Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pink Picante Shrimp

"This is the tastiest shrimp I have ever had...." said one of my guests the other day at my holiday open house party.

Funny, I had never even made it before. I have always wanted to try this recipe, but like most things in life, it fell off the radar. So here was the perfect opportunity to resurrect it.

At the risk of sounding like a chef groupie, I want to share another one of my favorite cooks to the growing list: Nigella Lawson. She isn't on the food network these days, but back a few years ago, she was gaining popularity here (you see, she is British, which is part of her charm...for me anyway....). I had customers coming in and asking for her books, and for her famous little whisk (of which I own two!), when she was on the air.

I did see recently that they had her as a guest judge on "Top Chef"...much to my delight, and I did actually meet her myself, once, at the Chicago Housewares Show. She was doing a book signing and I was prepared with one of her books...I had lugged it on the plane in hopes I would be patient enough to get through the line to have her sign it! I am here to tell you that I made it and I do own a signed copy now. It was almost as satisfying and thrilling as the day I did the same thing with my first edition copy of "The Moosewood Cookbook" when Mollie Katzen was at the show......she said she had never seen such a worn out copy! She thought it was great!

Anyway, back to this shrimp. The recipe is from Nigella Lawson's Feast cookbook. It seems that Nigella has a thing for pink....says it reminds her of the Eighties- how the pink peppercorms bring such a vibrancy to the dish and all. Seems that pink peppercorns are not really peppercorns at all but are the dried berries from the Baies rose plant. They're cultivated in Madagascar and imported via France, hence their exorbitant price. These rose-hued berries are pungent and slightly sweet. You can find them at gourmet and/or spice stores (like Penzeys or The Spice House.)

Here is the recipe for Pink Picante Shrimp (adapted from the book):

1 tbsp pink peppercorns, plus more to crush to decorate
1 tbsp sea salt/ 1/2 tbsp table salt
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds, or seeds from about 8 pods

1 tsp picante pimenton (hot smoked paprika)

2 egg whites

1 1/2 lbs. peeled raw medium shrimp

2 tbsp oil for frying or as needed

1. Crush the peppercorns, salt, cardamom seeds, and picante pimenton in a mortar and pestle until you have an aromatic nubbly mixture. You can alternatively grind the spices in a pepper or coffee mill. Turn out onto a large shallow bowl.
2. Hand whisk the egg whites until foamy, but not stiff. Dip the shrimp into the egg white, and then toss them into the crushed spice mixture turning so they are well coated.

3. Heat the oil in a large pan and stir fry the spice coated shrimp for 5-7 minutes or until they are cooked through.

4. Remove to a serving dish and sprinkle with some more pink peppercorns.

here's how they looked on my Eighties-inspired pink-hued platter!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Cheer

I want to share with you my favorite winter time cocktail...I discovered it by accident, really. It was in an ad in one of my food magazines, probably 6 or 7 years sounded so good and believe me it was! The ad was for Stolichnaya Ohranj vodka and the recipe at the time was for a Blood Orange Martini. (have always wondered what to do with those beautiful blood oranges!)

Needless to say, it now has become a signature cocktail for's sort of sweet from the orange juice but tart with the addition of the pomegranate molasses......

Here's the recipe:

2 oz. vodka ( orange flavored works best)
2 oz. fresh squeezed blood orange juice
2 tsp pomegranate molasses*

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, shake and pour into a martini glass. Add a slice of blood orange for garnish. Beautiful!

*can find in most Middle Eastern type markets like Sahadi in Brookyn NY

You can use the Stoli Ohranj
or my sources tell me that Charbay makes a really good blood orange vodka already infuse with the juice........

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Best Olives, Really.....

image from Food and Wine Magazine

As the holidays approach with their usual breakneck speed, I find myself looking for some party type snack dishes that are not just quick and easy but are going to be really tasty too. Portable would be a good thing too!

So, it's off to the bookcase I go! I have a pretty decent collection of cookbooks and thought this was the perfect time to put the old books to the test.

