Thursday, February 23, 2012

California Crab Salad [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 10 to 15 minutes
Serves: 2

The first night of a recent visit to LA, Matt took us to Froma on Melrose, a hip little wine and cheese shop with a few scattered tables and a surprisingly deep menu of crostinis, salads, pizzas and paninis.

I just wanted something fresh. And light, after a day of bad airplane food (purchased, no less!) and unsatisfying snacks.

Their crab salad, paired with a glass of sparkling wine, was the exact balance of bitter, sweet and tang that I craved. It makes for a sunny departure from the heartier soups and stews of February, and screams California from the get-go.

California Crab Salad

1 8-ounce container jumbo lump crabmeat
Baby arugula
1 pink grapefruit, peeled and sectioned
1 avocado, peeled and sliced into super-thin strips
1 endive, sliced into thin strips
1/2 jalapeno, diced into tiny bits
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped fine
Citrus vinaigrette to taste

Citrus Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup orange juice (I used blood oranges for their beautiful red color and sliced a few for the plate)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1 tablespoon ponzu (Optional. Can just use little more soy sauce if you don't have ponzu. [Wait. You don't have ponzu? What's wrong with you?])
Soy sauce to taste
1 tablespoon mayo

Whisk the mustard and soy sauce into the orange juice. Slowly add the olive oil. Then add the mayo. Whisk to combine. Gently mix a small amount into the crab meat (don't break up those gorgeous lumps of crab!!) and drizzle a little over the rest of the plated salad.

Suggested soundtrack: Diana Krall's "Look of Love"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Simple Roasted Broccoli Soup [Zack]

Sometimes simplicity is best in cooking.  You don't need 23984324 ingredients to make a good soup.  Often I get caught up with adding tons of ingredients and trying to make things fancy.  But if you have good-quality broccoli, it can often speak for itself.

As mentioned frequently on this website, if you have your own homemade chicken stock, it will take this simple soup over the top.


Pre-heat your oven to 350 F / 175 C.  Take your broccoli head and cut it apart so you have individual florettes.  Don't throw away the stem!  Slice it into 1/4 inch chips and roast that too - it has great flavor.

Toss all of the broccoli with some olive oil on a baking sheet.  Lightly salt and pepper it.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until it develops some color.

While that is roasting, dice an onion and a clove of garlic.  In a large pot, saute the onion first in 1 T of olive oil for 4 minutes over medium heat, then add the garlic for 1 minute.  Add in your roasted broccoli.

Next, and chicken stock.

Cook until it simmers, wait 5 minutes, and blend it all.  If you don't have an immersion stick blender, please be careful with your blender.  Hot liquid has a tendency to fly out and could scald you.

Return it back to the pot so it remains warm until you serve.


1 large head broccoli
1 small or medium onion
1 large clove garlic
2 cups chicken stock
1 T olive oil

Optional additions:
-  grated cheddar cheese
-  1/2 cup heavy cream
-  roasted leeks
-  add spinach when you add in the chicken stock

Song:  Dana Carvey's song from his standup - Chopping Broccoli

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shrimp Scampi [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: simple, with minimal prep
Time: 20 minutes or less
Serves: 2

"For deese ee-va-ning, we have-a de shreemp scompeee..."

I must've ordered this a thousand times at decent-to-great Italian restaurants, and in 99 percent of the cases, it's been wonderful. Because it's pretty simple to execute and pretty hard to screw up.

I know being the good cook you are, you've got a one-pound pack of large shrimp in your freezer (because, as you've learned, it comes in handy for last-minute things like prosciutto-wrapped shrimp on the grill with balsamic reduction drizzle).

And even though they aren't the most flavorful form of tomato, you probably have some grape tomatoes sitting in a lovely bowl on the kitchen counter. Fresh garlic, a pour of white wine, squeeze of lemon and you're just about good to go. Scampi is good over orzo (seen here), or rice or angel hair pasta (make plenty of sauce mmmmm) or on crostini.

Mangia! Mangia!

