Sunday, December 30, 2007

Grilled Pork stuffed with Blue Cheese and Fresh Herbs

Ah, it's good to be home and back to cooking. One of my resolutions is to update my blog more often!

As the year draws to a close, we decided to try to clean out the freezer somewhat to make room for all that great stuff we want to make in '08. We had some beautiful pork chops that were just begging to be used on this chilly winter night. After spending the holidays in the cold midwest, it was time to fire up the grill! Also, in the freezer was a batch of Sweet Onion Jam that we made prior to leaving town to use up the rest of our CSA onions. I thought it would be a great topper to the pork.

While in my homeland of Minnesota, I indulged in my favorite grain; Minnesota Wild Rice. I couldn't wait to have it again, so I made a big batch to serve with the pork and eat for the next few days. Contrary to the name, wild rice is actually a grain. Not only is it delicious, with a nutty and earthy flavor, it is a wonderful source or protein and fiber.

We paired the pork and wild rice with the 2004 Timbuktu Big Block Red. An Australian blend of Cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, shiraz, merlot and malbec. It went quite well with the meal since we had so many flavors going on, but it wasn't as good as I remembered it. But then, that is what makes wine interesting- even if you've had the wine before, each bottle has it's own personality.


2 pork chops (or more if you want)
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh tarragon (or use a mix of whatever fresh herbs you have on hand)
salt and pepper to taste

Clean pork chops and cut a slit horizontally through each chop to "butterfly." Stuff each chop with a couple of tablespoons of the cheese and lay the sprigs of herbs over cheese. Close the chops and use toothpicks to hold together if you need to. Sprinle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium high heat for approximately 10 minutes depending on the thickness of chops. Serve topped with Sweet Onion Jam.

SWEET ONION JAM adapted from the Mustards cookbook

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cups sliced onions
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. red wine
2 Tbsp water

Heat the oil in a skilet over med. heat. Add the onions and cook for 5-8 minutes, until tender and transclucent. Add the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 min. Ad all the remaining ingrendents and cook, stirring often to avoid scorching, for 20 min. or until thick and jamlike. The slower you cook it, the richer the jam will become.


1 cup dry wild rice
3 cups chicken broth
1 can water chestnuts
1/2 cup craisins
1/2 cup sliced, shitake mushrooms
1 tsp. dried thyme

I did this in a rice cooker, so I added everything at once and let it cook until done. If you do not have a rice cooker, do the rice according to the package directions. You can add the mushrooms, chestnuts, etc. to broth when you add the rice. Be forwarned, wild rice takes as long or longer than brown rice...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warm Winter Comfort Food

A couple of nights ago, it was pouring rain and cold here in the desert. I was planning on going to Kierland for some Christmas shopping, but decided to stay home and cook instead. (Since I'm not a big fan of shopping, this isn't a big stretch.) I had a pork tenderloin in the refrigerator, that was originally going to be grilled. That idea was nixed by the rain. I preheated the oven (hoping to warm up the house) and searched the internet for some inspiration. I was not about to run out to the grocery store, so I was also looking for something that would use up things I already had on hand. So, as I usually do, I borrowed from a few recipes to pull together the final product. My end result was roasted pork tenderloin with a dried cranberry merlot sauce. Rolling the pork in a mixture of sage and thyme before searing gave it that wonderful winter-ish flavor that we were craving this evening.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with a Dried Cranberry Merlot Sauce

1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 (1 lb) pork tenderloin, trimmed

1 cup chicken broth
1 cup dried cranberries (I used craisins)
1/2 cup cranberry juice cocktail
2-3 Tbsp. dry red wine (I used Merlot - hence the name.)
1 Tbsp grape (or berry) jam

Preheat oven to 400. Prepare the pork by combining the first 4 ingredients; rub evenly over the pork.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray or light olive oil. Add pork; cook 4 minutes on each side to brown. Take pork out of the pan and put in a baking dish. Place the pork in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the pork is 160 degrees.

