Here’s an original, super easy & delicious salad recipe I made for a quick week night dinner.

Duck Confit Salad

  • 2 Seasoned Duck Legs
  • 3 oz Goat Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Blueberries, Bosenberries or other small berries
  • 2 cups Mixed Spring Lettuce
  • 1/4 cup sliced Green Onions
  • 2 tbl Balsamic Vinagarette
Costco and Whole Foods both carry already cooked duck legs.  All you have to do is cook them for 15 minutes at 400°F to crisp up the skin.  Once they are cooled, they fall off the bone; chop/shred the meat and discard the bones.  While the duck legs are cooking, toss two cups of mixed greens into a large salad bowl.  If you are using frozen berries, defrost them. (I always have bags of organic mixed berries in my freezer for smoothies, I just picked out the strawberries for this recipe.)  Toss the balsamic vinagarette, lettuce and sliced green onions.  Add pieces of goat cheese and the berries.  Mix well.  Place on individual plates and top with duck. Serve with crackers and goat cheese mixed with honey.

I served a lovely zippy Bonterra Rosé (a dry Sangiovese, Zinfandel & Grenache blend).  Rosés or light reds (like a Grenache or certain Pinot Noirs) will work well: just be aware that a light red wine with medium acidity pairs well because it honors the tangy goat cheese while earthy red fruit compliments the fat bird.


Read Full Post »

Soup base

I loved my Mom’s hearty stews, probably because I remember her happily pouring Burgundy into them (and probably enjoying a glass herself). Until I took this Kitchen On Fire class, I had no idea how to make a great stew or pot roast. Chef Olive introduced stewing, braising and steaming by evoking his childhood in France.  His mom would often make a stew, or braise an inexpensive piece of meat because people dropped in all the time and she wanted to have plenty of food to share.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Chef Olive says, “there is no real difference between stew and soup. If you mess up stew, you cross it out and write soup.”
  • The great thing about an oven as opposed to a stove is it cooks food gently. When you want 145°F internal temperature, you heat the air in the oven to 400°F and cook it slowly. Compare this to a 400° griddle–if you put your arm in the oven, the air will not burn it, touch a 400° griddle, ouch!
  • Quick braised baby carrots (very French): high heat on stove, water covers carrots, cook until the water is gone, add fat (butter) and you’re done.
  • Braising means using some liquid to cook your protein or veggie, steaming means adding a lid.
  • Techniques interconnect – searing (browning) the meat adds flavor so that when you put the meat in the pot to braise, flavor is added to your liquid.
  • Don’t be afraid of “losing nutrients”, the longer you cook proteins and veggies, the more flavor.
  • Why are stews great? Cheap cut of meat and one pot.
  • When you dry out meat in high heat and then add liquid, the meat rehydrates itself–that’s how you get a beautiful stew.
  • Making fish soup/stew is tricky because fish does not have much flavor.  Instead make a veggie soup and then add the fish the last 5 minutes.
  • Any recipe that calls for stock–you can substitute wine. (Love the French!)
  • Mini bok choy is chock full of nutrients, just brown it in a little oil, deglaze the pan with liquid (wine, stock), cook the little guys until tender and remove.  Add any flavors, salt/pepper/herbs to liquid and serve it over the veggies.
  • If you use flour to thicken your stew, add it 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve.  If you wait until the last minute, the flour flavor will be too strong.

Extra Credit

  • Chef and I both use these granular broth products (pictured).  Who has time to make broth? These keep well in the fridge, are all natural and have wonderful flavor. I mix and match my broths by adding a little lobster to beef or veggie to the chicken broth.

Read about Classes 4, 3, 2, 1.

Read Full Post »

California Clover

Good Luck California Clover

With all the bad weather in California this year, lettuce prices are through the roof, so I bought some cabbage yesterday.

Raw cabbage has a plastic texture even though it’s good for you.  Boiling or steaming cabbage does nothing for the flavor in my opinion.  So I decided to roast it. Bingo! This is truly fantastic and can be eaten by itself or mixed with a variety of recipes.

Basic Roasted Cabbage Recipe

  1. Pre-heat the toaster oven or oven (depending on how much you are making) to 400º.
  2. Julienne the cabbage like you are making coleslaw.
  3. Place cabbage on foil-lined baking sheet.
  4. Add salt for flavor enhancement.
  5. Drizzle with olive oil.
  6. Roast cabbage in oven for about 10 minutes.  Watch it closely. Julienned veggies roast quickly.

