with a grain of salt

food detective

Categories: Beverages, Cocktail Party, Dinner Party, Posted on May 14, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (0)

I pulled into my desert house right after my 26-year-old daughter and her friends had driven off after a little Cinco de Mayo girls’ weekend. I was truly impressed that they had left the house just as they had found it. And even more elated when I opened the freezer to find a large bottle of top shelf tequila chilling on its side. Let’s get serious- when do parents ever come home after their children have had a fiesta to find their house cleaner and with more liquor?

I went about my usual home-opening tasks- drawing the shutters, cutting flowers, putting out pool towels. Another is to fill the hummingbird feeder outside the bay window of my kitchen. I have two hummingbirds that buzz the house whenever they see me first drive in. Their little faces appear at each window and sliding glass door beckoning me to give them something to drink.

Right as I was boiling up the sugar syrup for their feeder I thought why don’t I make a little nectar for myself to go with that chilled bottle I just discovered? On his last trip out, my son-in-law-to-be taught me how to make the best fresh lime margaritas. Looking out the window I surmised that it would soon be cinco o’clock for me and my feathered friends.

Hummingbird food is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Bring to a boil, cool completely, then either refrigerate or fill your feeder.

Simple syrup for cocktails is 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Just as above, bring the sugar and water to a boil, cool completely and refrigerate until needed.

The breakdown for a fresh margarita is simply 1 part freshly squeezed lime juice, 2 parts good tequila, 1 part Grand Marnier or triple sec, and ½  part simple syrup.

1 part freshly squeezed lime juice.

2 parts good tequila.

1 part Grand Marnier or triple sec.

1/2 part simple syrup.

Stir well and serve over ice or give a quick whirl in your blender with a few ice cubes.

Run the rim of your glasses with a cut lime, then dip in coarse salt.

And pour yourself a cocktail.

It’s always more fun to drink with a friend. olé!

in the bag

entertaining with style- making it work for you

Categories: Sources, Setting the Stage, Posted on April 28, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (1)

There are so many things to love about Trader Joe’s. They always have a beautiful array of fresh vegetables. There’s their convenience items like steamed and peeled baby beets or ready to serve lentils. Affordable finds such as creamy burrata. I’m simply mad about their pita crackers. And then there are the flowers. No one has an excuse not to have fresh blooms in their home when a Trader Joe’s is nearby.

I get so excited when the cut tulips and potted daffodils finally arrive. Each week I fill paper bags full of them, then create simple arrangements for all the rooms in my home. So no matter the weather outside, spring shines brightly inside.

Here is a floral display that is literally as easy as… 1, 2, 3.

First head off to a craft store and pick up three decorative 5-inch pots. Remember in floral design there’s magic in odd numbers.

Next, pick up three miniature daffodils.

Remove the daffodils from their plastic and paper sleeves.

Place each inside one of the decorative pots.

Line them up for a sunny show all season long.

When the blooms fade, replace the daffodils and plant the spent bulbs outside and they will come up in your yard next spring.

You’ve got this one in the bag!

april (snow) showers

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Desserts, Posted on April 17, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (3)

It’s April 17th and I woke to my flower beds covered in a blanket of snow. As I put on my boots and hat and mittens to take my dog Willie out, we were greeted with frigid winds and pelting hail. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for a weather change. And while we can’t do a thing to influence Mother Nature, here's a way to bring a little sunshine into your home.

How about a sunny lemon pie? Those of you who know me, know that I am not much of a baker. And if you aren’t either, then you’re going to like this one too.  Turns out this Carolina Lemon Pie is… easy as pie.

The secret to the crust is that it’s made from saltine crackers. You’ll need one and half sleeves.

Break up the saltines and place in the bowl of the food processor with 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

Pulse to coarse crumbs, about 15 pulses.

Add the melted butter and corn syrup.

Pulse until crumbs are broken down into oatmeal-size pieces, about 15 pulses.

Transfer the saltine mixture to a greased 9-inch pie plate.

Using the bottom of a dry measuring cup, press crumbs into even layer on bottom and sides of plate. Use your hand to keep the crumbs from spilling over the plate edge.

Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake the crust until light golden brown and fragrant, about 16 to 19 minutes.

Meanwhile zest one to two lemons to for a full tablespoon of lemon zest.

Then squeeze three lemons to yield a half cup of fresh juice.

Whisk together the condensed milk, egg yolks, cream, lemon zest, and salt in bowl until fully combined.

Whisk in the lemon juice until fully incorporated.

With the pie plate still on sheet, pour the filling into baked crust (note: the crust needn’t be cool).