While the pork is roasting, add the chicken broth, dried cranberries, wine and juice to the pan that you sauteed the pork in. Bring to a boil, scraping the pan to loosen the browned bits. Stir in jam; cook 8-10 minutes or until the mixture is slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Cut the pork into medallions and serve with the sauce.

The side I added was braised greens with a pomegranate vinaigrette. I had 3 - 1 lb. bags of mustard greens and dandelion greens from our CSA. Look how the greens cooked down, resulting in 2 servings that all fit in this medium sized bowl. (I can add the recipe if anyone is interested.)

Finally, I had some grits to which I added a couple of tablespoons of gorgonzola. This made a nice base for the sweet pork medallions. You can't really see the grits under the pork in the picture, but they were so easy and so delicious. The addition of gorgonzola was the difference in bumping this plain starch up a notch.

Posted by Picasa

Of course this meal wouldn't have been complete without a bottle of our current favorite merlot - the Avila. Slightly jammy, it not only paired well with the food, but gave a nice warm feeling to this chilly night.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Portland Review

This past weekend, Scott and I had a quick trip to Portland for his company Christmas party. This was my first trip to Portland, and with only 2 nights, I knew we had to try to jam in a lot. The city definately lived up to it's reputation, as it was cold and wet the entire time. In fact, when we were picking out this lovely produce at the Portland State Farmer's Market, it was snowing!

Despite the snow, we quickly picked out some fabulous veggies to bring home. Check out the assorted wild mushrooms - I was in heaven! I would have loved to get more, there was some beautiful squash, so many varieties of kale, vibrant peppers, etc. But, we didn't have a lot of room, and wanted a few things that would travel well.

Of course, being the foodies we are, the restaurant selection was overwhelming. Portland has a super restaurant scene. Since the Christmas party was one night, we really only had one dinner and 2 lunches on our own. We finally decided to do dinner at the Portland City Grill. Our argument being, that we really wanted to "see" Portland. (And if you look hard, you can "see" Scott taking this photo.)

While we may have found a more eclectic menu at another venue, we had a great dinner. Pictured is my meal of the Misoyaki Glazed Black Cod. The sweet carmelized mirin and miso glaze was "lick the plate" worthy. I also tried the cioppino, which I didn't get a picture of, before it was gone!
Posted by Picasa

One thing we found suprising was the lack of Oregon and Washington wines on the wine list. This seemed to be true at many of the places we stopped to have a glass of wine. Many of the menues were loaded with French and California selections, and maybe one or two from the Willamette Valley, but that's it. Disappointing, as our favorite part of eating out when we travel to a great wine area, is trying several new and fabulous wines.

I can't wait to return and spend more time is this great city! Next time we will visit the falls, wine region, and maybe the coast... many places and so little time.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

An Update...


The tree is decorated and it is feeling more festive around the house. The wine tasted even better with the meal than the glass that I had before dinner. I didn't take a picture of the meal, because...well, grilled pork with a dark sauce just isn't that photogenic.

So, I will leave you with this photo of Chase (dressed for the season in his Christmas collar.) Look closely, and you will notice a little stuffed animal by his neck. It's one of the ornaments from the tree that he is obsessed with. He leaves all the others alone, but always finds his little "mini-me" and repeatedly snatches it off the tree.

A little Christmas Cheer!

The sun is setting and it's a cool Sunday evening outside. Perfect for trimming the tree, and enjoying a glass of this red blend, called Reds.

I've really been enjoying red blends this fall, and this 2005 vintage doesn't disappoint. Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Syrah round out this exotic blend from the Lodi area of California. I'm tasting a little spice and a hint of cocoa. (Yum... my preference for tree trimming over hot cocoa any day.) It is definately a bold and dry red,one that would go quite well burgers and barbecue. Doesn't it look lovely in the poinsettia wine goblets?

When I get done trimming the tree, we will drink the rest with a pork tenderloin in a pomegranate molasses sauce which I think will match nicely.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Chili for a Chilly Day

Its Sunday morning, the temperatures have plummeted here in Arizona (for you non-Arizonans, that means that the highs are only around 70 and the lows are in the 40s), so it seemed like a good day for chili. Oddly enough, I came across this recipe earlier in the day while flipping through the latest Williams Sonoma catalog. Even better, this was a recipe for which we had all the ingredients on hand: leftover turkey (check), fresh oregano (check), anaheim chilis (check, courtesy of our CSA), fresh cilantro (ditto).