Once upon a time, long before "Top Chef", "Chopped" and maybe even "Iron Chef America", there were a handful of some amazing chefs that were writing and compiling celebrity stuff, just good old fashioned recipes from their restaurants and their incredible knowledge base of food experience.

It was back in that time boys and girls (the late 90's), that Todd English came under my own foodie radar. His book, The Olives Table, has been with me ever since... he's come a long way from those days and has built quite the empire. But it was his inventive and Mediterranean-inspired cooking that wowed me. So what if he's a celebrity now....I feel like..." I knew him when..."

I firmly believe that his recipe for marinated olives is hands down the best I have ever tasted! And for a while I was making these little gems at least a few times a month, not just during holiday time. So glad I found them again!

I want to share the recipe here in hopes Todd doesn't mind that I reprint it here on my blog!! They are too good not to pass this oldie but goodie!

Olives Olives


Grated zest of 1/2 orange
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

2 garlic gloves, minced
1/4 c fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 to 2 tbsp of chopped fresh rosemary or 1 to 2 tsp dry

2 tsp chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1/2 tsp dry

1 tsp chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper

4 cups assorted black and green olives ( Nicoise, Kalamata, Picholine, Cerignola, etc...)
Virgin olive oil, to cover

Make the marinade: Place orange zest, lemon zest, garlic, parsley, rosemary, oregano, ginger, fennel, pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a food processor fitted with steel blade and pulse until the mixture forms a chunky paste (you can also use a mortar and pestle if you don't have a food processor).

Toss the olives with the marinade and cover with the olive oil. Serve immediately, or place in a glass jar and let marinade at room temperature for up to one month, or refrigerate for up to 3 months.

Simply Delicious!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dinner for One: Roasted Vegetables

Here's another favorite that is so easy to make and so very versatile as well. You really can use whatever spices your heart's such a comforting dish and especially warming this time of year.....there's a version with veg alone or you can add a couple of bone-in chicken breasts to pack in some protein!

I just take a variety of veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips ( these are amazing done this way! so sweet), onions...and in the sample above I used cauliflower-which is wonderful roasted. I highly encourage you to try it! Cut the vegetables so that they are as similar in size as possible so they cook at the same pace. For instance, you can cut them all in rounds or coins, or cut in uniform sticks like I did in the above photo. I really like to use a sheet pan for this so that the veggies are spread out in one layer. This way you get that yummy caramelization that brings out the sweetness in the vegetables. Don't be too heavy handed with the oil either....just use enough to lightly coat the veggies ( it's best to use a large bowl to get them evenly coated). Get the oven preheated to 400°F too.

Now, depending on your mood, you can use a combination of fresh herbs that you just tuck in amongst the veggies...I love sage and rosemary, but thyme and oregano work great too. I also like to tuck in several whole cloves of garlic for more intense flavor.....Some salt, pepper and you are good to go. Let 'em roast for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour....after the first 20 minutes, go in and give them a toss to make sure they get evenly roasted......

Here is my version with the chicken:

I just tucked in 2 bone-in chicken breasts that I seasoned with lemon, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.

This photo is not so great, but you can see how nicely the veggies caramelized....the nice thing is that they are so moist on the inside, a little crunchy on the outside...healthy and low fat too!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cute Wine Totes

What cute totes for holiday gift ideas! One of these and a great bottle of are done! Unless of course, you have some under age children waiting in the gift line??? Ut-oh....get back to you for that!

These are from a company called Maptote made by a cute couple in Brooklyn, NY (where else???).....he a cartographer, she a fashion stylist....

They are only $12.00 and can be purchased on their website (see link above). Of course, if you are in NY you can purchase at any number of local shops.....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's all in the eyes.....

Meet Blythe. I am not quite sure how I stumbled upon these fascinating dolls, but ever since I did, they have totally intrigued me. Apparently the story goes that she was born and died the same year: 1972.

The toy company Kenner, now known as Hasbro, decided that the over-sized head and peepers were too scary for kids! The crazy part was that there was a string in the back of her head that once pulled, would change her eye color to four different shades! I mean what little girl (or grown up girl) hasn't wondered what life would be like with blue eyes instead of brown??