Shrimp Scampi

1 pound frozen shrimp, defrosted, veins and tails removed
6 to 8 cloves garlic (or more if you want to stink all day), minced
1 large handfull grape tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lemon, juiced, more if you want to use as garnish
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 or 3 chicken frozen homemade stock cubes (optional)
1 tablespoon (or less)oregano
Generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes
Sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley, if you have it, or dried parsley
1 tablespoon Italian bread crumbs

Pat the shrimp dry. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in pan and saute shrimp.

Sprinkle the oregano and some red pepper flakes over them while they're cooking.

Remove shrimp to a bowl. Put the butter in the pan, melt, then add garlic. Saute briefly, add white wine and stock cubes, if using, and reduce. Add tomatoes, stir.

Add some of the lemon juice, stir. (You can always add more at the end if you like it super-tangy...) Adjust seasonings (salt, pepper), sprinkle Italian bread crumbs in to thicken slightly, add the shrimp back in, warm briefly and serve.

Suggested soundtrack: Pavarotti's "Caruso"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Asian Sticky Plum Sauce Ribs [Zack]

Ribs are one of my favorite things to eat.  Pete (my former roommate) and I have spent numerous hours planning, dreaming, and cooking ribs.  I have tried making them with 4 or 5 different pre-cooking methods, and have made many different BBQ sauces to accompany them.  I've even competed in a rib-cooking contest against June when I was living in Jacksonville.  

In Belgium, most people / restaurants don't know how to cook good ribs.  They don't get close to Texas or even the ribs we used to smoke in our backyard.  Although this is a bit depressing, ribs are very inexpensive in the grocery store because nobody cooks them.  

Baking covered ribs in the oven is interesting because you can easily control their firmness by varying the cooking time.  All you have to do is pull them out of the oven and check them with a knife or wiggle a bone a bit to tell how well-cooked they are.  For this recipe, I chose to keep these just on the firm side of  "totally-fall-off-the-bone" because that's more in line with the firmness you get at Chinese restaurants.  You do what you like.


Remove the silver skin from the concave side of the ribs (the bonyside).  This membrane is always left on store-bought ribs for some reasonand it never does you any good.  It not only makes the ribs tougher, and italso locks out flavor!

To remove, stick the point of a knife just under the silver skin tomake a little hole for your finger.  

Then slide your finger between thesilver skin and the meat and start working more of it loose.  

Once you geta good grip on it, slowly pull it off.  Think one of those annoyingstickers that you try to get off the bottom of that new coffee mug all in one piece.

Mix together your dry rub spices in a bowl and dust theribs.  

You shouldn’t cake them withspices, but put enough on so it has a good coating.  If you want, you can cover these up and putthem in the fridge for a day or 2 so it absorbs some extra flavor.

Cover the ribs with aluminum foil and place them into theoven at 250F / 125C for 3 hours or so.  Ican’t tell you an exact cooking time because there are a ton of variables that you’dneed to take into account (for example: the thickness of the ribs, how closeyou put them to each other in the tray, whether you want the meat to fall offthe bone or be a bit more firm).  The wayto test for your desired texture is to pull them out after 2.5 hours and sticka knife into one.  If it slides in veryeasily and you can wiggle an end bone around a bit in the meat, it will befall-off-the-bone tender.  Re-cover and put them back in the oven if you want more tenderness.

Good news: ribs are very forgiving – if you end upovercooking them in the oven and the meat simply falls off the bone when youtry to cut them into individual ribs, you have pulled pork for sandwiches!

While your ribs are cooking in the oven, it’s time toprepare your plum sauce.  

You’ll want tocook this sauce down for at least 30 minutes on low heat, so make sure you planahead on this one a bit.  Dice or slice theplums (skin-on is okay), ginger, garlic,onion, and single chile and place them all into thefood processor.  Pulse the food processorto blend the ingredients until they are smooth. Add in the hoisin and other liquids and blend to integrate. 

Cook the sauce on low heat until it is thick, syrupy, andhas changed color to a deep purple.  Ifit’s thick enough, the sauce will stick to the ribs and the sugars in the honeyand brown sugar will caramelize from your heat source. 