White Turkey Chili (Adapted from Williams Sonoma)
1 tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
Salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 lb Anaheim chilies, roasted, peeled, and diced
2 cups chicken broth
1/3 lb diced cooked turkey
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp minced fresh oregano
4 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp cornmeal

In large pan over medium heat, warm oil. Add onion, salt, and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add cumin and garlic; cook, stirring, ~30 seconds. Stir in chilies and broth. Reduce heat to simmer. Stir in turkey, beans, oregano, and cilantro. Put cornmeal into a small bowl, stir into turkey mixture. Cover and simmer for ~1 hour.
Ladle into bowls for serving.

So, what's the verdict? We were pleasantly surprised...what started out as a way to use up some of our ingredients turned out perfectly. Football is on the TV (of course the Cardinals managed to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory"), its a cool fall day outside, and we have a bowl of chili to warm up...a great ending to the Thanksgiving weekend!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Easy Entertaining

Scott and I love to entertain. Whether it's a Friday night cocktail party, or hosting a formal dinner party. Planning, cooking, and socializing over cocktails are some of my favorite activities. Having the right mix of complicated and noncomplicated dishes makes it fun for the host as well.

I'm all about taking a few shortcuts to make an impressive spread. Here is an easy idea that I bring out this time of the year, that looks festive, tastes great, and is as easy as spreading cheese.
Use your favorite spreadable cheese like Boursin. Put about a tablespoon on each endive leaf. Arange in a circle and sprinkle some chopped chives or parsley. In the center of the circle, you can add dried cranberries, canned artichoke hearts, or whatever you like.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Very seldom will you see anything that I bake pictured on this blog. I am terrible at baking, and most of it is for the dogs. This time however, it was intentionally so. I made this simple foolproof recipe for Chase's 3rd birthday.

Banana "Pup"cakes

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup applesauce
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups whole wheat or regular flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla

1. Mix bananas, applesauce, and oil together, then beat in eggs.
2. Toss in all the dry ingredients, and beat until well mixed.
3. Pour into muffin pan. Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
Makes 16-18 "pupcakes"

Chase approved "frosting"

1/4 cup cream cheese
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 Tbsp honey

Beat all ingredients together until smooth. Frost the "pupcakes."

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Suprise - great wine and food pairing

After a full day of weekend errands, shopping the Farmer's Market, and stocking up on wine at our favorite wine shop, we had a refrigerator full of fresh local veggies, and a nice peice of fresh halibut. While I typically go for Asian flavors with halibut and seabass, I had a craving for something more substantial. With fresh tomatoes, fennel and onions crowding the crisper drawer, it was easy to switch gears from my usual ginger-soy Asian influence to something more "provencal."

As I was dreaming up the perfect mix of ingredients and flavor, Scott was delegated to pick a wine for the evening. Not an easy task, when you consider that I asked for something on the lighter side, but not white, and something that we hadn't had recently. (And I will also mention, that out of the 35 bottles we have in the wine cooler, we didn't have one pinot noir or other "light red.") Scott pulled out one of our impulse buys earlier that day. Another "mysterious" wine for us, the Salmon Run had no other information on the label other than 'red table wine.' That, and that it was bottled by Frank and Sons in New York. We love the mystery of not knowing what to expect. Sometimes we are disappointed, sometimes happily suprised. This evening it was the latter. The first suprise was the color. Light, almost transparent, it was reminscent of a young pinot or beaujolais. Skeptical, I took a wiff - then a sip. Cherry and other ripe berries exploded right off. Somewhat off dry, extremely fruit forward, but ending with just a hint of cinnamon and spice, I set the glass down. It took me a minute to process what I was tasting. I was expecting a dry, tannic red. I wasn't sure if it reminded me more of the cheap table wines my parents drank when I was a kid, or a grown up, sophisticated dry rose. After another sip, and thinking about the food we were going to be eating, I decided this was actually going to go quite well with our dinner. As I said, the label indicated that it was a red table wine, and I think I got what that meant. It wasn't competing with food, but it was an easy to drink background flavor. Light enough to pair with the provencal style halibut, and fruity enough to complement the greens and beets that we were having along side. In fact, sipping it as an apertif was quite enjoyable.

