Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Split Pea Soup with Ham Hocks

So, what do you do with that leftover ham bone from Christmas dinner? Of course, you make Split Pea Soup.

For the past couple of years, whenever I have had a leftover ham bone, this is what I make. It is absolutely, positively the easiest recipe I make. And on a cold winter's night (even in Southern California), this is a perfect dinner!

Depending upon the size of the ham bone (and leftover meat on it), I may double the recipe. I think it's nice to have good size chunks of ham in the soup. Serve with some warm crusty bread or just plain ol' Saltine crackers.

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

4-6 Servings

1/4 c. olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1-lb. bag split peas, rinsed and picked through
1-1/2 lb. smoked ham hock
2 quarts or more Vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large saucepan, saute' onion, celery and carrots over medium-high heat. Add peas and ham hock and cover wtih stock by a couple of inches. Bring to a simmer and cook about 1 hour until soup is thick and peas have almost disintegrated, but not quite. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
2. Remove ham hock and let cool. Pull meat from ham hock bone and shread. Garnish with ham and pepper.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Buffalo Stew for Oliver (aka Doggie Stew)

Our little pooch hasn't been feeling well. It all started earlier this week when Oliver developed a "hot spot" on his tail and we took him into the vet. The doctor shaved his tail to expose the sores for proper healing and then gave him a steroid shot. I've talked before about how "delicate" Oliver is, and the effects of the steriod shot have proved it all over again. He's been in a lot of discomfort, has a difficult time getting comfortable for sleep, has been constipated (oh, I know -- TMI) and he twirls around to look and whine at his painful little tail. Oh, the joys of motherhood . . . it's just like having a sick child around the house!

I thought I should try a new recipe for him. After all, he does like variety in his diet repertoire and it's been a while since I've experimented with a new recipe for him.

Today's menu was "Buffalo Stew." I renamed it from the cookbook's recipe title called "Little Man's Stew." And I made a few additional adjustments to the recipe.

For the meat, I used buffalo meat (chopped into small pieces from a 1-1/2 lb. buffalo chuck roast). You could use beef, duck, lamb, chicken or turkey. For the pasta, the recipe called for any kind of shape or type. Since Oliver has wheat allergies, I put in some gluten free, wheat free rotini pasta. Otherwise, I followed the recipe right along.

Just like the "muttloaf" I make for him looks like "human" meatloaf, the stew looks like something we would put together for our own families. At the end, you thicken it a bit more with 1T of yellow cornmeal mixed with 2T of cold water. This produces a chunkier consistency that dogs probably prefer.

Oliver gobbled it up tonight and we think it made him feel a bit better as he had a little extra spring in step during his bedtime walk. Hopefully, his best friend, Jesse, will enjoy it tomorrow too!

Woof! Woof!

(Makes 8 servings)

1 T. olive oil
1 lb. beef, duck, buffalo, lamb, chicken or turkey
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 c. uncooked pasta, any shape (can use vegetable pasta or a gluten free, wheat free variety)
1/2 c. dry lentils
1 c. chopped green beans
1 c. corn
1 c. peas
1/2 c. uncooked brown rice
8-10 cups vegetable broth
1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
1 T. yellow cornmeal mixed with 2 T. cold water

1. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown well on all sides.
2. Add the remaining ingredients except for the cornmeal mixture. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for up to 2-1/2 hours. Depending upon the type of meat you've chosen, it may be ready in as little as 1-1/2 hours; just check that the meat is cooked through and the sweet potatoes and pasta are soft.

3. To thicken the stew, stir in the cornmeal mixture and bring it back up to a boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool and serve.

NOTE: Stew can be refrigerated for 1 week.
Recipe was adapted from the book, "The Natural Pet Food Cookbook: Healthful Recipes for Dogs and Cats," by Wendy Nan Rees with Kevin Schlanger, DVM

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Eggnog

Our lovely neighbors have a family tradition -- eggnog on Christmas Eve! And we've been very fortunate to be included in the tradition over the past couple of years.

Until now, I have never been a fan of eggnog. It started when someone wanted to serve me some eggnog that had been purchased in the grocery store. It was eggy, heavy, creamy and not really flavorful to me. I just didn't understand the concept and didn't enjoy the taste at all.

When we were first invited over for eggnog, I played the good neighbor. And then I tasted, and I was immediately converted! This homemade eggnog is whipped and fluffy and has the right amount of alcohol to make it a pleasant and joyous beverage. The results this year were the best we had yet and it made for a most delightful Christmas Eve evening!

I hope it becomes a tradition in your family or neighborhood! Cheers!


8 eggs
1 lb. powdered sugar
6 c. heavy whipping cream
Dark Rum

1. Separate eggs and beat egg yolks in mixer until light in color. Put egg whites in small bowl and put in fridge for later. Gradually beat in 2-1/2 cups of powdered sugar. Add half of the total liquor now (approximately 1 c. run, just 1/3 c. brand and a small amount of bourbon).

2. Cover bowl and let mixture stand for one hour. Do not refrigerate.

3. While beating constantly, add additional liquor (1 c. rum, almost 1/2 c. brand and the remaining bourbon). Add 1-1/2 quarts whipping cream (not whipped).

4. Cover bowl and refrigerate for 3 hours.

5. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold into mixture. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

NOTE: It's best to refrigerate before serving!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hot Buttered Rum

There's hardly anything better than cuddling up in front of the fire with that someone special and a hot mug of something. For the past couple of years, that hot mug has been "Hot Buttered Rum."

I originally found the recipe when I was working at my last hotel and we served it at our client Christmas party. It originally caught my eye because of the vanilla ice cream and brown sugar -- a yummy combination in my book.

