Wednesday, June 30, 2010

teaching in sunny mexico

My classes take me to many wonderful places around the world-- Lima, Verona, Seville, Chiang Mai, London, Sydney, Auckland, Avignon and this past week, Tecate, Mexico! I was invited to teach at Rancho La Puerta, a health spa tucked into the mountains that border Mexico and the US, just south of San Diego.

I was there for a week, starting on Saturday, and spent the first few days exercising so much my pecs and glutes ached like you wouldn't believe. I did mat pilates, killer water works, circuit cardio work and lots of walking and hiking.

By lunch time, with three classes and hiking under my belt, I was starving. I couldn't wait to dive into my 43-calorie bowl of soup, my salad loaded with roughage, a few sparse grains and enough finely crumbled cheese that if I wadded it together I might have a marble-size piece of protein. And can you believe the dressing only had 14 calories per tablespoon?!

Don't get me wrong, if I wanted, I could ask for tuna, cottage cheese or almonds at lunch. But if I so desired this extra protein, I had to go to a certain door by the kitchen and wait to talk to the chef about my special request. The guilt alone prevented me from even asking! Did I mention-- no dessert and of course, no alcohol!

By Wednesday, I would have killed for a BonBon Bar or a cool, crisp glass of Albarino. But thank God this was the day I was teaching my first cooking class at Cocina que Canta, the gorgeous cooking school at the "Ranch" (as the regulars call it!) And if you think I was hungry for some protein, wine, and diversity of flavor, imagine how the 16 students that descended on the school that morning felt. They were eager and ravenous, to put it mildly.
The weather was perfect. We started in the extraordinary organic gardens with Salvatore, the gardener, picking opal basil, fig leaves, mesclun salad greens, wild fennel, arugula flowers, edible pansies, and pulling fresh potatoes from the ground.

And then back in the kitchen where we spent the next couple hours creating the most wonderful lunch.

Here are the recipes from the class. The salmon cooked in fig leaves with almond salsa verde and the Mexican chocolate souffles with chipolte cream were the winners but honestly, every dish met with an "OMG, "WOW" or "YUM!" And who cared about the calories? We could always work out a little harder tomorrow! Or maybe just skip the cottage cheese?!


1 recipe Pizza Dough
1 cup grated smoked mozzarella or regular mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces yellow cherry tomatoes, cut in half
6 ounces red cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

Make the pizza dough according to the directions and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.

Fire up an outdoor grill until it is medium high.

On a floured surface, divide the dough into 2 pieces and form into round balls. Roll 1 piece into a 9-inch circle, 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to a well-floured pizza peel or paddle. . Transfer the pizza from the peel directly onto the grill and grill, turning occasionally until golden and crispy, 2 to 4 minutes. Turn the pizza and top with half of the cheese. Continue to cook, turning occasionally until golden and crispy and the cheese is melted, 2 to 4 minutes.

In the meantime, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and garlic in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cherry tomatoes and toss together.

When the pizza is done, place on a platter. Top with half of the tomatoes, vinaigrette, and basil. Serve immediately. Make a second pizza with the remaining ingredients.

Makes 2 pizzas, 9 inches in diameter


2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water (110°F)
2 cups unbleached bread flour (preferably King Arthur bread flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a bowl, combine the yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and 1/4 cup flour. Let it stand for 30 minutes. Add the remaining 13/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water and salt. Mix the dough thoroughly and turn out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth, elastic, and a bit tacky to the touch, 7 to 8 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl and turn to cover with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (about 75°f) until it doubles in volume, 1 to 11/2 hours. Or, let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, let it come to room temperature and proceed with the recipe.


1 pound prawns, peeled and deveined
1 cup 100% blanco tequila
1 cup fish broth or bottled clam juice
2 1/2 lb. fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped,
or 1 - 28 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved
1 green pepper, seeded, coarsely chopped
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, coarsely chopped
5 to 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups tomato juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 slice bread, crusts removed, soaked in water, squeezed dry
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup peeled cucumber, seeded, chopped
1/2 tomato, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into small cubes

In a large frying pan over high heat, bring 8 cups of water to a bowl. Season with salt. Add the prawns and boil for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and let the prawns sit in the water until almost firm to the touch and pink, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the prawns with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Add the tequila, stir together and let sit in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

In a bowl, mix the fish broth or bottled clam juice, tomatoes, green pepper, onions, cucumber, vinegar, garlic, tomato juice, olive oil and bread. In batches, blend each batch in the blender on high speed for 3 to 4 minutes until very smooth. Strain through a coarse strainer. Season with salt, pepper and vinegar. Chill.

Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet. Add crushed garlic and cook until garlic is golden brown. Remove garlic and discard. Add bread cubes, and stir to coat. Saute slowly, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until bread cubes are golden. Cool.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Drain the prawns and reserve the tequila. Distribute the prawns between the bowls of soup. Garnish with cucumbers, green peppers, tomato, red onion and croutons. Drizzle a teaspoon of the tequila onto the top of each bowl of soup.

Serves 6


1 3/4 pounds salmon fillets, skin and bone removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 fig leaves, washed well, stems removed

Almond salsa verde:
1/2 cup whole almonds, unpeeled
1 1/2 cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 teaspoon each fresh oregano, chopped
3 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 lemon wedges

Cut the salmon into 12 equal pieces. Place a fig leaf on the work surface with the smooth side down, vein side up. Brush well with olive oil. Place the salmon near the stem end. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the outer side edges towards the center. Fold the remaining leaf over the salmon to enclose it completely. Brush the bundles lightly with olive oil. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Preheat an oven to 350ºF. Place the almonds on a baking sheet and bake until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Chop the almonds coarsely.

