Sausages and Grapes

  Grapes are in peak season right now.  Most of us just pop them in our mouths from the fridge, but did you ever try roasting them! It brings out a sweet smoky flavor that is phenomenal! This recipe pairs them with sweet and spicy sausages. It is not only an elegant presentation, but a truly affordable one. It's also a great, quick  meal to serve at dinner parties.

3 lbs Italian sausage (sweet or hot)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
3 cups of seedless grapes (I prefer red)
4 tablespoons red wine
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven 500*F

  Heat a large, oven proof saute pan (or roasting pan if you're making a large quantity) on stove top on medium high heat. Add olive oil and sausages. Brown them on all sides and remove from pan and set aside. Pour out grease and return pan to heat. Add butter and grapes and toss to coat thoroughly. Add red wine and sausages, along with any accumulated juices. Stir to coat grapes and sausages.
  Place in oven for 25 minutes, turning the sausages half way through the cooking process.
  Return the pan to the stove top on medium high heat and add the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. Reduce until the sauce thickens and serve. I serve broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes along side.

Spicy Sesame Noodles

This is an excellent side dish for the BBQ chicken recipe I previously posted. You can make this as spicy or as mild as you like and with whatever vegetables you prefer. I occasionally add garlicky broccoli.

1 lb thin fettuccine pasta
6 cloves garlic
1/4 cup peeled chopped ginger
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup dry sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chili oil
black pepper to taste
1/2 red pepper, sliced thinly
1/2 yellow pepper, sliced thinly
6 scallions, sliced thinly on a diagonal

Cook fettuccine until al dente. Meanwhile, put the garlic, ginger, peanut butter, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, sesame oil, cayenne pepper, chili oil, and black pepper in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
Drain fettuccine and put it into a large bowl. Add the sauce while the pasta is still hot, as it will draw in more sauce as it cools. Mix in the peppers and scallions and serve at room temperature.

Asian BBQ Chicken

This is a twist on BBQ chicken, that is spicy and full of flavor. I think it tastes best cooked over a charcoal grill, but a gas grill works very well. It's a complete summertime BBQ meal when served with sesame noodles and broccoli.

2 chickens, cut up into manageable pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup dijon mustard
1 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
9 ounces tomato paste
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup honey
1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes

In a large pot, saute onion and garlic in vegetable oil. Add all the ingredients (except the chicken). Bring to a boil, and simmer 30 minutes. Cool sauce and use half to marinade the chicken. It should marinade for a minimum of 2 hours and/or overnight. Grill, roast, or bake chicken until the internal temperature is between 180-185*F. The remaining sauce can be heated and served on the side.

Pork Chops With Grilled Apples and Pan Sauce

I made these pork chops at a friends house and used whatever ingredients were on hand. They turned out so good, I had to record the recipe.

2  1 1/2" center cut pork chops
1 large apple
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons butter

Core the apple and slice it crosswise into 1" rings. Combine OJ, pepper, ginger, thyme, honey, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Marinade the apples in the OJ mixture and refrigerate 1-4 hours.
Preheat oven 450*F
In a hot (oven proof) saute pan, on medium high heat, pour in the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Salt and pepper the pork chops liberally and place in the hot pan. Do not move the chops until they have formed a dark crust on them, about 4 minutes. Turn the chops over and fry another 4 minutes, until its browned on the other side as well.
Place the entire pan in preheated oven for about 5 minutes, or until they are slightly pink in center. Transfer the pork chops to a plate and tent them with foil. Let them rest for 5-10 minutes.
Turn oven to broil (or use a grill pan on stove top) and remove apples from marinade (reserve marinade). Brown apple rings on both sides under broiler.
Meanwhile, pour off most of the fat in the saute pan, and place it on the stove top on medium high heat. Pour the apple marinade in the pan and scrape up bits left from the chops. Bring to a boil, add the vinegar and reduce it by half.
Remove it from heat and stir in the butter.
To serve, place 1 or 2 apple rings on each chop and drizzle the sauce over it.

