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Baba Ganoush

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Baba Ganoush

Time: 45-75 minutes (10-15 minutes to make once the eggplant has been cooked and cooled)

Serves: 10-12 as an appetizer

Inspired by: When I began cooking my theme was often “Mediterranean” because I always loved the foods prepared by my Armenian grandparents. I thought some sort of eggplant dip was something I should at least try to make. I found one in an Armenian cook book and then began modifying it slightly as I made it more and more often. I especially love the flavors of this when the eggplant is grilled and gets a bit charred – it adds a fabulous smokey flavor.


  • 2.5 lbs eggplant
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4-6 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons Tahini
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ½ bunch parsley, minced (garnish)
  • Fresh pomegranate seeds (garnish)


  • Slice eggplants in half lengthwise, score the face with a knife and brush each face with olive oil.
  • Put eggplant face up on cookie sheet and place under pre-heated broiler (40-60 min at about 350), or grill eggplant face down over medium heat (20-30 min). Cook until thoroughly cooked – slightly charred outside and soft on inside.
  • Cool.
  • With spoon, remove eggplant from the skin and mash thoroughly (can do this in a food processor).
  • Then add the Tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and salt and continue to mix well until
  • Spread the dip in a large, round platter. Sprinkle with parsley or garnish with parsley sprigs. Dribble with olive oil (optional). It’s pretty if sprinkled with fresh pomegranate seeds.

Notes: The grilling/broiling step is the key to this recipe as it makes the eggplant taste rich and smoky. This can keep for a couple of days but the garlic flavor gets stronger each day so if you don’t plan to eat right away, use a little less garlic.

Wine Suggestions: Any white or light red works well with this dish as well as other middle-eastern “mezzas”. Try a creamy white such as a rich California or Australian Chardonnay, and for crisp – try a Chablis or other unoaked White Burgundy, Sancerre, Gruner Veltliner or a Spanish Verdejo. Also a light red with a bit of oak tannin such as a Red Burgundy or Rioja is a good accompaniment if you go heavier on the garlic.

Fiesta Couscous

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Time: 30-45 minutes

Serves: 10-20 as a side dish

Inspired by: Tony Khalife, who taught me a great deal about putting unique flavors together. We tried this with all kinds of combinations of flavors and every time it turned out fantastic.


  • 2-3 cups of couscous works well for the below quantity of “fiesta” ingredients
  • Water (1 1/2 cups water per cup of couscous)
  • 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, minced – keep the seeds (if you are sensitive to the oils, wear gloves)
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper chopped
  • 1 cup dried papaya (chopped to the size of the dried cranberries)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup slivered almonds (unsalted pistachios are great too)
  • 1-2 cups green peas thawed to room temperature


  • Fill a large pot with water – use 1 1/2 cup water to 1 cup couscous
  • Add a dash of olive oil and salt and bring to a boil
  • Add the couscous, stir and bring to a boil again, and then reduce heat to a very low simmer and cover for 20-30 minutes
  • In a separate large sauté pan, sauté olive oil, jalapeno and onion
  • When starting to brown, add bell pepper
  • When they get cooked fairly well – 5-10 minutes, add nuts and dried fruit and cook for another 5 minutes
  • Add the peas in the last few minutes so they get hot but not crushed and mushy
  • Mix the couscous and the “fiesta” mixture in a large glass bowl (don’t do it all at once – start with half of each to ensure you get to your desired consistency/mixture)
  • Add olive oil if it is too dry and needs moisture

Notes: This is good hot or at room temperature so it’s great for making early in the day for a party, or bringing to a potluck or as part of a picnic. It’s a perfect side dish to compliment a Mediterranean-themed meal, with perhaps hummus as a starter, curry chicken kabobs and Greek salad. I also make this recipe with quinoa instead of couscous on occasion because it’s healthier. Just replace the couscous with quinoa – use 1 1/4 cups of water for 1 cup of quinoa.

Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

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Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Time: Approximately 4-6 hours total to prepare and cook; 2 hours to make the arrabbiata sauce, pesto, and cut/marinate/grill vegetables, 30-45 minutes to assemble lasagna, and between 1-3 hours to cook (depending on whether it’s fresh or frozen).

Serves: Approximately 30 main course servings (2″ x 2.5″ x 5″).