Halibut - Provencal Style

olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
2 cups peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 cup fresh fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine (I actually used 1/2 cup red and 1/2 cup white)
2 Tbsp. chopped pitted, kalamata olives
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp capers
1 Tbsp or more, canned artichoke hearts, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup water (or as needed)
2 6-8 oz halibut fillets (or other firm white fish)

Heat oil in a large oven proof pan over med-high heat. Add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add onion, fennel and salt. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoe and the rest of the ingredients, through bay leaf. Cook for approximately 10 minutes. Stir in water.

Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper and place fish on top of onion mixture. Wrap handle of skillet with foil. Cover and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, or utnil fish flakes eaily when tested with a fork Discard bay leaf.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Trick or Treat

While it may seem like our philosophy is along the lines of "never miss a chance to torment the dog", that's not exactly true. But what better opportunity than Halloween to have fun with a Golden Retriever that has too much personality and energy to be just a dog? In honor of the festivities, Chase donned his bow tie and decided to go as a butler (or was it maitre 'd?) After a few moments of primping and adjusting, Chase grabbed his pumpkin and was ready to go around the neighborhood collecting goodies.
All kidding aside, Chase did greet the kids at the door (sometimes a little to friendly), and even managed to drop a lollipop into one neighbor's grab bag!

After things died down, it was time for the "adult" portion of the evening. We opened up the GatoNegro Merlot -- Black Cat Merlot for those of you that forgot your high school Spanish lessons. Gato Negro is a from Chile (hence the Spanish) and was an inexpensive impulse buy in late October. Our past experience with Chilean wines hasn't been phenomenal, so we started with fairly low expectations on this bottle. Even with that in mind, by itself the wine was a bit disappointing -- somewhere between a cheap Italian red and a too young Australian wine. I came across this on the web site, which may explain it a little bit: "This renowned brand of Chilean wine was born in the 1960s through the genius of a German winemaker at the time." While Germans make some great Reislings, I'm not sure that applies as well to the world of reds. We decided to let the wine breathe a bit as we made dinner.

We opted for a little "treat" of our own -- some homemade pizza of course. Using our homemade dough, we topped it with carmelized onions and shitake mushrooms, port-soaked figs, fresh arugula (from our CSA), and blue cheese. After baking to perfection (minus a few interruptions from the stragglers of the neighborhood still looking for more free candy), we ended up with the spectacular pie below.
Now back to that wine. Sipped alone it didn't have a lot going on, when paired with food the GatoNegro was quite enjoyable. It had a nice balance -- not too spicy, or too tannic, just a litle acidity, and a fairly good finish -- to go well with the pizza and to stand up to the arugula. Overall, it was a nice Halloween wine!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Using the CSA Produce and our new favorite merlot

Merlot is one of the few red wines that I have never been enamoured with. I might drink the occasional glass at a wedding or dinner banquet, but never go out of my way to order a glass or buy a bottle. That has all changed with the Avila Merlot. I tried this first while having dinner at Skye. I was looking for a suggestion on what wine to pair with my dinner, and the waiter brought me a taste of this. A generous pour later, I offered one tiny sip to Scott. This was a good move, as he promptly called the waiter over, and ordered us each another glass.

Since that night I have scoured the valley to find it retail. My old stand-bye is to call AZ Wine Co. It was a special order. I started with one bottle, to avoid the syndrome I have of over buying wine, and not having any more room in the wine fridge. Also, we wanted to make sure it tasted as good as we remembered.