The "batter" is quite easy to make. Melt a pound of butter, then the brown sugar and confectioner's sugar with the nutmeg and cinnamon. Next goes a quart of ice cream and it all melts together in a large pot. Put this mixture in the freezer until you're ready for the drink.

Get out your mugs (pictured are my special holiday mugs from my friend, Valeska -- they're now a holiday tradition too), and pour a shot of dark rum into the bottom of the mug. Scoop 1-2 ice cream scoops of batter into your mug and then pour hot water in. Stir and enjoy!

Here's the recipe. It's certain to be a highlight at next year's cookie exchange party or during your Christmas Eve present-opening extravaganza. Merry Christmas!

1 lb. butter
1 lb. brown sugar
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1 qt. vanilla ice cream, softened
1 T ground cinnamon
1 t. ground nutmeg

Dark Rum

1. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Blend in brown sugar and confectioners’ sugar. Remove from heat and whisk in the ice cream, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour mixture into a plastic container; seal and freeze.
2. In a coffee mug, measure 1-2 scoops Hot Buttered Rum batter and 1 fluid oz. of rum. Fill up with boiling water. Stir, and sprinkle top of drink with nutmeg.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Julie & Julia

You're all probably wondering, "What does Julie and Julia have to do with food?" Well, here what it means.

I read a great book a couple of years ago called "Julie on Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen," by Julie Powell. After pulling a dusty copy of Julia Childs' book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" from her mother's bookshelf, the author decided to cook every recipe in the book. She started a blog to detail the various kitchen adventures in her tiny kitchen in Queens, NY, and that blog -- which also includes the exploits of some of her colorful relatives and friends, as well as her husband who tried each and every recipe -- led to a book deal. The book is a great read -- zany and just full of fun for anyone who likes Julia Child or experimenting in the kitchen. (The blog has stopped, but you can still read it at:

Julie's book was published after Julia had passed away. However, Julie's blog was brought to Julia's attention and they were able to have a couple of connections -- a thrill, I'm sure, for the novice author.

There's also a great book called, "My Life in France," by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme. The book was published after Julia passed away. Alex is her nephew and heir, and the book combines the diaries of Julia Child when she first married and moved to France and started cooking, and Alex's many recollections of conversations with his aunt. It's a lovely insight into Julia Child, her early years of marriage, living in a new country during WWII as well as how people cooked in France during this time. After many, many years, Julia's cooking inevitably led to her first book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

Now there comes a movie by director, Nora Ephron titled "Julie & Julia." The movie, due to be released next summer will star Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell. From what I have read thus far, the two actresses will not have ANY interaction together in the movie. Ms. Streep's acting will follow the book, "My Life in France" and Ms. Adam's acting will follow the book, "Julie on Julia." (For more information, you can read about the movie at

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the movie! Until then, as Julia Child would say, "Bon Appetit!"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dirty Foods

I know, I know . . . This is a totally disgusting topic for a food blog. But I saw this article and just had to share it with you.

We all go to the grocery store, handle fruit, bring them home and start cooking with them. We all wash our hands frequently and wash our food prior to preparation (I hope!), but there were some startling revelations in this article.

Here's the link for you to read in its entirety:

As a highlight, the following foods are on the "dirty food list."

  • Eggs: Always buy pasteurized eggs. And be careful from touching too many of the individual eggs when you open up each package. If there appears to be a damaged egg, just close the package and put it back. Don't replace eggs between packages.

  • Peaches: On average, a peach can contain as many as nine different pesticides

  • Pre-Packaged Salad Mixes: Make sure you wash the lettuces thoroughly even though the package says pre-washed.

  • Melons: Scrub melons with a mild dish soup and warm water before slicing. Their outside coat is a hot bed of bacteria and pesticides as well.

  • Scallions: Make sure you wash completely. These were blamed for recent breakouts of Hepatitis A.

Eat well and Stay Healthy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rustic Chili

It's certainly cold here. I know, I know, it's not cold by Massachusetts or North Dakota standards. However, all of us here are huddled together and the "talk of the town" is how cold it is and how beautiful the mountains now look with snow atop them.

When it's chilly outside, there's not much better than having a hot bowl of chili! I found this recipe in my compendium, though I had never tried it before. The day I made the chili, I wanted something easy to assemble with ingredients that were easily attained at the grocery store. This fit the bill! It had a lot of great flavors running through it and when you see the ingredients, you'll know why.

First of all, there are 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa. When Brad saw me adding it, he kinda turned up his nose, but he trusts me now that things should turn out alright -- and they did. And there's 3/4 c. of chili powder. I didn't read the recipe completely for the first trip to the grocery store and this prompted another quick visit. The cumin, oregano and allspice complete the spices and they really do complement each other. I also added more beef broth than the recipe called for as I do like some extra broth with the chili and it keeps it from "drying out" when making leftovers the next day.

Do take the time to get all of your condiments/toppings together. It adds some fun to the dinner and makes everything all that much more festive. As listed below, you can have cheddar cheese, green onions, red onions, olives, sour cream, tortilla chips -- whatever your heart desires. You don't have to have anything, if you don't want, but I do recommend some cornbread.

Here's the recipe. It's got a kick to it, so have a nice cold beer alongside!

14 servings

6 T. olive oil
3 pounds lean ground beef
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 c. chopped onions
3- 7-oz. cans diced mild green chilies
1-1/2 c. chopped green bell peppers
3/4 c.chili powder
3 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
2-1/2 T. ground cumin
1-1/2 T. dried oregano
1-1/2 t. ground allspice
4- 15-oz. cans pinto beans, rinsed, drained
3- 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes with added puree
1- 14-1/2 oz. can beef broth (or more)

Grated cheddar cheese
Chopped green onions
Chopped red onions
Chopped pitted black olives
Sour cream
Tortilla chips

1. Heat oil in larlge pot over medium high heat. Add beef and garic and cook until brown, breaking up meat with back of fork, about 8 minutes. Add 3 cups chopped onions and next 7 ingredients; saute' until vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes.
2. Add beans, tomatoes and broth. Cover and simmer 30 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally.