Inspired by: My friend Rikke Johansen brought “individual” grilled vegetable lasagnas to a party at my home once that were amazingly delicious! I know she slaved all day over making fresh pasta for them, homemade sauces, and my favorite ingredient was the surprise layer of grilled sweet potatoes that were very subtle in the dish, but added a unique flavor and awesome texture! Reviewing her recipe and a few other similar ones, I concocted this one. It’s a dish full of beautiful flavors! It also makes great leftovers for about a week if kept wrapped well in the fridge. I also love that it can be made the day ahead of a party and sit one night night in the refrigerator covered before being cooked.  My friends with kids love that it can be made in smaller batches and then wrapped well and put in the freezer for whenever it is needed.

Supplies: Ceramic or glass baking dishes that are 2.5-3 inches in height. 3 makes cooking easier.  This quantity of ingredients yields about 300 square inches of lasagna. I use a 10 x 15 inch dish, a 9 x 13 inch dish and an 8 x 4 dish.  If you plan to freeze them for small meals, consider using several small baking dishes. Lastly, you will be grilling a lot of veggies – a large grill will save time!

Arrabbiata Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 8-10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5, 28 oz cans organic fire roasted crushed or diced tomatoes with juice
  • 3-4 teaspoons dried basil
  • 6 teaspoons of red pepper flakes (this gives it a great kick; reduce this to 2 teaspoons if you don’t like too much heat)
  • Salt to taste (approximately 1 teaspoon)
  • 8 large portabella mushrooms chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (for a meat version use 3-4 pounds of your favorite Italian sausage – for parties I often make both  – I get 4-5 portabellas and 2 pounds of Italian sausage – cook them separately, split up the finished arrabbiata sauce and add them in to make two different sauces.

Pesto (see ingredients and recipe)

Filling Ingredients

  • 3 lbs sweet potatoes – peeled and cut lengthwise into ¼ inch slices
  • 8-10 medium zucchini – cut lengthwise into ¼ inch slices
  • 1 large or 2 medium eggplants, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • Approx. ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Approx. ¼ cup balsamic
  • Approx. 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • Fresh pasta lasagna noodles – enough to give you three layers in your pan sizes (900 square inches if you are sticking with the quantity of this recipe). This can be tricky because the packages usually only tell you the weight. My favorite fresh pasta shop closed so I’ve been purchasing pasta carried by Whole Foods from the Pasta Shop in Oakland. Each 12 oz container has 3 sheets that are approximately 12 x 12 each so I get three containers and end up with some extra. The leftovers can be cut into ribbons for pasta and frozen to keep longer as well.
  • 3 lbs coarsely grated fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 2 lbs coursely grated fresh asiago cheese (I often use a pound each of fresh and aged)
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan or manchego


  • Start with the arrabbiata sauce. While it is simmering, make the pesto, sauté the portabellas, and prepare and grill the vegetables.
  • Arrabiata Sauce: Heat the olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced, about 1.5 hours. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Cover and set aside.
  • Portabellas: For a “meatier” lasagna, chop up your portabellas in 1/4 inch pieces, sauté them with olive oil and a bit of salt (smoky salts is nice), until they release most of their water. Add them to the Arrabbiata sauce when it is finished. If you are using Italian Sausage, just break up the sausage into small pieces while you are sautéing it and brown it a bit.
  • Pesto: Make pesto according to recipe and set aside until ready to assemble lasagna.
  • Cut and Marinate the Vegetables: Prepare a small bowl with a mixture of equal parts olive oil and balsamic. Cut the vegetables according to the ingredient list above. Long thin slices is easier to grill than a lot of small pieces. Use your hands to lightly and quickly coat veggies with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and pile them onto cookie sheets or something easy to carry them to your grill.
  • Grill Vegetables: Grill in batches, until they are tender and browned. Besides adding that beautiful flavor that comes from grilling, your main goal of grilling is getting them to release a lot of their moisture so when the lasagna cooks it will have a perfect moistness and will not end up sitting in a lot of water. At times I’ve thought I’ve overcooked some of the vegetables and they still turn out well in the finished product.
  • Assemble Lasagna:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In one bowl, combine your grated asiago and parmesan cheeses. In another bowl, blend your ricotta cheese with 1/2 cup of the pesto (or enough so that it gives it a nice flavor without being overly salty).
  • Layer 1: Spoon 1/2 of the arrabbiata sauce onto the bottom of each baking dish.
  • Layer 2: Single layer of lasagna noodles so they do not overlap.
  • Layer 3: Single layer of grilled sweet potatoes so they do not overlap.
  • Layer 4: As equally as possible, spread the ricotta mixture combined with pesto. Sprinkle a handful of mozzarella over the top.
  • Layer 5: Layer of lasagna noodles.
  • Layer 6: Layer of zucchini.
  • Layer 7: Layer 1/2 of the mozzarella
  • Layer 8: Layer of eggplant.
  • Layer 9: Layer 1/2 of the asiago/parmesan mixture.
  • Layer 10: Final layer of lasagna noodles.
  • Layer 11: Spread the rest of the arrabbiata sauce.
  • Layer 12: Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and asiago/parmesan cheeses – pack it all down at this point if necessary to keep it all from overflowing the pan.
  • Top it all off by drizzling pesto over the top. This is a fairly salty mixture so you can also reserve a bit to top off again when you are eating if it needs more, or to spread on some warm bread to accompany the lasagna.

