Golden Raisin Mostarda with a Kick

Golden Raisin Mostarda with a Kick

Mostarda has been showing up with some frequency on restaurant menus of late and after tasting it for the first time with a succulent grilled pork chop at Nel Centro a couple of years ago, I was smitten. It was LOVE at first bite.

Imagine fresh or dried fruit glazed in a sweet, spicy syrup with a subtle or not so subtle mustard kick. As good as that pork chop was, I could have eaten an entire plate of the mostarda.

Mexican Tortilla Soup with Frizzled Tortillas

Mexican Tortilla Soup with Frizzled Tortillas

Over the years, I have eaten this much-lauded soup in every restaurant and café I could find it. I love the concept—toasted chiles, tomatoes, garlic, corn tortillas, and cumin soup base with fried tortillas, avocado, and sour cream embellishments—but not always the execution. Restaurant renditions vary considerably, as do recipes in American Southwest and Mexican cookbooks.

Spicy, Creamy Mulligatawny Soup

Heavenly Mulligatawny Soup

Do you remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine and Kramer were kibitzing about Mulligatawny Soup? I bet that episode sent thousands of people to the web in search of the recipe. The name alone is an inducement.

Rosalyn’s Toasted Coconut White Chocolate Dream Pie

Toasted Coconut White Chocolate Dream Pie

Over the past year, I sampled Coconut Cream Pies across the Northwest restaurant/bakery landscape and kicked around the tenants of the perfect custard cream pie with dear friend and culinary maven, Rosalyn Rourke. One thing led to another, as the saying goes, and the next thing I knew, on Roz’s insistence, I was hunting down a Lindt Excellence White Coconut Bar. After one taste, the Coconut Cream Pie turned into Rosalyn’s Coconut White Chocolate Dream Pie. After all, her appreciation for white chocolate and coconut was the inspiration.

Breast of Chicken with Fiery, Fruity Guajillo Sauce

Breast of Chicken with Fiery, Fruity Guajillo Sauce

There’s something about January that sends me running to Mexican, Latin American, and Southwest cookbooks. Perhaps it’s because the sun has disappeared from the Northwest, and I suspect it headed to Cabos San Lucas without me. Laughing all the way.

Just knowing that there are lots of folks basking in the sun as I huddle in front of the fireplace, firing up their charcoal grills as mine sits forlorn on the freezing deck, and swishing their lucky feet in a cool swimming pool as mine are buried in 3 layers of wonder fiber makes me want to smother everything I eat with a fiery chile sauce and pretend I’m wintering in Mexico.

Polenta (AKA Cornmeal Grits)

Wild Mushroom Polenta at Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale

Polenta is basically a thick cornmeal mush (although culinary goddess, Marcella Hazan, calls this description an indelicate use of the English language), which is either served hot and creamy from the pot with a sauce of some type or shaped and left to cool, then later sliced and fried, baked, or grilled.

Ultimate Vanilla Pudding (Perfect Stove-Top Custard)

Ultimate Vanilla Pudding with Coconut Crumble & Whipped Cream

I intended to do a quick pudding post but, well, one thing led to another, and now I’ve done a mountain of research instead. The exploration began with a simple hankering for Caramel Pudding. I grabbed a standard formula from somewhere, went straight to the kitchen, and whipped it up in less than 10 minutes.

The only problem was that the end result had hardly any caramel flavor, even though I started with burnt sugar, and the texture was a little lumpy after chilling. In other words, not the perfect pudding I’m going to pass on to YOU.

Torta della Nonna for My Darling Lily

Lemon & Rose Petal Ricotta Tart (Torta della Nonna): Batter Method with Bottom Crust Only

I was pondering how to introduce the newest member of our family to you, dear readers, when my fabuloso sister-in-law, Mary-beth, suggested tying in Torta della Nonna, which truthfully, I knew nothing about. She fell in love with this simple and rich Italian tart in Italy, during a 5-day cooking course, at the beautiful Capezzana Wine and Culinary Center. Mary-beth says she ate a small slice of this tart every day during that stay and wishes she could continue that ritual indefinitely. This is her kind of tart. Let it be known that Mary-beth, former cooking instructor and continuing culinary maven is no slouch in the kitchen. If she says this cake is to die for, I believe it. And I must try it.

However, still unable to utter the “G” word without grimacing, I have been more preoccupied with what my darling granddaughter is going to call me than with announcing to the world that she has, at long last, ARRIVED. Even if that announcement involves a wonderful tart.

Peanut Butter & Garam Masala Cupcakes with Creamy Dreamy Peanut Butter Frosting, Peanut Praline & Caramelized Banana

Peanut Butter Garam Masala Cupcakes with Creamy Dreamy Peanut Butter Frosting, Peanut Praline & Caramelized Banana

I know it’s officially summertime in the Northwest, even though the weather has been cold, wet, and generally grey all month. Strawberries are ripe in the fields, but they look forlorn, and I am strangely uninterested.

