shelter from the storm

food detective

Categories: Meat, Dinner for Two, Supper, Posted on February 6, 2024 by Sandy Bergsten

A series of atmospheric rivers have been pummeling the west coast of California and barreling into the Inland Empire. Our once sunny, dry oasis has become wet, drank and frigid.

Sweaters donned and fireplaces lit, it’s time for some good old fashioned comfort food. I adore shepherd’s pie, but it’s been eons since I’ve made it. So I poured myself a big mug of tea and set out to create a recipe that was sure to soothe.

This version comes together quickly, especially if you pick up “homemade” mashed potatoes from the prepared food section at your grocery’s deli.

On the way back from Jensen’s Finest Foods the view of our typically majestic Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain range is completely obscured by the system rolling in from the south.

For shepherd’s pie begin by dicing half of an onion, a carrot, and a stalk of celery. Add to a high-sided skillet with one tablespoon melted butter along with two minced cloves of garlic and two sprigs of thyme.

Cook over medium heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the onions are translucent, and the carrots are just tender, about ten minutes.

Add three quarters of a pound of ground beef, breaking the meat up with a spoon, continue cooking until it is no longer pink. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add two tablespoons tomato paste and stir, cooking until it’s well combined, for another two minutes. Stir in one and a half teaspoons Worchester sauce and a teaspoon whole grain mustard.

Sprinkle one tablespoon flour over the mixture and cook for one minute.

Add three quarters cup beef broth and cook, stirring, until the liquid has thickened slightly. Remove the thyme stems and stir in two tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place the meat mixture in a 1 ½ quart oven-proof casserole dish.

Top with dollops of mashed potatoes then spread them out over the top.

Drag a fork over the surface of the mashed potatoes.

Place in a 375-degree preheated oven (if the mixture is at the top edges of your pan, set a foil-lined baking sheet underneath the pan to catch any drips). Bake the pie until the potatoes have begun to brown and the edges are bubbling, about 30 minutes. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Generously serving two, this dish is as comforting as a cashmere throw on a chilly eve.

no baloney

food detective

Categories: Appetizers, Breads, Pizza, Tarts, Supper, Cocktail Party, Dinner Party, Lunch, Posted on December 19, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

Mortadella, an emulsified pork sausage that’s been a staple for centuries in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, has become a recent rage. You’ll find it gracing charcuterie boards, elevating every sandwich it’s tucked into, and even whipped to create a transcendent canapé.

One of my favorite spots outside of Los Angeles is Milkfarm, an artisanal cheese shop in Eagle Rock. Not only do they have the most amazing array of cheeses and cured meats, but they also have what has to be the best sandwich board north of DTLA. My go-to is their mortadella muffuletta. A pillowy focaccia slathered with garlic aioli, spicy olive salad, slices of cheese, piles of paper-thin mortadella and a handful of baby spinach. To call it an ethereal eat would be an understatement.

To make two mortadella muffulettas, split a 5x7 square of focaccia in half through the middle. Spread each cut surface generously with a tablespoon of garlic aioli.

Top with three to four tablespoons of muffuletta mix to cover.

You can make your own, but this jarred version by Marconi is excellent.

Layer with three to four thin slices of mozzarella.

Then a third of a pound of thinly sliced mortadella.

Top the bottom piece with a handful of baby spinach.

Carefully place the top on the bottom. Cut on the diagonal to create four triangular wedges.

I finally finished the second season of “The Bear”. I was thrilled to discover that the show’s last episode featured a savory cannolo filled with a mortadella mousse on its opening menu. What a trifecta- savory, mousse, and mortadella. This piqued my inner food detective, and just like fate a recipe for a mortadella mousse appeared in my NYT feed.

For the mortadella mousse canapés begin with a quarter pound piece of mortadella with the rind removed.

Dice the mortadella and place in a food processor.

Pulse into a paste.

Add two tablespoons of mascarpone, three tablespoons grated parmesan cheese and a grind of nutmeg.

Pulse until blended.

 Cover and chill in the refrigerator.

With a melon baller, scoop out a small ball of mousse and lightly press onto a toast round.

Preheat broiler. Dust each canape round finely grated parmesan cheese. Watching carefully, run under the broiler briefly, for about one minute, to lightly brown the top.

Jump on the mortadella bandwagon. You might just find yourself hot for this cold cut.

sealed with a kiss

dinner for two

Categories: Soups, Poultry, Meat, Grains and Pasta, Sauces and Such, Dinner for Two, Supper, Posted on November 14, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

One of the ways I show love is by making meals for others. It’s such a gift to have a full table with everyone gathered around. But now with our children’s lives progressing and families expanding I often find myself traveling to their homes. This fall I had back-to-back weekends visiting my daughters in LA and Park City. Lucky Meemo got to babysit and during naptimes I decided to fill my daughters’ freezers with some of their favorite dinners so that they could feel my loving embrace for the weeks and months to come.

