Treasured Time with Maya Angelou: Her Words, Her Cooking

Ten years ago I had the opportunity to interview Maya Angelou about cooking, life and love.  The time spent wasn’t rushed. She was generous of thought and deed.  Here is a portion of the story I wrote about it:



My words sounded like a jittery chicken pecking corn through a picket fence. Maya Angelou’s voice sang in rhythmical patterns with sentences ending in slow-to-dissolve words that sounded like long, sustained tones on a priceless violin.

She was calm, wise and quick to laugh. Soon my nervousness would fade. Our topic was food when we met for a recent interview in Santa Monica. Angelou — accomplished poet, playwright, author, historian, entertainer, director and teacher — has written a cookbook, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes” (Random House, $29.95).


In the book, Angelou, 76, wraps treasured stories of her life around luscious, straightforward recipes. Through her heartfelt vignettes, readers will meet her cherished family — her grandmother, mother, brother and son — as well as a fascinating collection of friends, many of whom she met on her world travels.

Readers will discover that at 17, she was a chef at a San Francisco Creole restaurant, then later, marvel as she creates a home-cooked cassoulet for culinary icon M.F.K. Fisher. It’s easy to identify with her initial embarrassment at a colleague’s liberal use of Tabasco sauce at a prim Parisian restaurant, or feel her pride as she turns out an impeccable banana pudding after an ill-fated love affair folds. Angelou said that she wants readers to recognize how food brings people together.

“Food is greater than the sum of its parts,” she said. “Its parts may be salt, sugar, pepper, flour, oil, maybe butter, milk and eggs. Those are the parts that may make a cake. But its more than a cake, it’s that, and, something else. That and hospitality. That and care. That and appreciation. “So, when someone invites you to dinner it’s not just to eat. It’s that, and. That and a hug, or caress. That and approval.”
And, she pointed out, cooking can be powerful. It can snare a lover or gain a job.
“My cooking got me a couple of jobs. One was in Los Angeles from a Southerner who was longing, l-o-n-g-i-n-g for the South. This man gave me a job because I cooked spoon bread for him.”
Spoon bread, a classic Southern pudding-like mixture of cornmeal, flour, milk, eggs and butter, sent her soon-to-be boss into a dreamlike state.
“He chewed his way back to his Alabama childhood,” she said. Angelou said that cooking can be therapeutic, too. It can cure writer’s block, loneliness, even sadness.
“If I’m really lonely, or if I am very sad, I will cook and probably cook something that the person I’m mourning for would love,” she said. “And I cook it as carefully as possible. And maybe eat some of it. And he or she is almost there.”
When I commented on how cookbooks hold a special place in our lives, Angelou was quick to describe the prominent place they hold in her home in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“I have about 300 cookbooks,” she said, laughing in an affectionate yet devilish tone. “I have a counter in my kitchen that separates the kitchen from the breakfast area; all of that wall from the counter to the floor, maybe 12 feet, that is where I keep the cookbooks that I use. “And there’s one set that really was the cheapest of all, that I like the best. It’s called ‘Woman’s Day Encyclopedia (of Cookery).’ They came out in the late ’60s or early ’70s. You could buy them at the supermarket in New York for 89 cents apiece. The cruel things, they stopped selling them somewhere in the R’s, maybe rutabagas. I searched all over town for them, but couldn’t find the rest.”
Later her soon-to-be husband told her he wanted to buy her a truly wonderful gift. She requested that he find the missing S though Z books from her cooking encyclopedia. He did.



Spoon Bread
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Butter for greasing casserole
2 cups white cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups cold water
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 2-quart casserole with butter.
2. In large bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in cold water. Add boiling water and stir vigorously. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into prepared casserole dish. Bake 1 hour or until firm and browned. Serve at once.
Nutritional information (per serving): Calories 173 (26 percent from fat); fat 5 g (sat 1.2 g); protein 3.4 g; carbohydrates 27.2 g; cholesterol 56 mg; sodium 400 mg.

Source “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table”



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Master Baker Dean Kim, OC Baking Company, Bakes Home-Style Fancy Mini Baguettes Epis

occhefDeanEpiRack450Dean Kim, executive baker-owner of OC Baking Company, is the go-to baker for many of the finest restaurants in Orange County.



The splurge-worthy burgers at Noah Blom’s ARC in Costa Mesa are encased in OC Baking Company’s potato-buttermilk buns, cornmeal crusted wonders made to the chef’s specifications. At The Ranch in Anaheim, Kim’s wagon wheels showcase seven different rolls, each one uniquely flavored and bound together in a ring around a central bun. The pull-apart marvel showcases everything from squaw bread to brioche, sourdough to cranberry-walnut.


 Kim works in collaboration with chefs to come up with customized breads that guests will relish. But with an ever-growing list of clients, keeping up with the demand hasn’t been easy. Fifty-two employees use a total of about 10,500 pounds of flour per week and baking takes place 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

THE VIDEO: It was evident that Kim is a master at teaching the intricacies of bread making. While showing me how to make mini baguettes in my home kitchen while taping a video, nothing was left to chance. HAVE A LOOK.


He detailed every step, making the process seem easy, even though these weren’t plain-old loaves. He used scissors held at a specific angle to cut them into baguettes épis (pain d’épis), baguettes that look like a fancy sheaves of wheat.