Cook Lasagna from Fresh: Preheat oven to 350. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil, place your dish on a cookie sheet in case there is some spill over, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until it is bubbling and golden brown (20-30 minutes longer). Let the lasagna rest for 10 minutes before serving, and if you’d like, drizzle again with some of the remaining pesto oil. Or put a “smear” of pesto on the plate under each piece you serve.

Pre-Baked Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Pre-Baked Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Cook Lasagna from Frozen: Preheat oven to 400. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil, place your dish on a cookie sheet in case there is some spill over, and bake for approximately 120 minutes. (Add 20-30 min if not completely hot all the way through). Remove the foil and drop temperature to 350 and continue baking until it is bubbling and golden brown (20-30 minutes longer). Let the lasagna rest for 10 minutes before serving and if you have it, drizzle with pesto oil.

Notes: Using fresh ingredients (pasta, cheeses, sauces, and fresh organic vegetables) is what makes this dish so good.

Wine Suggestions: Italian! Any Sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany such as a Brunello di Montalcino or Rosso di Montalcino. If you like something less expensive and a bit more rustic try a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. While Barolo is typically paired with heavier and spicy meats, the spiciness and grilled flavors in this lasagna would probably also be yummy with older Barolo with some age that has had some time to soften. Anything too tanic might class with the spice.

Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Cranberry Relish

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Time: 20-30 minutes

Serves: 8-10 as a side dish

Inspired by: My good friend Sue who is amazing with both food preparations and wine and champagne selections! This was one of the several dishes she brought to a gourmet thanksgiving dinner party this year. Even those who don’t normally like cranberry sauce really enjoyed this refreshing side dish.


  • 1 bag cranberries
  • 12-15 kumquats
  • Approximately 1/4 cup sugar (taste for desired sweetness)
  • Approximately 1/2 cup fresh, strong crystallized ginger (quantity can very according to your taste)


  • Chop cranberries with sugar in a food processor and then dump into a large bowl.
  • Pull the stems off of the Kumquats and cut into halves.
  • In the same food processor (no need to clean), chop the kumquats with the ginger.
  • Dump the kumquat-ginger mixture into the bowl with the berries and mix well.
  • Refrigerate and serve the next day.

Notes: This is more of a light fruity salad than a relish/condiment, so I categorized it in both places.

Spanish Almond Cookies

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Spanish Almond Cookies

Time: approximately 90 minutes from start to finish

  • 20 minutes to prepare and mix the ingredients
  • 30 minutes to chill the dough
  • 20 minutes to prepare the cookies on the sheet
  • Approximately 10-14 minutes to bake

Serves: makes about 45 cookies

Inspired by: I was hosting a Spanish wine tasting one evening and scrambled to come up with some interesting tapas and desserts. I found several recipes on the web for cookies called “Perrunillas” – typical of Extremadura in Western Spain. I have since fine tuned the recipes and experimented a bit. If you use white flour, they are similar in taste and texture to almond biscotti. Whole-wheat flour makes them a bit denser, but also softer. Almond flour is heavier and causes them to flatten out so you will likely bake them a couple of minutes less, and they may turn out slightly chewy.