Certain dinners are made for the deep freeze. The best ones have their main component frozen then a quick fresh prep brings them to the table in minutes. What’s key is knowing how to store them in the freezer. Plastic containers can easily turn your freezer into an unwieldy game of Jenga. I learned this trick from one of my sons-in-law, he freezes everything in flat plastic bags. Once frozen, the filled bags stack vertically like books in a bookshelf.

At my daughter’s in LA, I used her Anova vacuum sealer. I cut squares out of the roll of plastic and then sealed the ends to make little bags. In Utah, I used Ziploc freezer bags. Both yielded excellent results. The only advantage with Anova sous vide bags is that you can place them directly in boiling water. But both defrost quickly, either overnight in the refrigerator or on the countertop because they are frozen flat.

A kitchen scale is key in portioning servings.

My pistachio pesto has a special kick thanks to the added mint, splash of soy and dash of tabasco. I prep several batches.

Give each a whirl in the Cuisinart.

Then pulse- vacuum and seal the bag.

Penne with sausage is a family favorite. I make a double batch and portion it out.

Then freeze with a printout of the serving instructions for added ease.

While the sauce warms, chop fresh tomato, scallions, parsley, and basil with shredded parmesan and some toasted pine nuts to toss with the sauced penne.

Be sure to make a double batch of this wonderful chili.

Then freeze it into servings for one and two.

Make a double batch of roasted Italian meatballs.

They are light and airy and freeze like a dream, simply defrost and warm in the tomato sauce.

Basic tomato sauce is so easy.

You will never open another jar.

I like to serve my chicken pot pie filling in individual oven safe baking dishes and top with rounds of pie crust.

My favorite is Trader Joes rolled frozen crust.

I thaw the pie crust on the counter for several hours, then unroll and use my baking dish as a “cookie cutter” to make discs.

Layer in between wax paper and freeze.

To serve, thaw the filling and two dough discs and pop in the oven.

Naptime has never been more delicious.

ear today…

food detective

Categories: Soups, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Lunch, Posted on October 16, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

Last week it seemed like summer might just be here to stay. Then mother nature took an about face. Temps plunged, skies darkened, and freezing rain arrived as the cold winds began to blow.

Sadly, that meant summer’s bounty was soon to hibernate. I don’t know why I am always surprised when the stalls at the farmers market dwindle. While you might still be able to find a stray tomato or sprig of herb, sweet corn departs abruptly with little notice.

Spicy corn and coconut chowder was one of my summer stables. Each Saturday I’d pick up a half dozen ears to make this satisfying soup.

Cut the corn kernels off the cobs and transfer to a bowl.

Using the back of a spoon, scrape the cobs to release the milky juices into the bowl with the kernels. Set aside. (If using frozen kernels, skip this step.)

In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat two tablespoons olive oil. Add two shallots cut into rings, three cloves minced garlic, one 1-inch piece ginger minced, and one minced jalapeño pepper.

Sauté́, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the corn kernels and juices to the pot, sauté́ for 3 minutes more.

Add the diced potatoes, and stir to coat, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the chicken broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Using an immersion blender, roughly puree the soup. Season with lime juice and salt.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro leaves and chopped scallions.

And while it’s not quite the same, this chowder can also be made with high quality frozen corn kernels. Opening your freezer drawer with its blast of chilly air a forebearer of what will soon happen when you step out your front door. 

Watch out Willie!

raise a glass

food detective

Categories: Beverages, Dinner for Two, Supper, Cocktail Party, Dinner Party, Posted on September 8, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

Summer 2023 has had undeniable highs and a few rocky lows. Rather than lift a half-glass of rosé and whine, let me share a libation that has allowed me to toast the bounty of this summer season.

This watermelon margarita is perfectly balanced- slightly sweet, just enough acid, and a smokey kick mezcal instead of tequila. The pureed fresh watermelon gives it a silky freshness that’s certain to transport anyone to higher ground.

Earlier this summer it was the cocktail of choice when I was out in Utah helping to care for my newest grandson and his sweet mama.

Cubed fresh watermelon from the grocery store makes prep a breeze. Puree about a cup and half until smooth, don’t strain as the pulp yields a delightful consistency to this drink.

In a large measuring cup combine six ounces pureed fresh watermelon juice, two ounces Mezcal, two ounces Cointreau, and two ounces freshly squeezed lime juice, save the rinds for rimming the glasses.

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the watermelon juice, Mezcal, Cointreau, lime juice along with two jalapeño slices. Shake well to combine.

For the salted rim, combine a tablespoon sea salt with one teaspoon Tajín in a small shallow bowl or plate. Using one of the reserved lime rinds run it along the rim of two rocks glasses. Dip the rims into the salt mixture. Fill the glasses with ice.

Shake the cocktail shaker vigorously, then strain the margaritas into the prepared glasses. As a garnish cut a little slit into two jalapeño rounds and place one on each glass.