Some were adorned with poppy seeds, others covered in sesame seeds or cornmeal. Oh my, he used my clean-but-homey scissors from Costco. Worked fine.


occhefDeanBallDough450Home-Style Mini Baguettes Épis
Yield: about 6
12 ounces lukewarm water (by weight) or 1 1/2 cups, 80 to 100 degrees, plus more water if needed
2 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
1 pound (about 3 1/2 cups) bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt or table salt
Semolina (pasta flour) or fine cornmeal for dusting baking sheet
Garnish: poppy seeds, fine cornmeal, sesame seeds
Water in a spray bottle
1. Combine water and yeast in small bowl; allow to rest until yeast starts to activate and bubble. In large bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour and salt. With the motor running on medium-low speed, slowly add yeast mixture. Mix for 1 minute. With a rubber spatula, scrape sides and bottom of the bowl. If mixture is stiff and dry, add a little more water with mixer on low speed. As dough comes together it should be very slightly sticky. Continue to mix on medium speed for about 6 more minutes, scraping sides and bottom every 2 minutes.
2. Scrape dough onto lightly floured, dry work surface. Lightly flour dough and hands. Working around the dough, about 7 times, fold the edges into the middle, pressing the edge down firmly into the center of the dough with your fingers after each fold (ending up with smooth ball). Pick up dough using a bowl scraper to loosen it if necessary) and put it seam-side down in medium bowl. Cover bowl with a flat-weave towel (not terrycloth); rest in draft-free spot until roughly doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours. Line a large (13-by-17-inch) rimmed baking sheet with a flat-weave towel and generously flour entire surface of towel.
3. Using a bowl scraper, scrape dough out of bowl onto lightly floured work surface, smooth top facing down. Fold one side of dough into the middle and press down firmly along length of seam, forming a rectangle. Turn dough over so smooth side is up. With the bowl scraper, cut dough into 5 or 6 equal pieces.
4. Very lightly flour dry work surface. Working with 1 piece at a time, put smooth side down and press into rectangle about 1/3-inch thick. Fold a long edge into the center, pressing firmly with floured fingertips along the seam all the way down to the surface, folding with one hand and pressing with the other, working from one end to the other. Continue to fold and press alternate edges until it is a mini-sized baguette, using 5 to 6 folds. Make a line of flour on work surface. Dredge the smooth side in the flour. Set on floured towel – smooth, floured side up. Make a little fold in the towel to separate it from the next baguette. Repeat with the remaining dough, setting each on the towel with a fold separating them. Cover with a flat-weave towel and let sit until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
5. Arrange oven rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 500 degrees (if you have a convection oven, use it). If desired, cut mini baguettes into decorative epis. Holding over a bowl, spritz one lightly on top with water from a spray bottle. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, or poppy seeds or cornmeal (or leave it plain). Place on heavy rimmed baking sheet that has been sprinkled with semolina or cornmeal. Proof at room temperature for 30 minutes covered with a flat-weave towel. Remove towel and using clean scissors, cut at a 35- to 45-degree angle at 1 1/2-inch intervals (holding the scissors almost parallel to the top) – cutting almost but not through the dough. Swing the cut sections out and away from the loaf in alternating directions.
6. Open oven and quickly use spray bottle of water to spritz the oven 5 to 6 times, plus 1 spritz on the bread. (If using convection, reduce oven temperature to 450.) Bake until bread is a nice golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer to cooling rack.
Source: Dean Kim, OC Baking Company



….Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s ….


Candied Nuts – oh how they lend pizzazz to salads and cheese plates.


They are delicious with mixed greens augmented with fruit – grapes or plums or pears are favorites. And a little bit of crumbled cheese with attitude – blue cheese or goat cheese.


Yes, they can be baked in the oven, but it is much quicker to caramelize them on the stove – quicker with crunchier results.

Stove-Top Candied Pecans or Walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
1 ½ cups pecan halves

1. In a small bowl, combine sugar, salt and black pepper. Set a baking sheet or jelly-roll pan next to stove.
2. Heat a wok or Peking pan or large deep skillet on high heat. Add pecans and toss 30 seconds or until pecans start to get warm. Add half of sugar mixture and toss until sugar liquefies.
3. Add remaining sugar mixture and toss until it liquefies. Immediately turn out onto baking sheet and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, snap them apart.
Yield: Makes 1 ½ cups.


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Dinner: Cooking From Cathy’s Garden


Executive Chef PAUL GSTREIN will prepare a four-course dinner to celebrate my third book, “50 Best Plants on the Planet.”  Many of the dishes will be prepared from my favorite recipes in the book.



I will be on hand to chitchat, jaw about cooking and sign books.

Mr. Wonderful will have books to sell, bless him.


Sounds like great fun with delicious food, right?

No set time. Just make a reservation sometime between 6 and 9.  

For reservations call 949.721.1222. $45 per person





Tuscan Kale and Radicchio Treviso, Smoked Prosciutto Speck, Medjol Date, Gorgonzola Dolce, Marcona Almond, Lemon Maple Vinaigrette, Cranberry Brush



Nantucket Bay Scallops and Tiger Prawns, Roasted Sesame Oil and Chrysanthemum



Farro “Risotto”, Brussel Sprouts “Two Ways”, Bing Cherry  “Agro Dolce”



accompanied with Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream, Macerated Fresh Blackberries




900 Bayside Drive
Newport Beach

Call for reservation and specify the “Cathy Thomas Reception”
Telephone: 949.721.1222


 Think you don’t like Brussels Sprouts? Try these …


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Blackberries to the Rescue: Delicious and Nutrient Dense


Blackberries are such jolly fruit, their tiny juice sacs begging for pearly whites to burst them into juice. The inky nectar is a seductive blend of deep sweet-tart flavors, the flesh that encases it a counterpoint of gentle crunch.


Both the color and taste are prized in beverages, desserts and jams. The vibrant flavors lend excitement to yogurt, mixed green salads or cooked grains, as well as game, pork and grilled tofu. They are a welcome addition to cheese platters and smoothies, fruit salads and cocktails.


