Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I have been consumed with holiday baking and cooking the last several days. I am tired and have a lot left to do, but it is such a satisfied kind of tired. This weekend, I tried my hand at homemade pasta using my my grandfathers amazing old past machine that I had the honor of inheriting. The machine was one of the first pasta machines ever made and is solid as a rock, making quick work of rolling the dough, even after all these years.

I made two kinds of ravioli and also a little bit of regular pasta with the remaining dough. The texture and flavor was outstanding all around.

Pasta Dough

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
2 eggs
water as needed starting with 1/3 cup


I used an electric stand mixer for my dough and made sure to drizzle small amounts of water until the dough just came together. It made a beautifully satiny dough that was easy to work with.

For some of the ravioli, I made a filling of homemade pesto and fresh ricotta cheese. For the others, I created a filling of finely chopped fresh cremini mushrooms, dried porchinis that I reconstituted and chopped, a touch of butter, a little chicken bouillon, some grated Romano and a sprinkling of bread crumbs. They were delicate and delicious tossed with a little olive oil and Romano cheese!

Last night I was up until 2 am baking Pita Piatas, large nut and raisin rolls kissed with cinnamon, sugar and whiskey. These are a Calabrese tradition and a family favorite. I learned how to make them from my Aunt Rosie last year. Mine turned out really nice again this year. I will post some pictures of them soon. In the meantime, happy holiday baking!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving, Family Visits & Cookbook Writing

The last few weeks have been busy. The week and a half before Thanksgiving, I went on a multi-city trip to see my family. First to my hometown, Fairmont, WV, to visit my parents, grandmothers and great aunts; and then on to Houston, TX, to visit my aunts, uncles and cousins. I spent some time on both places collecting family recipes and interviewing family members for my cookbook. It is going to take time to do all the recipe testing, writing, photography and design, but it is a labor of love and it feels good to have a start on the project.

I spent some time in Aunt Rosie's kitchen, always a highlight of my trips to Fairmont, and talked to my greats aunts (Aunt Rosie, Aunt Mary and Aunt Irene) about making traditional Italian cookies, homemade pasta, gnocchi, cutlets, you name it! I can't wait to start holiday recipe testing and sharing all the goodies with my friends.

I also spent a lit of time talking recipes and traditions with my family in Houston. In fact, some of my aunts and cousins and I canned peppers in sauce the way my grandparents did every year in the fall. We had a great time and canned over 40 pints of delicious peppers. For more pictures of our canning adventures, check out my Mobile Me gallery: http://gallery.me.com/stephanie.vannoy#100073.

I got back home just in time to prepare for Thanksgiving. I cooked for 10 people and everyone seemed to really enjoy the food. The turkey was exceptionally juicy and flavorful this year. I think the brine I created this year is a definite keeper recipe.


Savory Turkey Brine
1 gallon water
8 vegetable bouillon packets
4 chicken bouillon packets
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large bunch fresh rosemary
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 head garlic, broken apart and cloves smashed (no need to peel)
1/2 cup peppercorns

Stir ingredients together well and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool fully. Place Turkey in a large container or brining bag. Place in fridge or on ice overnight before roasting.


Our Thanksgiving appetizer was the pumpkin fondue I wrote about in my last blog entry. It was a huge hit again this year. To accompany the turkey, I made mashed potatoes, wild mushroom-rustic bread stuffing, pork and rice stuffing (a family recipe), lemon roasted Brussels sprouts, Parmesan roasted winter squash (butternut, kabocha and sugar pumpkin), French style green beans and homemade Parker House Rolls. For dessert, I made a pumpkin pie from scratch and our guests brought apple crisps and a pumpkin cheesecake. It was a true Thanksgiving feast!


Parmesan Roasted Winter Squash

1 small baking Pumpkin
1 small-medium Butternut squash
1 small Kabocha squash
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350º. Peel all three squash and cut them into bite size cubes. Toss squash with cream and 3/4 of the cheese. Top with remaining cheese and bake for 45 minutes to an hour — until squash is fork tender and top is light golden brown. Serve hot.

Leftover note: Make patties of leftover squash, coat them with a light layer of flour and fry in butter like a potato cake for breakfast the next day.


Stephanie's Homemade Pumpkin Pie
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons ice water

4 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
2/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup heavy cream
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of salt

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time and mix until dough just comes together.

Pat dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Press dough into a flat disk and gently roll out with a few pushes of the rolling pin in all directions, turning dough as necessary, until you have a 12 inch circle of dough. Place dough in pie plate and crimp edges as desired. (I am not great at pie crust edges yet, but the crust always tastes good regardless!) Chill in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375º. Line crust with a sheet of parchment paper and fill with pie weights, dry beans or dry rice. Blind bake the crust for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

While the crust blind bakes, prepare the filling. Separate one of the eggs, reserving the yolk and discarding the white. In a large bowl, combine, pumpkin, brown sugar, cream, egg yolk, remaining whole eggs, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt and whisk until smooth. Pour filling into partially baked pie shell. Place pie in middle of preheated oven and bake about 50 minutes, until filling is set, but center is still slightly jiggly. Let cool completely on wire rack. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pumpkin Fondue!