Fried Chickpeas

 This is a great little snack to serve for unexpected guests or anytime. We all have a can of chickpeas in our cupboard that is usually hidden in the back and forgotten about. Here is simple, delicious recipe that is ready in no time.

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup flour or cornstarch (cornstarch produces a crisper chickpea)
1/2 teaspoon each, garlic powder, salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, dried thyme
    (you can literally use any spices or dried herbs you like)
zest of 1/2 lemon (optional)

 Mix spices and herbs with flour (or cornstarch) in a medium bowl. Heat oil in a saute pan large enough to hold all the chickpeas in a single layer, or fry in batches. Toss chickpeas in the flour mixture and evenly coat them. Pour them into a strainer and shake off excess flour. Spread them out in the saute pan in a single layer. Allow them to get a golden crust on one side before moving them. Shake pan or use a spatula to turn them over to crisp up all sides. Pour into a dish or platter and sprinkle zest over top.

Optional: I add a handful of olives and almonds to the pan at the end, to warm them up along side the chickpeas. They are great served together.

Sweet and Spicy Tomato Jam

  This is my new go-to condiment. I put it on cheese, in scrambled eggs, along side lamb, chicken or beef and in sandwiches. It is also great with seafood and sausages.

2 1/2 lbs of any combination of plum, cherry or grape tomatoes
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons salt
2 lemons
4 1/8" rounds of fresh ginger (I keep mine in the freezer, it lasts forever)

  Wash tomatoes and lemons. Chop plum tomatoes,  or halve cherry and grape tomatoes. It should yield about three cups. With a vegetable peeler, zest the lemons into wide strips.
  In a medium sauce pan add all the ingredients along with the juice of both lemons. Bring to a boil on medium high heat uncovered. Lower heat to medium and cook on a high simmer for about 1 hour or until it registers 220* F on a candy thermometer. It should be a deep red color and moderately thick. Cool before filling jelly jars. It can last refrigerated up to 2 weeks.


 Pesto is an extremely versatile sauce and the perfect flavor enhancer to soups, risotto, and salad dressings. It  keeps in the refrigerator for days and frozen (without the addition of cheese or butter) for months. I use it to top fish, chicken, and vegetables, along with the obvious, pasta. Another delicious way of using it is to add a tablespoon or two to a half stick of softened butter, and make a log using plastic wrap or waxed paper. Refrigerate it until it is firm, and it can then be sliced into medallions and used to top a grilled steak.
 The "purists" way of making pesto is by using basil and pignoli, but quite frankly any herb or nut will do. As an alternative, make it with mint, green olives and capers as a condiment with lamb.

2 cups washed and dried basil leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons pignoli (I often use walnuts)
2 garlic cloves
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons softened butter

  In a food processor, put the first 6 ingredients and pulse to a creamy consistency. Transfer to a bowl and mix in cheese and butter by hand.
  If you do not plan on using it immediately, add the cheese and butter just before using.

Currywurst Sauce

 While visiting my daughter in Berlin, we became hooked on the "fast food" of Germany called Currywurst. It is a Bratwurst browned on a flat top and smothered in a spicy curry ketchup sauce. Along side are crispy fries served with mayo. The combination is nothing short of addicting. I made it my mission to duplicate it back home. After researching recipes on line, and trying them all, I think I came up with the closest to that of Berlin's. More impressively, my daughter thinks so too!

2 tablespoons vegetable oil                                          
1 large onion, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups whole canned tomatoes with juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

  In a medium sauce pan, saute onion in oil until it's lightly browned. Add curry powder, cayenne, and paprika. While stirring, cook for one minute. Crush tomatoes in your hands and add them to the pot, along with their juice. Stir in sugar and vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
  Bring it to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Strain the sauce, and return it to the pot to heat through. Serve over cooked bratwurst.

"Lite" Granola

I was looking for a granola recipe that was light and didn't have all the fat, sugar and preservatives you get in boxed granola. I soon discovered that it didn't exist. Through trial and error, I've come up with a recipe that is delicious and as "lite" as it can possibly be, without sacrificing taste and texture. You can substitute any kind of nuts or dried fruit you prefer.