If you have a grill (I’m jealous):

Leave the ribs whole and coat with the reduced plum sauce.  Caramelize them on the grill, then separate toserve.

If you’re stuck using your oven (like me):

Put the ribs on a cutting board and slice between each bone.  

Put the sliced ribs back into your bakingdish and toss with the reduced plum sauce. You want an even coating.  

Set youroven on high broil, and put them on the middle rack.  Keep an eye on them – you want to brown thesauce, not burn it.  Toss them once youget a nice color on one side so you have even browning all over them.

Transfer either method to a plate and top with diced cilantro.  You can serve with a bit of fried rice (2cups day-old rice, ½ sliced red onion, 1 T sesame oil, 1 T soy sauce – cook toheat up).

2 racks of baby back ribs (serves 2 hungry people or 3 mortals)

Dry Rub:
1 T Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp 5 spice powder
3/4 T seasoned salt
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp coriander powder

Sticky Plum Sauce:
2 inches ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 birdseye chile
2 T hoisin sauce
1 T soy sauce
4 plums
3 T honey
1 T brown sugar
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil

A funky rib song:  D'angelo - Playa Playa

Monday, February 13, 2012

Creamy Lobster Risotto [Zack]

Valentine's day is too hectic for Lauren and me to go out to dinner.  Restaurants charge a lot more for the meal and they are always over-crowded.  We prefer to cook at home instead.  It's more fun and romantic!

Valentine's day is an opportunity for you to show your loved one that you will do anything for them - even fearlessly kill a lobster!  Making a risotto is pretty simple, but it's also considered fancy, so it's the perfect Lover's Holiday dish.  Our chef friend Philippe at Particolare showed us a method that you can cook it in 18 minutes flat.

A favorite website of mine used to talk about making risotto for the ladies.  He said "it's great because you look like you are cooking your ass off when you are really just stirring rice."  He's right :)

Because this particular recipe uses a lobster stock, it takes a good amount of prep before the big show.  If you make the stock and pick the meat the day before, this recipe is manageable and will make the risotto heavenly.


Step 1:  Preparing the lobster meat and stock.  (If you want to skip doing this recipe the long way, buy 2 pre-steamed lobster tails either fresh or frozen, extract the meat and make a quick stock using the shells.)

Get a large, lidded pot of boiling salted water going and plunge your unlucky lobster friend into it head-first.  Replace the lid and leave the room if you need to.  You can keep the rubber bands on the claws.

If they are about 1.5 lbs like mine, cook them for 6-7 minutes.  They are finished when they are a bright crimson color.  I guess the restaurant Red Lobster = dead lobster.

Take it out of the pot and let it cool down before de-shelling.  First, twist the tail until it separates from the body.  Clean out any tamale (the green stuff) by using some water from the sink.

The tail meat is the best part of the lobster.  Straighten the tail out and cut down the inside of it until you can peel back the shell.

Twist the claws so they separate from the carapace.  Open up the claw until the smaller part separates and you can extract the meat.  Bash the larger part of the claw with the bottom of a wine bottle until the shell cracks and you can take the meat out.  Then cut along the upper arms on both sides longways until you can peel the shell away.  Take the legs and roll over them with a wine bottle until the meat pops out.  Save all of the shells for your lobster stock!!

If you need visual directions on how to extract the meat, refer to this youtube link.

Take the shells and put them into a large pot and cover with water.  Add 1 sliced onion, 1 medium sliced carrot, 2 bay leaves and simmer for 30 mins.

After 30 minutes, strain the stock to extract the shells.  Your lobster stock will be a nice deep orange color from the fat of the lobster.

Step 2:  Making the risotto:

Prepare your ingredient for your mise en place.  Dice the onions, put your 5 cups of stock and wine into a small pot over low heat, and have your grated parmesan reggiano and lobster meat right next to the stove.