Looking for a fabulous idea for a Thanksgiving appetizer? Try Pumpkin Foudue. I found this recipe in Gourmet Magazine last year and my Thanksgiving guests absolutely loved it and are already asking for it again this year. The pumpkin roasts to a beautiful golden brown and the filling if perfectly cheesy.

Pumpkin Fondue

1 french baguette (about 15 inches), cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 medium size pumpkin (about 7 pounds)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Emmental
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 450º with rack in lower third of oven.

Toast baguette slices in 1 layer on a baking sheet in oven until tops are crisp (bread will still be pale), about 7 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Remove top of pumpkin by cutting a circle (3 inches in diameter) around stem with a small sharp knife. Scrape out seeds and any loose fibers from inside pumpkin with a spoon (including top of pumpkin; reserve seeds for another use if desired). Season inside of pumpkin with 1/2 tsp salt.

Whisk together cream, broth, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a bowl. Mix together cheeses in another bowl.

Put a layer of toasted bread in bottom of pumpkin, then cover with about 1 cup cheese and about 1/2 cup cream mixture. Continue layering bread, cheese, and cream mixture until pumpkin is filled to about 1/2 inch from top, using all of cream mixture. (You may have some bread and cheese left over.)

Cover pumpkin with top and put in an oiled small roasting pan. Brush outside of pumpkin all over with olive oil. Bake until pumpkin is tender and filling is puffed, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Pumpkin can be filled 2 hours before baking and chilled.

Source: Gourmet Magazine, November 2008

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Updated Pumpkin Spice Cake Recipe

I've made my Pumpkin Spice Cake a few more times since posting the recipe and have an update to fix the pumpkin/buttermilk ratio issue. I've been using Libby's Pumpkin which is a lot drier than the original organic canned pumpkin I used, so I upped the buttermilk as noted in this updated recipe.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin*
2 cups low fat buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 light brown sugar
2 large eggs
canola oil spray

1/4 cup low fat buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 — 2 cups confectioners' sugar

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350ºF. Spray bundt pan lightly with canola spray and set aside.

Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together pumpkin*, 1 cup buttermilk and vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on high — until light in color and fluffy (about 3 – 5 minutes). Add eggs and beat another minute. Reduce speed to low and alternate adding flour and pumpkin mixtures (be sure to start and end with flour). Mix until just combined and smooth.

Pour batter into pan, smooth out the top and bake 50 — 55 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan for about 15 minutes, then invert onto a rack and allow to cool completely.

While the cake cools, whisk together buttermilk, cinnamon and vanilla. Add enough powdered sugar to make the icing pourable, but not runny. Pour over cake and allow to harden slightly.

Serves 12

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Okra Gumbo

Rows of okra at Tierra Miguel Farm in Pauma Valley, CA

A few weeks ago, I saw an okra plant for the first time. I was stunned by it's beauty. Okra grows on a tall stalk and has blooms similar to a hibiscus. I was inspired to make a big pot of gumbo with the bag of okra I brought home with me that day. I pulled some ideas from a few of my favorite cookbooks and here is what I came up with. This gumbo is perfect for a cold fall or winter night. You can use frozen okra if fresh is not available.


4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups fresh okra, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
4–5 cloves garlic, diced
1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes, with their juice
5 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 tablespoons Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4 inch discs
1 pound shrimp
Brown Rice

In a large heave pot over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add okra and sauté until golden brown and softened, stirring occasionally (about 15 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, remove okra and reserve in bowl.

Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, sauté until lightly browned all over (3-5 minutes). Remove using a slotted spoon and reserve in another bowl.

Add the canola oil and heat for about 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Add the flour, stirring until incorporated to make the roux. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, cooking the roux until it gets nice and golden brown (about 4–6 minutes). Reduce heat to medium and add onion and peppers. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally (8–10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook 1–2 minutes more.

Add the cooked okra, diced tomatoes with their juice, chicken stock, creole seasoning, smoked paprika, thyme and cayenne. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened (about 20 minutes). Add the browned chicken and allow to cook through (about 10 minutes more).

Add the sausage and shrimp, cooking until sausage is heated and shrimp is pink and cooked through (about 3–4 minutes). Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve over steamed brown rice, topping each bowl with a couple cracks of fresh ground black pepper and a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves.

Serves 6

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lamb Shanks and Pumpkin Carving!

My friends, Matt & Cody, had a 4-pack of frozen lamb shanks in their freezer that Cody's mom had given them several months back (thanks Sandi!). We have been talking about braising them for months and finally put my lamb skills to the test yesterday. Matt brought the lamb over and I thawed it in my fridge on Wednesday. Once it was thawed, I marinated it in a mixture of olive oil, dijon mustard, lemon Juice, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper.

