The short video shows every step!


A blissful marriage of chocolate and hazelnuts, this rich mix of custard and brioche bakes in individual cups. Inverted to unmold them onto dessert plates, each warm pudding is accompanied with caramel sauce, coffee ice cream and whipped cream.
















Tune Time: Rock is king in her kitchen. Tool, System of a Down, and Deftones are some favorite bands. She says that sometimes you just have to tune out all the stresses and jam out – if you are lucky enough to work in a closed kitchen that allows music.

The Competition: Her favorite restaurant is Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen, Orange. The fish tacos are her thing. She thinks the salsa is awesome, and loves the generous size of the fish servings.

New Ingredient Find: Gelatin! Not everyone knows how to make marshmallows.

Del Frisco’s Grille’s Nutella Bread Pudding
Yield: 16 servings and 3 cups caramel sauce, can be halved if desired
Bread Pudding:
5 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups Nutella spread
10 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
1 cup cocoa powder
3 pounds crust-on bread, such as brioche, cut into 3/4-inch dice, see cook’s notes
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Caramel sauce (if using, can substitute store-bought):
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 pound (1 cup) granulated sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 ounces unsalted butter
For serving:
Sweetened whipped cream
Coffee ice cream
Powdered sugar
Cook’s notes: Rustic country white bread can be substituted for brioche. It is best to cut bread a day in advance to allow it to dry slightly; it will absorb the custard better. If you don’t have a scale for weighing bread, figure that a rounded loaf of La Brea Country White bread weighs between 15 and 16 ounces.
1. In a large bowl, combine cream, Nutella, eggs, salt, sugar, vanilla, Frangelico, and cocoa; puree with an immersion blender until smooth and well combined (or use a food processor, pulsing enough to thoroughly combine). Add bread and gently toss to combine. Let rest for 30 to 40 minutes or until custard is absorbed.
2. Preheat convection oven to 300 degrees or standard oven to 325 degrees. Generously spray 16 custard cups (8- to 12-ounce size) with nonstick spray. Using an 8-ounce ladle portion mixture into prepared cups; push down lightly to pack cups and create a mound on top. Top off with any remaining custard. Place cups in large roasting pan. Add hot water half way up the cups to create a water bath.
3. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes for convection oven or 35 minutes for standard oven. Remove foil, if they look like they are cooking unevenly, very cautiously rotate pan; bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes or until a bamboo skewer or toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cautiously remove from oven and transfer puddings to sheet pan. If making ahead, cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate.
4. Meanwhile prepare caramel sauce (or skip this step if using store-bought sauce): Cook corn syrup and sugar a heavy-bottomed large saucepan over medium heat to a golden caramel color, stirring from time to time. Remove from heat. Add cream while whisking and return sauce pan to a boil to dissolve any sugar that seized while adding cream; remove from heat. Whisk in butter. As soon as butter is blended into sauce, pour sauce into bowl and place heatproof bowl in a pan of ice water to cool. If making ahead, refrigerate; warm before serving over low heat or in the top of a double boiler over simmering water.
5. To serve: If made ahead, warm the bread puddings in a 375-degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until heated through. Run a knife around circumference of cups. Invert to unmold onto individual dessert plates. Top each with a scoop of ice cream. Drizzle sauce on top. Pipe or scoop whipped cream next to ice cream. Dust with powdered sugar.
Source: Del Frisco’s Grille, Irvine

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Aqua fresca, which translates from Spanish as “fresh water,” is a refreshing beverage made most often from fresh fruit, water, and some kind of sweetener.


Here the star is fresh watermelon, cut into chunks and pureed in a food processor with water. Agave syrup and fresh lemon juice add just-right balance to this refreshing drink.


Watermelon Aqua Fresca
Yield: 5 servings
5 cups (1-inch) cubed seedless or seeded watermelon, divided use
1 2/3 cups water, divided use
1 teaspoon agave syrup, or to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Ice, preferably crushed
Garnish: 5 fresh sprigs mint or peppermint or spearmint
Garnish: 5 thin lemon slices
1. Place a medium mesh sieve over a medium bowl; if you have a batter bowl with a spout and handle, it is handy for this.
2. Place 1 cup watermelon cubes and 1/3 cup water in food processer or blender. Pulse until pureed. Place in sieve. Repeat, using 1 cup of melon and 1/3 water, until all melon and water is used and strained in sieve.
3. Add agave syrup and lemon juice to strained mixture. Taste and adjust as needed, adding more agave syrup or lemon juice, or additional water.
4. Fill 5 glasses with ice. Stir mixture and pour into glasses. Garnish each glass with a sprig of mint and a lemon slice.
Nutritional information (per serving): calories 45; fat calories 0, total fat 0 grams; sat fat 0 grams, cholesterol 0 milligrams; sodium 5 milligrams; total carbohydrates 15 grams; fiber 1 gram; sugars 14 grams; protein 1 gram; vitamin A IUs 10%; vitamin C 20%; calcium 2%; iron 2%.