We opened it Sunday night with this salmon dish. It was definately as good as I remembered it tasting at the restaurant. It's a big merlot, that is bursting with ripe fruit, almost jammy like a zin. But, it turns into a nice mix of tannins and toast. The rich berry flavor melded perfectly with the salmon, which was topped with brown sugar and dijon. To make the pairing even better, the salmon was grilled on a cedar plank, which brought out just a little "woodsiness" of the wine.


I served the salmon with a mix of braised black eyed peas and grilled asparagus. We are on the third week of getting our CSA produce. Some of the vegetables are new to us and are getting us to expand our veggie horizons. For instance the fresh black eyed peas are something I had never cooked before. Not to mention the turnips, okra, and daikon. It is fun experimenting with new recipes to use some of the new-to-me produce. Not only did I use the black-eyed peas from the CSA in the side dish, but I made good use of the tops of the turnips by adding them as the "greens" in this braised dish. I didn't really follow a recipe. The black-eyed peas were braised in a chicken broth, scallion, garlic and onion mix for aproximately 45 minutes. I added the turnip greens and a dash of sherry vinegar. After turning the heat off, I threw in a generous handful of goat cheese.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wine Pairings

I ran across this simple guide on the Food and Wine website. I particularly like the simplicity and would use it as a good "rule of thumb." We've been paying a little more attention to what wines we choose with certain meals.
Of course, I still tend to more often go with the "drink what you like" philosophy.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Saying good-bye to summer

Although the mercury is still hitting 90 during the day, Phoenicians are rejoicing. With nighttime temperatures dropping down to almost "chilly" (i.e., 65 degrees to you non-Arizonans), we're finally able to think about putting on some long sleeves. Last weekend I was in the mood to make a light summery meal to toast the end of summer, and the beginning of our "nice" weather.

In terms of wine, nothing says summer more to me than a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The crisp acidity, the bright flavors, and the light grassy taste go so well with summer greens. At the end of a long day in and out of the 100+ degree heat, I crave this wine. Still in my summery mood, I started with this Brancott Sauvignon Blanc and created dinner to match.

I saved this recipe for the cilantro miso pesto on the internet so long ago that I do not remember the original source. The original recipe calls for it as part of a soba noodle salad. However, I chose to prepare the pesto and serve it on some beautiful scallops I picked up. It was a delicious combination: the pesto was flavorful, but didn't overpower the subtle sweetness of the seared scallops. Served over spaghetti squash, it was a perfect match for the sauvignon blanc. As much as I adore any New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I will tuck them away for the winter and wait until the next season. From here on out, it will be buttery chardonnays and big, spicy reds.

Cilantro-Miso Pesto over Pan Seared Scallops

1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup white miso
1/2 tsp. crushed or grated ginger
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1/2 tsp. wasabi powder, or to taste
1-2 Tbsp. fresh squeezed orange juice (my addition)
1 lb large scallops


Place cilantro, miso, garlic, wasabi powder and rice vinegar in a food processor and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until smooth. Adjust the seasonings, adding salt if necessary. Set the pesto aside for 10 min. so the wasabi flavor can develop.

Pat the fresh scallops with a paper towel to dry. Lightly salt and pepper. Heat a saute pan to medium heat and add about 1 Tbsp. butter. When it is slightly browned, add scallops. Sear approximately 4-5 minutes per side - depending on thickness. Do not overcook. Serve on top of noodles, spaghetti squash, or rice. Drizzle with pesto.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sometimes the mystery is best left alone - aka the "?"-able wine

Have you seen this wine? Have you tried this wine? What's the name of this wine? ???

As I have mentioned previously, I love to try new wines. New varietals, new blends, new vintages...whatever, it's all good. If a particular wine is not good, I usually don't write or talk about it, because, why focus on the negative? But, just like taste in food, we may all have different tastes in wine. So, I am going to take a step into the unknown, and tell you about this one, which was a dud for us.

