Hail Caesar - salad recipe Cardini dressing maker's original


Of course an Italian dreamed up the Caesar salad.  That he was an Italian living in Mexico makes the story more interesting.

If you've ever seen Cardini salad dressings on the shelves while browsing the supermarket, then you've seen the by-product of Cesare Cardini's original invention, the Caesar salad. It's said that Cardini's original recipe had no anchovies but relied on Worcestershire sauce for its distinctive slightly salty and savory flavor.

Since its creation in the 20s, the Caesar salad has seen numerous transformations with endless recipes available to try and to tweak. It's hard, if not impossible, to find Caesar salad made table side. Too many restrictions are placed on the use of raw egg due to the fear of salmonella.

Some have substituted coddled eggs, but I remain a purist and live dangerously, I suppose. When making Caesar dressing, I use the freshest eggs I can find and wash the shells thoroughly.  Since hens lay their eggs through a "vent" or passageway shared by their intestines and salmonella bacteria is transmitted through fecal matter, this is a pretty important consideration.

Toss a head of romaine and you'll hit a recipe for Caesar salad.

There are updated versions with grilled chicken or grilled shrimp, and some like the one I made last night feature my favorite fruit, the avocado.

You may be hard-pressed to find a Caesar with egg or anchovies in restaurants, which I find depressing - almost as sad as the limp, overdressed salads topped with a few nondescript croutons that are passing as the famed Caesar.

Below is an eggless recipe, which is tasty, but really would benefit from the creamy emulsification created by the addition of a raw egg.  But, in my house, we have one person is afraid of raw egg consumption, so we made this version to suit her palate.

Eggless Caesar Dressing

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

juice of one lemon, about a quarter cup

1clove garlic, mashed

6 anchovy fillets

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

salt and pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until smooth.  May be kept in the refrigerator for two to three days.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Shortcakes with Gingered Crème Fraîche recipe

The arrival of spring's first crops, rhubarb and strawberries, are a welcome reminder that the warmer months of summer are not far away. When you put the two together—juicy sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb—over freshly-baked shortcakes and top them with a silky, gingered cream topping, it's easy to create a simple and delicious dessert that everyone will love.

"Many people are intimidated by using fresh rhubarb in recipes, because they are just unfamiliar with how to prepare it. Yes, rhubarb is known to have a tart taste, but when paired with sweet spring strawberries, the best of both ingredients shine through," explains CIA Chef Stephen Durfee from The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in California's Napa Valley. "The only caution for those making this dish at home is to be careful not to overcook the rhubarb, as it can get soft very quickly."

This new twist on how to make classic strawberry shortcake, was created to take advantage of both crops that are currently in season at supermarkets and farm stands everywhere. For those of you interested in pairing this treat with wine, Chef Durfee recommends serving it with a late-harvest Muscat, which provides another layer of fruity aroma.

If you are looking to take advantage of fresh strawberries and rhubarb, but don't feel like baking, you can always prepare the topping and serve it over your favorite store-bought biscuits as well.

These and more recipes are explained and illustrated in The Culinary Institute of America's Season's in the Wine Country (2010, Chronicle Books) cookbook available at bookstores nationwide or at

To watch CIA's Chef-Instructor Stephen Durfee demonstrate how to prepare Rhubarb and Strawberry Shortcakes with Gingered Crème Fraîche click here:

Rhubarb and Strawberry Shortcakes with Gingered Crème Fraîche

Makes 9 small square shortcakes or 8 small round shortcakes

click image for Hi-Res copyVanilla Shortcakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2-inch section of a vanilla bean
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter


  • 1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 quart)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar, depending upon desired sweetness
  • One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and halved (about 1 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

Whipped Cream and Crème Fraîche with Ginger Chips

  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup ginger chips or candied ginger, finely minced

