Tomato Soup

Okay, so I'm in a soup frame of mind.... it's cold out there!! This soup with a grilled cheese sandwich is the perfect combo.

Cream of Tomato Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 cups canned crushed tomatoes
5 1/4 cups chicken broth
2 stalks fresh basil
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter, add onion and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes and add tomatoes, basil  (stalks will be removed later), and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove basil and stir in cream. Season with salt and pepper.

Lentil Soup

It's staring to get cold out... what better way to warm up than with a hearty bowl of homemade soup. This is for those who only eat soup from a can. You'll find this recipe easy and you'll have enough to last a few days.

Lentil Soup

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 carrots finely chopped
2 stalks of celery finely chopped
1 cup canned plum tomatoes mashed
1 lb dries lentils (picked over and rinsed)
10 cups water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb ditalini or any small pasta (pasta is optional)

  In a medium sauce pan, saute vegetables in the olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, lentils, water, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and gently simmer for about 45 minutes, until the lentils are tender, but not mushy.
 Stir occasionally and monitor liquid. You nay need to add more water if the lentils absorb too much liquid. Meanwhile cook pasta as recommended on box, drain and add to lentils. Check for salt and add if necessary. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and serve piping hot with some crusty bread.

Watermelon Salad

I realize it's late in the season for a watermelon salad recipe, but this one was a special request from my daughter Alex who lives in California. We make this salad all summer long and serve it along side grilled paillards of chicken with balsamic glaze, but quite frankly, it goes just as well with a burger.

Watermelon Salad

3 cups arugula
1 cup Italian parsley (flat leaf)
1 cup torn mint leaves
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved (do not use prepitted or canned olives)
2 lbs seedless watermelon, cut into 2" pieces
1 jalapeno pepper, julienned
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced and soaked in cold water for 30 minutes and drained
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 limes
salt and pepper

In a large bowl toss arugula, parsley and mint. In a separate bowl combine watermelon, onions, olives and jalapeno. Spoon watermelon mixture over arugula and herbs and do not toss. Top with crumbled feta and drizzle olive oil. Squeeze limes over top and sprinkle with coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper. Toss LIGHTLY when you're ready to serve.

Easy Caponata Dip

This is a quick and easy eggplant dip that can be made a day ahead of time. I serve it with Pita chips, but any sturdy chip or cracker will do. It is absolutely delicious and you can change it a bit to make it spicy or not.

1 medium eggplant
2 red peppers
1 red onion
4 cloves garlic
*optional 1 jalapeno pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup basil
3 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven 400*F

Cut up all the vegetables into 1" cubes and toss them garlic, oil, and salt and pepper.
Spread them onto a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast for 45 minutes.
Toss once during cooking and continue to roast until the vegetables are brown and soft.
Place vegetables in a food processor using the steel blade.
Add tomato paste and pulse a few times until its combined.
Add basil and capers, salt and pepper and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and blend just until it's combined.

Cherry Balsamic Glaze

This is a quickie, but packs a huge flavor. It is especially great with Paillards of chicken. I also put the Balsamic reduction on ice cream and strawberries. The best part is you make it and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Balsamic Vinegar reduction

1 cup sugar
1 cup Balsamic Vinegar

Combine the 2 ingredients very well in a small pot. Stir on medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring it to a boil, lower heat to barely a simmer, and reduce by half.  It may take up to an hour to reduce and become a thick syrup. This is what can be stored in the frig for up to 2 weeks.

Cherry Balsamic Glaze

2 tablespoons minced shallots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup cherries (fresh or frozen) halved

 In a medium saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and saute shallots for 1 minute. Add the minced garlic and cook for about 30 seconds  (until it becomes fragrant). Add the cherries and heat through, about a minute. Pour in 1/4 cup of Balsamic reduction and bring to a simmer. Stir in remaining tablespoon of butter, just before serving. Drizzle over chicken, pork, ham.......

Tip of the week: If you accidentally put too much dressing in the salad, just pour the whole salad into a salad spinner and "spin" out the amount of dressing that's undesirable.

Rigatoni with Eggplant Curry

I've made this for more pot luck dinners than I could remember. It's a meatless, spicy dish that everyone will enjoy.

Rigatoni with Eggplant Curry

1 lb Rigatoni
1 lb eggplant
1 lb zucchini
1 medium onion
1 14oz can plum tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato puree
1 cups cream
Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh basil
2 tbsp curry powder
red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper

Wash and dice the eggplant (no peeling necessary). Place them in a colander and salt them liberally to lose their bitter taste. Wash and dice zucchini and fry in olive oil. Drain and place them in a paper toweled lined plate. Deep fry the eggplant as well, drain and onto a paper toweled lined plate. Chop onion and cook with 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet. Cook until onion is transparent and then add the plum tomatoes with their juice. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and add salt and pepper. Add the tomato puree, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Take the skillet off the heat and add curry powder and cream, mix well.
Meanwhile boil a large pot of water for the Rigatoni and cook until they are al dente. Drain and pour into  the sauce. Add the fried eggplant, zucchini and chopped basil. Mix well over high heat for several minutes until it is sufficiently hot. Top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese and serve

Tilapia with Radicchio

Ali... this one is for you!!
Summer is around the corner and if you're anything like me, I always make fresh corn on the cob. The trouble is that there are always lots of uneaten ears leftover. I have a delicious solution! Strip those ears with a sharp knife and use the kernels for this recipe!  