The alluring taste and texture is beguiling, but keep in mind that these berries, bless their little hearts, have very impressive nutritional value. They are the most nutrient-dense fruit on the planet according to the Nutrient Balance Indicator, a trademarked analysis that illustrates nutrient density in fruits and vegetables.   blackberryonefinancierKoon


Blackberries are concentrated sources of the phytochemical ellagic acid, which acts as a powerful antioxidant. Quercetin, one of the main antioxidant compounds in berries and especially prevalent in blackberries, protects against cancers. It also works best in combination with vitamin C, and blackberries coincidentally are higher in vitamin C than many other fruits.


And my oh-so-mature noggin appreciates that the compounds in blackberries and other berries have demonstrated a capability to reverse defects in memory, cognition and motor function, especially as connected with aging.


When buying: Look for berries that are fragrant without any mold or mushiness. Dark black color is best because purple or dark red may be a sign that they were not ripe when harvested (they don’t ripen once plucked from the vine). If packaged in a container, look at the pad underneath the berries; if it looks saturated with dark juice, choose another container. Or if berries stick together when container is tilted, it could be a sign that there is mold and deterioration. Store unwashed berries in single layer in shallow container; cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

They are perishable, so if not using within a 3 or 4 days, freeze them. To freeze, place in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet and freeze; once frozen, transfer to zipper-style plastic freezer bag – push out air, seal and return to freezer. Use frozen or defrosted berries in cooked dishes because there is a texture change when frozen and thawed.

Wash briefly with cold water just before using. Drain, then place on paper towels or clean kitchen cloth to absorb water.


Mixed Green Salad with Blackberries, Candied Walnuts and Feta
Yield: 6 servings
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
10 ounces mixed baby greens
2 to 3 cups fresh blackberries
5 ounces crumbled feta, see cook’s notes
1 cup candied walnuts or pecans, such as Emerald Glazed Walnuts
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional garnish: halved orange slices
Cook’s notes: If you prefer substitute crumbled blue cheese for the feta. Or use grated smoked Gouda cheese.
1. Prepare vinaigrette: Whisk vinegar, orange juice, and salt in small bowl or glass measuring cup with a handle. Add oil in a slow, whisking constantly. Stir in basil. Set aside.
2. Put mixed baby greens, blackberries, feta, and nuts in salad bowl. Stir vinaigrette and drizzle on salad. Gently toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide between salad plates and if desired, garnish with halved orange slices.


Blackberry Financiers
A financier is a petite French cake that is light, moist and not too sweet. The lovely flavor is derived from the addition of brown butter and almond flour. To make the flour, sliced almonds are ground with all-purpose flour in a food processor. Adding fresh blackberries makes them even more tempting.
Yield: 24 to 28

1/2 cup plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup (packed) sliced almonds
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar; additional for dusting
5 large egg whites
2 tablespoons honey
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
About 2 cups fresh blackberries, halved
Optional for serving: sweetened whipped cream or French vanilla ice cream
1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until browned bits begin to form. Continue to simmer, frequently scraping up browned bits at bottom of pan, until fragrant and dark brown but not burnt, 6 to 7 minutes. Scrape butter and all browned bits into a medium bowl. Let cool for 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, process almonds and flour in a food processor until nuts are finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl; add 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and stir with whisk to combine. Add egg whites; mix until smooth with whisk. Stir in honey.
3. Fold browned butter into batter. (For make-ahead preparation, this batter can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated well-sealed.)
4. Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Coat mini muffin cups with nonstick spray. Pour 1 generous tablespoon batter into each prepared muffin cup. (To make this easier I use a 1-tablespoon ice-cream scoop that I fill to almost overflowing.) Top with 2 to 4 blackberry halves, bumpy side up. Bake until cakes are golden brown and just cooked through, 15 to 16 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. Dust cooled cakes with powdered sugar just before serving.
Source: adapted from Bon Appetit magazine


(I love this little dish. My mother gave it to my when I was ten. She purchased it when she and my father took a Canadian vacation. Yellow flowers were always her favorite.)


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Call it Pasta e Fagioli or Pasta Fazool: Here’s The Best from Brunos


Pasta e fagioli, the classic Italian hodgepodge of pasta and beans, takes on irresistible flavor and texture at Brunos Trattoria in Brea.

Often pronounced “pasta fazool” in the U.S., Brunos’ version is rich with vegetables and has a just-right luxurious thickness.


Christian De La Vara, Bruno’s executive chef, enriches the broth with sautéed diced pancetta, the tasty Italian-style bacon that is spiked with black pepper. The meat gives the dish an underlying richness without overpowering the beans and pasta, the fresh herbs, carrots and celery.


This short video shows his pasta e fagioli secrets.

The chef uses dried borlotti beans or cranberry beans in the soup, medium to large tan beans that are streaked with red, magenta, or black. They have appealing starchiness and lend silkiness to the mix once one-third of the cooked mixture is pureed.

(Find the beans at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa and Mother’s Markets, as well as some supermarkets and from online sources.)


Once ladled into shallow bowls, Chef De La Vara tops each serving with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and a good pinch of chopped Italian parsley.


