Cinco de Mayo – Watermelon Shrimp Cocktail and Easy Margaritas

Cinco de Mayo – Watermelon Shrimp Cocktail and Easy Margaritas

Cinco de Mayo is almost here! Chef J is back with some more great recipes to help you get your celebration started!

Cinco de Mayo is often thought of as Mexico’s Independence Day, the day we call in sick to work, and a holiday meant for drinking lots of margaritas. In truth, it’s only two of those things. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th; Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of Mexico’s victory over the French during The Battle of Puebla. It’s a real underdog story, so you should definitely look it up on Wikipedia. These days Cinco de Mayo is a more general celebration of Mexican heritage. One of the best things about living here in Phoenix is the vast amount of Mexican culture we have; it’s a beautiful thing to live in a city where the average bar has at least 12 different kinds of tequila and you can’t turn around without running into the most amazing carne asada burrito you’ve ever had. San Francisco has some wonderful, hip food trucks that can please the most discerning of palettes; Atlanta fed me some of the best cheesy grits I’ve ever tasted; Chicago can serve up the pinnacle of late night urban-chic comfort food while drinking you under the table. But Phoenix is the best place this side of the border to find la auténtica comida Mexicana!

But of course there is always room for a little inventiveness. Since spring in Phoenix is more like summer on the surface of the sun, we’re going for something cool and refreshing. We are lucky to have some great food popping up this time of year and I want to eat all of it! We have watermelon and strawberries coming in, chiles and limes almost all the time, and surprisingly, we actually have a sizable shrimp industry. Strange, I know. So whether you will be enjoying your Cinco de Mayo in the pool, on the porch, or hiding from the sun in the sweet air conditioning, have a fun and safe holiday!

Cinco de Mayo is a great opportunity to celebrate with delicious food and drinks!

Watermelon Chiptole Shrimp Cocktail

  • 1 TBS vegetable oilCinco de Mayo Shrimp Cocktail
  • ½ cup chopped red onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 cups watermelon, chopped + juice
  • 2 roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 TBS cornstarch w/ 1 TBS water
  • 2# shrimp, cooked

Heat up a large sauce pot and add the oil. When it is hot, add the onion.
When the onion starts to brown, add the garlic and spices and reduce the heat to medium-low.
After a few minutes, when the garlic has softened a bit, add the watermelon, red peppers, and chipotle and raise the heat back up to medium.
Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the lime juice, zest, and season to taste.
Stir in the cornstarch slurry and let it simmer for another 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and chill.
Serve with boiled or grilled shrimp.

Super Easy Margarita

  •  2 qts. cold water
  • 8 oz. lime juice
  • 8 oz. agave or honey
  • 8 oz. tequila
  • 2 oz. triple sec
  • 2 cups fresh, frozen strawberries

Mix all of the liquids.
Adjust for sweetness/alcohol content.
Pour over a few frozen strawberries.
Add salt if you want. It’s your margarita!

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Easter Celebration – Deviled Egg Chicks and Carrot Smoothies

Easter Celebration – Deviled Egg Chicks and Carrot Smoothies

With Easter right around the corner, Chef J is sharing some fantastically fun recipes for your enjoyment. His Deviled Chicks are appropriately twee for our pastel-themed celebrations, but the Carrot-Ginger Smoothie has a zip that will snap you right out of your candy-colored dreams. The Easter Bunny has requested we all start leaving one out for him the night before; it’s not fair that Santa gets all the midnight snacks! So, Chef J, why don’t you hop on over (see what I did there?) and share your treats!

National Deviled Egg Day might not be until November 2nd,  but I just can’t wait that long. Luckily there is another holiday on the calendar that prominently features these delightful little egg-filled eggs. Easter, some could argue, is the far superior holiday.

Easter not only plays host to eggs of the deviled variety, but provides a welcoming table for all manner of ova.