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Salsas and Moles Are Kings in Chef Deb Schneider’s New Book


Deborah Schneider describes the sauces featured in her newest cookbook as having lots of personality and often, a spicy kick. The same words fit when describing Schneider, executive chef-partner at SOL Cocina in Newport Beach and Solita in Huntington Beach; other descriptors might include perfectionist, energetic and highly productive – a food visionary masked behind a mischievous grin.


“Salsas and Moles” (Ten Speed, $16.99) is the sixth cookbook she has penned.


The James Beard Award-nominated author explores an irresistible collection of authentic salsa and mole recipes in this latest book, teasing out fresh flavors and alluring scents from chilies, fruits, spices and herbs.



She says that cooking is really about mastering a few simple skills and techniques, which fortunately are easy and fun to learn.




The new sauce-themed book is “designed to teach essential Mexican cooking techniques and one very important skill: how to introduce and balance big flavors to create sensational effects.”

I sat down with Schneider to get to the heart of her concoctions.

CT: Mole (MOH-lay), the smooth, richly-flavored sauce that is delicious atop poultry or pork, roasted vegetables or enchiladas, isn’t easy to describe. I use adjectives such as “beguiling” or “enchanting.” How do you describe it?


DS: “Earthy” and “symphonic,” symphonic because the flavors just keeps coming and coming with new tastes popping up. Mole is the opposite of a one-note dish. It is a sauce and it is an event. Preparing it is a family thing. It is an excuse for a party.

CT: The recipe for Quick Mole caught my eye. It doesn’t require hours and hours of preparation time, right?

DS: I learned this recipe from Jesus Gonzalez, former chef at Rancho La Puerta’s cooking school (Tecate, Mexico). He learned the recipe from his mother, a native of Mexico City. It’s a fast, home-style rendition of the traditional dish, a sauce that can come together in about an hour. Think of it as haiku (short Japanese poem) instead of Wordsworth. If you like, eat it simply with corn tortillas and beans. Scoop up the mole with the tortilla, using it like a spoon, and think of the beans as a palate cleanser.


CT: You suggest two ways to complete this quick-to-make mole. The add-a-step suggestion, the one you prefer, fries the blended concoction in a little lard, then simmers and sieves it. How does this make it look and taste different?

DS: Frying in a little lard amplifies the flavors; it makes it more refined and it glistens with a velvety sheen. It gets darker, which is desirable. And putting it through a food mill takes out the little fibers – if there is any bitterness, straining takes it out.


CT: I am so happy to see the recipe for SOL’s Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa in the book. It’s one of the everyday table salsas served at SOL Cocina and it showcases such a beautiful balance of flavors. You don’t take any shortcuts to make this salsa, right?

DS: We take great care to make our salsa; there are a lot of moving parts and steps – roasting fresh tomatoes and tomatillos, roasting garlic and onion, seasoning, blending – and adding chipotles in adobo, an addition that gives the salsa a spicy, tangy smokiness. I think chipotles bring the flavors together, adding just a little sweetness.

CT: You wrote that salsa casera, a simmered home-style salsa, is made in every region of Mexico, in one version or another. In your recipe you use fresh (jalapeno) and dried (arbol) chilies. What does that bring to the taste?

DS: Fresh chilies add body, grassiness and acidity. Dry chilies tend to have a berry taste even if they are spicy; they are picked ripe, and the ripening gives them a little sweetness.

CT: What is something about you that most people don’t know?

DS: I’m Canadian. I am drawn to the exotic, but grew up on ham slabs and pineapple rings.