Brunos’ Pasta e Fagioli
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
2 pounds dried borlotti beans or cranberry beans, see cook’s notes
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, finely diced, see cook’s notes
4 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, peeled, diced
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh sage
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 cup dry white wine
3 quarts chicken broth
3 cups ditalini pasta (tiny tube-shaped pasta)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garnish: freshly grated Parmesan cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, chopped Italian parlsey
Cook’s notes: I know it isn’t authentic Italian, but sometimes I substitute pinto beans for cranberry beans. De La Vara prefers Framani smoked uncured pancetta. It is seasoned with a blend of spices and smoked over hickory wood.
1. Place beans in large pot. Cover with cold water, adding enough to cover beans by 2 inches. Soak 6 to 8 hours.
2. Heat large, deep pot over medium-high heat; add oil and pancetta. Lightly brown pancetta, tossing occasionally. Add garlic, onion, celery and carrots. Make a bouquet garni; enclose bay leaves, sage and rosemary in cheesecloth and secure with cotton string. Cook until lightly browned and onions are softened, stirring occasionally.
3. Add wine and broth;scrap up any browned bits on the pot. Increase heat to high and bring to boil; reduce liquid by half in volume. Drain beans and add to pot. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer beans until softened, 1 to 1 1/2 hours (test beans from time to time to see if they are done and are soft throughout). Remove and discard bouquet garni. Remove 1/3 of soup and puree until smooth either in blender or food processor. Return puree to pot. Or, use an immersion blender to puree about 1/3 of the soup.
4. Add pasta; simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes or until pasta is cooked al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste (not too much salt because cheese is salty). Ladle into bowls. Top each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons grated cheese, 1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon chopped parsley.
Source: Christian De La Vara, executive chef at Brunos Trattoria, Brea


….Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s ….

A quick-to-prepare Honeyed Strawberry Sauce can turn a simple slice of angel food cake into a scrumptious fruit-spiked dessert.


A little fruity red wine, a little honey, a little creme de cassis … and voila, the berries take on divine irresistibly.

1/2 cup fruity red wine, such as Beaujolais
3 tablespoons honey
1 to 2 tablespoons creme de cassis (black currant liqueur)
2 cups stemmed, sliced ripe strawberries

Whisk together wine, honey and creme de cassis in medium bowl. Add berries and gently toss. Chill, covered, at least 25 minutes. Serve over angel food cake, pudding, ice cream or custard.


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Carla Hall from “The Chew” Conquers Swamp Thing at Zov’s


TV Personality and Chef, Carla Hall, recently teamed up with Zov Karamardian to net over $20,000 for the James Beard Foundation’s culinary scholarship program. It was a luscious fundraiser.


(Yes, Zov and I are shorter than Carla.)

Carla Hall was a finalist in the 5th and 8th seasons of  TOP CHEF, Bravo’s popular cooking competition show. She is currently one of five cohosts on THE CHEW, a one-hour talk show centered on food on ABC. She currently resides in Washington, D.C.

It was a gray day outside, but a joyful vibe flourished inside Zov’s Bistro in Tustin. Nancy Luna, food-and-restaurant writer at the Register, told me that Hall was really a great interview – both kind and forthcoming. Luna told it right.


Not only did Hall give helpful hints in the course of her cooking demonstration, she kept the crowd both mesmerized and happy. Her voice reached long crescendos, somewhere between a song and a shout. Her stories were hilarious.

By the end of the program, everyone was a fan. She prepared Swamp Thing: Braised Pork Shoulder in Smoked Pork and Corn Broth, a stew-like concoction that dad would have lovingly called “slumgullion.”


Of course, Zov rolled out the remainder of the feast, offering a oh-so-generous variety of side dishes, salads and meats. Plus a glorious array of desserts.

Thank you Zov and Carla for raising funds to support culinary education.


Swamp Thing: Braised Pork Shoulder in Smoked Pork and Corn Broth
Yield: Serves 8
FROM CARLA: During my Top Chef challenge on Ellis Island in New York, I had to make a dish that symbolized my family and heritage. I loved every part of that challenge, but the best part was when they surprised me by bringing my husband Matthew to help me plan the meal and partake in it. We used the tomatoes and corn in season and paired them with pork, both fresh and cured. I am Southern, after all. I refined a classic stew by creating a complex broth that eats like a sauce. That went over hunks of succulent pork and a medley of collard greens, sweet potatoes, and corn. I was so happy with how this comforting bowl of love came out, I didn’t even care if I went home on this dish. I knew it was very special. When I was cooking, I told my ancestors, “This food is for you.” And when everyone at the table took a bite, they tasted that honoring of the past, too. Matthew told me there was a long, silent pause when everyone started eating because the dish was so good. That’s just what I want as a cook: for everyone to soak up the love I pour in.
1 (3 1/2-pound) boneless picnic pork butt, untrimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
1 (6-ounce) piece naturally cured ham hock, sliced, or 6 ounces thick-cut bacon
3 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 pound tomatoes on the vine, cored and quartered
2 dried chiles de arbol, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 cup dry red wine
3 ears of corn, husks and silks removed, kernels cut off, cobs reserved
5 cups Chicken Stock or store-bought unsalted chicken broth
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 bunch collard greens
1 large sweet potato, peeled and finely diced
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Pat the pork pieces dry and generously season with salt and pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat, then add the canola oil and heat until the oil dimples. You want to make sure that the oil is hot. Add half of the pork in a single layer, spacing the pieces apart. As soon as the meat hits the pan, you should hear a sizzle. If you don’t hear anything, you’re about to boil meat. Let the pork sit until it’s browned, then turn to another side and brown. Keep browning and turning until the pork is browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a half-sheet pan and repeat with the remaining pork. If your pan is getting too dark too fast, turn the heat down a little.
3. Add the ham hock and cook, stirring, until the fat renders and the meat is browned, about 2 minutes. If you’re on a diet, look the other way.
4. Add the carrots, celery, leek, onion, tomatoes, and chiles. Cook, stirring and scraping up those tasty browned bits in the pan, until the onion is just starting to become translucent and the other vegetables are lightly seared, about 4 minutes. The goal is not to cook the vegetables now, it’s mainly to get those browned bits up.
5. Return the pork with any accumulated juices to the pan, arranging the pork pieces to sit in a single layer on top of the vegetables. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until you can’t smell the alcohol, about 5 minutes.
6. Add the corn cobs, stock, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours. Don’t overcook or the meat will get dry. Remove the pork chunks from the mixture and reserve. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.
7. When the pork is almost done, prepare the collards: hold the stems with one hand and the leaves with the other, folding up the leaves together like the wings on a butterfly. Pull the leaves down, leaving the stem clean. If the leaves are really large, cut the roll down the center. Stack the leaves, then roll them like a cigar. Slice the rolls thinly.
8. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato with 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt until well coated. Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat until really hot. Add half of the sweet potato in a single layer. Cook, shaking and tossing the pan occasionally, until browned, about 3 minutes. The sweet potato should be tender, but neither mushy nor crunchy. Transfer to a half-sheet pan. Repeat with the remaining sweet potato.
9. In the same pan, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil until hot. Add the corn kernels and cook, tossing, until just browned, about 1 minute. Transfer to the pan with the sweet potato.
10. In the same pan, heat the remaining teaspoon oil. Add the collards, season with salt, and cook, stirring, until bright green and just wilted, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in the sweet potato and corn.
11. Divide the collard green mixture among 8 serving bowls. Top with the pork and spoon the strained broth all over. Serve immediately.