Vegetable cooking spray
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup almonds (halved)
1/2 cup pecans (halved)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups sweetened coconut
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup Splenda brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

  Preheat oven to 325*F. Lightly coat a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, pecans, coconut, cinnamon, and salt (the cherries go in after
In a small sauce pan, stir in oil, honey, and sugar. Don't worry if the oil doesn't thoroughly combine with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Pour over oat mixture and stir until it's completely combined.
Pour onto prepared cookie sheet (you may need 2 depending on size) and spread evenly. Bake for 20 minutes or until it's lightly golden brown. Stir once or twice during the baking process, and keep a close eye on it to prevent it from burning. Remove from oven and stir in the cherries.
Let it cool completely before breaking it into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Kale Chips

  On a recent trip to California, my daughter Ali made the most delicious snack I've had in years. They were  light and crispy kale chips. They literally disintegrate in your mouth... when made correctly! I had heard about them and read about them in every cooking magazine, but never attempted to make them. So when I got home it was the first order of business. As it turned out, it was not as easy as she made it look!! To add insult to injury, she made three different varieties, a salt and pepper, a cumen spiced and a cayenne chili pepper.... big show off!!!
  My first batch was a disaster!  I had the oven preheated to 350*F, tore the kale leaves, added salt and pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. What I produced was a brown oily chip...YUCK! The second batch, I lowered the oven temperature to 300*F and used less oil, and it was closer to Ali's, but still a bit soggy. It's all about the texture, and I wasn't getting the light, crispy, exploding in your mouth chip that she made. So on my last attempt, I finally got it right. I used a 300*F oven, tore the kale into larger pieces, barely oiled them, salt and pepper, in a single layer on a cookie sheet. I placed them in the center of the oven and cooked them for about 10 minutes. What resulted was a lighter than air, crispy Kale Ali Chip!! At last!!

Essential Kitchen Tools

  I get more catalogues than anyone I know, and big surprise, most of them are cooking related. So I flip through them and can't believe the enormous amount of useless/extraneous tools..... who buys these? The most ridiculous is the little rubber tube that peels garlic..... really??  How about using the flat side of a wide knife and smashing the garlic to remove the peel.... is that too easy??
  Admittedly, I've gotten sucked in on more than one occasion. Like the time I just couldn't live without the chestnut cutter. It never worked properly... so it sits in the drawer and I use a paring knife to do the job, like I've been doing for years.
  So it got me thinking.... what are the kitchen tools I find indispensable? These are a few of the essentials I cannot live without.... not necessarily in order. Garlic press, immersion blender, microplaner, tongs, instant read thermometer, ricer, mini food processor, knife steel, whisk, wooden juice reamer, assorted measuring cups, "Y" shaped vegetable peeler, wooden spoons, spatulas, pepper mill, assorted strainers, stainless steel bowls, salad spinner, mandoline slicer, assorted cutting boards, box grater, kitchen scissors and the most essential tool, a sharp chef's knife, emphasis on SHARP!!
  The importance of a sharp knife is worthy of discussion. A sharp knife is rarely the reason one cuts themselves, but in fact, it's a dull knife that is the culprit. A dull knife blade tends to "slip" off whatever you're cutting, slicing your fingertip instead of slicing through the item you're cutting. So keep your knives sharpened and save yourself a trip to the E.R..... oh and don't buy tools you really don't need!!