Bake the pie until the edges are beginning to set but center still jiggles when shaken, about 15 to 17 minutes. Place the pie on a wire rack and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate the pie until fully chilled, about 4 hours or overnight.

With an electric mixer whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla until stiff peaks form.

Right before serving, top the pie with the whipped cream.

Spread the whipped cream almost to the edge of the pie.

Everyone is going to want a slice of this sunshine right about now.

I want pie.

break for this

food detective

Categories: Breads, Pizza, Tarts, Eggs, Breakfast/Brunch, Posted on April 3, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (3)

This is probably the most incredible breakfast sandwich… ever. Best part you can make all the components a couple hours ahead of time, then it’s just a quick griddle until you plate it up. And while it’s uncommonly light and airy it’s actually pretty sturdy, so you can take this toasty on the road.

If you feel the need to add a meat serve it on the side. Not only is this breakfast sandwich perfect all on its own, adding bacon or sausage might disrupt the way it all aligns like a dream.

There are two secrets to making this breakfast scramble sandwich, the first is whisking the eggs constantly over medium to medium-high heat so that they make a small curd. Then when they are firmly set, whisk in some cream cheese (I like to use whipped Philly) to give it added creaminess and to help bind it all together.

Don’t get jazzy with the cheese. This one calls for American all the way. And for the bread choose a good old fashioned white sandwich bread sliced thick.

Whisk four eggs and a small pinch of cayenne in a small bowl; season generously with salt.

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium to medium-high heat.

Add the eggs.

Cook, whisking constantly, until they have set in small curds and are beginning to look dry, about 1 minute.

Immediately remove from heat and whisk in the cream cheese.

The eggs can be scrambled 2 hours ahead. Cover tightly and store at room temperature.

Put two slices of cheese on two of the slices of bread.

Top the other two slices with the egg mixture. Close the sandwiches up.

Heat a dry large skillet over medium-low heat, then brush very lightly with butter.

Toast the sandwiches until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.

These became instant family favorites with my crew over the past holiday. It’s sure to become your morning go-to too.

in a pickle

food detective

Categories: Fish and Seafood, Dinner for Two, Supper, Lunch, Posted on March 18, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

Flipping through an old copy of Bon Appétit I came across an intriguing recipe for salmon burgers. You are going to want to try this fresh take on a classic fishcake.

The key to this burger’s success is a food processor. Pulse one third of the salmon into a smooth paste, then add the other two thirds and pulse until coarsely chopped. The smooth salmon, along with a little mayonnaise, is what holds it all together. Not using the typical breadcrumb binder results in an incredibly light burger that is crisp on the outside and airy as a dream on the inside.

Top with some homemade quick pickles (you won’t believe how easy they are to make), spicy greens, and a little secret sauce.

For the salmon burgers start with 1½ pounds boneless, skinless center-cut salmon, patted dry. Cut the salmon into 2" pieces.

Transfer one-third of salmon to a food processor and process, scraping down sides, until mixture is very smooth and paste-like.

Add remaining salmon and pulse 4–5 times until pieces are no bigger than ¼" (be careful not to make it too smooth). Transfer to a large bowl.

Mix in scallion greens, grated ginger, garlic, 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise, and 1 tsp. salt; toss to combine.

Form mixture into 4 patties about ¾" thick. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Chill at least 1 hour or up to 3 (you’ll want to chill the patties so that they hold their shape before getting cooked).

Meanwhile, combine the sesame oil, 1 tsp. vinegar, remaining ⅔ cup mayonnaise, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.

Mix well, then cover and refrigerate.

Shave three medium Persian cucumbers lengthwise.

Toss the cucumbers with a pinch of salt in another small bowl. Massage with your hands for a few minutes, squeezing lightly to expel water; discard the cucumber liquid.

Add the chopped chili, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 2 teaspoons vinegar to the bowl; toss to coat. Chill until ready to assemble burgers.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high until the oil begins to shimmer. Remove salmon patties from fridge right before cooking and sprinkle with the rice flour just to coat the outside (you won’t need all of it). The patties will be a little loose, but you can always pat them back together with your hands before they hit the pan.

Working in batches and adding more oil in between batches if needed, cook the patties until golden brown, about 3–4 minutes on each side (take care not to overcook).

Toss the baby greens, scallion whites, remaining 1 teaspoon vinegar, and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl.

Build the srtarting with the burgers with buns and patties.

Top with the reserved special sauce, herb mixture, and pickles.

One bite and you’ll be hooked.

spring fling

entertaining with style- making it work for you

Categories: Setting the Stage, Posted on March 4, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

When tulips start to pop up in the grocery store it’s a sure sign that they will soon be blooming in our yards. With that optimism, I rush to fill my home with these spring beauties.