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Selanne’s Heavenly Scallops – Sauce Balances Sweet and Sour Flavors to Perfection


Joshua Severson’s culinary talents aren’t limited to topnotch red meat cookery. The executive chef for Teemu Selanne’s steak-centric restaurant in Laguna Beach, Severson also works his magic with seafood. His impressive work experience includes a stint working with celebrity chef Tom Colicchio at award-winning Craft Steak in Las Vegas. But his flair with fish stems from his Pacific Northwest upbringing, where he grew to love the region’s produce and seafood from Puget Sound.


I’m a fan of the scallops on Selanne Steak Tavern’s appetizer menu. The Pacific Diver Scallops with Pickled Chanterelles, Black Garlic and Cauliflower Puree is a favorite. How delighted I was when he consented to show me how to concoct it in my home kitchen.

Watch this short video to see how easy Chef Severson makes it look! Catch his tricks.

With the exception of the pureed cauliflower, it’s a one-skillet dish.

The puree is easy to prepare; the cauliflower florets cook in a saucepan along with some tender sweet onions and is blanketed in heavy cream. Once tender, the whole shebang is pureed and seasoned with salt and truffle oil.


He uses U10 scallops, a size designation that means fewer than ten of these beauties add up to less than a pound. They are 1 1/2- to 2-inches across and are sushi grade; the scent is as fresh as the deep waters of the ocean.

black garlic

Once seared in a hot skillet, mushrooms and black garlic come to the party. The mushrooms, chanterelles and Shimeji, were added along with white balsamic vinegar and black garlic. The black garlic is a type of caramelized garlic with a sweet-sour taste; it is made by heating whole bulbs of garlic over the course of several weeks. It is sold at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa and online at

Chef Severson said that home cooks could substitute quartered cremini mushrooms for the harder-to-find ones that he uses in his quick-pickled mix, and that they could substitute roasted garlic for black garlic.

Pacific Diver Scallops with Pickled Chanterelles, Black Garlic and Cauliflower Puree
Yield: 2 servings, plus leftover cauliflower puree
Cauliflower puree:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, such as Walla Walla or Maui onion, cut in matchsticks
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
About 2 cups heavy whipping cream
Salt to taste
Optional: black truffle oil, divided use
4 diver scallops, sushi grade U-10 preferred
Salt and white pepper
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Mushroom mixture:
1 ounce small fresh golden chanterelle mushrooms, washed, air-dried
1 ounce Shimeji mushrooms, washed, air-dried
Salt and pepper for seasoning
3 to 4 ounces butter, divided use
2 cloves black garlic, peeled and split in half
1 medium shallot, cut into very thin crosswise slices
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 small sprig fresh thyme
Optional garnish: fresh chervil sprigs
1. Prepare cauliflower puree: Place oil in large thick-bottomed large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add cauliflower florets and cover with heavy cream. Simmer over low heat until florets fall apart to the touch of a spoon, about 20 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid. Place cooked florets in blender and add just enough liquid to start the cauliflower blending, about 2 tablespoons.  Blend until completely smooth, adding more reserved cream if necessary. Remove the puree from blender and transfer to a food-safe container and adjust seasoning with salt and truffle oil, if desired. (For a nice soup, add additional cream or broth to the unused portion of the puree and whisk.)
2. Prepare scallops: Dry scallops with paper towel. Season them with salt and white pepper. Place 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil in a thick-bottomed skillet on medium-high heat. When oil is very hot but not smoking, add scallops and cook until bottom edges start to turn golden to dark brown, about 1 minute. Turn the scallops over. Add mushrooms and season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté for one minute. Add 1 ounce butter, black garlic, shallot, vinegar and thyme. Baste scallops with a spoon by tipping pan towards you and spooning browned butter over the scallops for about 10-15 seconds. Remove scallops to a paper towel. Remove excess browned butter from skillet. Over medium heat, add white balsamic vinegar and reduce by half. Remove from heat and add remaining butter, stirring to emulsify.
3. To Plate: Reheat cauliflower puree. Place a tablespoon-size amount of cauliflower puree on each dinner plate; smear it with the back of a spoon. Then place scallops over the puree, spoon mushrooms and sauce over the top of the scallops. Finish with a few fresh thyme leaves and truffle oil to enhance. If desired, garnish with small sprigs of chervil.
Source: Joshua Severson, executive chef Selanne Steak Tavern, Laguna Beach



Farro, an ancient variety of wheat, is both delicious and nutritious.

A favorite way to serve it is in a room temperature salad napped with a citrus-y vinaigrette.


It is especially delicious with Pixie tangerine segments.