Serve as a side dish, under your corned beef or in this Brussel Sprouts & Bacon Salad Recipe (substitute for lettuce).

Read Full Post »

Zippy Homemade Ginger Ale

Ginger Ale

All You Need for Great Ginger Ale

I’m experimenting with making healthy, flavorful beverages with no or low calories and very little sugar.  My first foray into the wonderful world of beverages.

Ginger Ale

You can make a little batch, taste it and then adjust the ingredients to your liking.

  • Peeled, diced fresh ginger
  • Water
  • Simple Syrup (1 cup Splenda & 1 cup water)
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Club soda

Peel & dice a large piece of ginger (about one cup), place in saucepan with 2 cups water.  Bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes.  Take it off the heat and let it seep uncovered for 20 minutes.

To make simple syrup, gently heat 1 cup water in sauce pan and dissolve 1 cup sugar in it.  (I use Splenda for zero calories.)

Using a mesh strainer, pour the ginger liquid into a 1/2 gallon pitcher. Discard ginger pieces.  Add 1/2 cup simple syrup to pitcher.  Add a squeeze of lime juice (about 2 tsp) and 2 cups of Club soda.

Taste the beverage. It will be quite zesty.  Carefully add sugar, lime or soda and continue tasting until you like the combination.

From the base (above), my preference is 4 cups soda (for a total of 6) and 1/2 lime.

Read Full Post »

My Perfect Pot Stickers

My Perfect Pot Stickers

After 12+ hours of cooking classes and lots of practice in between, my confidence is growing. So far I’ve learned knife skills, saute, stocks, poaching, braising, searing, frying, confit, steaming and stewing.  Next I learn sauces, roasting, broiling, grilling, breads, batters, pasta, starches and grains.  The cool thing is that with practice between classes, it all starts to come together.  Using the right knife properly is now becoming second nature, I’m much improved with mis en plas and I’m  tackling new techniques and harder recipes.  Ask me at what temperature food begins to cook and it will roll off my tongue (212°F).  I’m learning the logical reason behind each step of the cooking process and by thinking while I cook, I’m becoming a better home chef and it’s a lot of fun.

Here’s some tips from Class 4 – Searing, Frying & Confit

  • Making good fried food is harder then I thought.  You must have consistently correct temperature, the right style and size pan (stove top vs electric fryer), correct oil level (almost half way covering your food) and dry food because if it is wet, the water jumps out of the pan and pushes the oil away causing the food to dry out and then rehydrate by soaking up oil.
  • If you hear the fat sizzle in your frying pan (without smoke) it’s ready for the food (about 220°F).
  • Why fry foods at all? If it’s done right, it doesn’t taste oily and it can still be very healthy (think Spring Rolls).
  • Use a fine mesh fry pan cover to keep oil from splattering–you aren’t going to cover a fry pan and walk away.
  • Frying small items use the stove top, big things use an electric fryer to keep the temperature consistent.
  • When you bread something, the moisture is trapped inside steaming the food thus it is moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. The trick is have very dry breading (like Panko) and keep the temperature perfect so that the food has time to cook inside while the outside browns. (It took me several tries to not fail at this–breaded raw fish anyone?)
  • Why does my frying pan look dirty when it’s not? That’s oil melted into the metal pot.  If you don’t like the look, use cast iron.
  • Flavor your french fries immediately after taking them out of the pan, otherwise the salt just bounces off the cold fries.
  • Use a mandolin to make nicely cut vegetables, not a food processor.
  • When picking an oil, match it to your dish flavor (i.e., peanut oil for Asian food) and cost (why use expensive olive oil when you can use veggie oil?).
  • Chef says “smoke point” is irrelevant which makes sense; you don’t want your oil to smoke. When smoke happens, turn it off and wait for it to cool down and don’t reuse this oil, it is ruined.
  • You absolutely need a temperature gauge to fry successfully on a stove top and a mesh spoon is handy too.

Merci Chef Oliver & Kitchen on Fire!

Read Full Post »

Cooking Class 3 – Lift Off!

Kitchen On Fire Cooking School

I’m happy to report that last week’s mashup was followed by a fun, calm, successful class.  I relaxed and followed Chef around, listening to his advice, asking him questions, tasting and chatting with other students as they made their dishes. Love Chef Olive’s French sensibilities. What a bonus to have a French Chef instructor!