OK, admittedly in '72 I was too old for dolls, and was never really a doll girl ( I did have a brief stint with Barbie, but once my sister threw one of my barbies out of our car window while traveling down the NY Thruway at 65 miles an hour, I lost interest...). But never mind. Old story.

Back to this doll. Apparently there has been a resurgence of interest in the "Blythe Doll" and a company in Japan, Takara, started making them again (there have been over a 130 releases of Takara Blythe from 2001-2009). Ebay has got a few vintage models going for $1400.00 and up. It's become not only a collector's item, but in the doll world, there are plenty that are being scooped up and getting custom "makeovers". In fact, there are many crafters on Etsy that are making incredible little handmade wardrobes for the Blythes out there. Just check out the little numbers they are sporting in these pics!

I must admit, those eyes and the big head make her more of a work of art than just a conventional doll...I think she's way cool.....skinny body, cool clothes, big eyes...I mean c'mon! How old is too old to start liking dolls???

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Meet the new little man in my life!

I recently adopted this adorable little "Morkie"....well, Lolly, his big sister (my 5 year old Maltipoo), has been yearning for a built-in playmate for some time now. So when this opportunity presented "himself" as in need of a good home, I couldn't say no!! At first I was a little panicked at the thought of caring for 2 dogs and a puppy to boot! The potty training, the chewing, the added expense of the vet bills! OY VEY!

But....the minute I saw the two of them together playing so happily, saw the way he followed her around like he's madly in love (is that where "puppy love" came from??? that worshipful affection!!), I knew that all those worries were too small....this little guy, only 4 lbs, has captured both my heart and Lolly's too! He is a smart one too. Don't be fooled by his tiny stature....and Lolly is teaching him all she knows about how to get treats and where they are hidden. Hmmm...

His name is Jackson. He is 5 months old. We love him. My little family!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Check out these cute little owls I crocheted out of some of the scrap wool I have been toting around with me for the past 20 years...I think it was worth it...the button eyes I found in my grandmother's sewing box she left to me....I would say this is taking recycling to the best place it could be....they are small but significant!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My new Sweet Treat

I do love figs- no denying it! So imagine how intrigued and curious I was when I came across this little jar of Ficoco spread in the cheese department at Whole Foods. I thought the jar was kinda cute, so I picked it up to have a look and to my great delight, it's an all natural spread made with figs, cocoa and sugar. That's it. No more no less. Can decadence and healthy co-exist in this tiny little package?? Why yes it can and so I urge you to give it a try! There are many ways of serving it but I have found that just spread on a cracker gives you it's true essence! Or use it to top ice cream, grilled fruit, pancakes or waffles or even fondue! Hard to believe it's fat-free and dairy-free. Why didn't I think of this??

I did try one of the recipes posted on their website and this one is a keeper! It will be fantastic for a holiday party nosh or making up a batch and giving it as gifts this season.

Ficoco Glazed Nuts
2 tbsp butter
¼ cup Ficoco
2 cups mixed nuts, raw, unsalted
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt

Melt butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat.
Stir in Ficoco and when mixture bubbles, add nuts and remaining ingredients.
Toss to coat evenly, spread on a sheet of wax paper and separate nuts with a fork.
Let cool until glaze hardens.
Serve in salads or atop crostini with goat cheese

State and Lake

Suffice to say, I don't think it's such a great idea after all, to go to a new place and judge them on a Turkey Dinner.....The restaurant itself is very, very charming and warm. I loved the rustic yet urban atmosphere, the plush leather bar stools, the really beautiful cocktail glasses our martinis came in. But when the "pre-fixe" turkey dinner arrived, it was a bit of a disappointment! I think there must have been a special on butternut squash...I do love it but didn't see the need for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Roasted Butternut Squash as a side as well!

I asked our server if I could subsitute just a green salad for the soup. Turns out that was the right way to go as the butternut squash side was the tastiest thing on the plate! The turkey, sadly, was not even close to Mom's. They rolled and stuffed the breast with sausage, but even so, it was very dry. The leg was better, very tender, although a bit bland on flavor. There were collard greens which were, a bit lifeless.....the other bummer was that Metromix had listed the price of the special dinner as $25 per person, but not the case when the bill arrived. They decided to change it to $28...too bad they never told Metromix to change it on their listing!