It’s also a fantastic excuse to eat chocolate by the basket! Everything feels nice and fresh; spring is blossoming all around us, there are pictures of bunnies everywhere, people are dressed in pastel. Oh yeah, and baskets full of chocolate! How can you not have a good time on Easter?
There are a few tricks to help your eggery go smoothly. Some maybe you know, some maybe you don’t.

  • Don’t use fresh eggs! The fresher the egg is, the more the shell will stick when you’re trying to peel it. For easy to peel eggs you want to use eggs that are about a week to ten days old.
  • Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water before you start cooking. This is an old trick that will help the peels come loose more easily, leaving you with a clean, smooth egg.
  • Soak them in ice water for 30-45 minutes before peeling. The shells are porous so they will let a bit of water in, reducing the amount of suction power the shell will have. Cold eggs are also easier to peel.

Deviled Egg Chicks

  • 12 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • large bowl of ice water
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 TBS mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce (this is optional and can be replaced with Dijon mustard if you don’t like it hot)
  • 1 dill pickle, finely chopped (save a few pieces for the eyes, or use black olives)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • A few little pieces of carrot for beaks

Place the eggs and baking soda in a large pot of cold water. Make sure the eggs are covered by about one inch of water.
Bring the pot to a boil. As soon as it boils, cover the pot and remove it from the heat.
Let the eggs sit in the hot water, covered, for 8 minutes.
Remove the eggs and place them in the ice water. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

Gently crack the egg all the way around and begin peeling the shell away carefully.
Using a small paring knife, cut straight across the very bottom of the egg so that it sits flat, then cut a zig-zag pattern through the whites of the eggs about two thirds of the way up.
Pull off the top and gently squeeze the yolk out. Repeat with all eggs.
Mix the remaining ingredients, including the white part that you cut off the bottom, in a small bowl.
Blend it all together with a fork and season to taste. If you want a smoother texture you can push the yolks through a mesh strainer first.
Spoon the mixture (or pipe with a pastry bag) into the egg white bases and place the caps back on top.
Use the little pieces of pickle that you saved (or black olive) to make the eyes. Cut tiny triangles out of the carrot and place those in as the beak.

The result should look like a baby chick popping out of your shell (but you might need to practice on a few and use your imagination!).

easter chicks

And to wash down these delightful little chickies, a smoothie the Easter Bunny would be proud of!
Carrot Ginger Smoothie

  • 12 oz. almond milkcarrot smoothie for easter
  • 2 medium carrots, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 TBS fresh ginger, chopped
  • ¾ cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 cup ice

If you have a heavy duty blender, like a Vitamix, just throw everything in and blend away!
If you don’t, you can use 4 oz. carrot juice or just chop the carrots up very small.
Blend to your desired consistency.
Makes about 2 – 16 oz. smoothies.

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National Meatball Day: Swedish Meatballs

National Meatball Day: Swedish Meatballs

 My dog’s name is Meatball so I get to celebrate every day, but for the rest of you, this Sunday is your chance to delight in the joy of one of the world’s simplest of pleasures. Meatball and I will be enjoying his namesake in the form of Chef J’s Swedish Meatballs and we think you should, too! I’ll let Chef J wax poetic about balls of meat now.

Whether you prefer yours on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese (perhaps you are just  looking to replace one that might have been lost when somebody sneezed); meatballs are one of those perfect foods. It’s pretty clear from the name that they are balls of meat. IT’S A BALL OF MEAT!!! What simple brilliance! What pure elegance! This spherical culinary wonder deserves to be celebrated! So, in keeping with tradition, we will hold these greasy balls on high this Ninth of March!

That’s right: March 9th is National Meatball Day!