I’m always looking for inspiration on how to arrange flowers. So, the other day when I was waiting in the checkout line with several sleeves of tulips in my cart, a magazine on Easter entertaining caught my eye. I impulse bought, shrugged off the outrageous price, and looked forward to perusing the pages with a big cup of coffee.

A beautiful underwater design inside a large round vase intrigued me. I set down the magazine and went into my darkroom which now houses all of my vases, old cookbooks, Christmas ornaments, and hundreds of vinyl records. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have one of those big round vases. And I certainly wasn’t going to purchase one. One of my new year resolutions was to give things away, not to accumulate anything more. (Do you know that most florists will gladly take your old vases? That’s probably what happened to my round one when I loaded up the back of my car and made one of those deliveries.)

I was a little frustrated that I couldn't recreate that arrangement. I was also a little perplexed at how many vases I still had. My mind wandered to other things that I have a lot of. When I first got married thirty years ago one of the most popular gifts was crystal bowls. I think we got seventeen. I kept asking my mother and future mother-in-law what I was going to do in a tiny Manhattan apartment with all those bowls. They merrily replied, “put fruit in them.”

So, I went into the other part of the basement that has all of my rarely used entertaining and cooking items. I opened a cupboard and behind my asparagus steamer was the most beautiful crystal bowl.

Here is my arrangement. I actually think it is even more beautiful than the one I was hoping to copy.

Start with a dozen tulips.

Fill a glass bowl with cold water. (Tulips like to be in cold water.) Add a little floral preservative to feed the flowers and keep bacteria at bay.

Trim one of the flowers ,a little at a time, so that the bloom just touches the top of the bowl when it’s wrapped along the edge.

Use that flower as your guide flower when cutting the rest.

Make sure that your final cut is on the diagonal so that the stems can drink up as much water as possible.

Discard the excess leaves.

Begin winding the stems along the side of the bowl.

Keep adding blooms.

Remember to keep adding cool fresh water to the bowl each day. And you might need to rearrange and trim your tulips as the days pass, tulips continue to grow even after they are cut.

This arrangement is stunning in its simplicity, and surely cause for celebration.

wink and a nod

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Appetizers, Cocktail Party, Dinner Party, Fête Fact, Posted on February 19, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

Right before Valentine’s Day I taught a Girls’ Night Out cooking class at Dorothy Lane Market’s Culinary Center. The evening featured elegant and effortless appetizers and some simple but spectacular deserts. To make it more fun, Teresa Kearney, paired it all with wines from across Europe. Because let’s be honest, when having people over who doesn’t want to know how to make a splash without a lot of fuss.

Below you will find recipes that are embarrassingly easy. I find they are the perfect way to start and end any evening.

Here’s a secret… take something basic such as a dip, crudité, or meat and cheese platter and upgrade the ingredients so it looks fresh and interesting.

As our students sat down they were greeted with an antipasto platter. Forget the salami and cheddar. A platter of castelvetrano olives, roasted marcona almonds, slices of manchego, and rolls of paper-thin mortadella is so much more inviting with its array of textures and flavors.

And while you are at the olive bar pick up some olive tapenade. It’s the perfect topper for a soft goat cheese. Add a decorative bowl of pita chips and you have a 30 second starter. Unless someone is on a killer diet no one even notices the veggies and dip. Here is a crazy good recipe for whipped gorgonzola. Pulsing a dolce (sweet) gorgonzola with a little cream cheese and heavy cream makes for an ethereal concoction. Get creative when you select your crudité. Swap out fennel for celery. Instead of pre-packaged carrots that look like whittled down nubs, pick up a bunch of thin young carrots with their leafy green tops. Quartered and halved radishes sport a new look when you leave their tops and tails on as well. And try making chips out of peeled and thinly sliced rainbow beets. The whipped gorgonzola is also incredible piped into half of a pitted date.

I am smitten with these wafer-thin Siljan cups. You can put absolutely anything you want into them. And no matter how humble, whatever you put in is instantly elevated.

For the first I made a little egg salad and added a dollop of Caviart. If you’ve never tried it, you’ll be amazed. It’s actually made out of seaweed but looks and tastes like caviar. You’ll find it in the canned seafood aisle. And the best part- the black never runs. For the second I put in a dollop of triple crème cheese and a smidge of fig jam. And for the third… don’t faint… I chopped deli-bought chicken salad, spooned it it and put a couple toasted almonds on top.