  • 3 cups all purpose flour (If you substitute wheat-flour the recipe doesn’t change. If you substitute all or part almond flour, use an extra 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of almond flour substituted – for example, if you use three cups of almond flour then you will use 1 teaspoon of baking soda instead of 1/4 teaspoon in the original recipe.)
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar (you can substitute raw sugar, but this will make the cookies heavier, they will flatten out more, and you will bake them a couple of minutes less – see picture at the end of this post)
  • 1 cup lightly flavored olive oil (extra virgin olive oil is also fine)
  • 1-2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
  • ½-1 teaspoon crushed/ground aniseed (I’ve only found seeds so I hand grind with a mortar and pestle)
  • 1 cup sliced or slivered raw almonds
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with a few drops of water
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup granulated white sugar to sprinkle over top


  • In a medium bowl, whisk or sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  • In a large bowl, combine eggs and sugar, beat in the oil, and then add lemon peel and aniseed.
  • Begin stirring in the dry ingredients until a soft dough has formed. Fold in the slivered almonds.
  • Chill the dough for 30 minutes (I’ve found that when using the whole wheat flour, the dough is easier to work with unchilled or very slightly chilled).
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Roll dough into 1 ¼ inch balls and flatten them slightly to a thickness of ¾ inch. Place on an ungreased, nonstick baking sheet about 1 inch apart. (Do not flatten if you’ve used raw sugar or almond flour as substitutes – they will flatten more rapidly while baking on their own.)
  • Brush tops of cookies with beaten egg yolk, sprinkle generously with sugar.
  • Bake until cookies are just lightly golden – approximately 12 minutes, but I usually start checking them at 10. It is very easy for the bottoms to burn quickly once they are done so check frequently and immediately remove them from the hot cookie sheets with a spatula to cool on a wire rack.

Notes: I’m classifying these as “moderately healthy” only because they are relative to most desserts/cookies! Except for the sugar, the ingredients aren’t that bad – especially if you substitute almond flour. If you use whole-wheat flour, the dough will be more crumbly so you’ll have to squeeze the cookie dough together harder when you are making the round shapes – but they will stay together. They also stick a bit more to the cookie sheet. Per my notes above, if you substitute almond flour, don’t forget to use an extra 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of almond flour to help make up for the heaviness of the almond flour. Also, I’ve found that when I use almond flour, I use just a bit less than a full cup of olive oil so the batter doesn’t get too runny. Lastly, if you substitute raw sugar for the white sugar in the cookie dough – this will also weigh them down a bit so they will become flatter (spread out a bit more) and may cook a bit faster.

Wine Recommendations: These cookies are nice with wine because they aren’t super sweet. It should be easy to find a white dessert wine that is nice, but not over the top sweet, and has some oxidized and almond nuances that would match fabulously with the cookies! An aged Sauternes would be perfect, but try a Vin Santo, late harvest Riesling, Muscat or Amontillado Sherry. If you must go red… perhaps a Tawny Port?

Gluten-Free Almond Cookies

Yummy Mustard

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Yummy Mustard

Time: 15 minutes plus cooling time

Inspired by: my super sweet, ex mother-in-law, Betty Moore, gave me this recipe! She always made the yummiest sandwiches, and this mustard was one of her tricks! I almost always keep some in the fridge as it is awesome on everything. This is a sweet and quite spicy mustard. The Coleman’s Dry Mustard gives this a sinus-clearing bite similar to fresh horseradish.

Supplies: a microwave, microwave-safe bowl and a whisk or electric mixer


  • 1 cup Coleman’s Dry Mustard
  • ¾ cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt


  • In a large, microwave-safe bowl, blend all ingredients together with a whisk or on a low to medium speed with an electric mixer. I usually start with the eggs, add in the sugar and salt, and then the dry mustard and vinegar.
  • Microwave for 2 minutes. Remove and stir well. Repeat 3-4 times until it is as thick as you’d like it to be. It will also thicken up quite a bit when it cools. Makes between 1 pint and 1 quart.

Notes: It’s best to make this a day or more ahead as it will cool and thicken up – making it easier to spread on wraps or sandwiches if you don’t want it to “run”. When I know I’ll be using it as a spread for wraps I usually make it a little bit thicker with an extra cycle or two in the microwave.I love using it warm as a pretzel dip as well!

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