For the shortcakes:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Slit the vanilla bean and, using a sharp paring knife, scrape the seeds into flour mixture. Stir the flour mixture to distribute the vanilla seeds.
  3. Starting with 1 cup of the cream, mix the cream into flour with a large wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Add additional cream as necessary to take up all of the dry ingredients into a firm ball of dough with no dry spots; it should not be sticky.
  4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 20 times, until the dough becomes smooth, but not shiny, and firm but pliable. Pat the dough into a square approximately 9 x 9 inches. Cut the dough into nine 3-inch squares. Alternatively, use a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cutting circles as close as possible to one another and folding the scrap dough under the main dough.
  5. Brush each shortcake on both sides with a light coating of melted butter and place on an un-greased baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake until puffed and light golden, about 15 minutes.
  6. Place the shortcakes on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

For the rhubarb:

  1. Toss the rhubarb, sugar, ginger, and cardamom pods in a glass container. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Turn the mixture once or twice to evenly distribute the sugar.
  2. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a medium saucepan. Gently pour the rhubarb mixture through the sieve into the saucepan. Remove sieve with the rhubarb and place over a bowl. Remove and discard the ginger and cardamom.
  3. Bring the liquid and sugar in the saucepan to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring gently, until all of the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Add the rhubarb to the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb just begins to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the rhubarb mixture from the heat and reserve at room temperature while preparing the whipped cream. Rhubarb will continue to soften as it sits.

For the whipped cream:

  1. Place the stainless steel bowl and whip attachment for an electric mixer in the freezer 10 minutes before whipping the cream. Place the crème fraîche, cream and sugar into the chilled bowl and whip on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 to 3 minutes. Gently stir in the ginger chips. Reserve until needed.
  2. Place the saucepan with rhubarb mixture back on the stove over medium-high heat. Add the strawberries and cook until the strawberries are just heated through but still firm, about 2 minutes. Tease shortcakes apart with a fork. Divide rhubarb and strawberry mixture between the shortcakes (about 1/2 cup per serving) and finish each shortcake with a small dollop of whipped cream.

Nutrition analysis for Rhubarb and Strawberry mixture per 1-ounce serving: 25 calories, 0g protein, 6g carbohydrate, 0g fat, 0mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, 0g fiber.

Nutrition analysis for Shortcake serving: 260 calories, 4g protein, 27g carbohydrate, 16g fat, 210mg sodium, 50mg cholesterol, less than 1g fiber.

Nutrition analysis for Crème Fraîche per 1-ounce serving: 120 calories, 1g protein, 12g carbohydrate, 8g fat, 15mg sodium, 30mg cholesterol, 0g fiber.

Rachel Ray's White Sangria Recipe with an Italian twist

Martha Stewart loves Pink Sangria too Late spring and early summer mean two things - white Sangria and picnics.

I love an old-fashioned picnic, spreading out a large tablecloth on the grass, opening the hamper and pulling out the goodies - cold roast chicken, a loaf of crusty bread, briny oil-cured olives, a nice pungent - yes, stinky - cheese, a layered salad full of crispy, crunchy veggies, the requisite deviled eggs, and, of course, an icy pitcher of white Sangria.

It's a wonderful way to spend a sunny afternoon, lounging on a blanket in a grassy meadow, grazing on tasty tidbits and sipping a little Sangria.  We like to make a day of it, bringing cards, board games as well as the wiffle ball and bat. 

It's the perfect playdate.  Eat a little, play a little and everyone's happy.

This Rachel Ray White Sangria recipe is a classic with an Italian twist, using Campari instead of Calvados, which gives the drink a lovely pink color.

Pink Sangria

adapted from a recipe by Rachel Ray

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 shots Campari
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 orange sliced
  • 2 ripe peaches, cut into wedges
  • 1 bottle white Rioja Spanish wine or other dry white wine
  • 1 pint raspberries
  • Sparkling soda water, for topping off glasses of sangria at table


Combine sugar, Campari, lemon, orange and peaches in a large pitcher. Cover with 1 bottle of Rioja wine and chill sangria several hours. To serve, spoon fruits into glasses or goblets, adding a few fresh raspberries in each glass, pour wine over top of the fruit. Top glasses of sangria off with a splash of soda water and serve.

Summer squash, with its gorgeous and creamy butter-yellow skin, is in the farmers' markets.