It’s COLD, and there is this growing emotional need for something indulgent, nostalgic, and comforting. A strawberry isn’t going to do it. I should be eating sprightly salads bursting with all the freshness of early summer, but instead I want cupcakes—golden, tender, completely decadent–peanut butter cupcakes–loaded with swirls of, you guessed it, creamy, dreamy peanut butter frosting.

Toasted Hazelnut & Browned Butter Friands

Toasted Hazelnut & Browned Butter Friands

I first tasted the classic version of these small almond cakes many moons ago at Le Panier Very French Bakery in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I liked them so much that I would make the trek to the market (about a 30-mile drive from our house in the Cascade foothills) mainly to buy a few friands and enjoy them with an espresso. Of course, strolling the market is its own reward, but the thought of those excellent little morsels still provides extra incentive to get me to Seattle.

When I began looking for recipes for this little French delicacy, I could find no reference to it in any of my French cookbooks. The web was in its infancy at that time and culinary sites and chats had not yet surfaced. Finally, I did locate a single recipe for friands in Gaston Lenotre’s Lenotre’s Desserts and Pastries.

Heavenly Parmesan Sour Cream Pound Cake

LunaCafe's Heavenly Parmesan Pound Cake

A few weeks ago, I posted a story on Metrovino’s Parmesan Pound Cake (Portland, Oregon), which I hope you had a chance to read. It’s all about my adventures with this extraordinary cake (the creation of Metrovino Executive Chef Gregory Denton and Chef de Cuisine Gabrielle Quiñónez), both in the restaurant and in the OtherWorldly testing kitchen.

Caramelized Ancho Chile & Cinnamon Almonds

Caramelized Ancho Chile & Cinnamon Pumpkin Seeds Closeup

Are you ready for one of the most spectacular desserts I have ever made? How about Fried Banana Split with Mexican Bittersweet Chocolate Chile Sauce, Strawberry Mint Salsa, and Caramelized Ancho Chile Cinnamon Pumpkin Seeds?

I flipped on my first bite of this dessert and on each subsequent bite, until I was left with only an empty plate and a serious thought of licking it. I think this is one dessert that you are going to LOVE!

Curried Seafood Cakes with Fresh Ginger Aioli

Curried Seafood Cakes with Ginger Aioli

I have a passion for seafood cakes of any variety: Dungeness crab cakes, shrimp cakes, fresh or smoked salmon cakes, and varieties yet untried. They are easy to make, but many a fine cook errs by adding too much binder. You want to taste the seafood and the seasoning, not what is holding them together–bread crumbs typically.

Yakima Valley Artichoke Appetizer

Yakima Valley Artichoke Appetizer Fresh from the Oven

This recipe originally came into my files from my sister-in-law and culinary diva, Mary-beth. Or was it from my other sister-in-law, entertaining diva, Priscilla? Well, it was definitely from one of these two remarkable women.

For a few years, many years ago, while living amongst the Bradley clan and their merry circle of friends in Yakima, Washington, this appetizer appeared at EVERY cocktail party. It was a novelty at the time and a darned good one at that. But as the years passed, and we moved to Seattle, I forgot about it.

The Best Damned Hash

The Best Damn Hash with Dulcet Peppery Moroccan Ketchup

James (AKA MauiJim) has always hated hash with a passion. “That awful, mushy stuff,” as he puts it. “Tastes just like dog food smells,” is another of his customary remarks when the hash subject is broached. This man doesn’t mince words. And he knows what he likes.

New Years Eve Quartet of Entertaining Spreads

Smoked Salmon & Caper Spread with Artisan Crackers

I know I’m late for New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t finish these four spreads until just now. Where oh where did the week go?

Nevertheless, I want to share them with you in hope that perhaps you can whip up one or two for tomorrow’s gatherings of friends and family around that big screen TV. They are all very easy and you probably have the needed ingredients in the frig. Well, maybe not the cold-smoked salmon, but if there is a Trader Joe’s nearby, they have a 4-ounce package for a modest price.

Luscious Candied Lemon Sage Tea Cake

Luscious Candied Lemon Sage Tea Cake

Sometimes I get lucky. I have been working on the quintessential lemon cake for years, and although I have encountered a couple of formulas that are quite lovely in their own right, they are not exactly what I have in mind.

LunaCafe’s Ultimate Chocolate Pudding

LunaCafe's Ultimate Chocolate Pudding

After weeks of research, this elegantly simple chocolate pudding formula, developed over several testing sessions, acheives a perfect balance. It is not extreme in any direction, yet has a multi-dimensional, vibrant flavor and luxurious mouth feel.