No party is complete without a passed hot hors d'oeuvre. Here are three that couldn’t be easier to prepare.  Cheese pinwheels freeze beautifully, making them the perfect go-to appetizer. The mini crab cakes are actually fresh crab cakes from your grocery’s seafood counter formed into small bite-sized disks, pressed lightly into panko, then quickly sautéed. They can be formed and refrigerated hours ahead of time. They can even be sautéed earlier then reheated in a warm oven. The deviled cheese bites are simply slices of bakery-fresh asiago breadsticks topped with deli-made pimento cheese dip, then broiled until hot and bubbly.

No night is complete without a sweet. When you’re pressed for time these three will impress your guests, and again they couldn’t be easier to make. The cheesecake tarts are believe it or not disassembled bakery-fresh cheesecake slices reassembled into bite-sized shortbread cups. The lemon sorbet with blueberries is just a hollowed out fresh lemon half filled with purchased sorbet. The lemon cups can be assembled days ahead of time, wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer. When you are ready to serve unwrap and top with blueberries that have been tossed with a little grand marnier.  The brownie bites are center cut frosted brownies from the bakery cut into little triangles. Changing the shape of the most mundane magically enhances it. These little bites are perfect served on a platter with fresh strawberries and if you really want to wow your guests accompany them with small wine glasses filled with hummers.

You can whip up a batch of these decadent after-dinner drinks made from vanilla ice cream, vodka and kalua and stow them in your freezer for up to a week ahead of time.

It’s always a celebration when you get to spend the evening with DLM’s wine expert, Teresa Kearney, and Culinary Center Manager, Peggy Neary. And a huge shout-out to Peggy Bishop, Kathy Kujawa, Donna Thompson and Rita Brown for making everything we prepared for this festive Girls’ Night Out look even easier!

on a roll

food detective

Categories: Appetizers, Cocktail Party, Posted on February 5, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

One of my readers emailed me after my last post, which was on new year resolutions and my desire to make French cheese puffs, and asked me how I expected to lose seven pounds (another one of my resolutions) while eating gougères.

Point well taken. So, I decided to investigate how I could work something bright and fresh into my canapé repertoire. I was looking for something that would dazzle without all the carbs and calories.

It’s always fun to imagine your most beloved meals, then try to break them down into bite sized pieces. One of my favorite things to order in an Italian restaurant is arugula and bresaola salad. I adore the textures and interplay of flavors. It’s typically prepared with very thin slices of air dried beef topped with peppery arugula and shaves of tangy aged Parmesan cheese.

Bresaola is a specialty in the Alps in northern Italy. It is made from top round cut of beef, and is lean and tender, with a sweet and slightly musty smell. Unlike prosciutto which is made of pork, bresaola is almost completely lean, with very little fat running through it. And while it’s pricey, because it is best sliced paper-thin, a little goes a long way. You should be able to find bresaola in a good Italian deli, specialty store and some fine grocery stores.

For a canapé take on this classic I decided to lose the cheese and simply roll up the beef with barely dressed arugula for a fresh bite that’s as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate. Bresaola and arrugula roll ups are as easy as one, two, three.

Lay the paper-thin slices of bresaola out in a line.

In a bowl drizzle the arugula with just enough olive oil to lightly dress.

Season with kosher salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper and toss.

At the wide end of the slice of beef lay arugula out in a line so that the some of the sprigs fall over the edge. Roll up into a tight cigar.

The roll ups can be made an hour ahead of time. Cover with a barely damp paper towel then plastic wrap and refrigerate.

I think I'll be entertaining a new dress size soon!

resolve to make it simple

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Appetizers, Cocktail Party, Fête Fact, Posted on January 23, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

This time of year we all have resolutions. Maybe it’s to lose 7 pounds, improve your daily workout, drink more water, mediate each morning. I know these are all on my list, along with another… to start making gougères. You might wonder what the heck is that!?

A gougère is a delicate little cheese puff made with a savory pâte à choux. À pâte what?! You might be asking if you can’t type it on a regular key board then how could you possibly make one, and why should you even try.

Most resolutions sound wonderful when you whisper them in your mind. Everything is rosy until you actually pick up a wooden spoon and vigorously stir flour, water, and butter into a dry ball over medium heat for over eight minutes. Before attempting to fully incorporate eggs one at a time, then folding in gruyere cheese and piping the dough through a pastry bag onto parchment lined baking sheets. Ok, it’s now obvious why I’ve not yet tackled this recipe.

But then the uncanniest thing occurred. I opened the frig and saw a half a can of crescent roll dough (don’t ask) and several blocks of fine cheese (that we had received for Christmas presents). Could this possibly be the makings of a forged gougère?

You are not going to believe how easy these are to make and how freaking fabulous they taste. Best yet, you can freeze them ahead of time. So, you can pop them into the oven whenever the mood strikes.