I let it marinate all day in the fridge, and then started the braising. I browned the shanks in a large, hot cast iron pot. There were 4 shanks, so I browned them on all sides, two at a time, in olive oil and reserved them on a plate. Next I added 2 medium sweet onions, quartered and broken apart, and let those sauté until they began to soften. I tossed in about 15-20 cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed) and 1 1/2–2 cups of carrots (peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces) and let that cook for another 5–7 minutes. I deglazed the pan with red wine, scraping up all the flavorful brown bits, then added the rest of the wine (I used a bottle of Shiraz), 2 cups of water, 2 packets each of chicken broth concentrate and beef broth concentrate (available at Whole Foods Market), about 1/4 cup each of chopped fresh rosemary and thyme leaves, the juice and zest of 1 lemon and one 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes with their juice. I returned the shanks to the pan, pressing them down to submerge them and brought the pot to a boil. Then I reduced the heat to medium-low, covered and allowed to braise for about 3 hours.

The meat was tender and falling off the bone and the flavors were amazing! The citrus and herbs really added a depth and kept the meat from tasting remotely gamey. Our friend Erin, who has a self proclaimed dislike for lamb, was convinced to take a small taste. She asked for a second bite, need I say more. The lamb paired nicely with a beautiful bottle of Cabernet. (Thanks Erin!)

We ended the night with a fabulous glass of port that I had left from my birthday and pumpkin carving. Good food, good friends and good wine... that is what it's all about!

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Very Own Pumpkin Spice Cake

Researched, tested and crowd approved! This pumpkin cake recipe is a keeper. It is moist and full of flavor... and the calorie count isn't too bad either — only about 275 calories in a slice! Gotta love baking with low fat buttermilk, you'll never miss the extra fat.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin*
1 cup low fat buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 light brown sugar
2 large eggs
canola oil spray

1/4 cup low fat buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 — 2 cups confectioners' sugar

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350ºF. Spray bundt pan lightly with canola spray and set aside.

Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together pumpkin*, 1 cup buttermilk and vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on high — until light in color and fluffy (about 3 – 5 minutes). Add eggs and beat another minute. Reduce speed to low and alternate adding flour and pumpkin mixtures (be sure to start and end with flour). Mix until just comined and smooth.

Pour batter into pan, smooth out the top and bake 50 — 55 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan for about 15 minutes, then invert onto a rack and allow to cool completely.

While the cake cools, whisk together buttermilk, cinnamon and vanilla. Add enough powdered sugar to make the icing pourable, but not runny. Pour over cake and allow to harden slightly.

Serves 12

* Cooks Note:
I used Farmer's Market Brand organic canned pumpkin from Whole Foods Market for most of the cakes I made. I did substitute a different brand for a couple cakes and notice that the pumpkin was much thicker and had a lot less moisture content and those cakes fell somewhat after cooling due to lack of liquid. If you notice that the pumpkin you are using is really firm and the mixture of pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla is thick like a batter itself, add more buttermilk to make the consistency more like a thin milkshake that pours easily.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Moment of Silence for Gourmet Magazine

I am in shock over the closing of one of my favorite food publications. I somehow missed the announcement in all my rushing around the last couple weeks and just heard the news today. After 60 years, Gourmet will be no more once the November 2009 issue is released. Such a tremendous loss for the "Foodie" community. I always looked to Gourmet for the outstanding writing and photography. There was something timeless and inspiring about flipping through the pages each month. Gourmet will be sorely missed by this foodie — no doubt about it.

When Life Gives You Tomatoes...

... make Tomato Focaccia!

Wow, what a fun but exhausting weekend! Thursday and Friday I baked 5 Pumpkin cakes and 10 pans of fresh tomato focaccia for an event at Tierra Miguel farm. Unfortunately my oven malfunctioned on Friday just as I was getting ready to bake and I had to relocate to my friend's kitchen. Somehow, I managed to get it all done and make it to the event. Both items came out beautifully and were a big hit!

My focaccia dough is a simple and versatile dough. In addition to focaccia, you can it for pizza, stuff small pieces of it with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes or pesto and fried it in olive oil or even make it into loaves. The generous amount of olive oil gives it a wonderful flavor.

Fresh Tomato-Olive Oil Focaccia
1 1/3 cups luke warm water
1 (1/4 oz) package dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus extra for the pan and for topping
4–4 1/4 cups all purpose or bread flour
1 tablespoon sea salt plus extra for topping
2–3 fresh, ripe tomatoes, sliced and seeded

In a large bowl, whisk together water, yeast and sugar. Allow to proof (3-5 minutes). Add oil and mix well. Add 1 cup of the flour and the salt and mix until smooth. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead, adding as little flour as necessary, until it comes together and is satiny and elastic (bout 5 minutes). The dough should be moist, but not sticky or wet. It should not stick to a clean finger.

Place the dough in a large, clean, unoiled bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Let rise in a warm non-drafty place until doubles in size (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch down. Rub a thin coat of olive oil onto a rectangular baking sheet and stretch the dough out onto the sheet. Make dimples in the dough with your fingers and rub top with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Cover the top with sliced tomatoes and sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Bake in a 375º oven for about 30-35 minutes.