NOTE: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Before continuing, bring chili to simmer, stirring occasionally

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies

The other night, Santa Claus and his entourage came flying through our neighborhood. Our city has quite a set-up for Santa and Mrs. Claus and their elves. And the local police department comes through with loud sirens to get everyone in position for the great arrival. It's always great fun to see the kids faces and especially to enjoy the holiday spirit and neighborhood camaraderie.

This year, I decided to make chocolate chip cookies for the occasion. My intent was to have them fresh and, if I could be so lucky with timing, have them warm. I knew that we were going to be graced with Santa's presence that evening, but he came at 4:45PM, way earlier than I had thought or planned. I even had to pull the first batch out of the oven when our neighbor girl elves, Olivia and Estella, came knocking. So with a bolt and a flash, Oliver and I ran outside to see all the commotion -- and sans cookies.

After all of the wishes were made and Santa was off to the next neighborhood, I came back and finished up the batch of cookies. At least, Brad got them warm and gooey out of the oven when he got home for he had missed Santa.

I have made this recipe a few times and I really enjoy them. I use an ice cream scooper to put them on the baking sheet. Like the recipe says, they do spread and so only 5-6 cookies per sheet is all you can fit. After they were all finished, I did wrap them up and give away to some neighbors. As they say, better late than never -- and who would ever turn away a fresh chocolate chip cookie?!

Here's the recipe. Enjoy warm and with a glass of cold milk and leave for Santa when you go to bed on Christmas Eve. You're sure to get that special something you told him to bring!

Makes about 20 cookies

2-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. solid vegetable shortening
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. (packed) golden brown sugar
1 T. sour cream
1-1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 pound (2-2/3 c.) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. toasted walnuts, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, baking soda and sugar into medium bowl.
2. Using electric mixer, beat butter and vegetable shortening in large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar, brown sugar, sour cream and vanilla and beat to blend well. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Drop half of batter by generous 1/4 c. cupfuls onto (2) large ungreased baking sheets (5 mounds per sheet, spaced 3 inches apart). Using moistened fingertips, flatten each mound to 2-1/2-inch round.
4. Bake cookies until golden brown, about 14 minutes. Cool on sheets 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter using cooled baking sheets.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies

Martha Stewart has been very generous in sending me cookie recipes every day. (Of course, I signed up for the feed!) It's been fun to read about different cookies that I wouldn't ordinarily have made or considered. One recipe, however, that I did try with much success and acclaim were "Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies."

Like the biscotti recipe detailed yesterday, this cookie is not difficult to make, but it is perhaps a bit time-consuming. You mix, then roll into a log, freeze for a while, roll in some nuts, slice and then bake. The ease of the recipe also is that you can freeze for up to (2) weeks, so if you only have a certain amount of time, you can break up the process.

Rolling the dough in the nuts was a bit perplexing to me. When the dough is hard, the walnuts didn't want to stick to it. I simply let the dough thaw a bit and it seemed to work. Looking at the comments on her website for this recipe, someone dipped the cookies into chocolate and then rolled into nuts. Chocolate always sounds good, but to me, it might be a bit overwhelming for this cookies.

When you read the recipe, you'll immediately think of Paula Dean -- what with the (2) cups or (4) sticks of butter to start off the batter. When you eat the finished product, you do taste the butter, however, the cream cheese adds another layer of texture and flavor to the cookie that we found delightful.

Here's the recipe. Pour yourself a relaxing cup of tea with a few of these and you'll be in heaven!

Makes about 4 dozen

4 c. all-purpose flour
1-1/4 t. coarse salt
2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 oz. cream cheese (not whipped), room temperature
1-1/4 c. sugar
2 T, plus 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
2-1/2 c. walnut halves (1-1/2 cups toasted and coarsely chopped), 1 c. finely chopped

1. Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in sugar and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and mix until just combined (do not overmix). Mix in toasted walnuts.
2. Transfer dough to a work surface. Divide in half; shape each half into an 8-1/2-inch log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in parchment paper; freeze until firm, about 30 minutes or up to 2 weeks.
3. Preheat oven to 350 with racks in upper and lower thirds. Unwrap 1 log, and roll in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, coating completely. Cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
4. Bake cookies, rotating halfway through, until golden around edges, 18-20 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Repeat with remaining log and remaining 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

NOTE: The dough for these slice-and-bake cookies can be shaped into logs and frozen for up to two weeks.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Biscotti with Cranberries & Pistachios

Wow! I didn't think I had been gone from the blog this long. It certainly doesn't mean that I haven't been cooking. In fact, I think I have done more so in the last couple of weeks than ever before.

Just as the month of December started, I got out some holiday/Christmas cookbooks so that I could experiment with new cookies recipes. The more I did, however, the more I came back to some tried and true recipes . . . and one of my favorite holiday cookies -- Holiday Biscotti with Cranberries and Pistachios.

I was lucky to contribute this recipe on:, though I didn't add the entire recipe.

People always think biscotti are difficult to execute, but my experience is just the opposite. It may take a bit more time because you have to shape, cook, cut into slices, cook again and then dip. However, all of the steps are quite easy.

These are one of my favorite holiday treats because they simply look like Christmas -- red and green with white chocolate looking like snow peaks on the biscotti pieces. Put in a cellophane bag and tied with the same color ribbon, and you have a delectable goodie for your friends, neighbors and co-workers.