Meatballs can be added to almost any dish: put them in a between two pieces of toasted, soft bread with thinly sliced veggies for a delicious sandwich, pile them on top of your pasta and load it up with cheese, or just serve them up with gobs of ketchup and gravy! However you eat them, meatballs are great. In honor of the woman who introduced these delicious little rounds into my life, I will be enjoying mine with a big spoonful of lingonberry preserves. My Farmor (Swedish for “father’s mother;” the same Farmor who gave us Peanut Blossoms) used to make these when I was a kid and I still love them to this day! These little balls of meat are called Köttbullar (Swedish for “little balls of meat”). They are amazing! Dip them in ketchup, or lingonberry preserves, or in a nice tasty gravy like Farmor used to make. They are fast and simple to make, and they can be frozen raw or after they have been cooked if you want to save some for later.


  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • ½ lb. ground pork
  • 8 oz. cream
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients; form into 1” balls.
Heat a large cast iron skillet on medium.
Coat pan with butter or oil and add meatballs.
Cook until dark brown.


  • ½ onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 oz. red wine
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 12 oz. crushed tomatoes, canned or fresh
  • Salt & pepper

Sweat the onions in a large pan (use the one you cooked the meatballs in!) until they begin to turn translucent.
Add garlic and let it start to brown.
Deglaze with wine and add the herbs.
Reduce by ½ and add tomato and bring to a simmer.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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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.

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Super Bowl Party Appetizers – Empanadas, Sliders, & More

Super Bowl Party Appetizers – Empanadas, Sliders, & More

Well once again it’s time for the Super Bowl! And that means it’s time for a party! Monday is future-you’s problem; Sunday is all about football and food. And beer. And the commercials. And yelling; there seems to always be a lot of yelling. Honestly, I don’t really understand the football, but I’m a huge fan of greasy, fatty appetizers. I’ve never met a chicken wing I didn’t like. I eat chips and salsa for breakfast. Cold cuts wrapped in a tortilla, sliced and skewered with toothpicks: that’s my jam! (Some would argue that) other than the actual game, appetizers are the most important part of any Super Bowl soiree. As Benjamin Franklin so eloquently stated: “It’s not a party unless you leave with a tummy full of nachos!” He was a brilliant man. And those words are as true today as they were when he said them, which if I am not mistaken, was while riding a T-Rex through the jungle, leading the North to victory in the Civil War. Lucky for you I am not only an expert in the field of American history, but a skilled creator of easy appetizers! I present to you several options to enjoy while cheering your sportsball squadron toward the championship. Some of these are traditional; some are to be enjoyed while possibly wearing fancy pants.

Whatever the tone of your football festivity might be, appetizers will fuel the winning celebration or sooth the shameful losers in their mourning.

2 pounds ground beef
Salt & pepper
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
24 small buns (I prefer those soft, sweet Hawaiian ones)
4 TBS butter
Real American cheese, sliced and cut into quarters (optional – but, come on!)

Season the beef and spread it evenly over a parchment lined baking sheet. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top and press it down with another baking sheet.
Flip the meat onto your cutting board and cut into 24 squares – 6 columns lengthwise, four rows across. Use your finger to press a hole in the center of each patty.
Cook half of the onions in half of the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in a bit more salt and pepper.
When the onions start to turn translucent, place half the patties in the pan. Cover and cook for 4 minutes. Remove and repeat with remaining ingredients.
Top with cheese and cooked onion. Put them in the buns. Eat way too many. Repeat as necessary.
Artichoke Queso Dipappetizers queso dip
2 TBS oil
½ cup diced onion
1 cup finely chopped marinated artichoke hearts
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice of ½ a lime
1 oz. Tequila
1 cup cream
1 tsp cumin
½-1 tsp ground chile
1 tsp chopped oregano
½ tsp chopped thyme
1 tsp lime zest
2 cups shredded soft, melting cheese: Mozzarella, Oaxaca, Jack…
½ cup crumbled Cotija

Heat a large saucepan to medium, add the oil.
Sauté the onions until they begin to brown, add the garlic and artichokes.
When the artichokes have softened a bit add the lime juice and tequila.
Stir in the cream, and herbs and spices; bring to a simmer.
Slowly stir in the cheese. Season to taste.
Caramelized Onion & Chèvre Crepes
1 cup flour
A pinch of salt
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 oz. melted butter

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.
Let batter sit for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
In a hot, lightly oiled pan pour just enough batter to evenly coat the bottom.
Cook for 1 minute or until it starts to turn brown and set up. Flip and cook for another 30 seconds.