I picked up this bottle of ? at Trader Joe's last weekend. I apologize that I don't remember the winery/vintage,etc as I tossed the bottle. Yeah that's right - tossed it. It sounded interesting as it was a red blend, cab and syrah - I think. It was only $7 or $8, so no big deal if it wasn't great. Sunday evening we opened it while getting ingredients out for dinner. A little swirl, a little sniff of cherry and vanilla, then I took a sip. Nothing. I swirled a bit more, and took another sip. Without saying a word, I handed my glass to Scott. (I didn't want to bias what he thought.) Scott tasted it and said he didn't think there was anything going on. We decided to let it breathe in the decanter for awhile, and went along with starting dinner. (A lot of times, as the wine opens up, it's flavor becomes more apparent.) After 30 minutes or so, we tried it again. Still, absolutely nothing. Again, I swirled, tried a bite of bread, etc. but, we decided the wine had even less flavor than the first sip. Life is to short to drink bad wine, so we opened a bottle of a tried and true merlot. (Review on that next.) So what is that "?" on the label all about? Our best guess is that it is there to leave you guessing - should it have some taste? what should it taste like? why are you drinking this when there are so many other (better) options out there in wine?

I'm curious if anyone has tried this wine and had a better experience. Let me know if you have.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Our First CSA package!

In effort to get more fresh vegetables in our diet, we signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) Each week for the next 12 weeks, we will get an allotment of locally grown, organic vegetables. It's also a great way to expand our veggie horizons, as we received a few things that I have not had, or cooked in the past.
This week we got:
Armenian cucumber (giant one in lower right of picture)
2 green bell peppers
Japanese white turnips
red potatoes
Japanese eggplant
mustard greens
green black eyed peas
personal sized watermelon

So, I'm calling on all you fabulous cooks out there to leave me some ideas on what to do with some of this fabulous fresh produce...
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 29, 2007


I love to experiment with making different martinis. In fact, at our house, we have 'Martini Mondays.' It is our reward for getting through Monday, and my creative outlet to think of while driving home. It is really fun to come up with some foo-foo specialities that taste even better than the $12-14 ones that you can get out. A few that have been done in the past few months; "The Antioxidant," which features the Charbay green tea vodka and pomegranate liquor - with a few other additions; "Key Lime"; "Fuzzy Navel", etc. I don't forget a classic "Dirty" with blue cheese stuffed olives. Mmmmm...

So, when my friend Dana and her boyfriend had a party last weekend, they asked if I'd be in charge of the martini making. They provided an array of the aforementioned Charbay vodkas, and just let me create. I came up with a few to have as samples, so that guests could try a 'taste' first. Here are the "samples": on the right, the "Tropic-tini", in the middle the very smooth Lemon Drop, and on the left is the Pomegranate Punch. My secret ingredient in the Pomegranate Punch and the Lemondrop was my homemade (or should I say home-stilled?) limoncello.

Lemon Drop Martini
2 oz regular vodka of your choice
1 oz lemoncello
1/2 oz triple sec
juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

Pomegranate Punch
2 oz Charbay Pomegranate Vodka
1 oz lemoncello
2 oz pomegranate juice
quick squeeze of a fresh lemon

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

There's a First Time for Everything...

Confession: Are there certain foods that you enjoy eating out, or when someone else prepares them, but intimidate you when it comes to cooking it at home? It may even be something simple, like an artichoke for instance.

Friday night came, and after a week of travel for Scott, we both felt like staying in. Since Friday night usually means going out for happy hour, I wanted to keep that theme but do it at home. I also had the urge to challenge myself to try one of those "intimidating" foods. So, while I was "studying" material for a business trip to Dallas next week, I came up with our happy hour appetizer menu. I was going to conquer artichokes, and crab cakes. Two new cooking challenges! With shrimp cocktail and cheese and crackers, we had the perfect "in home happy hour."

I prepared the artichoke as I had seen done by a chef teaching a recent knife skills class. After steaming the artichoke, I made a simple sauce that I also learned in the class, which consisted of 1 part stone ground mustard, to 2 parts mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Scott and I started off the happy hour with the artichoke and a glass of pinot grigio while planning the crab cakes. The artichoke was excellent -and I overcame my (minor) intimidation of cooking an artichoke.