Unfortunately in all the madness, I didn't get any pictures of the finished focaccia. You'll have to give it a try and see for yourself. Pumpkin cake recipe (and more) to come, so stay tuned.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Strawberrry-White Chocolate Mousse Cake

My friend Skylar and I baked a fabulous cake last Sunday based on a recipe in her favorite cookbook that is all about chocolate. Skylar is quite the little baker for a 6th grader — she has lots of talent in the kitchen and is a ton of fun to cook and bake with.

I tweaked the recipe a little as we went, so this is our own version. White chocolate can be temperamental to work with, so be cautious when melting it and combining it with other ingredients. Buying high-quality chocolate is important. Once white chocolate begins to separate (solids and milk fat pull apart and it looks curdled), it can be next to impossible to smooth it back out. This happened to us when we were making the filling, but we were able to smooth it out with a touch more cream. It wasn't perfect in appearance, but once the cake was assembled, it was hardly noticeable and the taste was still fantastic.

4 ounces white chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

9 ounces white chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons strawberry preserves
2 pints fresh strawberries, sliced

2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup strawberry preserves
1/2 pint strawberries, some sliced, some whole for decoration

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and flour two 9-inch layer cake pans. Melt chocolate and cream in a double boiler over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in milk and vanilla and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and creamy — about 3 to 5 minutes — making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as you mix. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Alternately, add flour and melted chocolate to the egg mixture in batches until blended. Pour mixture evenly into pans.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Make the mousse filling. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate and cream until smooth. stir in strawberry preserves. Transfer to a bowl and allow to chill until just set. Whip with an electric mixer just until fluffy and strong enough to spread.

Assemble the cake. Spread half of mousse filling on each cake. On one of the cakes, generously layer sliced strawberries. Invert other cake on top of the one with the strawberries so that layers consist of cake, mousse, strawberries, mousse, cake.

Make icing. With an electric mixer, whip together cream, vanilla and preserves until firm peaks are formed. Spread icing evenly over cake. Used excess icing to decorate. You can use pastry bag, or simply add dollops of icing with a spoon and top them with sliced strawberries. Decorate cake with remaining strawberries as you desire.


Serves 10

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes

Last week, I found myself with an abundance of tomatoes again. Friday, I had to make a decision on what I was going to do with them, so I decided to can them with garlic and fresh basil. I was juggling work and canning all afternoon. Thank goodness my office is strategically placed near the kitchen just for such occasions.

This was a super-simple preparation. Blanche, peel and chop the tomatoes. In a large stock pot, add enough olive oil and sliced garlic to coat the bottom of the pot. In total, I used about 2 heads of garlic, some sliced, some grated to a paste and reserved for later.

Sautée garlic until just golden and add tomatoes and garlic paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Season with salt to taste and add several handfuls of fresh basil in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Stay tuned for Gumbo and White Chocolate-Strawberry Mousse Cake recipes from my weekend cooking and baking adventures!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Southern-Style Sunday

My friend Trenton and I have been trying to plan a cooking day for weeks and finally made it a reality yesterday. Our theme — a tribute to southern comfort food. The menu — crispy fried chicken, mac and cheese (Trenton is a master mac-n-cheese maker), fried green tomatoes, stewed tomatoes and okra, fried okra, a little country pan gravy for fun and mint juleps as liquid refreshment.

We started the day at the farmer's market, followed by a stop at Whole Foods Market and went from there. Trenton's mac and cheese incorporated a home made cheese sauce of Uniekaas Reserve Gouda, Swiss Emmenthaler and Fiscalini Cheddar. We asked the cheese guy at Whole Foods for a recommendation on a nice medium cheddar and he hit a home run with is suggestion on the Fiscalini — slightly sharp, a little nutty, creamy and well balanced — perfect to balance out our list of cheeses. Trenton slowly and carefully prepared the cheese sauce. We par-cooked Orecchiette in well-salted water and mixed it into the sauce. The mixture was then layered in a baking dish, topped with more cheese and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs, and dotted with a touch of butter once the breadcrumbs started to brown.

My fried chicken was simply seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, cayenne, paprika and a little thyme and chilled until time to fry. Just before frying in canola oil, I tossed the cold chicken in all-purpose flour. The okra and green tomatoes were both breaded in a mixture of half corn meal, half flour and seasoned the same as my fried green tomato recipe from an earlier post. We fried the tomatoes in canola oil in an iron skillet, and deep fried the okra in the same oil as the chicken once it was finished. I threw in a few cloves of garlic with the okra as it was frying and it was a nice little treat — almost like instantly roasted garlic, really tasty with the okra.

The idea for the stewed tomatoes and okra came from a vintage cookbook I picked up recently that chronicles US regional food circa 1947. The dish was really light and simple and complemented the rest of the rich plate very well.


Okra and
adapted from The United States Regional Cookbook, ©1947
2 cups sliced okra
2 cups sliced tomato

3 tablespoons butter (can substitute olive oil or half butter and half olive oil)

1 small onion, finely chopped

salt and pepper

Sautée onion in butter until onion begins to soften. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer for about an hour.

What an amazing Sunday dinner we had! Steve joined us and we sat on the porch and ate by lantern light. The only question is what will our next theme be and when?