When I was a kid, I ate so much squash - fresh from the garden - that I was sure I'd never suffer another bite. The typical dish we ate consisted of a medley of sautéed summer vegetables - squash, zucchini, onions, tomatoes and sweet corn. It was delicious!

But even the tastiest dishes soon grow old if repeated too often. There really are only so many ways to sauté or stuff a squash.

I was intrigued by these Summer Squash Sloppy Joes featured in the July 2006 edition of Cookie

But since we're trying to cut back on meat, rather unsuccessfully, I might add, I thought we'd try this recipe with mushrooms as a replacement for the ground beef or turkey. You might substitute firm crumbled tofu too.

Summer Squash Sloppy Joes
adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark


* 3 Portobello mushroom caps, diced
* 3 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/2 onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
* 1 carrot, grated
* 1 1/2 cups summer squash, diced
* 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
* 1 tablespoon mild chili powder
* 1 teaspoon paprika
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
* 3 ounces cheddar cheese, thinly sliced

* 6 Challah buns

1. Preheat the broiler. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the mushrooms until browned, about five minutes. Add the garlic, onion and carrots, then sauté another two minutes or until just soft. Finally, add the squash and sauté about a minute more.

2. Stir in the tomato paste and 1 1/4 cups water, stirring until the paste has dissolved. Add the chili powder, paprika, and oregano, and season with the salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook until the mixture has thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Divide the cheese among the bottom halves of the Challah buns. Transfer both halves of the buns to the broiler, open-faced, and toast until the cheese has melted and the top buns are toasted.

4. Remove the buns from the oven and fill each sandwich with the squash-and-mushroom mixture. Serve immediately.

For a side dish, try this Asian Coleslaw recipe - a nutty-vinegary, sweet and nice counterpoint to the picquant Sloppy Joes.

Sam the Cooking Guy: Spicy Chinese Chicken Pizza

  DSC_0680We get so tired of the same old drill for dinner.

Now we have Sam the Cooking Guy's just released cookbook, Awesome Recipes & Kitchen Shortcuts (Wiley, $19.95, 256 pp)  for new flavors and fun inspiration when dinner seems like drudge work.

Today we whipped up Spicy Chinese Chicken Pizza in what seemed only seconds - okay, really, minutes.

Just like Sam says in the cook book: You're going to like this a lot.  It was seriously finger-licking good - gooey with fresh mozzarella and tangy, spicy sweet from the hoisin sauce and the Thai chili paste.  The spring onions and fresh cilantro added a herbaceous kick and crunch. 

My 11-year-old son handled a lot of the prep work and while I'm still squeamish about his proximity to heat and flames - let go, Mommy, let go - we worked together to pull the meal off.  I love cooking with my son and he loves eating what we cook. Of course, I do too.

 Sam Zien, eleven-time local Emmy Award winner, hosts Sam the Cooking Guy on Cox Channel 4 in San Diego. A frequent guest on the Today Show, Zien has TV shows in syndication across the country.

Ready to eat!Spicy Chinese Chicken Asian Pizza

adapted from the book

Makes one 10-inch pizza


1/3 cup hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons Asian chili paste

1 package pizza dough (we prefer Trader Joe's, but you can make do with Pillsbury)

2 cups cooked and cubed chicken

1/3 finely chopped spring green onions 

6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit. In a small bowl, mix together hoisin sauce and chili paste, then spread over the rolled pizza crust.  Top with chicken, green oinons and cheese slices.

Bake about 12-15 minutes, depending on how hot your oven cooks, or until golden. Our test recipe took exactly 12 minutes. 

Sprinkle with cilantro to serve.  Serves 4.

Asparagus fresh spring roll with spicy sweet chili dipping sauce

Asparagus Spring Rolls -photo California Asparagus Commission It's asparagus season!  The tender and luscious green stalks are in the markets - or if you're lucky - in your gardens. 

I love eating asparagus steamed, sprinkled with sea salt and spritzed with a bit of lemon.  But I always enjoy trying something new.  When I saw this recipe for spring rolls made with fresh asparagus, I thought, wonderful, my favorite spring veggie in my favorite Asian wrapping.! 