With my newfound confidence, I decided that the crab cake couldn't be just any ordinary crab cake, but instead I would try to recreate an excellent crab cake we had recently. What makes it different you ask? Imagine a crab cake with huge lump meat crab, very little breading, just a touch of mayo, and a crab-tastic taste. That's what I was aiming for.

I used the recipe in Amanda Hesser's Cooking For Mr. Latte as a base, but also incorporated the recipe on the crab meat container. Served a top an apple fennel slaw, which is an idea I stole from the restaurant Skye, on a recent visit.

Mo-Style Crab Cakes:
1/2 lb fresh lump crab meat (not the fake crab!)
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp mayo
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs
1 egg
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped
juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
1-2 Tbsp. red bell pepper, finely chopped (or use green pepper)
1 Tbsp. green onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. chives, finely chopped
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning (I substituted a seafood seasoning blend)
1/4 cup (or more) panko - Japanese bread crumbs (or sub. crushed crackers)
1 Tbsp each, butter and olive oil for frying.
salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the crab and the rest of the ingredients, except panko and olive oil/butter. Gently mix. Form into thick patties and coat with panko. Heat saute pan over medium high heat and add butter and olive oil. After well heated (butter is slightly browned) add the crab cakes. Cook 8-10 minutes turning once - or until done.
Step-by-step photos: first up, the crab cakes prior to cooking. Next, are the crab cakes getting nice and toasty on the stove.

Apple Fennel Slaw:

1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced into matchsticks
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1/2 cup green cabbage, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp red bell pepper, sliced
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper

Combine ingredients for dressing in a large bowl. Add the vegetables and apple and combine.

Below is my plate of the complete happy hour tasting menu.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Paws + Pours = Craziness

I recently celebrated my birthday. I received one of those "singing" cards, where it plays music when you open the card. Never ones to miss an opportunity to torment the dog, we decided to see what havoc we could wreak. The video below shows how much fun you can have on a Friday night with some wine, a simple card, and an energetic golden retriever...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fig and Gorgonzola Pizza with Carmelized Onions and Shitakes

In the last few years I have come to love this time of the year. Not just because the temperatures are finally dipping below the century point (barely) in Phoenix, but because fresh figs are finding their way into the markets. Fig season is fairly short, so when I can get my hands on some, I tend to hoard them.

We enjoy them in the raw, just washed; stuffed with a little blue cheese and drizzled with balsamic, in salads, on bruschetta, etc. But, I think my favorite thus far, is this pizza recipe we came up with last year during fig season. It really is a conglomeration of ideas I've seen in various cooking magazines. This photos was taken last year, but I made this again last week, and it's just as good.

Fig & Gorgonzola Pizza with Carmelized Onions & Shitakes

1lb. fresh pizza dough
2 tsp. dried rosemary
approx. 1 lb. fresh figs, rinsed and halved
1/2 large white or yellow onion
butter for sauteeing
1 tsp sugar
6-8 fresh shitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup (or more) gorgonzola cheese


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat saute pan over medium heat. Add butter, and start sauteeing the onions. Once they are soft and nearly translucent, add approx. 1 tsp. sugar, and a little more butter. Cover and let them "carmelize" over low heat for approx. 15 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook an additional 5 -7 minutes.

While onions are cooking, begin the pizza dough. Add the dried rosemary to the dough and knead it to mix the herbs evenly, being careful not to overwork the dough. Roll out pizza dough onto a baking pan or baking stone. Once at the desired thickness, top with mozzarella, figs, and onion-mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with gorgonzola. Bake 10-15 minutes.

We had this with a bottle of Hayman & Hill Pinot Noir, which was a gem we originally tasted at a great spot called Elements. The sweetness of the figs, along with the "earthy" mushrooms make pinot noir an excellent pairing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Picking Wine by the Label

I read Wine Spectator, and I go to wine tastings. I like to try at least one new wine each week. That said, I am definitely still a novice in the wide world of wine. Time for a little "vino confessiono": I will occasionally pick out a bottle of wine just because I like the label. If I were to design a label, it would have to combine something I like (maybe dogs, or in this case, cake); sound appealing (layer cake -my favorite treat); and be a varietal that I like (Shiraz.) Such is the case with this bottle we tried recently: the Layer Cake Shiraz. I had eyed this one in a local wine shop, and knew I wanted to buy it. Since I was the only one in the shop this particular afternoon, the clerk and I were talking about different wines and regions. When I picked up this bottle of shiraz, he mentioned that this one is flying off the shelves. He said it was the best shiraz under $30 that he has ever had. (It retails for about $16.)