1 sweet yellow onion, finely sliced
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Salt & white pepper
2 TBS port wine
2 oz. water

Toss the onion with the sugar and vinegar, cook over low heat until brown.
Season to taste and remove from heat.
Deglaze the pan with port and water; pour over onions.

Goat Cheese Filling:
8 oz. chèvre
4 oz. cream
1 tsp orange zest
Salt & White pepper
Caramelized onions

Combine all ingredients.
Spread 2-3 TBS in each crepe and roll up.

Pecan Gorgonzola Empanadas
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup chopped toasted pecans
½ cup Gorgonzola cheese
1 tsp honey
Salt & pepper

12 – 3”x3” puff pastry squares
2 oz. melted butter

Heat oven to 375.
Combine all filling ingredients, season to taste.
Divide filling evenly onto pastry sheets.
Fold shut, crimp shut with a fork and brush with melted butter.
Bake for about 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.

Printer friendly recipes: Super Bowl Appetizers

Meatless Monday Pizza Party

Meatless Monday Pizza Party

Chef J is at it again – this time sharing perfect pizza dough to satisfy any crowd!

There is a common belief that you can’t please everyone. This is correct about 99.99% of the time, and can be especially hard if you practice the growing trend of Meatless Mondays. But there is one delicious exception: Pizza! Pizza might be the pinnacle of cuisine. I doubt that there will be anything anytime soon that can knock that marvelous, cheesy circle off the throne. And though you can have it delivered in under an hour, there is a better way!

Pizza is incredibly easy to make for Meatless Monday – anyone can do it!

Doing it yourself is not only rewarding (you’ll love bragging to your friends about it!), it tastes better, it’s healthier, and it’s something that the whole group can get involved in. Everyone at the party can build their own and it’s perfect for the kids! We’ll go step by step through the process; from dough to done.

The trickiest part is the dough.

People new to the world of home-made pizza are always nervous when it comes to making the glutenous foundation of their next great meal. Fret not; here are a few simple steps that will guide you to your new pie.

The Sponge:meatless-monday-sponge
The sponge will start the process of activating the gluten- giving the dough a nice chew. It also develops the flavor by allowing the yeast to bubble and play.

Mix together in the largest bowl you have:
2 cups water
1 pound high gluten bread flour
1 TBS yeast

Don’t mix it up too much- it should look like lumpy pancake batter. Loosely cover and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours.

The Dough:meatless-monday-mix
This is the part that people tend to get a little scared about. It’s not going to work if you follow a recipe to the letter; you have to go with your gut on this one (it’s all going to your gut anyway!).

Pour the sponge into a mixer with a dough hook. Add:
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 TBS yeast

While your mixer is on low, slowly add more flour, about ½ a cup at a time, letting each addition incorporate. Continue until it starts pulling away from the sides of the mixer. It should be a little sticky. If you are not sure, err on the side of being too wet. Keep kneading it for another 10 minutes.

Put the whole mess back into that giant bowl and loosely cover again. The dough needs to rise now to allow the new flour to absorb the liquid, the new yeast to bubble up, and all the gluten that was just worked up to relax. This will take a few hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator. If you really like a yeasty dough then let it hang out in the fridge.


After a while you will see your dough double, triple, or quadruple in size – so keep an eye on it! Punch it down when it starts to crawl out of the bowl. Do this twice. After the second beat-down, when the dough regains its strength and has risen again, it is ready to be formed.