One of the ingredients in the biscotti is anise seed. It's something the ordinary household may not carry, however, it's a critical ingredient for the recipe. It seems like a lot when you put in the butter, but it dissolves during the cooking process and imparts a lovely taste when you eat it. Whole Foods also has shelled natural unsalted pistachios, which make the recipe even easier to make.
Here's the recipe! It's sure to become one of your family favorites!

Yield: 3-1/2 Dozen

2-1/4 c. all purpose flour
1-1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt
6T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1T grated lemon peel
1-1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 t. whole aniseed
1 c. dried sweetened cranberries
3/4 c. shelled natural unsalted pistachios
6 oz. imported white chocolate, chopped (Perugina or Lindt)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift first 3 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar into large bowl to blend well. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in lemon peel, vanilla, and aniseed. Beat in flour mixture until just blended. Stir in cranberries and pistachios (dough will be sticky). Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Gather dough together; divide in half. Roll each half into 15-inch long log (about 1-1/4 inches wide). Carefully transfer logs to 1 prepared baking sheet, spacing 3 inches apart.
2. Bake logs until almost firm to touch but still pale, about 28 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheet 10 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.
3. Carefully transfer logs still on parchment to cutting board. Using serrated knife and gentle sawing motion, cut logs crosswise into generous 1/2-inch thick slices. Place slices 1 cut side down on remaining prepared sheet pans. Bake until firm and pale golden, about 9 minutes per side. Transfer to racks and cool.
4. Line another baking sheet with waxed paper. Stir white chocolate in top of double boiler over barely simmering water until just smooth. Remove from water. Dip 1 end of each cookie into melted chocolate, tilting pan if necessary. Shake off excess chocolate. Place cookies on prepared sheet. Chill until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. (Can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Italian Chicken Soup

After another bout of 80-plus degree weather here in Southern California, soup weather is now upon us again. Soup is one of our favorite dinners -- hearty, warm and comforting.

Being Italian, I have to admit I am partial to those soups that have Italian flavors and ingredients, i.e., fennel, peppers, pasta, sausage, tomatoes, etc. It brings back memories of my childhood when my father did most of the cooking and the house always radiated that special aroma.

Here's a recipe that I have adapted to my own tastes over the years. It is actually very easy and uses ingredients that are readily accessible in any store. While it can be ready within an hour, I think a longer cooking of 4-5 hours is best in order for the flavors to meld together. The recipe calls for fresh cheese ravioli or tortellini, which is easily found in most grocery stores now. And make it easy on yourself and use store rotisserie chicken if you don't have the time to roast the chicken yourself.

This is sure to be great family recipe that can be easily shared during dinner with a good piece of garlic bread and a glass of Pinot Noir.

Try it and report back how you like it!

Serves 4

1T olive oil
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1T dried basil
2t. fennel seeds
1/2t. dried crushed red pepper
8 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 9-oz. package fresh cheese ravioli or tortellini
2 c. diced cooked chicken

Grated parmesan cheese

1. Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add bell pepper, onion, garlic, basil, fennel seeds and crushed red pepper and saute' until vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Add broth. Cover pot and simmer 10 minutes (and up to 4 hours).
3. Add zucchini and carrot. Cover and simmer until carrot is tender.
4. Just before ready to serve, increase heat to high and bring soup to boil. Add ravioli or tortellini and boil under tender, about 5-8 minutes.
5. Add chicken and cook just until heated through, about 2 minutes.
6. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.
7. Ladle soup into bowls. Serve, passing cheese separately.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Celery Salad with Walnuts, Dates and Pecorino Cheese

I know that most the country is in the midst of Fall and even Winter seasons. Here in Southern California, it feels like Summer with 80 and 90 degree weather. Fresh and wholesome salads are still on the menu in our household and I have another one to share with you here.

Last entry, I did a salad with dates and walnuts and since my pantry still had a plentiful supply of them, I decided to see what else I could make with them. I found this salad and tried it last night. I also had some wonderful Sherry vinegar that was a gift from a friend, so everything came together with this recipe. It was a hit -- fresh, flavorful, crunchy, sweet and savory all in one -- and paired perfectly with sandwiches.

It's one of the easiest things to make spur of the moment too. Let me know how you enjoy it as well!

12 servings
Active Time: 20 minutes
1-1/4 c. walnuts
1 small shallot, minced
2T sherry vinegar
2T walnut oil
2T extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 bunches celery, thinly sliced on the bias
3/4 c. pitted Medjool dates, quartered lengthwise
3 oz. dry pecorino cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast for about 8 minutes, until lightly golden and fragrant. Let cool completely, then coarsely chop.

2. In a small bowl, combine the shallot with the sherry vinegar. Whisk in both oils and season with salt and pepper.

3. In a large bowl, toss the toasted walnuts, celery, dates and pecorino. Add the dressing and toss. Serve at once.

NOTE: The salad and dressing can be refrigerated separately for up to 1 day. Store the walnuts in an airtight container and add to the salad just before serving.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Arugula Salad with Manchego, Apples & Caramelized Walnuts

I love salads! I love the color, textures, various ingredients and dressings. I haven't made that many lately, apart for the standard wedge or Caesar salad lately. Those are Brad's favorites, so they are what we typically eat with dinners.

However, the other day, the doctor told me my cholesterol was not too good and that means eating a more fibrous diet with more vegetables and fruits. So, it was time to get out my "compendium" of personal recipes and see if we can make some more hearty salads rather than relying on the main course so much.