Mint Juleps! Made with Homemade Mint Simple Syrup

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


With several flats of green tomatoes lined up for Pepe Salati — in the southern California heat no less — it was inevitable that I would end up with a good size bowl of tomatoes too ripe too make the cut. So I made the most of this by letting them ripen on my porch and making salsa! Steve's dad makes amazing salsa every year, so I called him up for some pointers and got to work in the kitchen.

I sautéed some medium-hot yellow chili peppers, mild Anaheims and hot jalapeños with onion and garlic. While that was cooking, I blanched and peeled the tomatoes, adding them to the pot once the peppers and onions softened. For seasoning, I used salt and pepper, fresh cilantro and lime juice and zest. I ended up with 6 pints and 10 half pints canned, plus a pint or so for immediate consumption.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pepe Salati, part 2

The pepe salati are coming along nicely. Tomorrow I will begin the second stage of the process — the brine. The peppers and tomatoes have been pressing for 12 days now and have all but stopped producing water. I will let them press for one more day and then begin the 4 week process of brining them in a mixture of water, canning salt and white vinegar.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fried Green Tomatoes

While I had so many beautiful green tomatoes in the house for the Pepe Salati, I couldn't resist making some classic southern fried green tomatoes! I made them 2 times and my second batch was the best. Here is my recipe. The dash of cayenne gives them a nice little kick.

4 firm green tomatoes
sea salt
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
4 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
a dash of cayenne pepper
3 eggs
1 tablespoon water
canola oil for frying
flaky sea salt

Slice tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices, discarding top and bottom ends of the tomatoes. Salt the slices and place in a colander to draw liquid to the surface.

Combine flour, cornmeal, pepper, garlic and cayenne in a large bowl. Beat eggs and water in another bowl. Once tomatoes start to weep, dredge them in the dry mixture, then the egg and again in the dry.

Heat oil in an iron skillet to medium-high heat. Fry slices 4 or 5 at a time, without overcrowding the pan, and drain on paper towels.

Top with flaky sea salt (I use Maldon) and serve.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pepe Salati, part 1

Autumn back home in the Northeast. I remember well the first day you could feel it in the air each year. A bittersweet moment as summer fades and fall takes the helm. There is a coolness in the air, a certain smell and a feeling that makes me want to bake and cook cozy dishes and big pots of soup.

A big rite of fall in my family was the preserving of the last of the hot peppers and the green tomatoes from the garden — Pepe Salati (pronounced pee-pee sa-li-ah-ti by my family). Directly translated, it means simply salted peppers.

The process of making Pepe Salati was lovingly passed down from my grandfather to me the year before he got sick. Pappaw was 89 and I was 26. I can still here him telling me how to prepare everything for the 5–6 week process. I'll never forget his voice and his smile. I was very close to him from the time I was an infant and keeping this tradition alive keeps him close in my heart and thoughts every fall.

Now I live in southern California, so that first glimpse of fall is far more subtle, yet there is still something in the air when the summer begins to fade and fall is upon us. This will be the second time I will make Pepe Salati here in San Diego and I am very excited!

The process is quite long and involved. First you have to gather a large supply of green tomatoes and hot peppers. Thanks to my friend Jonathan for hooking me up with the tomatoes! He and I hand picked organic green tomatoes last Thursday in north county. Back east, we always used medium to hot Hungarian Wax peppers, but I can't seem to find them here. I use a yellow chili peppers that are also medium to hot. They work nicely.

The next step is to prepare the crock and the weight and board. All were handed down to by Pappaw. The details of the process is best observed first hand, but the basic idea is to layer whole garlic cloves, thick sliced tomatoes, broad sliced peppers, a good amount of canning salt and a combination of fresh fennel fronds and stems (supplementing with dried fennel seed as necessary). Repeat until the crock is full, then place the wooden board wrapped in cloth and the heavy weight on top. Let it set a day or 2, poor off the water that is released and add more layers if you have more peppers and tomatoes. Once you have added all you are going to add, let stand with the weight and board in place and check daily, pouring off the excess water. Once the crock is not making water any longer, it is time to start to brine. The brine consists of water, canning salt and white vinegar. It is changed weekly along with the cloth that covers the board for the next 4 weeks until the peppers are ready. Once they are ready, the garlic and fennel stems are discarded. Some are stored in brine or plain water in the refrigerator and some are drained and dressed with olive oil and fresh garlic — ready to enjoy!
John Petosa and Pappaw wiping peppers for Pepe Salati

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Travel Photos

In addition to all things cooking and food related, I love, love, love to travel and take pictures (yes quite often including pictures of food). I just ran across a few of great slide shows on Budget Travel's blog that I wanted to share. These are all reader submitted shots.




National Parks:

Once I get my website up and running, I will have a section for my own best-of-the-best travel shots. Steve and I have both taken a lot of great shots over the years... From Napa to NYCv to Paris and Cinque Terre, Italy. I look forward to sharing those soon.


Madnening Schedules, Taking Time & Eating Well

Ok, so it is true... I spend so much time focusing on everything and everybody else in my life that I often forget to take time to do the things that I need to do and want to do for myself. There is no doubt that my life has been a bit crazy the last few month/years, but it is no excuse. I have to make time for those things I need to do, a big one of which is writing and building this blog. Yes, I know I have said it before, but this time I am serious.