Here’s that I learned about stock:

  • Choosing what goes into a stock is all about how you’re going to use the stock. Stock is just flavoring. What flavors do you want to impart to your dish?
  • Why do you use veggies like carrots, celery & onions? Because they are dense and won’t fall apart resulting in a clear broth in the end.
  • Heat is important. High heat until is just starts to smoke (pre-boil stage) then turn it down to medium-low. Do not boil stock. You don’t want to break the veggies down, you want to slowly extract the flavors.
  • Don’t put salt in your broth.  Remember you are using it in a recipe, you will be adding salt to the recipe.
  • Leave the lid off, on such a low temperature, you won’t lose much to evaporation.
  • When making beef stock use smaller bones with lots of tendons, marrow and collagen and you’ll have lots of rich nutrients.
  • Bay leaves are basic to flavor. Don’t chop it but do tear it in half. Fresh or dry leaf does not matter.
  • Chef’s cook their broth long and low. Often times the stock is made at the end of the night and the Chef turns it off in the morning.  Do not do this at home unless you want to risk a kitchen fire while you are sleeping.
  • The riper the veggies the better = more flavor.
  • Fish stock only takes 10 minutes. Use the whole fish leftovers including the eyes. Remember the lesson about density? Little bones don’t take much time to breakdown.
  • If you want to cool down stock, it will take forever if you put a big pot in the refrigerator, so put it in smaller containers, or leave it near a window with the lid off until it’s cooled down a bit.
  • Use a very fine mesh strainer to remove veggies.
  • Remove fat in meat broths using a ladle.  You can save the fat for your recipe if you want.

Here’s that I learned about soup:

  • To thicken clear soups, you don’t have to use corn starch or flour: try mashed Garbanzo beans, wet blended bread, cooked puréed rice, or nuts.
  • Soups will last about 3 months in the freezer.
  • An Immersion Blender is a great tool for pureeing warm soup; avoids putting something hot into your blender.
  • If you do use a blender, don’t use a lid, it keeps the heat in. Instead cover with a wet towel to release steam.
  • Instead of adding flour or cornstarch to small amounts of liquids and adding it to your soup, thicken it with Roux. Lightly melt some butter and quickly stir in flour to create a paste.  Cook on medium until the flour has broken down.  This avoids the raw flour flavor.
  • Don’t forget to salt your soup as you go so the flavors are enhanced.  If you salt only at the end, you get salty soup.
  • Why should you rinse rice several times before putting it in soup? The cloudy starch leaches into the water, strain it and let it dry a little and it won’t make your soup cloudy.
  • Tomatoes come in one shape in winter –canned. There is no flavor in tomatoes in winter, so buy organic canned tomatoes because they were canned during their summer peak.
  • When making Miso Soup, miso can be like glue, so you must use low, gentle heat and add it slowly a teaspoon at a time.
  • Turmeric is called “Saffron for the poor.”  It keeps for a long time and is cheaper.  Chef says the best Turmeric comes from Iran and Spain.
  • Don’t forget, when making soup, shred ingredients if you want to eat fast.
  • Different rice matters. Some, like Tamaki has nutrients and is still white. Don’t substitute brown rice in soup until you know it works.
  • Can’t cook a soup without fat. First, it will have no flavor. Second, you need it to absorb nutrients for your brain, hair and skin, etc.
  • And the answer to a pet peeve of mine…Never leave tomato paste in a can, the acid reacts with the iron and creates rust. Put it in glass and use your fingers to get rid of the air before refrigerating it.

Extra Credit:

  • Chef is not a big fan of poaching because you lose nutrients. In France, they poach in white wine and herbs, reduce the liquid and then make a sauce. Oh yeah!
  • See Day 2 & Day 1 of the series.

Read Full Post »

Cooking Class Chaos – Day 2

Cooking School

It all started out pretty well. Chef Olive, our entertaining French instructor, gave a 90-minute lecture and demo on sautéing, stir frying, nutrition, selecting proper pots, salt, mushrooms, heat, proteins, meat/oxygen/fiber, shaving Brussels sprouts, re-hydrating dried out food, how to make homemade popcorn, perfecting ratatouille, and flambé technique.  Whew!  I guess I should have known that the last half of the class would be equally fast-paced.  Our assignment? Make 7 recipes in 90 minutes.

Each row of students was thrown together into small groups; like baby birds being thrust out of the nest by the mama bird, the only way we knew how to proceed was to “wing it.” And we pretty much flew off a cliff.