Farro Salad with Tangerines
Yield: 8 servings
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, divided use
3 3/4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided use
Kosher salt, divided use
1 3/4 cups semi-pearled or pearled farro
5 small tangerines, such as Pixie tangerines,  divided use, plus more if needed for juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 green onions, thinly sliced including half of dark green stalks
1. Bring 2 thyme sprigs and broth to a boil on high heat. Add a pinch of salt and farro; reduce heat to medium and cook at a low boil until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain; remove and discard thyme sprig (leaves will most likely stay behind and that is fine). Cool.
2. Peel 3 tangerines and tear into segments; set aside. Juice 2 tangerines and place juice in salad bowl; you should have about 1/2 cup of juice (squeeze more tangerines if necessary). Add vinegar, salt and pepper; stir to dissolve salt. Whisk oil into tangerine juice. Add tangerine segments, farro, and green onions; toss gently to coat; taste and season with more tangerine juice, if desired. Remove remaining thyme leaves from stems and add leaves to salad; toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Salad can be prepared 6 hours ahead of serving and stored airtight in the refrigerator.



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St. Patrick’s Day Fare – The Essentials and The Frills

St. Patrick’s Day is a party day enjoyed by Irish and Irish-wannabes alike. From coast to coast, at the core of the celebration is satisfying, easy-to-prepare fare. It’s the corned beef and cabbage that first comes to mind.


The briny classic’s origin is a subject of great debate, but whether it was the Emerald Isle or the New World doesn’t seem to matter.

Thumbing through Kevin Dundon’s new book, “Modern Irish Food” (Beazley, $24.99), sparked devilish hunger pains. Dundon, an award-winning Irish chef and PBS television personality, features beautiful recipes for what he calls “modern Irish house cooking.”  USM-110

But it’s often the goodies that accompany the corned beef that make the meal so darn splendid.

Irish Soda Bread is a menu must. I’ve always made it in loaves, but found a recipe for making a dandy muffin-style version that is studded with dried currants.


 And a finale of an irresistible apple tart is perfect. Use refrigerated prepared dough, such as Pillsbury Pie Crusts or Trader Joe’s crusts, and then layer thin apple slices on top, slightly overlapping the slices in concentric circles to cover the dough.

The flavor of the tart-sweet apples shines through, the crust offering a pleasing texture contrast that compliments the fruit and corrals the rich juices.


According to the Irish proverb, there are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were. With the table laden with Irish fare, we can all be Irish at least for a day.

Pulled Corned Beef
Yield: 6 servings
1 (about 3 1/4 pounds) corned beef (brisket or bottom round), cut in half, without packet of additional spices
1 cup beer
2 oranges, halved
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
3 star anise, see cook’s notes
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 cups water
1 onion, cut into wedges
1 1/4 pound baking potatoes, such as russets, peeled, quartered
1 1/4 pound baby carrots, peeled, cut into sticks about 2 1/2-inches long
7 ounces baby turnips, peeled, cut into small chunks
1 small head of cabbage, about 10 ounces, cut into wedges
Cook’s notes: Star anise is a dried spice. It is a star-shaped pod that is native to China. It is sold in the spice section of some supermarkets and in Asian markets. If you want, you can omit it.
1. Place the beef in a large saucepan with the beer, oranges, garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, honey, vinegar, spices and peppercorns and cover with water. Put a lid on the pan and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 2 1/2 to3 hours, topping up the water during cooking if necessary, until a fork can be easily inserted into the center of the meat. Carefully remove the beef and put it on a cutting board to rest for about for 10 minutes.
2. Add 2 cups water to the pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Put in the vegetables and bring back up to the boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Discard the orange pieces.
3. Use 2 forks to pull the meat apart. Divide it between bowls. Add broth and vegetables.
Source: “Modern Irish Food” by Kevin Dundon (Beazley, $24.99)

Simple Apple Tart
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 (15-ounce) package refrigerated crusts (2 rolled crusts in rectangular box), chilled
Juice of 1 lemon
5 to 6 medium-sized Pink Lady apples, see cook’s notes
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted
1/3 cup turbinado sugar, divided use
2 tablespoons honey
For serving: whipped cream or ice cream
Cook’s notes: Pink Lady apples are delectable in this tart. I find them at my local supermarket, but if you prefer, substitute Gala apples. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that has been steam-cleaned. The coarse crystals are a honey-brown color and have a subtle molasses flavor. It’s often sold in the natural food section of the supermarket and is available at natural food stores.
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Unroll one of the pie crusts and place on parchment paper. Unroll second pie crust and cut out a ring 1/2-wide around the edge of the crust. Cut crosswise into three pieces to make them easier to transfer. Transfer to edge of crust that is on the pan and press in place (so now you have a double layer of crust around the edge). Pinch to make a ridge around the edge about 1/2-inch high. Prick with tines of a fork at 2-inch intervals. Place in refrigerator.
2. Squeeze lemon juice in medium-large bowl. Peel, core and cut apples into thin slices, placing them as you work in the bowl with the juice and tossing them from time to time to prevent browning.
3. Remove crust from refrigerator and lightly brush with butter. Arrange apple slices in two concentric circles overlapping them slightly (start with the outside circle). Brush with half of the remaining melted butter. Remove 1 tablespoon of the sugar and set aside to use as garnish; sprinkle remaining sugar over apples. Bake 12 minutes.
4. Remove from oven (and shut oven door). Brush apples and rim of tart with remaining butter. Drizzle apples with honey. Return to oven and bake 15 to 17 minutes longer. Remove from oven and sprinkle with reserved sugar. Cool at least 20 minutes before serving. If desired, serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Irish Soda Bread Muffins
Yield: 1 dozen
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided use
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
3/4 cup dried currants or raisins
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease muffin pan(s) with butter. In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and caraway seeds; stir to combine with whisk. In another bowl, beat the egg, buttermilk, butter and oil. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in currants.
2. Fill greased muffin cups three-fourths full. Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to wire rack. Serve warm.
Source: Taste of Home


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Grain Salads – So Very Delicious, So Very Healthy



Trying to make sense of what comprises a healthful diet can be a challenge. The news is filled with information about what not to eat, which sometimes leads to a what-to-eat conundrum.