Today's thoughts are on busy schedules and trying to eat well. The last few weeks have been really hectic with my work. This weekend it was just me and my trusty canine companion Allie and I finally took a few days to really relax. No work, just beach time, a little cooking, reading, game night with some friends, old movies and and topped off with Labor Day at the SD zoo with some other friends.

We are finally coming off of a heat wave here in San Diego — thank goodness! Last weekend my aunt and uncle came to visit from Houston. They had hopes of escaping the heat, but found it to be almost as hot here, made worse by the fact that we have no A/C (since the other 50 weeks of the year don't require it). Needless to say I haven't been in the kitchen a lot lately.

One of my highlights in the kitchen this weekend was a salad I made on Saturday. I pounded out a chicken breast and marinated it in and orange and muscat grape flavored champagne vinegar, dijon mustard, lime juice, fresh thyme and olive oil. (I reserved about 2 tablespoons of the marinade for my salad dressing before it went on the chicken). The chicken was grilled and thinly sliced it after it came off the heat and rested. While the chicken rested prepared a base of spring mix and arugula, tossed it with the reserved dressing, some crumbled goat cheese, about 4 fresh figs, sliced, a couple of small tomato slices and a handful of toasted walnuts. The flavor combination was outstanding!

More structured writing and recipes to come...

Bon appetit!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Bunless Wonder Burger

Earlier in the summer, I was craving a burger, but didn't have any buns or bread around. I decided I really didn't need the bread anyway, and I came up with this 1/2 lb burger—a meal in itself. The sesame seeds at the end give it a special touch. You'll never miss the bun!

1/2 lb Grass-Fed Ground Beef
2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt
15–20 cracks of fresh ground pepper
Crumbled blue cheese
2 strips bacon
1 slice mozzarella, asiago, cheddar or other cheese of your choice
1 tablespoon Thousand Island dressing
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Combine first four ingredients and patty into a nice big burger. Spray with olive oil or canola oil spray and grill to your liking. With nice grass-fed beef, I like a nice true medium.

In the last 2 minutes of cooking, top the burger with the blue cheese crumbles and bacon and seal them on with the sliced cheese. Allow to melt and remove from the grill.

Drizzle with the Thousand Island and top with sesame seeds. Bon Appetito!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Aunt Rosie's Kitchen

Aunt Rosie, Me, Steve and Aunt Mary in Aunt Rosie's Kitchen

One of the "happy places" in my life has always been my great aunt Rosie's kitchen—the pictures of children, grand children and great grand children on the fridge, the warmth of the wooden cabinets and chairs, the white and gold coffee mugs, and most of all her loving spirit and positive energy. When you're there, the rest of the world seems far away and worries over everyday life are left behind. I think of her all the time, especially when I am cooking and baking. I never miss a visit with her when I am back in WV. There is something peaceful and magical about sitting with her and having coffee—and always some snacks—in her little kitchen on Hunsaker Street. Aunt Rose is my grandfather's sister. I have always cherished her and admired her for being a strong woman and an amazing cook. I get a lot of my culinary inspiration from her and from my grandfather. I believe I get a lot of my spunk and strength from them as well. Since my grandpa passed in 2001, Aunt Rosie has been my link to the family food traditions. I love talking to her and working my way through her specialties—recipes that are not completely achieved by reading a hand written list of ingredients. These are family traditions that might be lost—or at the least changed completely—if not passed down directly by word of mouth from generation to generation.

Today I have her in my thoughts and prayers even more than ever. She is in a hospital fighting life threatening blood clots. As I prepare dinner tonight, she will be close in my heart. My mind will be in that happy place, praying for a speedy recovery with much love and admiration for a woman who is a pillar of my family.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Wow — I can't believe it is already mid-July! Time goes so fast. A few of my favorite food endeavors so far are:

Grilled Shrimp Wrapped in Prosciutto Skewered with Rosemary
Homemade Rustic Olive Oil Foccacia
Kicked-Up Pimento Cheese Spread
Bunless-Wonder Grilled Burgers
Grilled Corn with Lime and BBQ Dry Rub (An old stand-by from last summer)
Daryl's Napa Burgers with Pesto Mayo
My Homemade Pesto
Grilled Chicken and Chicken Sausage Salads
Chocolate Ganache Cake (Made for my Dad's Birthday)
Spicy Beef & Pork Burgers

As is all too often the case, my busy schedule and somewhat upside down life leave me little time for my writing. I hope to start remedying that and making time to blog about these and other food adventures on a weekly basis. Stay tuned for more food chat from Stephanie's Kitchen. In the meantime, Cheers to good food, good wine and good friends!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Buttery Seawater

On Saturday night, Steve and I finally tried Sea rocket Bistro in North Park. Sea Rocket is a farm-to-table restaurant, so everything they feature is locally sourced — my kind of place for sure! We had a great meal — I had the fresh catch pan-seared local yellow tail and Steve had the pork chop, also locally raised. We both had the sautéed greens and smoky mashed potaotes. The addition of a touch of liquid smoke gave the fresh, creamy potatoes a subtle smoky flavor – outstanding! *Mental note to try that at home sometime.