And the timing for this discovery couldn’t be better because on February 7th I’m teaching a Girls’ Night Out cooking class at Dorothy Lane Market’s Culinary Center. The theme is elegant appetizers that are easy to prepare. Well it certainly doesn’t get any easier than this. But as with all good shams you need change the name. How about “cheese pinwheels”?

Believe it or not, these start with a can of crescent rolls.

Give the can a crack and unroll the dough on to a cutting board.

Then separate the dough into four rectangles.

Pinch the diagonal serrations together.

Since you’ve gone lowbrow on the dough, splurge a little on the cheese. This is a great way to use those good leftover hunks that have been stowed in your frig.

Grate the cheese.

Scatter the grated cheese over the dough. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt and a few generous grinds of pepper. Press the cheese lightly into the dough with a flat hand so it adheres.

With a sharp knife, cut each rectangle into quarters lengthwise. Then cut each strip in half lengthwise to make eight thin strips.

Roll each strip into a pinwheel, the cheese will hang out on either end.

Place on a foil lined rimmed sheet pan. Cover tightly with foil and freeze for several hours until solid.

Put the frozen pinwheels into a Ziploc bag and freeze.

Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, don’t use foil as it might tear and stick to the bottom of the cheese pinwheels.

Bake at 350 degrees for five to ten minutes until puffed and golden. Serve hot from the oven.

This is one resolutions you are sure to keep!


food detective

Categories: Appetizers, Cocktail Party, Fête Fact, Posted on January 9, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

Football’s been a constant in our home the past few weeks. Personally, I am a diehard Michigan fan, I also like to root for the Cleveland Browns. Obviously, I have had little to cheer about. That said, my attention span tends to wander and wane when it comes to other teams and competitions.

While my loved ones have been glued to the big screen watching the bowl games, I’ve secretly been glued to my little screen watching cooking segments on the morning news shows. Just happens they’ve been running New Year’s Eve appetizers. Seems like they were all trying to reach a broad audience (i.e. easy to prepare and appealing to the humblest of palates). To me their offerings appeared a little low brow to herald in the new year, but with a few tweaks could be the perfect playbook for the upcoming Super Bowl.

What football fan doesn’t crave pigs in a blanket, tater tots, and loaded potato skins? One of my entertaining mantras is to beg, borrow or steal any good idea that comes your way. Remember no one ever said everything you serve needs to be a completely original idea, that would be absurd.

Perhaps one of your New Year’s resolutions should be to intercept all of the good plays you happen upon in 2018, figure out how to make them work for you, then pass the heck out of them.

For the loaded potato cups start with 15 to 20 very small new potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 425. Cut the ends off the potatoes, then cut in half.

Using a small melon baller scoop out the center of each potato half, taking care not to scoop all the way through.

Toss with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. I like to re-use a grocery store produce bag.

Arrange potatoes cut side down on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 20-28 minutes depending on their size.

Remove from oven and cool slightly.

Meanwhile in a large bowl combine a quarter cup each of finely chopped cooked broccoli, sour cream, and cheddar cheese. 

Stir to combine evenly.

Spoon the filling into the cooled potato cups. Garnish with chives.

The filled cups can be stored covered in the refrigerate for several hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Frozen tater tots are the secret ingredient for theses tater skewers with caviar.

Cook the tater tots according to package instructions.

Meanwhile combine the sour cream, dill, chives and lemon juice. Set aside.

The sauce can be made several hours ahead of time, cover and refrigerate.

Allow the cooked tater tots to cool slightly. Thread two tater tots onto short bamboo skewers.

Drizzle each skewer with the herbed sour cream.

Samon roe caviar makes for a great presentation and is reasonably priced. Be sure to use fresh caviar from the refrigerated seafood section of the grocery store, stay clear of the "caviar" on the shelf by the cans of the tuna.

Top with a dollop of salmon caviar.

Forget the pigs, try stuffed olives in a blanket instead. This one starts with a package of crescent rolls.

Unroll and press the dough into one large rectangle.

Cut the dough into 12 long strips. The cut in half to make 24 strips.

This recipe is super simple- just pick up some pitted Castelvetrano olives and roasted garlic from the olive bar at your grocery store.

Stuff each olive with a roasted garlic clove. If the cloves are large you might need to cut them in half lengthwise.

Place the stuffed olive at the end of each dough strip and roll the olive up. You will be able to see the ends of the olive.

Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Repeat until all the olives are rolled. Lightly brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. (The olives can be prepared to this point several hours ahead of time. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.)

Bake at 375 degrees until dough is cooked and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.

This trio is sure to bring victory to all!

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