Put on some nice slow jams and invite your significant other into the kitchen to watch the show.  Light some candles and explain in a smooth Italian accent that you are preparing the finest risotto they will ever have had.  If you use good ingredients and cook it to al dente, I promise it will be as good or better than a restaurant's.

Put a large lidded pot over medium heat, add some olive oil and your diced onions.  Cook them until they sizzle a bit and become translucent.  Then add your Arborio rice and give it a stir.  Pour in 2 ladle-fulls of the stock and give it a stir.

Cover the pot and then either swirl the whole pot around or stir the risotto every 30 seconds to keep it from sticking to the bottom.

When you see the liquid has been absorbed, add 2 more ladles of liquid, stir and recover the pot.  Repeat this process until the risotto is creamy and has a little bit of a bite to it.  It should take 18 minutes.  If you need, you can add a touch more water or stock to achieve the results you want with your rice.

Take the pot off of the heat, add in the 1 1/2 cups of your parmesan cheese.  The cheese will combine with the starch from the rice and make it very creamy.

Stir in your lobster meat and serve immediately.

You can accompany it with a fresh salad or some nice roasted winter vegetables with lemon squeezed over them.

If this doesn't get you some brownie points, you are in trouble.


1 medium-sized lobster (or 2 tails if you can't bear killing one)
1/2 carrot
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves

1 1/2 cups / 200g grated parmesan cheese
2 cups Arborio rice
2 cups dry white wine
3 cups lobster stock (or chicken stock)

1 cup lobster meat (from the above lobster)

1 small diced red or white onion
2 T olive oil

If you're trying to impress in the kitchen, turn on Maxwell's album Urban Hang Suite 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Veal Piard [Mike]

One of the amazing things about living in New York City is that there’s a restaurant on almost every single city block, sometimes as many as five or six. Manhattan is 24 sq. miles, with over 23,499 restaurants in that borough alone. The hottest, trendiest restaurants are always popping up all over town, and quite frankly, just as many go under. However, it’s a foodie’s paradise.

Rhonda and I used to live on 84th Street, on the east side of town. One day, we discovered Trastevere, a tiny hole in the wall Italian restaurant, just a couple of blocks away. The night we went there, we both ordered the house specialty, veal piard. When it came, we were both pleasantly surprised that the bone was still attached and it literally hung over the plate. We've had veal piard… but not like this. Covered with a fresh green salad on top, the mixture of the warm veal with the cold salad was outstanding.

Twenty-five or so years later, I still remember it well.

To prepare this dish you need to get to a butcher who carries this cut of meat. Note: Veal is expensive. Ask the butcher for a 1” thick veal chop and ask him to fillet it like the open page of a book, leaving the bone attached. Usually, a butcher will use the side of a butcher’s knife to pound it flat.

Before cooking, prepare the salad. You want to be able to add it to the top of the cooked piard so that you can get both the hot and cold flavors together. Go to Famous Salad Dressing (Rhonda) posted June 17, and follow the recipe.

For those of you who are more adventurous, you can buy the veal chop and fillet it yourself.

After you fillet it, you have to pound it thin by placing it between two sheets of wax paper and using a heavy can.

I like to sear the veal, so I put a cast iron skillet on the flame for several minutes before placing the veal in the skillet. Cut off some extra fat from the chop and place it in the skillet to lightly grease it, then remove and place the veal piard in the skillet. Warning! Veal is a very tender cut… you don’t want to overcook it. Plate the piard and then add the salad over it. Enjoy!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pineapple Upside Down Cake [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 15 minutes prep, 30 minutes baking time
Serves: 8

It defies logic.

Really, how does that even work: dumping stuff like butter and sugar and nuts into the bottom of a skillet, putting the batter on top of that, then, after baking, flipping it all back out? Seems too casual in the precision-loving world of baking.

But this little retro recipe, which looks and feels a whole lot like Donna Reed, is delicious. You can use fresh pineapple if you have it and orange juice in the batter if you run short on pineapple juice.