Most experts say that the solution is to attain the correct proportion of animal protein to plant-based foods.

The American Institute for Cancer Research advises that we should aim for meals made up of 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans and 1/3 (or less) animal protein. Not every meal will easily fit this prescription, but generally speaking it is a guideline that is fairly easy to follow.

One way I’ve found to make sticking to these parameters easier is the “trough cooking” approach used by my editor of many years, the late Steve Plesa. He would cook up a big batch of some kind of whole grain on the weekend. Cooled and refrigerated, the “trough” was used in a variety of dishes throughout the week. One night the chewy grains would be showcased in a vegetable-rich soup, while another night they would be a side dish or stirred into a casserole. Other evenings the chilled grains would be tossed into mixed green salads, or incorporated into grain-based salads spiked with fruit and/or vegetables.

It’s the later, those delectable whole grain salads that most delight my palate.

Tossed with tasty vinaigrette and adorned with fruit, vegetables and fresh herbs, they are irresistible. Bless my little heart, if it doesn’t taste enticing, I don’t care how healthful it is.


Barley: Pearled barley has the darker bran shaved off, but cooks more quickly than whole barley and is more esthetically pleasing. I prefer to buy pearled barley at natural food stores because it tends to be larger and have a small portion of bran still attached. At the supermarket it’s fine, but has all of the bran removed and is smaller and whiter.


Farro: An ancient grain called “emmer wheat,” farro sated the Roman troops in biblical times and is said to have been first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent almost 10,000 years ago. It is nutty and delectably chewy. I use pearled (bran layer removed) or semi-pearled farro because it cooks quickly. For a quick side dish, throw a handful into boiling broth or water; reduce to medium and gently boil for 15 minutes, then drain and toss with a little olive oil, chopped parsley, salt and pepper.


Wheat Berries: Whole kernels of wheat that have the bran still intact. Use either red or white wheat berries; they have similar flavors and the same chewy textures. Look for wheat berries at natural food stores or in supermarkets with large natural food specialty sections.


Wild Rice: I love the crackly-crunchiness of wild rice. It used to be an expensive, special-occasion side dish. The 70s brought a wild-rice growing-gathering revolution. Previously, wild rice (an aquatic grass) was harvested only by hand in the rivers and lakes of the northern Great Lakes area. Now much of the nation’s wild rice is grown in California, flourishing in paddies designed for machine harvesting. That means more wild rice and more affordable prices. grainsaladfarrowildrice450

Farro and Wild Rice Salad
Yield: 8 servings
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, divided use
3 3/4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided use
Kosher salt, divided use
3/4 cup wild rice
1 1/4 cups semi-pearled or pearled farro
5 small tangerines, divided use, plus more if needed for juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 green onions, thinly sliced including half of dark green stalks
Optional garnish: roasted cauliflower florets, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: 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 20 to 25 minutes, tossing twice during roasting. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
1. Bring 2 thyme sprigs, 1 3/4 cups broth, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add a pinch of salt, then rice; reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook until liquid is absorbed and rice is just barely tender, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove thyme sprig (leaves will most likely stay behind and that is fine). Drain, if needed. Cool. Meanwhile, cook farro: bring 2 thyme sprigs, 2 cups broth, and 1 1/2 cups water to boil on high heat. Add farro and cook, uncovered, 14 to 18 minutes, or until tender but still chewy. Drain; cool.
2. Peel 3 tangerines and tear into segments; set aside. Juice 2 tangerines and place juice in salad bowl; you should have about 1/2 cup of juice (squeeze more tangerines if necessary). Add vinegar, salt and pepper; stir to dissolve salt. Whisk oil into tangerine juice. Add tangerine segments, wild rice, farro, and green onions; toss gently to coat; taste and season with more tangerine juice, if desired. Remove remaining thyme leaves from stems and add leaves to salad; toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Salad can be prepared 6 hours ahead of serving and stored airtight in the refrigerator.
3. Mound on platter. If desired, place roasted cauliflower florets around edge.

grainsaladbarleysalad450This salad is adapted from “Ancient Grains for Modern Families” by Maria Speck (Ten Speed, $29.99). Speck used marinated dried figs in the salad, which is delicious. But last week I had a luscious quinoa salad at Marche Moderne restaurant (Costa Mesa) that was adorned with candied kumquats. I love the sweet-tart spark that those kumquats added to the mix, so I subbed them in for the dried figs. Kumquats are like inside-out oranges. The peel is sweet while the interior is tart. They are rich in vitamin C and are generally available from November through July.
Barley Salad with Kumquats and Tarragon
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
2 cups water
3/4 cup pearl barley
1 (2-by-1-inch) strip lemon zest (colored portion of peel)
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 kumquats
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, divided use
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (about 4), white and light green parts (save dark stalks for garnish)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped unpeeled cored tart apples, such as Granny Smith
Cook’s notes: Salad can be prepared (without the apples or garnish) 6 hours in advance, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature and garnish before serving. If serving as a vegetarian entrée, garnish with toasted walnuts or almonds.
1. Cook barley: Place water, barley, lemon zest strip and salt in a 2-quart saucepan; bring to boil on high heat. Decrease heat and simmer, covered, until barley is tender but slightly chewy, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid. Spread out on rimmed baking sheet to cool. Discard zest.
2. Cut kumquats in half lengthwise; pluck out and discard any large seeds with tip of a paring knife. Place 1/2 cup water and sugar in saucepan; bring to boil on high heat. Decrease heat and simmer 4 minutes, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Add kumquats and simmer 10 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool (I reserve the syrup that is drained from the kumquats and store it in the refrigerator to use in cocktails.)
3. In a salad bowl, combine lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper; whisk to combine. Whisk in oil in thin stream. Add tarragon and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley; stir to combine. Add celery, green onions and apples, cooled barley and cooled kumquats. Gently toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Garnish with 1 thinly sliced dark green onion stalk and remaining parsley.