The spring rolls, actually summer rolls since they aren't fried, are a version of the traditional Vietnamese roll, Gỏi cuốn, made with rice vermicelli, fresh herbs, shrimp and pork. Most often summer rolls are served with a peanut dipping sauce, but also are served with Nuoc Mam Cham, a fish sauce based sweet and sour sauce,

Asparagus fresh spring roll with spicy sweet chili dipping sauce

Makes 18 to 24 slices.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes


  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 3/4 cilantro leaves
  • 1 mango or papaya
  • Fresh ginger, 2-inch piece
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry roasted, salted peanuts, chopped
  • 2 cups fresh bean sprouts
  • 8-inch dried rice paper spring roll wrappers, 6 to 8 sheets
  • 1/4 cup store-bought Asian Sweet Chili sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime


Prepare filling:

Blanche asparagus in boiling salted water until tender to the bite, 3 to 5 minutes. Peel and julienne mango or papaya and ginger. Julienne bell pepper. Set aside with remaining filling ingredients.

To assemble:

Fill a large bowl with hot water. Working with one wrapper at a time, slip rice paper wrapper into water until pliable, about 1 minute.

Place wrapper on cutting board. In the center, put 3 to 4 asparagus spears with the tips coming off the end of the wrapper slightly, 3 to 4 mango or papaya slices, 3-4 pepper slices, 3 tablespoons sprouts, 2 tablespoons herbs, sprinkling of ginger and peanuts.

Roll the wrapper from the bottom up, tightly. Leaving the ends open. Set aside and cover with a damp towel. Finish with remaining wrappers.

When ready to serve, slice wrappers into 3 segments each and stand upright on a serving platter.

Mix chili sauce and lime juice together. Serve along side the rolls as a dipping sauce.

Makes 18 to 24 slices.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year

Easy Asian Noodles The Year of the Tiger is not for the timid.  Characterized by bold and sweeping change, the year's namesake is graceful, powerful and impulsive. It would seem logical to celebrate with verve this charming and ebullient big cat.

Festivities to ring in the Lunar New Year tend to be bold and dramatic, conveying the importance of new beginnings. Beginning February 14 and lasting 15 days, the celebration is food focused, with many of the foods served symbolic of prosperity, good health and long life.

Even if you're unsure of a food's symbolism, you can certainly appreciate its grace and flavor.  Over at my friend Kian's site, Red Cook, he shares a recipe for Braised Abalaone, which is simply gorgeous.

Most of us don't have the time, or perhaps the culinary skills, to create banquet food. For us, there are noodles. 

And while noodles, symbolizing longevity in Chinese culture, may take a backseat to banquet food, they are the great Asian comfort food, served daily in homes for fast and nutritious meals.

There is familiarity as well as tradition steeped in the various noodle dishes prepared by the home cook, whether they are warm and nurturing soups, hearty and healthy vegetable-filled stir frys or light and delicate cold noodle salads. 

Chef-author Helen Chen delights us with her second book in of a two-part series, Easy Asian Noodles Helen Chen with a wok from her cookware line (128pp, Wiley, $17.95), a kitchen-sized workhorse of a cookbook devoted to noodle dishes from Chinese, Japanese and Thai cultures.

Small enough to stuff into your bag for quick reference at the market, yet sleekly elegant with beautifully styled photography by Jason Wyche, the guide to all things noodle is made accessible even to home cooks who can barely boil water.

"We're all either working, raising a family or caring for elderly parents. We just don't have the time," said Chen. "I really try to write these recipes the way I cook."

A master of the Asian kitchen in her own right and daughter of Joyce Chen, who pioneered Chinese cuisine in Cambridge, MA, during the 50s, Helen Chen carries on the tradition of accessible authenticity in her recipes and with her cookware, Helen's Asian Kitchen.

Joyce Chen coined the name Peking Ravioli for potstickers, a name still synonymous on the East Coast with the plump filling dumplings. She introduced the American palate to Chinese food that wasn't bathed in cloying sweet sauces or some typical dish like Eggs Foo Yung or Chop Suey.