Helpful Hints

1) When buying a chunk of a good hard cheese, like parmigiano reggiano, don't discard the rind. Instead, save it in the freezer and toss it into soups, sauces, and stews.
2) If you plan on freezing steak, chops or any meat or fish you plan on marinading before cooking, marinade it first in a ziplock bag and the freeze it. The marinade has a chance to really penetrate the protein.
3) Before you cut into a lime or a lemon, roll it under your palm, with some pressure for 30 seconds or so. It releases more juice.
4) When cooking pasta, salt the water heavily, do not add oil, and before straining, reserve a quarter cup of cooking water. The starch in the water helps whatever sauce you use, to become a little creamier and stick better to the pasta. Just add a little at a time until you get the consistency you want.
5) I think the best way to make a very juicy steak is to start by using an oven proof saute pan. Preheat your oven to 450*F. Heat the saute pan on stovetop, using medium high heat, get the pan smoking hot. Salt and pepper your meat heavily and drizzle a bit of olive oil over it. Put it in the hot pan and don't move it at all for about 4 minutes, until it forms a dark crust. Turn it over and repeat. If the steak is thick, brown the sides the same way, using tongs. Place it in the preheated oven and roast it for 5-10 minutes, depending the thickness and how you like it cooked. Remove from oven and put it on a plate and tent it with foil loosely (it will continue to cook). Put the saute pan back on the stove top on medium heat, and squeeze the juice from a whole lemon into pan scraping up any bits at the bottom. Simmer for a minute or so and season with salt and pepper. Pour it over the steak and serve.

On-Line Grocery Shopping

 I think most people are under the misconception that if you don't personally select your own produce, meat, fish, etc... the quality will be lacking..... not true! I have been using Fresh Direct (available in the New York area) for years and have been thoroughly pleased with their ability to choose the best and freshest fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and baked goods (baked on premises). If that's not enough, it's much less expensive than any grocery store in the 5 boroughs. Delivery charge is under $6 and you choose the time and day.
  Their seasonal produce is gorgeous and have a huge selection of organic items. When ordering meats or fish you can specify how you want it packaged, marinated and butchered. For instance, you can order an aged strip steak ($15.99/lb) in 1", 1 1/2", 2" thickness and have it vacuum sealed, or Berkshire pork chops in desired thickness, with a chipotle rub. They keep a list of everything you've ever ordered for reference, have weekly specials and prepared meals, from recipes by well known chefs. In addition, they carry beer, an impressive wine selection, and hard liquor.
  Why would anybody go to the grocery store, when you can do all your shopping from home in your PJs??  Plus there's a Fresh Direct  IPhone App!! What's not to love?.... unless you enjoy waiting in line at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods for hours on end!!

Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon Marmalade

This is the quickest, easiest marmalade ever... oh and it's delicious! You can also make it with any single citrus you have on hand.

3 Meyer lemons, ends trimmed
1 blood orange, ends trimmed
2 1/2 cups Demerara sugar (you can also used refined sugar)

  Wash citrus under warm water. Cut each fruit in half lengthwise and slice as thinly as possible, lengthwise. I use a hand held mandolin which makes the slicing much faster and easier. Be sure to remove seeds as you go.
  This should yield 2 1/2 cups of citrus. Depending on the size of the fruit, you may have less or more than 2 1/2 cups. Either way, add the same amount of water along with fruit to a medium pot. (ie: 2 cups fruit, 2 cups water...) Bring to a boil on high heat, lower heat to medium and cook until peels are soft, about 30-40 minutes.
  Add equal amount of sugar (ie: 2 cups fruit, 2 cups water, 2 cups sugar) to the pot, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring back to a boil and lower heat to simmer until the marmalade has set, about 40 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer it should read 220 degrees. Let cool and put into jelly jars. This will keep in the refrigerator for a month.
  This marmalade is not only great on toast, but absolutely delicious with cheeses.

Lemony Roasted Fish

This is a delicious topping for any type of fish filets. I use it on Tilapia mostly, but have also tried it with cod and salmon.

Makes 2 servings

1/3 cup mayo ( I use a lite version)
4 garlic cloves, minced
Zest of 1/2 lemon
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450*F
Whisk all the ingredients together. Place filets in an oiled baking sheet and top with the mixture. Put in preheated oven and roast for 15 minutes.