This "Arugula Salad with Manchego, Apples and Caramelized Walnuts" seemed a great start. Arugula salad was a staple growing up and my father used to grow it fresh in a little garden we had. He would just put a simple olive oil and vinegar on it. For this salad combination, the fresh peppery taste of the lettuce is outstanding, along with the sweetness of the dates, the saltiness of the cheese and nuttiness of the walnuts . It provides a little something for everyone.

It was really an excellent salad and one that I can easily remember and keep in my repertoire. Anyone should enjoy it as a lovely first course for the upcoming holidays and gatherings with family and friends.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar

1/2 c. walnut oil
3T. Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

8 c. arugula
2 Red Delicious or Fuji apples, unpeeled, cored, thinly sliced
6 oz. Spanish Manchego cheese or sharp white cheddar cheese, shaved
1-1/2 c. pitted dates (sliced -- Medjool dates are preferred)
1 c. Caramelized Walnuts
4 large shallots, minced

1. Boil balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium-high heat until syrupy and reduced to 1/4 c., about 4 minutes
2. Whisk oil and champagne vinegar in bowl. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Keep at room temperature. Rewarm balsamic syrup before using. Rewhisk vinaigrette before using.)
3. Toss arugula, apples, half cheese, dates, walnuts and shallots in large bowl with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper.
4. Mound salad in center of each plate. Drizzle balsamic syrup around salads. Sprinkle remaining cheese atop salads.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Italian Soups -- Pasta e Fagioli

Well, earlier in this week in Southern California, it rained for part of the day and the temperatures dipped below 60 at night. To us, that means soup weather has arrived. (To those of you on the East Coast already experiencing snow, it probably means us Californians are still out in "la-la" land!).

Below is my favorite Italian soup cookbook. I have mentioned in previous posts that I collect cookbooks. And while I enjoy reading them all, it is those simpler cookbooks and recipes that remind me of my childhood that I go back to again and again.

For the soup that I cooked earlier this week, I choose a recipe that I had not yet tried before. Brad loves beans, pasta and sausage in his soup and this one has those main ingredients. However, it has a lot of fennel in it and I was afraid that it might have too much of an anise taste. I was surprised. Like most vegetable based soups, it has a wonderfully fresh taste and that hits your palate with a "Oh, this is really homemade, hot and soothing."

I like to use hot Italian sausage in my soups because I think it imparts a certain spiciness. You can easily use sweet sausage or half hot/half sweet. The recipe calls for "farfallette" pasta. If you cannot locate that in your grocery store, just choose something small. I usually cut down on the amount the recipe requires because I like a soup with a bit more broth and vegetables.

This is an excellent recipe -- easy and fulfilling for a cozy dinner. I hope you enjoy it!


1 can (28oz) Italian plum tomatoes with juice
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1t. olive oil
1 lb. hot or sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
2 medium fresh fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch dice, leaving leaves for garnish
2 medium to large onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 c. chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/4 t. fennel seeds
6 cups homemade Chicken broth, or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 can (15-1/2 oz.) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 c. cooked small pasta, such as farfallette, fusili, etc.
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Drain the tomato liquid into a bowl, cut the tomatoes into 1 inch pieces, and place in the bowl with the liquid. Set aside. Mince 4 of the garlic cloves and halve the remaining cloves. Set aside separately.
2. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until browned -- 5-6 minutes. Keep stirring as the sausage cooks. Transfer the sausage to a sieve and drain thoroughly, pressing on the sausage with a rubber spatula to extract all the fat. Return the sausage to the soup pot over medium heat, add the fresh fennel, onions, parsley, minced garlic and fennel seeds. Cook uncovered, until the vegetables are tender but still al dente (tender but still firm to the bite), about 12 minutes.
3. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes with their liquid. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a very slow but stead simmer, and cook, covered for 30 minutes. Add the beans and pasta, and cook only until they are warmed through and the flavors have come together, about 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Rub the remaining garlic on some Italian bread slices and heat.
5. Serve the soup with the bread and top with the cheese.

NOTE: I usually cook the soup the entire day before I put the beans and pasta into the soup. I like the flavors of the broth and vegetables to marry first. About 1-1/2 hours prior to serving, I put the beans in (and usually put in two cans). Just before serving, I bring to a boil and add the pasta and serve the soup when the pasta is cooked.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tyler Florence's Mexican Pot Roast Tacos

I'm a big fan of Tyler Florence and his Food Network TV show. Yes, he's easy on the eyes, certainly, and I could watch the show all day long. However, all the while, he cooks recipes that most of us mortal culinarians would enjoy cooking, can cook successfully and easily savor with our family and friends.

Tyler has a new book out called "Dinner at My Place." The preface talks about being able to go to all sorts of fancy restaurants all of the time, yet he always finds the most joy in being able to cook for his family and friends. Now that I have more time to experiment and read all of the myriad of cookbooks that grace my bookshelves, I find that I have this in common with him. And there's something infinitely comforting about sharing good food and wine with those that you love and whose company you enjoy.

The cookbook has great photos of the food, a prerequisite for me and cookbooks. I like to see the food preparation and presentation as the chefs have envisioned the recipe rather than leaving it to my imagination. Tyler has also personalized the cookbook in such a way that makes it very cook and reader-friendly. I think you will all enjoy it.

The first recipe that I tried from this cookbook was "Mexican Pot Roast Tacos." As Brad said, "It's a do-over!" The pot roast had excellent flavor and was extremely easy to prepare. I did find, however, that it needed to cook longer than the recipe indicated. I couldn't find the dried red chilies in my grocery store, so I added a small can of spicy Mexican tomato sauce.

This chapter in the cookbook also includes a recipe for "The Ultimate Guacamole," which I also made to accompany the tacos. He also has recipes for "Fresh Fried Corn Chips," "San Marzano Quick Salsa," "Roasted Tomatillo Salsa," and "Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo Margarita," and I'll try those the next time I make this dinner.