I hate to admit that the real highlight was the wine we had with the dinner! It was a 2006 ANDREW RICH, TABULA RASA, SYRAH-GRENACHE- MOURVEDRE, from COLUMBIA VALLEY and it was very delicious!

All in all, I will go back and order off the regular menu and I am so very sure it will be a whole new experience. I was just having a hankering for turkey. Can you blame me??

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Stay tuned for my review on Chicago's restaurant, "State and Lake" which is where I am going for this year's turkey day. It is located, aptly, at the corner of State and Lake Streets inside the WIT Hotel.

Straight from their website, they describe themselves as...

"...... warm and welcoming atmosphere, created by The Johnson Studio, an acclaimed architecture firm, is filled with a color palette of chocolate browns, ambers and neutral tones. Texture plays an important role from the cork flooring to the antique wooden tables and walls upholstered in faux leather. Central to the dining room is a large, curved bar; overhead, an amber glass shelf lined with antique seltzer bottles creates a beautiful glow throughout the space. Built-in glass patina cabinets outline the large windows overlooking the historic intersection of State and Lake Streets, and period photographs showcase the neighborhood as it once was nearly one hundred years ago.

Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner and emphasizing local and regional ingredients, Chef Bradley Manchester’s menu is composed of small plates and larger entrees. Artisanal beer selections – many from the Midwest – pair gracefully with the fare as does STATE AND LAKE’s all-American wine list and handcrafted, classic cocktails."

I for one am excited to check it out! This seems like the perfect place to go for a true American experience of this holiday since I won't be cooking this year! They will be serving a special Thanksgiving menu of autumn squash soup, and sausage stuffed braised turkey leg, to name a few. But you will have to wait for the real scoop when I return on Friday!

I love this vintage table arrangement I found on the internet....

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is it really November in Chicago??

I took these pics this morning on a walk around my West Loop neighborhood (yes Oprah's studio is 2 blocks from me!) here in Chicago and can't believe how nature is still hanging on. So beautiful! It will be sad when it leaves for winter, but for now I am totally enjoying the scenery!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dinner for One: Surprise Mashed Potatoes

I may be jumping the gun here, but with the holidays fast approaching, I thought I would get a head start on my New Year's resolution of losing that stubborn 10 pounds I seem to have put on by all this good food and wine I have been indulging in this past year. Between checking out all these new places I blog about, and experimenting with new recipes, the weight has been slowly creeping up! So I set to the task of the "Back to Basics" approach and consulted my go-to diets of the past.

First up is the book, Eat Right for your Blood Type by Peter J. D'Adamo. I won't bore you with all the statistics and science that this approach takes, but I will say that as a Type O, I am supposed to be on a very high protien, low-to-no-carb way of life! As hard as that sounds, I did do it 10 years ago with great success and a 15 pound weight loss! But as the temptations always seem to get the best of me (and you guys know this story all to well for yourselves), the carb craving are hard if not impossible to ignore.

Somewhere around 2003-2004, I got my hands on the craze of the moment which then was the South Beach Diet by Arthur Agatston, M.D. . All my friends were doing it, so why not try it? I lasted about 2 weeks, and fell right off it again. It's basically like the blood type diet, high protein low carb, but I just couldn't get into the fact that they pushed a lot of "sugar-free" crap on it. I mean, if real sugar is so bad, then the fake stuff must be worse right? At least that is what I think, and so I would rather just give up real sugar and not worry about substituting the fake stuff (which many studies have shown are just as bad- i.e., Sweet-n-low, Splenda etc). So the thought of going back to "South Beach" just didn't appeal to me.

On a recent trip to Whole Foods, I happened upon their book section and there on the shelf was my answer. This book practically jumped off the shelf at me: The Stubborn Fat Fix by Keith Berkowitz MD and Valerie Berkowitz, MS, RD. This book just came out this year and was co-written by the Berkowitz's, a husband-wife team that have a practice in NYC, the Center for Balanced Health. Anything with the word "balanced" in it is all right in my book. That word has become my mantra over this past year of my life.