We did know that the first thing to do was mis en plas, get everything into place. So all 20 students and 5 staff went running in all directions like chickens with their heads cut off grabbing bowls, spoons, condiments, eggs, herbs, etc. I don’t know how it was for the other groups, but we spent the first 5 minutes staring at our handouts wondering who should do what. So we just skipped that step and therefore never had everything in place because no one was assigned to get the cilantro, or the bowl, or the oil.

Our first recipe only had five ingredients.  5 people working with 5 ingredients sounds easy doesn’t it? Ever heard the phrase too many cooks in the kitchen?

And from there, it went downhill.

I threw in the towel after the shaved Brussels sprout fatless bacon disaster and started my own version of an Asparagus Mushroom & Leek Frittata. Having made a frittata from the Starving Students cookbook in college, I was somewhat familiar with the dish but needed coaching. No coaches were present so I gamely proceeded. When Chef showed up, I had already poured my eggs into a big, shallow sauté pan. I saw a flash of Gordon Ramsey in Chef Olive’s face before he barked, “that is NOT a frittata,that’s an omelet!”  At that point, I burst out laughing and wished I had brought wine.

What I learned:

  • The best non-stick pans are like Anolon, the non-sticky stuff is part of the pan, it will never burn off.
  • Chef Olive says oil burning in a pan is as bad for you as a non-stick pan, and neither is a big threat if you eat a healthy diet and take care of yourself.
  • If a pan has high sides, it is a frying pan, curved sides are sautépans.  It you can’t flip  food in it, it’s a frying pan.
  • You must blanche or pre-cook fat veggies like thick green beans or they will burn before the inside cooks.
  • Fresh veggies only need salt to taste good.
  • Chef Olive doesn’t think there is any reason to buy fancy salt.  I’ll have to do a blind taste test to see if he’s right.
  • Blanche/pre-cook veggies until they are ready to eat, the sauté part is really fast.
  • High water content veggies (like mushrooms) cook fast.
  • What I learned about meat was worth the price of the class but it’s too complicated to write here. In a nutshell, tender meats are from animals or parts of animals that don’t move much, like a chicken breast.
  • Marinade proteins so they aren’t so boring when you stir fry them.
  • Heat pan over high heat and add fat before sautéing.
  • See tips from knife class if you want everything to cook at the same time.

Bon Appetit!

Read Full Post »

How to Use a Knife

My 14-week KitchenonFire cooking school has begun! There are 20 students who self-identified as…”a disaster in the kitchen, a natural foods writer who doesn’t cook, a reckless cook, a mom, her son & daughter taking the class together, and a gal who’s family always went out when she grew up.”  I feel right at home!

My instructor, Chef Olive, a French chef who’s cooking family goes back to the 1750′s is vibrant, talkative and focused.  His goal is to get people cooking healthy meals at home. The first class positioned us for putting a good meal on the table fast; in order to do this we have to be organized and be able to chop/slice/dice all the ingredients to the correct size so that it all cooks evenly and is ready at the same time.

What you need to know before picking up a knife and starting the cooking process:

  • Get everything in place, called Mis en Place–all your ingredients, your pans, spoons, bowls, etc. (An ah-hah moment…I should select a few possible wine pairings before I start cooking. Then after I taste what I’ve cooked I can make the final selection.)
  • Have a bowl nearby to throw the discards without moving from your cutting board.
  • Get a food scrapper or use the back of the knife so as not to dull the blade.
  • Have a wet towel to clean your fingers.
  • Dried herbs should be less than 3 weeks old.
  • Feel your veggies to determine how fast they will cook. The heat has to get to the middle, a carrot is more dense than celery. If you want to make carrot soup fast, grate your carrots.
  • When fruit smells, it’s telling you, I’m ready to be eaten.
  • Fresh veggie’s shouldn’t smell.
  • Chilled onions cause less tears because the gas is denser thus not wafting up your nose so easily.
  • Make sure your oven thermostat actually works. (I have a hanging one in my retro oven because while the oven is huge, the internal thermostat is inaccurate and no longer made.)
  • When your cooking starts to smell yummy, it’s probably done.