Below are the taco and guacamole recipes. I prepared the tacos as "street tacos," with thin corn tortillas which I quick fried. I then assembled simple condiments -- diced onions, homemade salsa, guacamole and shredded pepper jack cheese. This allowed the meat to be center stage and made for a hearty meal. I set-up everything on a buffet and allowed everyone to help themselves! The only thing missing were the Margaritas and Beers. But hey, there's always next time! Feast and Enjoy!

Serves 6-8
Active Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Pot Roast
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds shoulder of beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, cut into wedges
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 28 oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes
3 dried red chilies
1 T ground cumin
1 T ancho chile powder
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro (about 8 sprigs)
2 T red wine vinegar

For serving:
8 fresh medium corn tortillas
3 c. freshly shredded romaine lettuce
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
1/3 lb. Cotija cheese, crumbled
2 limes, cut into wedges for garnish
1. Drizzle beef shoulder with oil, then season with plenty of salt and black pepper. Set a large, heavy based pot over medium-high heat. Sear on all sides until you have a nice brown crust, adding additional oil to the pan as necessary to prevent sticking.

2. Add onion and garlic to the pot and stir until they carmelize a little and have contact with the bottom of the pot.

3. Add tomatoes with juice, chilies, cuming, chile powder,and the 1/2 bunch of cilantro. Add 2 inches water to the pot. Crush tomatoes wtih the back of a wooden spoon.

4. Cover and simmer about 2 hours, until the meat is fork-tender and comes apart with little resistance. Once cooked, use a wood spoon to break apart the meat. Season wth salt and black pepper to taste; add the vinegar.

6 ripe avocados
3 limes, juice only
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 serrano chilies,thinly sliced
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Halve and pit the avocados using a knife. With a tablespoon, scoop the flesh into a large bowl. Add lime juice, onion, garlic, chilies, cilantro, and oil to the bowl. Season with salt and black pepper. Use a potato masher to break up the avocados and mix everything together. Continue until juce combined so you still have plenty of texture. Give it a taste and season once more with salt and black pepper, if necessary.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake

To me, one of the items that most suggests Fall is pumpkins. I enjoy seeing them start to appear in the grocery stores and farmers markets and their orange vibrant color is unmistakable. I love to see the pumpkin patches around Orange County. I love seeing them at the garden nurseries. I love seeing them adorning the porches of our neighbors. And I love to see the kids carve them and put candles inside to ward off the evil spirits while they are trick-or-treating.

Last night was Halloween. We went out with some of our neighbor kids and had a great time. The adults indulged on a sip of wine here and there while the kids skipped to and fro on their way to a bounty full of candy. And all the while, there were different variations of pumpkin carvings -- scary, inventive, fun and happy.

I spent part of the afternoon making one of my new Halloween/Fall traditions -- "Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf." It makes the house spell like Fall (along with the banana bread from a previous entry). And it makes me smile when Brad finishes off a mini-loaf straight out of the oven.

Below is the recipe that I discovered in Bon Appetit in November 2000. It is easy to prepare and the recipe can be divided into four (4) mini loaf pans -- perfect for snacks at your house or culinary delights to your neighbors or colleagues at work.

I learned a little tip from the Barefoot Contessa when adding nuts and/or chips to a batter. Before you drop the chips (or nuts) into the batter, mix in a little flour. This will prevent the chips from dropping to the bottom and staying evenly dispersed in the bread.

I hope Halloween brought you good memories new and old, a stomach full of something warm and a smile to your heart. Enjoy!

Makes 12 servings.

1-3/4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1-1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/4 c. sugar
3 large eggs
1 c. canned pure pumpkin
1 t. vanilla extract
1/3 c. whole milk
3/4 c. miniature semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 c. chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 9x5x2-1/2 inch metal loaf pan.

2. Sift first (5) ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar, then beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in pumpkin and vanilla. Beat dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture alternately with milk. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

3. Bake loaf cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack; cool completely. (Can be made two days ahead. Wrap in plastic and store at room temperature.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Apple Harvest & Apple Pie

One of my fondest childhood and early adult memories is of visiting Oak Glen, a tiny little haven near Yucaipa, California, famous in the Fall season for apples. It was an exciting day when I got out of school and my parents and I would head to Oak Glen to pick apples, run through the leaves, pet the animals at the petting zoo, sample apple cider and eat apple pie at "Law's," the little coffee shop that specializes in all things homemade and apple.

Last weekend, I was away on business when my neighbors Olivia and Estella (ages 6 and 4 respectively) took their parents on an adventure to Oak Glen. I understand a fun time was had by all -- especially when hoisted on the shoulders of their father so they could grab apples from way on high.

When I returned home a couple of days later, I was the lucky recipient of a small bushel of Granny Smith apples. There is always something wonderful about the taste of freshly picked apples (and fruit and vegetables, in general). They are juicy, tart, firm and taste like Fall! I love them!
To return the favor, I set out to make something with the apples -- something that the family could easily enjoy together. It couldn't have any alcohol and it had to be good warm and accompany vanilla ice cream. What else could it be but apple pie?!

In my food compendium, I found a recipe from a 2001 issue of Gourmet magazine for "Thin Apple Tarts." While I have never been completely successful with puff pastry, the recipe seemed quick and easy and a perfect vehicle for the Granny Smith's.

I cheated a bit and purchased puff pastry from Trader Joe's. While the recipe called for me to roll out the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface, I thought the size and thickness of this pastry was sufficient and would yield a lovely apple tart. I am happy to report that it was indeed easy and delicious. And if I do say so myself, it looked good too -- always a necessity when bestowing food upon friends and neighbors!