Heat your oven to its hottest setting, 450-500 on convection, with a pizza stone or cast iron pan.
Generously flour your work surface and move some or all of your dough there.

Form the dough into a round lump. Starting from the middle, gently flatten and stretch the dough while rotating it to keep it round. Add flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Don’t beat yourself up if it looks more like a puzzle piece than a circle; it takes a bit of practice (it will still taste good!).

If you are using a pizza peel to shovel the pie onto your stone or pan, it is important to move the dough onto that before you start topping it, and make sure you have a healthy spattering of cornmeal between peel and dough. If you are hosting a party, have everyone put their dough on a piece of parchment paper before they start adding all of the goodies; this will make it a lot easier and cleaner to get them into the oven.

Spread on a bit of sauce and top with veggies, cheese, whatever you want! Since we’re talking Meatless Monday, some of my favorite veggie toppings are corn, olives and squash.

Throw the pizza into the oven and give it about five minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly. Depending on the size of the pie and how much deliciousness you have piled onto it, the cooking time will vary. Limiting toppings will help the pizza cook evenly and quickly. When it’s done make sure to let it cool a bit before digging in – we’ve all burned the roof of our mouth due to pizza impatience!

The best part is you don’t even need to tip! How’s that for Meatless Monday?!
Printer Friendly Recipe: Perfect Pizza Dough
More from Chef J: BBQ Beef Brisket, Hibiscus Margaritas, Ginger Citrus Grilled Scallops


“Three-Pointers” for Entertaining

“Three-Pointers” for Entertaining


It’s  March Madness once again.  I’ll never forget the look on my husband’s face last year when he walked in the door after watching the championship game. His team had won, yet all I saw was defeat, exhaustion, disappointment and …was it hunger?  Our neighbor had invited 5 of “the guys” over to watch the big game.  My husband, who usually doesn’t live and breath March Madness, decided, sure, it’s a good guy-thing to do, should be fun to hang a bit,  drink a little beer, eat a bunch of food and watch a good game.  I guess Fritos and bean dip was the best his friend could come up with!  Why four grown men did not have the courage to say, “hey, this is ridiculous, I’m hungry, let’s order a pizza” I will never know.

Well, March Madness should be all about basketball and not about going hungry. Honestly, it doesn’t take much work to pull together some tasty and relatively healthy food for the big game.  Aside from saying… go to Costco – they have everything you need….here are my “three–pointers” for entertaining:

Point 1 – Always have enough food – The best parties are the ones where the food lasts for the entire night.  Not much fun showing up an hour into a party and seeing only a few whole grain crackers left in a bowl!  It is always easier to have smaller amounts of several different kinds of food, than it is to have a lot of one kind of food.  That way if you have leftovers, it is pretty simple to store in your refrigerator or pantry for the next get together.  Try to have a protein – we’re talking meat –  available too, not just carbs.

Point 2 – Have a variety of drinks – Remember, just because you like wheat beer, doesn’t mean everyone likes wheat beer. Find a mainstream beer, or make it fun and get a wide variety of beer and make it an informal beer-tasting event too. I always have a white wine  on hand for those who don’t feel like having beer, or like me, never acquired a taste for beer. Again, pick a wine that is balanced between dry and sweet, like a Pinot Grigio (please no more Chardonnay).  And finally, keep in mind some folks may not want to drink alcohol, so always have water, soda or lemonade available.

Point 3 – Presentation matters – With very little effort you can make chips and salsa look like a fancy party! Put your chips in a fun basket, display appetizers on a unique cutting board or serving board, add olives or nuts in a few colorful bowls, and drape your serving area with a decorative placemat or tablecloth to pull it all together.

This March Madness, I suspect we will be entertaining.  My husband, who I consider just shy of “a chef” will surely want to whip together some special appetizers.  And I will do what I do, which is clean the house, do the shopping, and get all my serving pieces out of the cupboard to entertain with style!