Don't be misled by the label -- this is certainly not a "dessert wine". Filled with hints of blackberry and cherry, this shiraz did not disappoint. Done in a new world style, it wasn't as heavy and "in your face" as some of the big syrahs. Very smooth and velvety. We have had a few more bottles of it since then,and it has become my favorite shiraz. As an added bonus (purists and wine snobs can stop reading now) this is a screwtop instead of a cork -- perfect for those nights when you want to keep a glass to try the following day...although it is rare that we have some left for the next day...

Shown below with a layer cake we enjoyed earlier this week.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Paw and Pours Goes to the Great Outdoors!

Sunday morning we woke up and decided to do something a little different. It was too hot to take the dog on a walk around here (approaching 100 degrees at 8:15 am!) So, we decided to head to someplace a bit cooler and get a little exercise. After making some homemade blueberry pancakes to fuel us, we loaded the car with the dog and a picnic and headed north. The drive alone was worth it -- as we climbed in altitude the cacti of the Sonoran desert faded away to the Ponderosa pinetrees of the Mogollon Rim. Just over an hour later, we arrived at Christopher Creek, standing among the pinon pinetrees and enjoying the cool mountain air -- and feeling worlds away from the relentless heat of Phoenix.

But before we could get to that picnic, we had to do a little "work" first. The Horton Creek Trail was just what we were looking for -- a moderate 7-mile roundtrip hike through the forest. Chase was on full "hunter" mode, leading the way (more like sprinting the way) through the trees, in a frenzied search for the water he could hear cascading down the creek. Chase managed to find the creek just about whenever he could, and led us on the hike the entire time. The trail ended at the head of Horton Springs where it gushes ice cold out of the side of a mountain - pure mountain spring water to refresh all of us!

After finishing the trek back down the trail, we were ready for the picnic. We headed a bit further east to Willow Springs Lake. With even cooler temperatures there, the humans in the party were a bit cold (hey - 68 degrees is 40 degrees cooler than we'd be used to in Phoenix!), while Chase was pleasantly watching the lake for any sign of birds. We discovered that Chase's swimming training of retrieving tennis balls from the water doesn't mix well with the locals fishing -- Chase decided that the bobbers on the fishing lines looked like a good toy.Of course, a blog on wine and dogs can't be just about the outdoors -- time for some vino! We brought a bottle of Red Bicyclette Rose, a nice dry rose that was perfect for a cool summer day. Paired with some cheeses, hummus, and fig salad, it was a perfect mid afternoon snack. We decided that we have to come here more often now...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Best Dog

Paws and Pours; a wedding story.
A little post about how wine and dogs or rather, Paws and Pours, is not just the name of my blog, it was pretty much the theme of our recent wedding.

It all started with our first date, over a glass of wine at Tapino. A few dates at the dog park followed. Then, the proposal, which was done over a personalized bottle of wine. Personalized with a picture of Chase on the label (a red wine to go with the red golden retriever). You see, Scott's a very clever man. He knew the way to my heart was through #1) wine and, #2) getting the dog on his side.

Planning a wedding ensued. Once we decided on an outdoor wedding, I knew that Chase had to be a part of it. He would be the "Best Dog." Looking quite handsome in his bow tie collar, he even spoke up a few times during the ceremony.

Being that there is always a breeze on the side of the mountain where we had the ceremony, we opted for unity sand rather than the traditional unity candle. We poured the sand out of two mini wine decanters into one wine glass. To continue our vino theme a bit further, the guest received take home wine bottle stoppers that had a stainless steel heart on top. Chase retired early and did not stay for the drinking and dancing that followed.