Below is the recipe and photo. I hope it fills your home with the aroma of Fall and brings back childhood memories of apples, desserts and all things delicious!

Active Time: 35 minutes; Start to finish: 1 hour
Makes 4 servings

2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
2T fresh lemon juice
2T unsalted butter
1 frozen puff pastry sheet (from a 17-1/4 oz. package), thawed

1. Cut apple halves crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices and transfer to a bowl.

2. Bring water, sugar, lemon juice, and butter to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then pour over apples. Turn apples until slightly wilted, then drain in a colander set over a bowl, reserving liquid.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

4. Roll out pastry sheet onto a lightly floured surface into a 12-1/2 inch square and cut out 4 (6-inch) rounds. Transfer rounds to a lightly buttered baking sheet and top with overlapping apple slices. Bake in middle of oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes.

5. Boil reserved liquid in a saucepan until reduced to about 1/3 cup, then brush onto baked tarts.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cookies with a Purpose

I have been traveling a lot lately for my job. When I do come home, easy recipes that make one want to nest and invite loved ones to the kitchen are those that I revert back to again and again.

One such recipe is one of my favorites -- "Oatmeal Cookies with Raisins, Dates and Walnuts." Since Brad's favorite cookie is oatmeal raisin, I gravitated to this recipe a few years ago. It's one of the more moist cookies I have found (due likely to the vegetable shortening). I think the dates give it an extra sweetness and wholesomeness. If you can find them, medjool dates are worth the expense and effort.

As with the banana bread recipe recently shared with you, this recipe is a great one for the fall and winter. Vanilla ice cream is optional! Enjoy!

Makes 4 Dozen

2c. all purpose flour
1t. baking powder
1t. ground cinnamon
1/2t. baking soda
1/2t. salt

3/4c. (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c. solid vegetable shortening, room temperature
1c. sugar
1c. (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4c. honey
2 large eggs
1T. vanilla extract
3c. old-fashioned oats
1c. raisins
1c. chopped pitted dates
1c. chopped walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with foil; butter foil. Blend first 5 ingredients in medium bowl.
2. Using electric mixer, beat butter, vegetable shortening, and both sugars in large bowl until fluffy.
3. Beat in honey, eggs, and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
4. Stir in oats, raisins, dates and walnuts. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto prepared sheets, spacing mounds 2 inches apart. Flatten cookies slightly.
5. Bake cookies until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
6. Cool completely on sheets.

NOTE: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Best Ever Banana Bread

Everyone has that one favorite family or heirloom recipe that they cook again and again. Well, one of mine is this recipe for banana bread.

When I lived in Washington, D.C. after college, my friend, Nadia, used to make this for our office often. I was most impressed when she baked each of us a whole loaf, covered it and put it on a wooden board and presented it with a lovely linen napkin as a Christmas gift. She even made two loaves for me when I left D.C. and embarked on a cross-country road trip back to Southern California. I will never forget the generosity of that gift or the friendship that the banana bread started.

Over the years, I have made more loaves than I can count and have bestowed them upon neighbors and cherished friends alike. The recipe never disappoints and I am happy to share it with you all here.

I personally think that the moistness of the bread is due to the buttermilk in the recipe. I have tried other recipes and they just do not have that same moistness. The 1/2 cup of vegetable oil probably also contributes; do not be frightened by the oil as it does not make the bread seem greasy or oily.

Another hint is to use extremely ripe bananas. That ripeness yields an extremely flavorful bread. Walnuts are optional, in my opinion, however, more of my friends and relatives insist upon them more than I do.

If any of you have any good family heirloom recipes to share, please send them along. My recipe "notebook" can always accommodate more -- especially those that are tried and true.

Today is the first day of Fall. I cannot think of a better aroma to decorate your house than a loaf of freshly baked "Best Ever Banana Bread." From my home to yours . . . Happy Baking!

Best Ever Banana Bread
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1-3/4 c. unsifted all purpose flour
1-1/2 c. sugar
1 c. chopped walnuts, optional
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. plus 1T buttermilk
1t. baking soda
1t. vanilla
1/2t. salt

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Grease and flour 9x5 loaf pan.
3. Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix well, but do not beat.
4. Transfer to prepared pan and bake until top is golden brown and splits slightly, about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

NOTE: DO NOT DOUBLE RECIPE. This recipe does, however, split easily into (3) smaller loaves.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Burger Heaven

I think if I had to choose a last meal, one of them would be a burger. It would have to have quality meat, a good bun and interesting condiments. It can be very basic (cheese, lettuce, tomato) or it can have chili or brie cheese. However it is paired, I know I would enjoy it.

During a recent foray to LA for a cultural weekend (including a tour of the Getty Museum and two performances at the Hollywood Bowl), my friend, Greg and I made it our mission to search out the best burger in Los Angeles. We tried six locations and each tried different versions of burgers. Below are our best samplings.