A restaurateur, a cookbook author, and TV show host, Joyce Chen developed her own specialty foods and cookware line. Needless to say, she was a fantastic cook.

Her daughter became a baker first to distinguish herself from her famous mother. She had bread rising to bake while we chatted.  "No one wanted to eat my stir frys," she said, then laughed. "My mom's cooking was so utterly fabulous."

Why noodles, why now

The last two decades have seen a resurgence and appreciation for comfort food from cuisines around the world.  Chen said the timing was right.

"Noodles, in particular, are very popular," she said.  "Not only are Westerners interested in noodles, but for Asians, noodles are comfort food."

In Asian culture, noodles serve many purposes - breakfast, lunch, dinner or quick snack - because they are easy to prepare and a flavorful mouthful of different tastes and textures.  "With vegetables, they're a really healthy meal... Everything is in that  one bowl," said Chen.

Noodles are filling and satisfying without being greasy or heavy. For many Asians, noodles evoke wonderful memories of childhood. Chen remembered being served homemade longevity noodles on her Chinese birthday (according to the Lunar Calendar).Her mother used to tease that she'd made them so long that Chen would need a step ladder to eat them.

But you don't need to make homemade noodles to enjoy these recipes. Most markets have good quality fresh and dried noodles - wheat, bean and rice - available.  In a pinch, one can use spaghetti for some recipes calling for wheat noodles. Chen also uses prepared chicken stock in her recipes and admits to buying it by the case.

Favorite noodle dish

Choosing a favorite meal is like choosing a favorite child. Each one has different qualities to love. For Chen, she chooses noodle recipes according to what she craves and what she feels like cooking.

"I usually start with, what do I feel like cooking," she said. "I find it easier to think of what form of noodle I want to prepare."  Her cookbook is organized according to preparation - stir-fried, pan-fried, and sauced - so that you can decide how you want to cook, then what you want to cook. 

One of her many favorites is a dish her mother often prepared, Peking Meat-sauced Noodles.  This dish is famous in Beijing, where her mother grew up.

Garnished with fresh bean sprouts and shredded radishes and thinly sliced cucumbers, it is crisp-soft delicious and Chen's comfort food of choice. The dish may be made with ground turkey, although traditionally it is made with pork, and packaged vernicelli or spaghetti may substitute for Chinese wheat or egg noodles.

Peking Meat-sauced Noodles

serves 6 to 8


1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 pound ground pork (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup bean paste, preferably Japanese red miso

2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions

1 pound Chinese wheat or egg noodles or thin or regular spaghetti

10  radishes, shredded for garnish

1 medium cucumber, partially peeled (leaving a few long strips of peel on the sides) seeded and shredded for garnish

2 cups bean sprouts, par boiled for 15 to 20 seconds, rinsed in cold water and drained well, for garnish

10 ounces fresh spinach, washed, par boiled for 15 to 20 seconds,rinsed in cold water, squeezed dry and minced for garnish

5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced, for garnish (optional, see Note)

Note: Northern Chinese have a propensity toward garlic - cooked or raw - and lots of it! The caveat to adding raw garlic garnish to these noodles is: if you're going out on a date or social occasion, leave them out.


1. In a small bowl, mix the wine and cornstarch together. Add the pork and mix well. In a separate small bowl, stir the bean paste, hoisin sauc, soy sauce and sugar together.

2. In a wok or stir fry pan, heat the oil over high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the pork mixture and cook, stirring constantly.until the meat changes color and breaks up, about 2 minutes. Add the scallions and cook, stirring constantly, until the scallions are soft but not browned, another minute.

3. Stir in the bean paste mixture and 1 cup water and mix thoroughly. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. You will have a thin sauce.

4. Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in the spaghetti and boil until a little more tender than al dente. Drain and rinse in hot water; immediately divide the noodles among 6 or 8 individual noodle bowls. Place the meat sauce in a serving bowl on the table. Set the vegetable garnishes out in individual bowls and let people sauce and garnish their own noodles.