"Do Not Disturb"

  One of the most difficult things to do, whether you're a seasoned cook or a beginner, is to ignore the saute pan and let it do it's job.... ie: cook! We tend to stir things up too much and too soon. The most important step is to get the pan good and hot, then add enough fat (oil/butter) to coat the surface. When adding your protein, vegetable or starch, "Do Not Disturb" until a good crust forms. Resist the temptation to stir, shake or flip. This will result in soggy vegetables or beige meat.... not very appetizing! Let the natural carmelization occur. This not only adds depth of flavor to your dish, but allows a "fond" to develop in the bottom of the pan when sauteing meats. This is a fancy French term for the meaty bits left behind from high heat cooking. These bits are usually scraped off the bottom of the pan, using a deglazing liquid, such as an acid, like lemon juice or white wine, or occasionally a stock. This eventually becomes a pan sauce.
  In addition to the "fond," allowing the crust to form on meats, adds intense flavor to stews, braises and roasts. It is the first step to layering flavors and ultimately adding depth to the dish. So when sauteing, pan frying or grilling, walk away and let the heat do the work.

Roasted Pork Loin with Figs

This is one of my favorite recipes for a dinner party. You put it in the oven just before guests arrive, and you have an hour to entertain and serve appetizers. The pork becomes extremely tender and juicy, and the sauce poured over is sweet, with a hint of balsamic vinegar. A serious crowd pleaser!

Serves 6-8 people

2 tablespoons each fresh thyme and rosemary, minced
5 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt (Kosher or sea salt)
Ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bone-in pork loin roast, about 5 lbs
10-12 ounces of dried figs, halved
1 cup sweet vermouth, slightly warmed
1 cup chicken stock or broth
2 tablespoons veal demi-glace
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 stick of butter, softened

In a small bowl, combine thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper and oil. Rub into pork thoroughly, and cover it with plastic wrap; refrigerate over night. Next day remove pork from refrigerator, place in a large roasting pan, and allow it to get to room temperature. Meanwhile, soak figs in the warmed vermouth for 1 hour. Strain and reserve liquid.

Preheat oven to 475*F.
Roast pork for 20 minutes at this temperature, then reduce heat to 400*F for about 45 minutes, or until internal temperature of meat is 140*F. Add figs last half hour of cooking time. Transfer pork to a board,  loosely tented with foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes. Remove figs and set aside.

While it's resting, set roasting pan over medium high heat and add the reserved vermouth. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly and reduce heat to medium. Add stock, demi-glace, vinegar and figs. Simmer about 5 minutes. Whisk in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Slice roast between the bones and place on a platter. Pour 1/2 the sauce over it and serve the rest on the side.

I have used dried apricots instead of figs and it's equally delicious. Along side the pork, I serve roasted potatoes, with brussel sprouts and onions.

Seared Cod with Lemon Caper Sauce

This is a quick, easy recipe, that has big flavor. I came up with this just by looking in my pantry/frig, and seeing what I had on hand. Some of my best recipes have started this way.

Makes 2 servings

2  8 ounce cod fillets (may substitute with any white flake fish)
Salt and pepper
Flour for dusting
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a chef's knife
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons capers, drained (if using salted capers- rinse)
1/4 cup white wine

Salt and pepper each fillet and dust lightly with flour. Heat oil in a saute pan on medium high heat, and add garlic and thyme. Stir, so as to infuse the oil with their flavor, for about 30 seconds. Add cod, skin side down, undisturbed for 3 minutes until crisp. Turn over and cook for 1 minute more. Remove, and place in a slightly warmed oven.
Add the lemon juice and capers to saute pan and deglaze with white wine, scraping up any bits left in the pan from the fish. Reduce, add salt and pepper if needed, and pour over fish.

I serve this with garlicky mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

Cheesy Artichoke Dip

Preheat oven 350* F

1 8 ounce package of cream cheese (softened)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 jalapeno minced (optional)
2 scallions (sliced thinly)
1 14 ounce can of artichoke hearts (drained and coarsely chopped)
Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and mayo until well blended. Add the remainder of the ingredients, with the exception of the artichokes hearts. Beat well until it is completely blended. Add chopped artichoke hearts and pour into a small, greased casserole. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling around edges. Use crackers or chips for dipping.
* To make a lighter version, use lite cream cheese, lite mayo and part skim mozzarella, veritably no difference in final outcome.
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