For the salsa verde, in a bowl, stir together the almonds, parsley, chives, thyme, oregano, capers, shallots, lemon zest, garlic, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 2 cups.

Preheat an outdoor grill. Grill the salmon bundles 4-inches from the heat source for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the grill. Partially open the packets and place a dollop of the salsa verde on the salmon. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve immediately.

Serves 6


2 1/4 pounds small red-skinned new potatoes
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 green onions, white and green, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon grated fresh lime zest
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin

Preheat the oven to 375°f (190°c).

Wash the potatoes and place in a 13- x 9-inch (33- x 23-cm) baking dish. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, cover with foil, and bake until tender, 50 to 60 minutes.

Preheat an outdoor grill.

When the potatoes are tender and cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in half. Place 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a bowl. Dip the cut side of the potato in the oil and grill, turning occasionally, until hot and golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the grill and place in a large serving bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the green onions, garlic, parsley, lime zest, lime juice and cumin. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss together. Serve immediately while the potatoes are still warm.

Serves 6


I love to play around with sweet and spicy combinations in desserts. The hint of pepper in the soufflé and smoky chipotle in the crème anglaise is an unexpected twist on this classic after-dinner delight! And of course, there is the distinctive kick of tequila in every bite!

10 ounces excellent quality Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra), finely chopped
¾ cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2tablespoons reposado tequila
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cayenne
¼ teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, separated
Pinch of cream of tarter
Confectioner’s Sugar as a garnish
Tequila-Chipolte Créme Anglaise

Combine the chocolate, cream, sugar, butter, tequila, vanilla, cinnamon, cayenne and salt in a heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and cool to lukewarm. (Chocolate base can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Stir over low heat until lukewarm before continuing.)

Preheat over to 350° F. Butter eight 12 ounce ramekins and coat lightly with sugar. Whisk the egg yolks into the lukewarm chocolate base. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in large bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into the chocolate base in three additions. Divide the soufflé mixture among prepared ramekins and place on a baking sheet. Bake until puffed but still moist in center, about 15 minutes.

Serve immediately dusted with confectioner’s sugar. At the table, make a hole in the center of each soufflé and pour some of the Tequila-Chipotle Crème Anglaise into the center.

Serves 8


½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
1/4 vanilla bean, split & scraped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon tequila
1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
3 egg yolks

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, cream, sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, tequila, and diced chipotle. Over medium-low heat, bring to a scald. Remove from the heat and let steep 15 minutes. Whisk together the yolks in a medium sized bowl to break them up. Slowly add the hot cream mixture into yolk mixture, whisking constantly.

Pour the mixture into the saucepan again. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to coat the back of a spoon and the temperature of the sauce is 170°F when you check it with an instant read thermometer.
Strain immediately into a clean bowl and immediately whisk to incorporate some cool air. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. If you are not using it immediately, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring it to room temperature just before serving.

Serves 8

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


When I was a kid, can you believe, I was sent to school with homemade chocolate chip cookies. I was mortified, humiliated and totally embarrassed. All the other kids brought Chips Ahoy cookies in their lunch bags! No, not me! I could be so lucky! I would have killed a kid for one of those Chips Ahoy. I never told my mother but I actually I traded my homemade chocolate chip cookies just for the sheer joy of sinking my teeth into a cookie that came from a grocery store shelf.

Can you imagine how horrible it was to take my little sandwich baggie out of my lunch bag and chomp away on homemade Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate morsel-laden, chewy, gooey chocolate chip cookies that reeked of good vanilla and butter? But it was those crunchy, hard, cardboard-tasting Chips Ahoy I craved. All the other kids had them, why couldn't I?

Yeah, everything in my house growing up was homemade. It all started with a tomato sandwich when I was about five. Most kids delighted in PB and J or tuna salad sandwiches but NO, not my house, not my mother. Not on her dead body!

I'll never forget the time when I was about 8 to 10, we were grocery shopping at Stop and Shop. It was lunch time and I was starving. "Can we get a can of clam chowder?" I asked my mother. You would have thought I had asked for the moon. She looked at me like I had just created the worst sin imaginable. Trust me, I was just a hungry kid with a gnawing ache in my stomach. I wanted to go home, use the electric can opener to open that can of clam chowder, pour that chunky, flour-bound clam chowder into a saucepan and in seconds I'd have a steamy hot bowl of soup. No, you know what she did this time? She bought a can of clams and when we got home, made me a pot full of homemade clam chowder, her specialty.

Yup, everything was homemade and when I was a kid, I didn't get it! I guess I was spoiled by the word "homemade." And now I know I could never be so lucky to be burdened by a single word. And so I share a recipe for my Great Aunt Jin's homemade Ginger Molasses Crinkles. Aunt Jin died when I was just seven but I remember how she called me "precious!" I was anything but precious but I had her fooled. Really, her cookies were what was precious and they were homemade!

Ginger Molasses Crinkles

I tried these cookies with all butter and they didn't crinkle. The vegetable shortening contributes a tenderness while the butter enhances the flavor.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Large pinch salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
Granulated sugar

Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together.

In the bowl to an electric mixer, beat the butter, vegetable shortening, sugar and egg until light and fluffy. Add the molasses and beat until smooth. On low speed, add the dry ingredients just until mixed. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets.

With your hands, roll slightly rounded tablespoons of dough into balls, 1 1/4-inches in diameter. Dip the top in granulated sugar. Place the balls, sugar side up, on the baking sheets 3-inches apart.

Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

Cool on cooling racks and repeat with the remaining dough.

Makes approximately 3 1/2 dozen.