Archives for February 2014

The Academy Awards: Celebrate with Oscar-worthy Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Academy Awards: Celebrate with Oscar-worthy Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Academy Awards are this Sunday, March 2nd. Chef J was going to give us a tutorial on how to dress up as the Oscar statue using only edible materials, but thankfully he decided the glitter would look better on cupcakes. Let’s all get sparkly with Chef J!

Are you ready for the fabulousness of the Academy Awards?! Do you love to see the creators of wonderful works of cinematic art celebrated? Are your knuckles white as you sit on the edge of your seat, waiting for the winners to be announced? Maybe you just want to see what all the beautiful people are wearing! And let’s not forget the speeches! Everyone loves a good acceptance speech. Whatever the draw is for you, the Oscars will surely sate your desire for Hollywood glamor. Personally, I rely on Netflix for my motion picture needs, I think everyone should win, and I wear my pajamas more often than an adult probably should. I do love acceptance speeches though…

For me, the Academy Awards are just a wonderful excuse to get friends and family together to eat, drink, and yell at the TV. It’s always fun to get everyone in on a pool for Best Picture. You can rotate who hosts the party each year so a different friend is responsible for the prize or have everyone throw in a couple bucks toward the purse. Or just gather around the tube with some champagne and scathing critique of Tinsel Town fashion. Whatever you do, make sure you have plenty of delicious treats! Since no one will be rolling out a red carpet for me any time soon I decided to make red velvet cupcakes this year (I eat my feelings…).

Red velvet cupcakes are elegant, yet loaded with sugary-sweet popular appeal – just like the Academy Awards!

Sprinkle on a little edible gold glitter and you’re ready for a real fancy-pants champagne jam!

Red velvet is thought to have received it’s name from the reddish hue produced by the mixture of acid from vinegar and buttermilk with old-style cocoa. Today most recipes call for the addition of red food coloring or beet puree to add the titular red. The amount of rouge in your cake is up to you, but keep in mind: after a few drops, you can really taste the food coloring. Experiment with it, but remember that taste is always more important than appearance!

Red Velvet CupcakesAcademy Award worthy looks.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
8 oz. butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
8 oz. buttermilk
Red food coloring
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 TBS vanilla

Heat oven to 350°.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda together.
Cream the butter, sugar and salt and then add the eggs, one at a time.
Add the flour and buttermilk alternately, a little at a time.
Mix in the remaining ingredients; beat until smooth.
Pour into lined cupcake pans cook until they test clean; about 22 minutes.

1½ lbs. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. butter, softened
2 TBS vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
16 oz. cream
1½ cups powdered sugar

Whip the cream cheese and butter together with the vanilla and salt.
Add the cream and whip until fluffy.
Slowly add the powdered sugar and continue whipping until stiff.
Frost cupcakes and top with edible gold glitter for an award-winning effect!

Printer friendly recipes:Red Velvet Cupcakes

Gadget Love: The Story of Susi the Garlic Press

Gadget Love: The Story of Susi the Garlic Press

Story time! I grew up in a gourmet kitchen store surrounded by the best the culinary world had to offer, both in equipment and food. I spent my formative years learning the ins and outs of cookware, knives, butcher blocks, and gadgets. Thousands upon thousands of gadgets. We had two “gadget walls,” both of which were probably 20 feet long and 12 feet high. They were loaded with every little doodad a cook could ever dream of using! From meat tenderizers to cannoli tubes, ice cream scoops to crab crackers, we had everything.

Part of the store’s  appeal was that we ran cooking classes nearly every day of the week, and in these classes, our students got to sample our collection of old standbys and hot-off-the-line gadgets. From the time I was a young pup, I got to help prep for classes, which meant I got to play with all of these toys, too (forget action figures and dress-up, I wanted to play chef!). I remember the first time I got to use the garlic press; I was probably eight years old and barely contained the strength to squeeze that magical bulb through those tiny little holes.

Between the sheer delight of turning a clove into a pile of minced ambrosia and the lingering pungency on my fingers, I was hooked on this little gadget.

Crushing garlic was now my favorite thing to do ever in the whole world. This was over 20 years ago and I still rarely use that magic trick to wash the garlic odor from my hands (although I will use it to get rid of fish odor – that’s just gross). The scent takes me back to those early days in the demonstration kitchen of feeling so important to be able to help out a celebrity chef.

A gadget that creates delicious memories.

The nectar of the gods. Brought to you by Susi.