Tilapia with Radicchio

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
4 shallots, sliced
2 heads of radicchio, thinly sliced
2 cups of corn, approximately 4 ears (may substitute with frozen as well)
6 tilapia fillets
4 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 cup Wondra four
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper

Lemon Dressing

zest of 1 lemon
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. In a large skillet over medium heat add olive oil. Heat and add shallots, cooking until they are slightly golden around the edges. Turn the heat up to medium high and add corn. Cover the skillet with a lid and cook the corn undisturbed until it carmelizes, about 5 minutes.
2. Add radicchio and saute until softens, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Pour vegetable oil in a large frying pan and heat over medium high heat. Meanwhile, salt and pepper tilapia, and dredge it in combined Wondra and Panko bread crumbs. Fry until they are browned and crispy, about 3 minutes per side.
4. While the fish is frying ( you can do this ahead of time),  pour all the lemon dressing ingredients, except the olive oil, in a blender and while blender is running, pour in olive oil slowly, until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. To assemble, spoon corn/radicchio mixture in the center of a plate, top with fillet and drizzle lemon dressing over the top. Serve immediately.

Weekly tip: Grill an unexpected vegetable like fennel, escarole or radicchio. To grill fennel, cut off        fronds and stalks. Cut the remaining bulb in half lengthwise, and remove the core making an upside down "V" cut. Slice 1/2" thick and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Grill on high heat until browned well on both sides, but still a little firm in center, about 3 minutes each side. Can be served hot or room temperature. It's delicious in a salad! To grill escarole or radicchio, take off outer leaves and discard. Quarter each head, keeping the core in tact. Season the same as fennel and grill to your taste. I like it not too wilted, but with dark grill marks. This is great for a summertime side dish or with a vinaigrette drizzled over the top.

By Popular Demand

I will be posting several recipes that have been requested....mostly be my kids! These are some of their favorite meals growing up.

Fran's Tamale Pie
Preheat oven 350* F
Makes 6-8 portions

2 lbs ground beef
3 cups medium salsa
2 tbs chili powder
2 tbs ground cumin
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

2 boxes (8.5 ounces) corn muffin mix (I use Jiffy)
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream

1. Brown ground beef on medium high heat, drain and add salt and pepper. Add salsa and bring to a simmer, mix in chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and remove from heat.
2. In a medium sized bowl, prepare muffin mix according to package and set aside
3. To assemble pie, spray a 9"X13" rectangular casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/2 the muffin mix into the pan and carefully top with ground beef mixture. Dollop sour cream, using a tablespoon, but do not spread. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and the remaining corn muffin mix, carefully spreading it a bit. It will spread out while cooking.
4. Bake uncovered for 30-45 minutes until center is bubbling and top is golden brown.
Serve hot.

America's Test Kitchen

  A few months ago I went to see Chris Kimball, creator of America's Test Kitchen and founder of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines, speak at the 92nd Street Y. I've been watching his PBS show based in Boston, and have subscribed to both publications for years. So I was anxious to hear him speak and quite possibly meet him.  With him was Jack Bishop, Editorial Director of both magazines and food tester on their show. They talked about how the show was conceived and proposed a challenge for us. I was lucky enough to have been picked from the audience to join the challenge of tasting and choosing the chocolate with the most cacao. I failed miserably, but learned a lot. Our American palate is more familiar with sweet notes as opposed to bitter ones. Sounds obvious...right?? But when faced with the challenge of choosing a bakers chocolate with the most cacao, I was stumped, along with most of the other volunteers. Quite frankly, they all tasted pretty terrible. I chose the one that was the most palatable, or the one I thought was the "right" one.......wrong!! Scharffen Berger was the most preferable unsweetened chocolate to use in baking. At least that's what the professionals think. I of course picked Ghirardelli, the one I was most familiar with.
  I have since become a recipe tester for Cook's Illustrated/ America's Test Kitchen. This entails receiving one or two recipes a month, that I must follow precisely, to ascertain whether the particular recipe works and instructions are easy to follow. After testing the recipe, I fill out a survey, along with personal comments and submit. Most of the recipes are very good, but I have come across some that I felt were not worthy of publication. When I receive my new recipe via email each month, it's like Christmas... or my version of it!!

Too many Jalapenos

I do most of my marketing on a popular grocery website. They not only have the best produce, meats, fish and cheeses, but they DELIVER!! The variety is better than any grocery store I've ever been to (that includes Whole Foods) but it's much less expensive. Anyway, sometimes mistakes are made and I wanted to share this one that ultimately was serendipitous. When ordering fruit or vegetables you enter the amount you want. So on this particular order I needed 5 jalapenos, but evidently ordered 5 lbs of jalapenos. That's a lot of jalapenos!!! I didn't want them all to go to waste, so I decided to roast them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and freeze them. Once they were browned on one side (450* oven for about 10 minutes) I let them cool and placed them in small ziplock bags, stacked in the freezer. I take out as many or as little as I want, and use them for anything from guacamole to pastas or stuffings. They are particularly good in rice dishes. I highly recommend learning from this "mistake".


I am not a writer, therefore, please don't judge me on my grammar and punctuation. What I am is passionate about cooking, and have been ever since I could remember. My earliest memory is a story I heard dozens of times. When I was about 7 years old, my mom, who was the best cook I knew, asked me to wash potatoes for our dinner that evening.  I proceeded to wash them with soap and water... they were VERY clean!! I've learned a lot since those days and hope this blog can give others some tips, recipes and restaurant reviews.

Today's tip: If you want lemon flavor in your broccoli (or any green vegetable), but don't want the brown color it causes, use the zest of a lemon instead. It will impart that great lemon flavor yet retain the bright green color.
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