Southwestern chili recipe hearty winter warm-up


Spicy Southwestern Chili for cold nights When I was a kid, my mom occasionally made ethnic food - a very Westernized stir fry or tacos. She made her own flour tortillas from a recipe, which unfortunately is long disappeared

Unlike my son, who practically cut his teeth on sushi, dim sum and curry, we were not exposed to a wide range of foods beyond our regional cuisine and hearty American classics like pot roast with mashed potatoes.

My mom was a great scratch cook, but women of her era were enamored of the subtleties of French cooking not anything as scarily exotic as Asian or Latin food.

These days you can find a recipe - either traditional or modified - for just about any world cuisine.

I don't know if it's because it's freezing cold or because everyone - but me - is gearing up for Super Bowl Sunday, but recipes for Taco Soup are every where.

Maybe it's because tacos are a quick and easy family favorite.  Maybe it's because nothing shouts fiesta like Mexican comfort food.

I'm a fan of tacos, tortas, burritos, enchiladas - anything salsa- and guacamole-laden, so the idea of Taco Soup is pretty tasty to me. Whatever the reason, I have to weigh in with my own recipe for Southwestern Chili.

This recipe is fast, nutritious and delicious. And who doesn't love a meal that requires minimal effort with maximum flavor.

Southwestern Chili

serves six to eight


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1/2 pound chorizo (the crumbly Mexican kind)

1 16-ounce can black beans, drained & rinsed

1 16-ounce can pinto beans, drained & rinsed

1 12-ounce can sweet corn, drained

1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes & green chilies

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 cup chicken stock

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons cumin

1teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoons chipotle chili powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup cheddar cheese, grated for garnish

1 avocado, diced for garnish

1/2 cup sour cream for garnish

1/2 cup taco sauce

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped


In a six-quart stockpot, heat olive oil over medium heat before adding onion, celery and garlic. Sautee until soft, about five minutes, then add ground beef and chorizo.  Brown until meat is no longer pink and is finely crumbled, about six to eight minutes.

When meat mixture is browned, add the black beans, pinto beans, corn, diced tomatoes & chilies and crushed tomatoes. Add chicken stock as needed to adjust thickness of the chili.  Stir in bay leaves, cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer, where the chili is just bubbling a bit, then reduce heat and cook gently, allowing flavors to marry for about 45 minutes to an hour.

While the chili is simmering, prepare long grain rice, according to package instructions.

Once the rice is ready, spoon a half cup into each bowl, then top with a half cup of chili. Garnish each bowl with 1 tablespoon grated cheddar cheese, 1 tablespoon diced avocado, and 1 tablespoon sour cream. Drizzle with taco sauce and sprinkle with fresh cilantro.

Serve with warmed flour or corn tortillas.

Berry sweet brunch for Valentine sweethearts

Strawberry creme brulee

This year, Valentine’s Day falls on one of the least romantic days of the week: Sunday. But while Sunday may not shine in the romance department, it positively owns brunch. So let’s make the most of it, shall we?

Invite two or three couples over and celebrate the fact that cupid’s arrow finally hit its target and the pressure is off!

Start by setting the table with red and pink accessories like red carnations, candy hearts and vases filled with red and white M&M’S®. Use old-fashioned Valentine cards as place cards.

Now for the most important element – the food. Brunch is all about variety. So take the time to buy or prepare several dishes.

Fruit is a brunch staple. We happen to love incorporating raspberries and strawberries into the menu, not only for their color, but because they’re yummy and healthy, too. In fact, topping traditional pancakes or waffles with Fresh Raspberry Sauce instantly updates an old favorite. For a more savory menu item, try a Raspberry Ham Frittata or Goat Cheese and Strawberry Bruschetta.

We heart pink drinks! Valentine’s Day is the perfect time break out the Maker’s Mark and whip up a refreshing Belmont Breeze. And for those who don’t imbibe, try a simple strawberry smoothie.

What could possibly be sweeter than your sweetheart? That’d be dessert. Strawberry Crème Brulee is a fabulous treat that is as easy on the eyes as it is the taste buds.

