A Cooking Challenge

My Children decided to challenge me.  They said I could not make a dinner out of these different ingredients: pumpkin, fennel, sage, sausage, gouda, and cream.  They would prefer a pasta of some sort.  To me these ingredients really did not make a lot of sense together, but I was up for the challenge.

So this is what I came up with.  I decided to use the pumpkin to make some fresh pasta.  I put the fennel in the sausage.  I thought the sage and the gouda could be a nice cream sauce.

I came up with a deconstructed pumpkin ravioli with homemade fennel sausage and topped it with the cheesy cream sauce.

They loved it!  And it was fun to come up with something out of these ingredients.

This is what it looked like:


These were the fresh pasta cut into circles to make the “deconstructed” ravioli.

DSCN1432I added some pomegrante seeds for color.

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Poached Salmon

This is an easy  but elegant main dish. It can be decorated beautifully and will impress everyone.  The flavor is wonderful and fits into any party menu.  The best part is that it can be made ahead and served room temperature.

Poached salmon

Take one Salmon and ask the fishmonger to remove the bones but leave the skin on.  Place on sheets of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet.  Stuff with slices of lemon, parsley, butter, salt and pepper.  Butter the outside of the salmon, add salt and pepper and lemon slices.  Close the foil and create a sealed package.  Place in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Let the fish cool then place on a  the serving platter.  Remove the skin and all of the cooking herbs.  Decorate the fillet with alternating slices of cucumber in the form of scales, and parsley and lemon slices.  Serve with either a  Hollandaise sauce or a yogurt cucumber sauce.

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Jim’s Beef and Peppers Stir Fry


This is one of the family’s favorite.  Everyone loves it when Dad cooks!

Jim’s Beef and Peppers Stir Fry

1 1/2 lbs stir fry meat cut in strips.  It should have some marbling in it for flavor.

4 Bell peppers cut in strips

1 Habanero chile, deveined and cut in circles

1 Jalapeno chile , deveined and cut in circles

4 anchovy filets

Low sodium Soy Sauce and Hoisin Sauce to taste

HabaneroHabanero deveinedHabanero and Jalapeno

Brown the meat.  Then add the peppers and the rest of the ingredients.  Stir fry for several minutes; try to keep the peppers still semi-crunchy.  Taste for seasoning.  Serve over rice.

Note: after handling hot peppers be sure to wash hands carefully.  Since the hot peppers are cut in circles, the dish will have some nice visual texture and they can pick them out if someone wants to reduce the heat.

Beef and Peppers

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There is a nice restaurant that is in Washington DC.  I really like it because they have a great Lobster special.  I went looking for my Lobster fix recently, but alas….. there was none.   Oh, well.  Next time.


So I did the honorable thing….I ordered Crab cakes.  They were very good.  Lots of good lump crab and no filler.  They were served with a nice sauce.  Not lobster, but still good.

Crab cakes

Another great dish that we had there was the  Butternut Squash Ravioli.    It was a great fall dish, delicious and colorful.

Butternut squash

This was a great meal with wonderful company, but next time….I want my lobster!

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Vietnamese Soup- Pho

Pho is a wonderful Vietnamese soup that is staple of this cuisine.  Pho literally means noodle, so it is a delicious broth that has a combination of noodles and vegetables and some type of protein.  The combination is up to the individual.  The garnishes can be set up on the table for each person to add what they want.  It’s a lot of fun for a party.  Pho is pronounced like a cross between Fa and Fu, a bit like foot with out the t.   At least that is how I have heard it.Pho Broth


10 cups broth (vegetarian or chicken)

4 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

4 large slices of ginger

1 small bunch of cilantro

1 onion in slices

3 Tablespoons sugar

salt and pepper to taste

1 package of rice noodles, soaked for 30 min. in cold water.


Garnishes (pick what you like)

Cilantro leaves

mint leaves

basil leaves

finely chopped chiles

hot sauce (Thai or Chinese)

hoisin sauce

bean sprouts

sliced scallions

thinly sliced carrots

lemon wedges

sliced cooked chicken or beef  or shrimp



Crush all of the spices. Add all of the ingredients to a stock pot and simmer, covered for about 30 minutes.  Strain the broth to get rid of the spices.  Add the noodles and allow the guests to add what ever garnishes they would like.  Then cover with the hot broth.  Enjoy

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Chiles en Nogada- Chiles in nut sauce

Abuelita  Mina  made the BEST Chiles en Nogada.  She very generously offered to make them for anyone that was having a party.  The only deal breaker was if the pomegranate seeds were not in season.  I must agree.  Chiles en Nogada are nothing without the “semillas de granadas”.  This is labor intensive, but worth it.


Chiles en Nogada –Chiles in a walnut sauce

Chiles en Nogada are the typical Mexican dish served during the Independence celebrations.  The colors are representative of the Mexican flag: green (chiles), red (pomegranate) and white (sauce).  There are different versions of this sauce, but this is my favorite.  The quantities of liquids are just an approximation.  Work slowly to make sure that you don’t make the sauce too watery.