I used to visit Father's Office back in the 80's and 90's for the beer and comraderie. Located on trendy Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, Father's Office is still there, and still located next to the venerable barber shop, however, now it's a bit more "metrosexual." You can still get great beers on tap (approximately 31 varieties of microbrews and others, including Chimay au draught). And now, you can get great wines by the glass and upscale food too. One of the food highlights is the burger. It only comes ONE way (with NO deviations accepted). The Office Burger consists of Caramelized Onions, Bacon, Maytag Blue, Gruyere and Arugula ($12). It was amazing -- meat was bold in flavor and very juicy; the roll (not standard issue bun) was crispy and fresh. The blue cheese did not overpower the burger or vice versa; it was a nice compliment. Other highlights included: Roasted Mission Figs, Cabrales Blue, Fresh Chevre, Toated Walnuts, Jamon Serrano, Radicchio Salad ($9), Organic Heirloom Tomato Salad, Sheep Milk Ricotta, Red Onion, Basil Cucumber Vinaigrette ($11). These dishes seem out of place at a "burger" joint, but they are very good, fresh, inventive and wonderfully presented. The only negative about the restaurant is that it doesn't take reservations or even guarantee you a table when you go in and order food. But it does have a GREAT burger and it is certainly worth the wait.
1018 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica
3229 Helms Avenue, Los Angeles

After I finished the LA Marathon in 2002, Greg brought me here to knock out those nasty toxins. Located in West LA across from the Westside Pavilion Shopping Center sits the Apple Pan. It's a quaint "shack" and a slice of burger heaven, has been in this same location since 1947 and is as American as apple pie. Some of the waiters appear to have been there since opening -- they're gruff, efficient and exactly the type of waiter you expect and grow to enjoy. Sitting at the u-shaped counter, you see that the waiters have perfected their trade and personality by working there. The burger menu is limited and consists of the Steakhouse Burger or the Hickory Burger. We preferred the Hickory burger, but whichever way you choose, you can't go wrong. The meat is tender and juicy with just the right amount of hickory sauce to make it yummy. If you order fries, they come as an "appetizer" on a paper plate, hot and crispy, and the waiter automatically pours you a hefty amount on a similar-size paper plate. Another line may await you, but again, it's well worth it!
10801 W. Pico Boulelvard, Los Angeles

In Hollywood, there's another historic place called the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel -- the site of the first Academy Awards. The hotel recently saw a facelift from it's management, Thompson Hotels, and energy from its new restaurants and bars. The 24-hour a day restaurant, 25 Degrees, doesn't look or feel like your normal 24-hour place. It's more refined with big brown leather booths and doesn't yet show the "wear and tear" as some of the other burger joints highlighted in this blog. But it does have your counter and it does have another great burger. You can build-your-own burger here. First, choose your meat, then choose your cheese (ranging from american to benedictine, point reyes blue, smoked mozzarella -- a total of 13), choose your extras (ranging from arugula, avocado, chili, fried egg, proscuitto -- a total of 12), choose your sauce (ranging from BBQ, chipotle, dijon, garlic parmesan, 1000 island -- a total of 13) and bada bing, you have yourself a beautiful burger. It's also a great place for a grilled three cheese sandwich with tomato soup. Breakfast is served daily from 6AM to 10:30AM (to 11:30AM on the weekends). Enjoy a Guinness Milkshake or a classic cocktail with your burger and you're sure to start (or end) your evening well.
7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood

Another "Build Your Own" burger restaurant worth honorable mention is "The Counter." Now located in (6) states with (7) California locations, the Counter has a great concept and ambiance, and of course, a delectable burger. For the health conscious, at the Counter, you can have a veggie burger or a burger in a bowl. We're purists, however, and prefer the burger on a bun (which you can choose between an english muffin, honey wheat or more standard hamburger bun). Here you choose your meat, then cheese (10 varieties), up to (4) toppings per burger (28 standard and premium choices) and sauce (including the sauce of the month or 18 others). They have some signature burgers with pre-set cheeses and toppings. We had a beef burger with horseradish cheddar, grilled onions, lettuce blend, honeycured bacon, and tomoatoes with 1000 Island dressing. But if you want to experience something different, try the Taco Turkey version with ground turkey, jalapeno jack cheese, lettuce, scallions, dried cranberries and spicy tomato vinaigrette. Whatever you choose, be sure to try the fries, sweet potato fries and/or the crispy fried onion strings. Milkshakes, beer and wine are also available.
2901 Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica

What kind of burger reviewer AND USC Trojan would I be if I didn't include Tommy's here?! Arriving at 1AM, for a moment, I felt as if I were back in college, looking for an infusion of protein and grease to wipe away the effects of a night of post-game drinking. Tonight, I was less intoxicated by the beer (having come from a genteel evening at the Hollywood Bowl) and more intoxicated by the rich aroma of chili and cheese. Start by standing in a long line, breath in the vapors, order your burger, fries and soda and then stradle up to a counter that surrounds the parking lot. (Whatever you do, don't eat in the car. Trust me on this one!) Enjoy a juicy, messy and delicious burger. Even Greg, who doesn't like pickles on his burger, loved this one. Stacked always in this order, the burger consists of (from top to bottom): bun, pickles, hand-sliced beefsteak tomato, fresh chopped onions, Tommy's famous chili, 100% beef patty, double-thick cheese, mustard. You can deviate, but why ruin perfection?!

Tommy's Original
Beverly & Rampart, Los Angeles


Located in Pasadena is another "venerable" spot that harks back to your childhood (or that of your parents and grandparents). Pie 'n' Burger is one those spots. It's homey (another counter), has a great burger, friendly and efficient service and serves a fresh, homemade piece of ollallieberry or coconut meringue pie (among many other varieties) for dessert. Opened in 1963, Pie 'n' Burger is owned by a fellow Trojan and makes the same fine food that it did upon opening (45) years ago. I think even some of the customers are the same since opening. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here, but the burger and pie are truly the main reasons for coming and returning again and again. Burgers are made with beef, turkey or veggie and homemade 1000 Island dressing, pickles and lettuce are standard; cheese is also an option. Again, you may have a line, but stay with it -- you will not be disappointed. And you may make a friend or two along the way and talk about "old" times!

913 E. California Street, Pasadena 626/795-1123

(Father's Office, Tommy's and Pie & Burger photos courtesy of GHuntG Productions.)