Strawberry Crème Brulee

Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 35 minutes
Makes 6 servings
Crème Brulee:

1 package (16 ounces) Driscoll’s Strawberries, hulled, divided
2 cups half and half
7 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup light brown sugar, divided
Heat oven to 325°F. Place six 6-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan; set aside.  
Coarsely chop 4 strawberries and evenly divided in bottom of each ramekin. Bring half and half to a boil in a saucepot over medium heat. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in a bowl 2 minutes or until golden yellow. Slowly whisk hot half & half into egg mixture. Divide among prepared ramekins. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to reach halfway up sides of ramekins.
Bake 35 minutes or until edges of custard are set and center jiggles when ramekin is tapped. Remove from hot water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover each one with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.
Heat broiler. Press through a sieve 2 teaspoon light brown sugar evenly over the top of each custard. Arrange custards on a baking sheet and place 2 inches from source of heat. Broil until sugar melts and bubbles.
Top each with a strawberry halved.
Nutrition Per Serving: 285 calories, 13.26g total fat, 7.23 saturated fat, 6.33g protein, 31.85g carbohydrate, 284.74mg cholesterol, 1.03g fiber, 51.27mg sodium
Tip: lighten up the recipe by replacing half and half with milk

Birthday babycakes

The birthday babycakes with kick
I love birthday surprises! One of the best is a box full of baked fun - cake, cup cakes or cookies.  But if your birthday boy or girl lives far from you, shipping becomes a problem.

For instance, I recently wanted to make a birthday cake for a friend, but I had to mail the gift so I decided to make cupcakes with a cream filling rather than an icing - less mess, neater to ship.

My friend is a wonderful person (or he wouldn't be my friend, right) and he deserves a birthday treat which reflects his special self. His favorite cake is chocolate, a solid choice, but he is not a predictable man.  He's solid yet mysterious, so his chocolate cake had to be just as complex and intriguing. 

The recipe I wanted to use was for a Mexican Chocolate Cake because it already is a chocolate cake with a rich, spicy difference.  But, it needed an extra special something - a more complex flavor. The natural choice was chili because it has just the right, unexpected zip, and a bit of savory  to balance the sweet.

adapted from

Chocolate Chili Birthday BabycakesGood and gooey batter


1 stick butter 
1/2 cup oil
4 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup 70% bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup water
3 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sour milk (buttermilk)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine butter, oil, cocoa, chocolate chips and water in sauce pan. Heat until  all are melted and smooth. 

2. Combine flour, baking soda, sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, cayenne pepper and salt in a large bowl, mixing well, then combine with first mixture until batter is smooth.  Do not over mix.

3. Pour batter into either a greased and floured cupcake pan or one that is lined with festive  paper cups. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, adjusting time according to your oven.

4. Five minutes before the cake is done, prepare a butter cream icing. Let cake cool before you pipe the icing into the center of each cupcake. This is done by inserting the start tip of your butter cream-filled pastry bag into the center of the cake and forcing the icing into the cake's center while slowly removing the tip.

The recipe called for margarine, but like the original author, I prefer the depth and richness of butter. I also wanted to add a bit of a kick to my cake, so I added 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne. 

Pretty little babycakes all in a row Additionally, I didn't think the cocoa powder would give the cake the deep, dark chocolate flavor I was looking for so I added a half cup of melted 70% bittersweet chocolate. The extra liquid meant I had to compensate by adding an extra cup of flour. The recipe didn't call for salt, but I added 1/4 teaspoon for balance. Since I was baking in a cupcake pan, I reduced cooking time to 18 minutes.

To finish my cupcakes, I piped butter cream into the centers after the cake had cooled. Finally, I frosted my cake by brushing the tops with melted butter and dipping them in a mixture of sugar and salt (a 3:1 ratio).
To package my birthday babycakes, I put them in a square airtight plastic container, stuffing the pockets with little poufs of plastic wrap to restrict movement. Ready for overnight mail, they should arrive looking great and put a big smile on the birthday boy's face