6 large green chiles, stuffed with picadillo (earlier post)
~1/2 cup mexican cream or sour cream
~1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 round of queso fresco
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup almonds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pomegranate, seeds separated to decorate
salt and pepper

One day ahead, take the shelled walnuts and almonds and place them in a cold pot of water.  Bring it to a boil and then pour out all the water and rinse in cold water.  Place the nuts in a new pot of cold water and once again bring it to a boil and let cool.  Remove the papery skins.  This may be hard to do if the nuts are not fresh.  The sauce is smoother without the skins, but if you can’t get them off, make sure you puree it well.  Let the walnuts  and the almonds soak in milk overnight.

Soak the walnuts and almonds in the milk for 1 hour.  Place the nuts,sugar and cinnamon and queso fresco in a blender with the milk. Add the orange juice and cream slowly until smooth and the consistency of a light mayonnaise.  The quantity of liquid will vary depending on the freshness of the nuts.  The goal is to have a sauce that is thick enough to cling to the chiles but thin enough to pour.  Check seasoning for salt and pepper.

Serve the chiles rellenos on a platter with the sauce on top and sprinkle  pomegranate seeds.  This is the “Blanco, Verde y Colorado” of the Mexican flag.  This dish is served at room temperature.

Chile En Nogada


Chiles Rellenos

Chiles Rellenos seems to be one of the Mexican dishes that most Americans know.  They can be served hot or cold, with a sauce or without, battered or not.  And I have not even started with the fillings….

Chiles Poblanos

In Mexico, we only use Chiles Poblanos.  The first thing you have to do is remove the “skin”.  The best way to do that is to char them either over an open flame on the stove or under a broiler.  You really need to keep turning them to make sure that they have a nice char that is even around the chile.  Place them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel.  Let them sit while you make the filling.  Rub off the skin and make a careful slit along the length of the chile, to remove the seeds and ribs.  Try to keep the chile as intact as you can.  Rinse and place on a towel to dry.

The filling can be as simple as Mexican cheese, frijoles or tuna, or a combination of meats, also known as Picadillo.

For the Picadillo
2 lbs ground beef or pork or a combination
1/2 onion finely chopped
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
1/4 tsp clove
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 Tablespoons raisins
4  Tablespoons slivered almonds
2 Tablespoons candied mexican acitron  (can substitute ginger)
1 Pound of tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Saute meat with onions until browned.  Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes.  Check seasoning.  Let cool.

Fill the chiles being careful to keep the integrity of the chiles.  To serve, you can either place in an oven proof dish and cover with a simple tomato sauce or you can dredge the chiles in flour, then egg whites that have been beaten to peaks.  Fry in oil until brown and then serve with a tomato sauce.

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1 Pound ground beef (sirloin, round, chuck whatever is your choice)
Salt and Pepper
Everyone makes hamburgers differently.  You can add minced onions and garlic, egg
and bread crumbs.  But I prefer them with just salt and pepper and good quality of
Form the meat into medium sized hamburgers and heat a cast iron skillet.  Throw some
salt in the skillet and add the patties.  Let the burgers sear for about 3 minutes, then
After about 2 minutes, pour a full bottle of nice red wine.  Once again the question about
what kind of wine should one use comes up.  The dish is only as good as the
ingredients.  I know I can’t use a fine French 1st growth, but if you use bad wine the
meal will be bad.  Some how I can’t seem to make my vino enthusiast understand
why they must give me their wine bottle for my hamburgers….
Simmer the hamburgers for 15 minutes, then serve.  Some do not like herbs on their
food, but my mother always minced chives on top.
We always love mashed potatoes with this dish.  I think that it was really a vehicle
to enjoy the sauce.

Hamburgers in wine sauce

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Risotto alla Milanese


Risotto is a very classic Italian dish.  There are numerous variations.  You can mix it up with different vegetables or proteins.  But by far the most classic interpretation is from Milan.   Rice has a starring role in this recipe and as such, it is important to us the right kind.

peeled shalot

Arborio is a good type to use but the preferred rice is the Carnaroli.  It is plump and releases it’s starch in a uniform manner.  This is what give the dish it’s creamy texture.

rice and garlicrice

The saffron imparts not only color but flavor as well.  Don’t be shocked by the price.  When you think that there are only 3-4 of these strands in a single crocus flower, you begin to understand it’s value.  It is worth it.


risotto spoon

Risotto alla Milanese

In a large saucepan, sauté 2 finely chopped shallots and 1 clove of garlic in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil until softened.  Stir in  1 cup of rice. Coat rice with the oil and then add 1/2 cup of white wine. Add 2 capsules of saffron.  Stir constantly.  Start adding 5 cups of broth little by little.  Keep adding the liquid until the rice is done and creamy. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

risotto plate

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Chicken Tikka Masala

It was amazing to me to find out that a dish that I thought was so Indian is really a British interpretation.  In fact, Tikka Masala is the most popular dish in England.  I guess that just speaks to the influence India and Great Britain had on each other.  This is a bit time consuming, but it is well worth the effort.

Chicken Tikka Masala

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