Quick Mole
Yield: about 8 cups
1/3 cup skinned raw peanuts or pecans
1/3 cup raw whole almonds
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
1 whole clove
1 Ceylon (Mexican) cinnamon stick, see cook’s notes
1 corn tortilla, quartered
4 (dried) guajillo chilies
3 large (dried) pasilla chilies
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or fresh lard
1/2 white onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup seedless raisins
8 cups chicken stock or broth, divided use, see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Optional: 2 tablespoons fresh lard
1 tablespoon semi-sweet chocolate chips or 1/4 Ibarra Mexican chocolate disk
Cook’s notes: You can use the variety of cinnamon stick sold in supermarkets (cassia bark) if you prefer, but use half of a stick instead of a whole stick. Homemade chicken stock is always best, but an organic or high-quality boxed chicken, turkey or vegetable broth is handy. Choose a low-sodium, no-MSG brand and dilute with water by half.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread out the nuts, sesame seeds, spices and tortilla on rimmed baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes, until sesame seeds are a pale gold. Be careful not to burn the ingredients – turn and shake pan once or twice if necessary.
2. Stem and seed the chilies; tear them into 1-inch pieces. Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil; add chilies, onion and garlic. Cook and stir until onion begins to turn golden.
3. Add tomatoes and raisins; cook and stir until tomatoes are soft. Add the toasted ingredients, 6 cups of chicken broth, salt and pepper. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Finish one of two ways.
Option One: Add chocolate chips and stir until they melt. In 2 batches, puree the contents of the pan (best to hold lid down with a potholder). Run the blender for several minutes, processing until very smooth and adding the remaining 2 cups of broth as needed. Pass through a food mill or sieve.
Option Two: Instead, puree the sauce without the chocolate. Heat 2 tablespoons lard in a heavy 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the blended sauce and fry it (it will splatter, so use a splatter screen), stirring often, for 10 minutes. Rinse out the blender with the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and add to the pot, along with the chocolate; simmer 10 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring often. Pass through a food mill or sieve.
Serving suggestions: Use over simmered or roasted chicken, turkey or pork. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
Source: “Salsas and Moles” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $16.99)


SOL’s Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
Yield: about 4 cups
About 12 tomatillos, husked, washed, dried
2 Roma tomatoes (8 ounces)
1/2 white onion, peeled but with root end intact
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, see cook’s notes
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
Optional: water for thinning
Cook’s notes: Chipotle chilies in adobo are sold in cans. Choose a brand that doesn’t slosh around when you shake the can. Freeze leftovers.
1. Turn on the fan over the stove. Line a large cast-iron skillet or heavy griddle with aluminum foil; set over high heat. Roast tomatillos and tomatoes on all sides until well charred and soft, turning with tongs as few times as possible. Roast the onion, cut side down, until it begins to soften and has a few black spots, turning it several times. Roast garlic, in skins, turning a few times, until black spots appear.
2. Cut onion into several pieces. Peel garlic. Place both in blender along with chipotles, roasted tomatillos and tomatoes (and any juices) and salt. Cover and let steam for 5 minutes to bring out the juices. Pulse to make a fairly smooth salsa with a little bit of texture. Add cilantro and pulse a couple more times to combine.
3. Pour salsa into serving bowl. For a thinner salsa, stir in water, up to 1 cup, a little at a time. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
Serving suggestions: Use over eggs or cheese. Schneider loves it stirred into cooked rice, or used to make chilaquiles. At SOL she serves it with tostada-style white corn chips, whole corn tortillas fried crisp and sprinkled with ground toasted chilies (guajillo and ancho), sea salt and ground toasted pepitas (roasted shelled pumpkin seeds).
Source: “Salsas and Moles” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $16.99)

Salsa Casera
Yield: about 2 1/4 cups
2 cups water
3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided use
6 medium tomatillos, husked, washed
3 medium Roma tomatoes
1/2 white onion, diced
Optional: 1 whole clove
4 large garlic cloves
1 jalapeno, stemmed
1 chili de arbol, stemmed
Optional: 1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1. In a 2-quart saucepan, combine water, 2 teaspoons salt, tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, clove (if using), garlic and chilies. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until tomatillos are just softened. Be careful not to boil vigorously, or the ingredients may fall apart. With a slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a food processor, draining well. Discard cooking liquid and clove. Add remaining 1 teaspoon salt and pulse the salsa until it is smooth with specks of chili de arbol. Cool completely. Stir in cilantro if using. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Serving suggestions: Use to make chilaquiles or a version of enchiladas called “entomatadas.” A dash adds flavor to homemade chicken soup, or fried or scrambled eggs. Stir into cooked beans, or sauté it with onions as a flavoring for rice. Pour it over a burrito, or simmer it with shredded beef and diced onion.
Source: “Salsas and Moles” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $16.99)



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