Pineapple Upside Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup light or dark brown sugar
1 large can sliced or chunk pineapple, in juice rather than heavy syrup
1/2 cup pecan halves, whole or broken
1/3 cup maraschino cherries, whole or halved
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons pineapple juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter in large, heavy skillet. (Mine's an 8" black)

Spread brown sugar evenly in pan and arrange drained pineapple slices or chunks over sugar, filling in spaces with pecans and cherries.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together; beat egg yolks until light, adding sugar gradually; add pineapple juice and sifted flour.

Fold in stiffly beaten whites and turn batter over pineapple in pan.

Bake in 375 F oven 30 to 35 minutes (I cover it loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil after 20 minutes if it's browning too quickly).

Turn upside down on a plate or tray and serve.

Suggested soundtrack: "Mona Lisa" Nat King Cole....very fifties, even if it's not very Donna Reed-y

Thursday, February 2, 2012

La Chandeleur - Savory Crepe Holiday [Zack]

Even though I'm living in Belgium, I'm oblivious to a lot of their holidays - if nobody tells me that I'm supposed to be celebrating something, I won't know.  So, sitting at work today, my co-worker asked me "are you going to make crepes tonight?"  I said, "No, wasn't planning on it, why?"

Apparently, today is La Chandeleur, which is the Belgian / French celebration of the passing of 40 days after the birth of Jesus.  It used to be a pagan holiday, but the Pope decided to "Christianize" it in the 5th century.  People would parade in their towns holding candles to honor the holiday.  "Chandeleur" is derived from the word "chandelle", which means "candle" in French.

The tradition is that you make a bunch of crepes, hold the pan in one hand and a gold coin in the other.  If you complete the one-handed flip, you have good luck for the year!

I like a good challenge and I love to eat, so this definitely made my to do list tonight.  I tried to use as many Belgian items as I could:  Belgian Milk from the Ardenne Mountains, Chimay cheese (the emmental is from Holland - close enough), white asparagus, and naturally cured Belgian ham.


A quick shot of the ingredients:

Saute your white asparagus in a little bit of butter in a pan over medium heat until they are cooked (about 3 minutes).

Chop the asparagus loosely and place them on a plate.  In the same pan (why mess up 2?), chop some ham up and brown that as well.  Place it onto the same plate.

Now it's time to make your crepe batter.  You make crepes in the similar way that you make pancakes (they are pretty much the same thing, crepes just have a thinner batter).  In a large bowl, sift together your flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

Then add in your wet ingredients: the eggs, milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract.  Stir it all up and set it aside.

You need to make a quick mornay sauce before you can start cooking your crepes.  In a small sauce pan, melt 2 T of butter.  Add in 2 T of flour, whisk it together and cook for 2 minutes.

Add in the milk and stir until combined.  Your sauce should be thick and a little bit hard to stir because of the flour.  Dump in both cheeses and stir.  Grind in some fresh black pepper for flavor.

Heat up a non-stick pan on medium and coat lightly with butter.  Cook for 2 or 3 minutes until the bottom is lightly browned (you can check by lightly lifting up the edge.)  Wiggle the pan around until the crepe is loosened.  Grab the coin in your left hand and attempt a flip!

If you land the flip, you have good luck for the year!

Once it's flipped, add your ham, asparagus, and mornay sauce and roll up both sides.  Plate the crepes and sprinkle with some chopped parsley.


Savory filling:
A few slices of diced Ham
1 bunch of white asparagus
Diced parsley for serving

Mornay Sauce:
2 T butter
2 T cup flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup Chimay cheese (or you can substitute Swiss)
1/3 cup Emmental (or you can substitute Swiss)

Crepe Recipe (from
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

If you are in the mood for something sweet, instead of adding the savory ingredients, add a dollop of Nutella. Fold the crepe over itself twice so it's in a quarter.  Pour 1 T of Cointreau into the pan and carefully light it on fire.  Shake the pan lightly until the flames go out.

Sprinkle with a little bit of granulated sugar and enjoy!

Song:  The traditional song of the holiday La Chandeleur.  Families sing this song together as they flip crepes!