Throughout the years the store was open, we sold at least a dozen different brands and styles of garlic press, but my old trusty remained my go-to gadget every time I helped in the kitchen.  I received a stunningly beautiful $45.00 German garlic press as a wedding gift, as well as the updated and larger version of my favorite, but they just weren’t the same. When the store closed in 2009, we were allowed to ransack the kitchen to grab a little piece of memorabilia. You better believe I made a beeline to the drawer that held my first love and snatched her right up for my own! I took home enough stuff to overstock my kitchen for the rest of my days, but my hands-down most sentimental item is still that garlic press. I use it several times per week, whereas I think I used that fancy German one maybe three times over the last ten years (I actually got rid of it!). My trusty press is named Susi, which isn’t even remotely creative because that’s what the manufacturer named her, but I didn’t want to confuse her in her new home. Okay, that’s enough anthropomorphism for one garlic press. It’s amazing what a silly little gadget can mean to a person. I will never get rid of my garlic press because it carries with it my memories of growing up. Let’s just say the garlic fumes aren’t exactly what make me teary-eyed when I’m making dinner.My favorite gadget.

Are you “overly” sentimental about anything in your kitchen? I want to hear about the pie plate passed down by your grandma, or the rolling pin your dad used to chase a raccoon out of the kitchen (that has to have happened to someone!). Please share your stories with me – I love a good cry (or a good laugh)!


Valentine Dinner – Steak with Mushroom Ragout & Spicy Brownies

Valentine Dinner – Steak with Mushroom Ragout & Spicy Brownies

Are you prepared for Valentine’s Day? Chef J has a fabulous menu that is sure to impress your honey! Share the love, Chef J!

Pink and red are everywhere! You can’t do any shopping right now without being bombarded with lacy, frilly sentiments of amoré. It’s Valentine’s! Time for stuffed bears holding hearts, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, hearts with cute phrases on them, and best of all: enough steak and lobster to give you a heart attack! My number one tip to make your Valentine’s Day successful: do not make reservations! Every restaurant will be full of couples; some old, some new, all trying to have a romantic evening. I have nothing against romance. I love it! But after years in the restaurant business, seeing packed houses full of V-Day patrons, I have learned that it’s usually an event marked by over-trying and under-thinking. Instead of trying to plan the perfect Valentine’s date, think of what your partner’s perfect night would be. It might be dressing up and stuffing yourselves with surf ‘n turf- because that is awesome! But it could also be a night in with movies and ice cream. Luckily, Valentine’s Day is on a Friday this year so you can sleep in the next day. It doesn’t matter what you do to show the one you love just how much they mean to you as long as it’s from the heart. Instead of a fancy restaurant, make dinner for your honey. Or cook together!

Creating your own Valentine’s Day meal as a team can be fun and romantic.

How about a tender filet with mushroom ragout? My sweetie is getting grilled cheese because that’s her favorite, but dessert will be something a bit more fancy.

Let’s start off with the steak. There are lots of options when it comes to steak, so choose one that fits your tastes and budget.

Steak Cooking Temperatures
Remember to keep carry-over cooking in mind; the thicker the meat, the more carry-over it will have.
Estimated maximum internal temperature:

  • Blue or Bloody – 115-125F
  • Rare – 125-130F
  • Medium Rare – 130-140F
  • Medium – 140-150F
  • Medium Well – 150-160F
  • Well – 160F+

Cooking Tips

  • Take your steak out of the fridge or cooler at least 30 minutes before cooking.
  • Salt your steak just prior to cooking.
  • After cooking, let the steak rest in a warm (not hot) place for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
  • Don’t slice into meat to check for doneness: use a thermometer or judge by tenderness.

Mushroom Ragout

  •  Olive oil
  • 2 TBS shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4 oz. red wine
  • 1 cup shitake mushrooms, diced
  • 1 cup Crimini mushrooms, diced
  • 8 oz. beef stock
  • Truffle oil
  • 1 TBS cold butter
  • Salt & pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Sear the mushrooms until they are browned and lose liquid. Add shallots and garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the wine and simmer until dry.
Add stock and reduce to one half. Add truffle oil and cold butter; whisk until emulsified and season to taste. Serve over prepared steaks.

Spicy Chocolate Brownies with Berry Coulis and Crème Anglaise


Valentine Spicy Brownies


  • 8 oz. butter
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 lb. sugar
  • 4 oz. agave nectar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 TBS adobo sauce
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 7 oz. flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup toasted, chopped pecans + more for topping

Heat your oven to 325F.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler.
Whip the eggs slightly until blended. Slowly add the sugar and whip until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Mix the agave, vanilla and adobo into the chocolate.
Slowly stir the melted ganache into the egg mixture.
Sift the cinnamon and flour together, toss with the pecans and slowly add the wet mixture. Remember to scrape the bowl!
Pour the mixture into paper-lined muffin pans, no more than half full. Bake until just set, about 20 minutes.
OR you can bake them in a traditional brownie pan for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick almost tests clean.
Allow to cool completely in the pan. Move to the freezer and let them chill for about 30 minutes.