Now that you’re ready…

  • Learn how to cut properly so you can cut fast thus saving lots of time; the cooking part is usually the least amount of work.
  • Make your holding hand like a claw and tuck your little thumb in. Imagine your knuckles are pushing the knife away and you’ll never get cut.
  • To buy a knife, you must feel it in your hand and ideally use it.
  • A filet knife (for de-boning fish) can bend almost 45°.
  • You need one favorite chef knife that fits you–it may be heavier or lighter than what works for someone else.
  • My old knife with the sharp blade that rusts was the créme de la créme of knives in my grandma’s day and is made of carbon.  The best knives today are a combination of stainless steel & carbon to insure durability and a sharp blade that you must hone, but not sharpen.
  • If you want a ceramic knife that is all the rage in some circles, be aware that when you drop it (which you will), it will chip and break. Ouch!
  • A cake knife and a bread knife look similar (serrated) but a cake knife is wider and longer.
  • When slicing something that rolls (like an apple or bell pepper), slice a piece from the bottom to make it stay in place first.
  • Why does minced garlic burn? You’ve cut it too small or put it in the pan too soon.
  • Pull parsley leaves from the stems with the back of your knife.
  • Shave and saw herbs, don’t crush them.  They should be dry when you are done, not blown-up bits on the cutting board.

Extra Credit…

  • Stir Fry (Asian) and sauté (French) means the same thing–to cook at high heat and quick.
  • Why should you put fresh parsley on your food? Because it’s a cheap & easy way to get Vitamin C.
  • Cilantro’s flavor comes from the bottom up , so go ahead and use the stems.
  • Don’t have a roasting rack? Make a bed of large oddly chopped veggies to prop up your meat so air will circulate. Voilà! You have a roasting rack that you can eat too.

If you can’t take classes in Berkeley, KitchenonFire has a downloadable knife class on-demand.

Read Full Post »

Easy, quick and healthy.

Clam Linguine

  • Linguine pasta for 2 people
  • 1 can Snow’s Minced Clams
  • 2 tbs quality olive oil
  • 3 tbs white onion (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup sliced brown mushrooms
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1 tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp tarragon
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)
  • shake of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper

Prepare the linguine in boiling, well-salted water until al dente.

Open the clams and discard the liquid.  Heat oil on medium high in a non-stick pan. Saute onion and mushrooms. When mushrooms are sweating (well-cooked), reduce heat to medium.  Add garlic, 1/2 of the wine, lemon juice and tarragon. When wine is almost gone, the mushrooms and onions will be infused with flavor. Add clams, rest of wine, and parsley. Stir in red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste.  Add drained pasta to the pan, mix well and serve hot.

You can use fresh clams but the idea for this recipe is quick and easy–thus using canned.  I also purposefully omit clam juice unlike most recipes because I think it’s better just to use wine.  The clams are not the star in this version, all the flavors melted together makes this dish special. Btw, Snow’s didn’t sponsor this post, it just happens to be my favorite brand.


It doesn’t have to be a Sauvignon Blanc: any unoaked or lightly French-oaked white wine with a hint of lemon will work.  If the wine has a lot of lemon or citrus, it overwhelms the dish.  The earthiness is more important (parsley, mushrooms, red pepper flakes). A well-balanced light-bodied earthy red is another option.

Serve with petite whole grain rolls and a Caesar salad.

Read Full Post »

Brussels Sprout Bacon Salad

Every night when it’s time to prepare dinner, I take a quick inventory of what’s in my refrigerator and cupboards, then I power up my kitchen laptop. Sometimes I find the perfect recipe but more often than not, I use other people’s recipes to find inspiration on herbs and other flavors, then I make my own version.

Here’s a tasty salad that was scrumptious as a main meal.

Brussels Sprouts Bacon Salad (serves 2)

  • 1/4  cup  halved walnuts, toasted
  • 10 Brussels sprouts
  • 3  slices bacon
  • 1/4  cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  cup  sliced iceberg lettuce

Heat toaster oven to 350, place walnuts on foil and toast while preparing salad.

Wash sprouts. Slice off the ends, then slice in half. Place in microwave bowl with water, cover with plastic wrap and stem in microwave for 3 minutes.

Slice bacon into 1 inch chunks and sauté in non-stick pan until slightly crispy.  Place bacon on paper towel and set aside. Remove bacon grease from pan and return pan to stove. Add vinegar, syrup and mustard to pan.  Add sprouts and sauté for a few minutes. Salt & pepper to taste.  Mix in lettuce, bacon and walnuts.  Serve warm.

Wine Pairing

A medium-bodied earthy red (Dijon, bacon, maple and walnuts).

Where do I find inspiration?  Epicurious, BHG, Food Network, Elana’s Pantry, The Heritage Cook, Kim’s Easy French Food.

Read Full Post »

Next »

site development by kevin mcgrath