One of the highlights of our evening was one of our appetizers — Fresh Sea Urchin (Uni) from Point Loma. Neither of us had ever tried Sea Urchin before, but were very curious about it. Our waiter described the taste as buttery seawater and told us it would be served in it's shell, spiny exterior still moving a bit because it is so fresh. Our curiosity grew as we awaited the dish.

Much to our delight, it was very light and buttery, just as he had described. Add a new intriguing shellfish to my list of unique foods in the thumbs up column. I'll definitely seek it out again!

Friday, May 15, 2009


Wow! Time has really slipped away from me. I can't believe it has been over a month since I last wrote. April and the beginning of May have been quite hectic for me — I have been busy working and designing and dealing with administrative issues for my business.

Busy days often leaving me with little time for lunch. Having a home office helps, but I usually don't have time to prepare much. I do enjoy these two versions of Tuna Salad that I can whip up in a flash with the right staples on hand.

So Cal Tuna

1 can solid white albacore tuna
1 tablespoon good extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of a medium or 1 small avocado, diced large
2–3 small vine tomatoes, cut into bite size wedges or
about 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved

Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of granulated garlic or garlic salt

Rinse tuna and drain thoroughly in paper towels, squeezing out excess water. Place dry tuna in a medium size bowl, add olive oil and gently break apart with a fork. Add avocado, tomato, salt, pepper and garlic and stir. Let stand for a few minutes and enjoy.

Tuna Caprese

1 can solid white albacore tuna
1 tablespoon good extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of a medium ball of fresh mozzarella
2–3 small vine tomatoes, cut into bite size wedges or
about 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved

4 large basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse tuna and drain thoroughly in paper towels, squeezing out excess water. Place dry tuna in a medium size bowl, add olive oil and gently break apart with a fork. Add mozzarella, tomato, salt and pepper and stir. Let stand for a few minutes and enjoy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Mootz

Steve and I made countless trips to Tony's, Luca Brassi's and Fiori's for fresh "Mootz" when we lived in Hoboken, NJ. Really good, made-fresh-every-day mozzarella was available in delis and markets all over Hoboken. We were spoiled by this (among other culinary delights like AMAZING bakeries) to say the least. After we moved away, I always wanted to try making "Mootz" at home, but assumed it was complicated to do and never really looked into it. A few weeks ago, the cheesemaking bug got ahold of me and started invertigating my options. I was thrilled to find The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company online (www.cheesemaking.com). Upon discovery of their Mozzarella & Ricotta Kit, I placed and order and began anxiously awaiting the package in the mail like a child awaiting Santa Claus.

The package arrived and I was fast out the door to the market for a gallon of whole milk. Within the next 2 hours, we were enjoying our very own fresh "Mootz." . I could hardly believe the results — It was tender and buttery and delicious! The process was really very simple and I'm sure will be even quicker when I try it again. Hmmm... maybe this weekend!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A couple weeks ago I was talking to my friend, and fellow food and wine enthusiast, Maria, about her trip to a cooking school in southern Italy. I asked her about her favorite dishes that she cooked while at the school, and one her responses brought on a burst of beautiful memory from my childhood — something I hadn't thought of in years! She simply said, "Tiella!" Tiella is a layerd potato and zucchini dish my grandmother (whom I very lovingly will refer to as Nunni) used to make. Although I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my grandparents and I cook a lot of our family's traditional food, I had never made the Tiella. After talking to Maria about the version she made, I was instantly yearning to make Nunni's Tiella!!

My Italian roots are in southern Italy — Calabria to be exact. My great-grandparents came here around the turn of the century. Both of my Italian grandparents were born in the US and through the years kept many of the southern Italian traditions. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the translation of our food heritage from Italy to the US. One thing that I have observed is that seafood was abundant and available to my ancestors in Calabria, but was a luxury to my family once they settled in northern West Virginia. As I trace recipes and traditions back to the old country, I find that my family often replaced shellfish and other seafood with beef and pork because of availability and affordability. The seafood traditions that did hold strong were things like white fish, smelts and baccalà (salt cod). It is very interesting to see how "eating local" was something my ancestors did without thought — it was a way of life. They grew their own vegetables and the meat and dairy they ate was all locally raised. It's something we have to work harder to accomplish these days, but so vital to ourselves and our planet.

But enough about that for now, back to the Tiella! The day after I talked to Maria, I called my mother for help remembering how Nunni used to make the dish. I was thinking about the substitution of beef and pork for seafood because while the Tiella that Maria described contains mussels, Nunni's version contained either ground beef, pork roast or pork chops (depending on what she had on hand). I made my own version on Sunday and it was fantastic. I haven't gone back to formally recipe test and record proportions yet, but I can share my procedure. This is how I learned to cook from my Nunni — "by feel" and "by taste", the old country way.