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SOLITA! Grilled Corn Elote – so easy, so delicious AND Best Queso Fundido


Deborah Schneider, executive chef-partner at Solita (Huntington Beach) and SOL Cocina (Newport Beach and Scottsdale, AZ), draws on her rich culinary background to bring the seductive flavors and relaxing vibe of the Baja Pennisula to the plate.


Street foods cooked on simple wood-fired grills are at the heart of Solita’s scrumptious grilled corn. The treat is so tempting, I asked her to cook some at my house on my kettle-style barbecue. I fueled the fire with both hard wood and charcoal. Schneider, the author of five cookbooks, made the process look easy.

Watch this short video to see Deb’s secrets!

 The browning concentrates the sweetness and makes the texture alluringly chewy.


Off the heat the corn gets slathered with butter and topped with a zigzag of chipotle sauce, a mixture of mayonnaise, pureed chipotles in adobo and fresh lime juice.

A little crumbled Cotija cheese, and a little sliced green onion. A sprinkle of ground toasted California chilies and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.


Although it is delicious on its own, I love to cut the kernels from the cob and use them as a topping for Schneider’s queso fundido (Queso al Forno), a melted cheese concoction that is best enjoyed tucked into warm tortillas. The ingredients, a mixture of cheeses, fresh salsa, cilantro and garlic, are assembled in a small, shallow cast iron cazuela; it cooks on the grill alongside the corn or can be heated on the stovetop.


Solita’s Grilled Corn Elote
Yield: 4 servings, with Chipotle Sauce leftover
Chipotle Sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup pureed chipotle chilies, see cook’s notes
Juice of 1/2 lime, plus more if needed
4 ears of corn, husks intact
3 tablespoons melted butter, divided use
Salt to taste
Crumbled Cotija cheese, about 1/4 cup
1 1/2 teaspoons ground toasted California chili
2 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced – including dark green stalks
Garnish: 4 lime wedges
Cook’s notes: Chipotle chilies are sold in small cans in the Mexican specialty section of many supermarkets. Puree the contents of the can in a small food processor or blender, including the red adobo sauce. Use what you need and freeze the rest.
1. In a small bowl, stir mayonnaise, chipotle chili puree and lime juice. Taste and add more lime juice if needed. Place in squeeze bottle and refrigerate. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn in single layer on baking sheet or directly on the oven rack. Roast uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool enough to handle.
2. Meanwhile, start fire in barbecue using charcoal and chunks of wood (hardwood designated for barbecuing). Pull off a couple of outer crispy husks on the corn and tear them into strips to use as ties. Pull back husks on corn to expose kernels, leaving the husks attached; tie husks together with the ties. Brush with melted butter, just enough to very lightly coat; sprinkle with a little salt. When flames die down, grill on clean grate, letting husks extend over side of barbecue to use as handles. Turn as each side browns.
3. Place corn on platter. Brush with remaining butter. Top each with Chipotle Sauce squeezed from the bottle in a zigzag pattern. Top with Cotija cheese, a sprinkle of ground chili and green onion. Serve lime wedges on the side.
Source: Deborah Schneider, Solita, Huntington Beach

Solita’s Queso Fundido (Queso al Forno)
Yield: 4 servings as an appetizer
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons diced tomatoes or fresh salsa
1 cup shredded Jack cheese
1 cup shredded Menonita cheese or Asadero cheese
1/3 cup cream cheese, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon minced serrano chilies, see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon minced green onions
1 teaspoon crumbled Cotija cheese
For serving: warm corn tortillas
Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Upon completion, wash hands and work surface thoroughly and do NOT touch eyes or face.
1. Heat a 6-inch flameproof ramekin or cazuela on medium heat. Add oil; when hot, add garlic and tomatoes (or salsa). Cook until softened but not browned. Stir in shredded cheeses; when hot add cubes of cream cheese, pushing them down into the mixture with the back of a spoon.
2. Scatter the chilies, cilantro, green onions and Cotija cheese on top. Continue to cook slowly, reducing heat if needed, until cheese is melted and bubbly. If you like, place under the broiler to lightly brown the top. Additional salsa can be spooned on top, if you like. If desired, top with grilled corn cut off the cob. Serve spooned into warm corn tortillas.
Source: Deborah Schneider, Solita, Huntington Beach


… Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

Kumquats are delicious used in a quick-to-prepare relish.


Here it is used to top a roasted chicken breast.

Hey, without this relish the chicken would be blah!

With the relish it is delicious. Kumquats add a lot of pizzazz. They are sweet on the outside and tart on the inside. Perky.

Kumquat Relish
Yield: enough to serve with 4 small chicken breasts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
6 kumquats, washed, dried, thinly sliced crosswise, seeded if seeds are large
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1.  Heat vegetable oil in medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add kumquats, sugar, water, cranberries, vinegar and red pepper flakes. Bring to simmer; simmer, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves and mixture thickens, about 8 to 11 minutes.
Adapted from “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce” by Cathy Thomas (Wiley, $29.95)


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