Berry Coulis:

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 8 oz. water
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp cold water

Combine the sugar, water and half of the lemon juice; bring to a simmer and add the berries.
Mix the corn starch and water.
Bring to a boil and stir in the slurry.
Return to boil while stirring constantly.
Strain and cool to thicken. Transfer to a plastic squeeze bottle.

Crème Anglaise

  •  2 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 TBS vanilla bean paste
  • 8 oz. milk or cream

Whip the egg yolks until frothy, add the sugar and whip until dissolved.
Whip in the vanilla bean paste and slowly stir in the milk.
Return the mixture to the heat and cook while stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and strain to remove any lumps.


Spoon a pool of Crème Anglaise onto one side of a plate. Squeeze a few dots in a row of Berry Coulis on top of the Crème. Starting at the top dot, drag a toothpick or skewer through the center of each dot in one steady motion to create hearts (see picture). Place a brownie on the opposite side of the plate and garnish with fresh berries, mint, chocolate shavings, more Coulis, ganache…whatever your Valentine desires! Serve with a deservedly smug look on your face.

Printer friendly recipes: Valentine Dinner

Embracing International Cuisine

Embracing International Cuisine

With the Winter Olympics upon us, we are given the opportunity to peer into the cultures and traditions of people from all around the globe.  We see all sorts of inspiring stories about athletes and their lives, providing a bit of human connection to such a grandiose event. You know what helps foster human connection better than almost anything else? If you said “food,” you’re absolutely right! Food brings people together around the world and is a social event in basically every culture.

Because the U.S. is such a melting pot, we have the privilege of having international cuisine at our fingertips at just about any moment. Whether you purchase something frozen from the grocery store, shop at your local deli for authentic cuisine, or decide to make something at home, you have access to more variety than you will ever have time to taste! We have Julia Child to thank for bringing international cooking into the homes of Americans when she exploded onto the culinary scene with accessible French recipes and techniques that could be duplicated in the home kitchen. Given the popularity today of cooking shows, blogs, and recipe forums, we now have an unlimited supply of internationally-inspired recipes that we can create and share with friends and family. We have entire grocery stores dedicated to bringing ingredients from faraway countries right into our backyards. Let’s utilize these resources and celebrate the international delights in which we are all capable of indulging.

A great way to sample the fare of many different nations is to host an international potluck, and the Olympic events are a fantastic excuse to do so.

Have your friends and family each bring a dish inspired by a different country or by their own culture and let everyone enjoy the diversity of food.  You will experience the vast array of flavors that are spread across our world and get a taste for how different regions can create a variety of flavors, oftentimes using some of the same spices or other ingredients. We live in a diverse society and should take advantage of every opportunity we have to experience and understand all of the cultures that play into it – and food is a great place to start! Chef J has shared one of his favorite Russian recipes to give you a little inspiration.

Roasted Chicken and Eggplant
Pesto:Roasted Chicken and Eggplant

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ½ cup packed fresh basil
  • ¼ cup packed parsley
  • 3-4 sprigs marjoram
  • 2-3 sprigs oregano
  • ½ cup shredded asiago cheese
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • Salt & pepper
  • 8 oz. olive oil

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except oil, and pulse until a paste is formed.
Slowly add the oil while blending.
Season to taste.


  • 1 eggplant, sliced into ½” rounds
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil

Brush the eggplant with oil and season with salt and pepper.
Roast at 375 for 20 minutes.


  • 1 Chicken breast
  • olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Season the chicken.
Sear on one side in a hot sauté pan.
Flip and move the pan to the oven. Cook until an internal temperate of 165 is reached, about 7 minutes.
Allow to rest for a few minutes.
Cut into bite size pieces

Pickled Onions:

  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp coriander

Combine all ingredients, except onions, in a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer.
Remove from heat and add the onions.
Pour everything into a zipper bag.
Squeeze out all of the air and seal.
Let it sit at room temperature until cool.
Refrigerate until needed.

Spread a bit of the pesto on a slice of eggplant.
Add a piece of chicken and a few pieces of onion.
Roll up and skewer with a toothpick.
Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Printer friendly recipe: Roasted Chicken and Eggplant