I started by thinly slicing some Yukon gold potatoes and zucchini. I used about 6–8 small zucchini and the same amount of small to medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes. I arranged a layer of overlapping potato slices, then a layer of overlapping zucchini slices in the bottom of a 3 1/2 quart Le Creuset Dutch Oven. I sprinkled a few tablespoons of grated Romano cheese over the zucchini.

I chose to use pork as my meat. I had part of a shredded Boston Butt Roast that I had braised in tomato sauce a few weeks ago in the freezer, so I thawed that and spread a layer of the meat and sauce (about 2 inches deep) across the top of the zucchini, reserving about a cup of the sauce (no meat) for finishing the dish. Next, I alternated layers as follows:
zucchini topped with a pinch of salt and pepper,
potatoes topped with a pinch of salt and pepper,
a tablespoon of grated Romano,
about a quarter cup of shredded asiago cheese;
Repeat until all the potato and zucchini slices are used making sure the last layer is potatoes.

I sprinkled about a tablespoon of Romano over the top layer of potatoes and then poured the reserved cup of tomato sauce over the dish. Finally I baked it uncovered at 375º for about 1 1/2 hours and served it with spaghetti and Romano cheese.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Simple and Delicious!

I've been super busy lately, but still wanting to cook and eat well, so I have been revisiting a lot of my tried and true quick and simple faves. Here are a few of them:

Sweet Potatoes with Lime & Cilantro

I got the idea for this from one of Alice Waters' books (Vegetables) but changed it up a bit to make it my own...

Preheat oven to 350º. Take a whole sweet potato or yam and clean it thoroughly, trimming the ends as necessary. Pat dry and then rub with a small amount of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Wrap in foil and place on a coolie sheet in the oven. Bake until tender, about an hour. Split open the skin and season with lime juice, a touch of olive oil and fresh cilantro.

This is a combination you might not think to try, but it is amazing!

Fennel Salad

Quick, fresh and easy! This salad is great with grilled meat or fish for a quick, satisfying dish.

Clean and thinly slice a fennel bulb, discarding the tops, but reserving about a tablespoon of the fine fronds. Drizzle with good olive oil and the juice of a quarter to half a lemon (depending on your taste) and the reserved fronds. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Roasted Beets

Try this while beets are still in season.

Preheat oven to 400º. Clean beets thoroughly and remove tops. Place them in a baking dish with enough water to coat the dish. Cover very tightly with foil and bake for until tender, about 1 hour or until a knife can easily pierce the beets. Uncover adn allow to cool before removing skins. Then slice and toss with champagne or white wine vinegar and allow to sit for about a half hour before serving. This allows the beets to absorb the vinegar and the flavors to intensify.

Delicious on a salad with goat cheese! I have a recipe for warm goat cheese salad from Ina Garten where goat cheese medallions are coated in bread crumbs and pan fried to perfection. I'll have to share my take on that in another post. I add duck confit and beets and it is a fantastic taste combination!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rustic Italian Potato and Sausage Soup

Perfect to warm you on a cold winter night!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small–medium sweet onion, chopped
4–5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 lb Italian pork or chicken sausage, removed from casings
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 bunch organic kale; washed, stems removed and roughly chopped
2 quarts chicken stock
6 Yukon Gold potatoes or 2 large Russets, cut into bite-size pieces
salt and pepper to taste
Crème fraîche* for serving
grated romano cheese for serving

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until garlic is golden (not browned). Add sausage and sauté until brown. Add rosemary, parsley and kale. Let kale begin to warm and wilt, stirring frequently. Once the Kale begins to wilt, add chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Add potatoes to soup and return to boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a spoon of crème fraîche and some grated romano cheese.

* If crème fraîche is not available in your area, you can add a touch of cream just before serving.

Bon Appetito!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Thanksgiving Pumpkin Appetizer

I love to cook Thanksgiving dinner, especially when there are lots of family and friends around. This year was no exception. Steve's parents were visiting from WV and we had 8 other friends joining us. I like to blend traditional fare with new ideas. This year's highlight in the "new" category was an pumpkin "fondue" appetizer — a huge hit with the whole crowd.

I cleaned and dried a baking pumpkin, saving the seeds to roast later. Next I layered the pumpkin with slices of baguette and a mixture of Emmenthaler, Gruyere, cream and chicken stock seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg. I roasted the pumpkin in the over for an hour or so (until the flesh of the pumpkin was soft. We served it with slices of seeded baguette, making sure everyone scooped into the "fondue" mixture along with the pumpkin.

Out of this world... I can't wait to try it again!

Oh, and those seeds... After they dried, I combined with the ones I had dried at Halloween and roasted them in the oven with a blend of Salt, pepper, lime, Cholula hot sauce and a dash of cayenne. Spicy, salty, crunchy goodness!

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Years Resolution

It's hard to believe the holidays have come and gone! I hope everyone had safe and Merry Christmas and wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year!

I had a great time cooking and entertaining over the last couple of months. Lots of food adventures to write about and I've made writing on a regular basis part of my resolution for 2009. Stay tuned for more of my thoughts, recipes and adventures in the culinary world. Family recipes and new ideas from the holidays are coming soon starting with a new posting by the end of the week!

Peace, Love and Good Food!