They take a "metabolic" approach to weight loss by really honing in on blood sugar levels and how carbs spike these (and with diabetes in my family history this really spoke volumes to me). Most of us live on a roller coaster of highs and lows with our blood sugar levels- which explains that mid-afternoon need for caffeine and/or sugar to make it til the next meal! They also do something that none of these other diets have done and that is they really push you to rest! Yes, if that's possible they are big fanatics on making sure your body gets the sleep and rest that it needs. This all ties to the adrenals and other things like hormone levels etc.. I know it's nothing new for a doctor to say "get some rest" .....but, I always have ignored that! After all, someone has to work and worry right??

Anyway, they come from the Atkins world ( I never did try that diet). Actually, he was the medical director for the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine. Their approach is kind of a combination of my previously mentioned diets: they all have the common thread of low or no carbs for everyone who wants to lose weight and keep it off. It's a life long plan. But the big difference is that on the Stubborn Fat Fix, they go in depth on good fiber, high fiber, and have a very detailed chart of what foods are high on the list, making it a no brainer to what choices you should go for in making your carbs count.

For example, did you know that dark chocolate packs a huge fiber ratio? (that's when you divide the grams of fiber in a food by the grams of carbs and multiply by 100-they call it a "fiber score"). So when choosing a dark chocolate, (which you are allowed to have on this plan, not a whole bar of course, but a 2 square serving) look for at least a 70% cacao content. They recommend the brand Vivani 85% cacao, but I have yet to find this at any of the stores here.

But I digress! You may be asking, "but what about the potatoes you mentioned earlier?? Aren't those carbs and on the do not eat list??".

Well, I am glad you are paying attention! Yes they are not good if you want to lose weight, but what I found that tastes even better, believe it or not, is a recipe for cauliflower puree, that I swear, satisfies that comfort food feeling that a bowl of mashed potatoes is so famous for.

I made this recipe for "Surprise South Beach Mashed Potatoes" which actually came from the South Beach Diet book but I did not use the "I can't believe it's Not Butter" spray (yuck) or the half and half. So here is my version:

4 cups cauliflower florets, steamed
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced

olive oil

cayenne pepper, to taste

1 tbsp unsalted butter

Steam the cauliflower until tender but not mushy. Meanwhile, saute the shallots and garlic in a little olive oil until golden brown (do not burn the garlic). Transfer the cauliflower and shallot-garlic mixture to a food processor, add cayenne pepper and either a little water, cream, or broth and pulse until you get a nice puree. Add butter if desired for extra flavor. This makes enough to serve 2.

I was never a big fan of cauliflower until I tried roasting it, but now I have a new favorite! I served it with some sauteed shrimp and oven roasted tomatoes (I made the tomatoes the night before) and finally after all this dinner for one:

According to the Stubborn Fat Fix, 1 cup of raw cauliflower packs 2 grams of fiber,with a fiber score of 47! That's decent! By the way, that Vivani 85% dark chocolate? That's got 5.3 grams of fiber in a 2.5 oz serving, and a fiber score of 90! I really gotta find that chocolate!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fashion has gone to the dogs

Design Within Reach

Here are some pics of my recent trip to the DWR store in downtown Chicago. It is located at 1o E Ohio St (at State St) and is housed in one of Chicago's landmark buildings, designed by Hill and Woltersdorf in 1912. It was originally used as artists' residences, and was called the "Tree Studio". I can see why artists would be inspired here! The building has such great light and energy and would offer up such inspiration for creativity in my opinion! To think it was going to be demolished at one point! Thank goodness the city came to it's senses......

Anyway, walking through is almost like touring a museum...the floor plan is set up to have you walk through a maze of rooms, all the while feeling like you are in someone's home. And the modern decor and furnishings that DWR sells fit so perfectly in this backdrop! I wanted to buy everything! (of course that's not the case, unfortunately!) So when you find yourself in Chicago, be sure to check out this gem.