Enjoy these immediately. And while you do, take a moment to savor all the blessings that abound…

bundle of joy

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

Categories: Appetizers, Poultry, Dinner for Two, Supper, Cocktail Party, Posted on August 1, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

My newest grandson just arrived, and I am over the moon! What magic to be there for those first few days and weeks of life. Not only is little Peter perfect in every way, it’s incredible to see my daughter and son-in-law blossom into such amazing new parents.

One of my favorite things, other than holding that little sprite, is to nourish my loved ones while they adjust to their roles as mom and dad. Folding laundry, grocery shopping, filling the freezer and giving those parents early morning respite makes me exceedingly happy.

It never ceases to amaze how the hours of the day zip by, and the wee hours of the night tend to lag those first few days. For this reason, prepping and executing dinner needs to be done way in advance. The best suppers are those that taste great right out of the oven and at room temp. And if a meal can be morphed into another, all the better.

Chicken cream cheese enchiladas are such a comforting meal. An added bonus, any extra filling can be used to create an outstanding freezable canape to pop into the oven at moment’s notice when visitors stop by to catch a glimpse of this teeny man.

Early in the day peel and thinly slice a large onion and one to two red bell peppers. Stow in the frig in a Ziploc bag.

Let eight ounces of cream cheese come to room temp.

Pulled rotisserie chicken from the market is a delicious time-saver. Shred the chicken into smaller pieces.

Sauté the onion and red peppers in a large skillet over medium heat until softened and the onion is translucent. Stir in the chicken.

Fold in the softened cream cheese. Season with salt and pepper. The filling can also be made earlier in the day, cool to room temp, then refrigerated.

Warm corn tortillas per directions on the package. I like to do this on an open gas flame until pliable and lightly browned in spots.

The tortillas can be prepared earlier too.

Spoon ½ cup chicken onion mixture into each tortilla.

Roll up and place seam side down in a buttered casserole dish. Drizzle with heavy cream. Bake until heated through in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven, sprinkle with monterey jack cheese, return to oven and continue baking until cheese is melted. You can also turn on the broiler at the end to get the tops nice crispy.

Great with guacamole, salsa and a ranch salad.

For a fabulous freezable hors d'oeuvre, spoon any extra filling into frozen fillo cups from the freezer/dessert section in the grocery store. You might need to chop the filling with a knife if it has larger pieces. Sprinkle with a little Monterey jack cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and place back in the box.

To serve preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the frozen cups from the plastic tray and place on a baking sheet and bake until bubbly and cheese is melted, about 8-12 minutes.

With this latest grandchild my swaddling skills have really improved. Might be my best little burrito yet!

figs & pigs

food detective

Categories: Appetizers, Dinner for Two, Cocktail Party, Dinner Party, Posted on July 9, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

It’s a wrap! Recently I had two puff pastry requests. One was to bring my pigs in a blanket to a friend’s cookout. The other was to come up with a recipe for a fig in a blanket that a friend had at a cocktail reception and claimed was divine.

At the barbeque my buddy was doing a blind tasting of several different strip steaks. One was prime dry-aged, another from a high-end boutique butcher, and the third from Costco. The host was going to grill each on his Big Green Egg, then each of the guests were to rate them. After the tally was done, the strips’ identities were to be revealed. I figured why not kick off the evening with my own bake-off and let everyone also declare their favorite- figs or pigs.

My pigs in blankets are a step up. Using high-end long wagyu frankfurters from the butcher makes all the difference.

Thaw the puff pastry at room temperature for about twenty minutes.

Lightly beat an egg for the egg wash.

Roll out one sheet of puff pastry.

Lay the hotdogs on the puff pastry and cut the pastry into rectangles.

Lightly brush one edge of each with honey mustard and the other with the egg wash.

Roll the frankfurters up in the pastry, pressing the seams to tightly seal. Seam side down, brush the tops with beaten egg.  Sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt. Cut each at an angle into half-inch pieces.

For the figs in a blanket use black mission figs in the produce section of the grocery store.

Cut a sheet of thawed frozen puff pastry lengthwise into five strips, then cut crosswise into thirds to make 15 rectangles.

Slice each rectangle diagonally to make 30 triangles.

Spoon one half teaspoon goat cheese onto each triangle and top with a halved fig. Drizzle with a little honey.

Wrap the pastry around the fig and press to seal.

Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with beaten egg.

The figs in a blanket can be frozen at this point and baked later. Cover the baking sheet with foil and place in the freezer until frozen. Then place in a zip-loc bag and freeze for up to three months.

The same goes for the pigs in a blanket. Making both the perfect go-to appetizer for any gathering.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the frozen figs in a blanket on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until puffed and golden, about 18 to 20 minutes.

I can’t wait to share this recipe with my friend Lou. I hope it surpasses her expectations.

As for you, be sure to cast your vote for the winner of this wrap-off!

hitting the green

food detective

Categories: Appetizers, Cocktail Party, Dinner Party, Posted on June 13, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

It feels like I’ve traveled more in the past three weeks than I have in the last three years. And I have to say it has been a blast! I surprised my husband with a trip to the PGA in Rochester, NY. An amazing Garden Club of America Annual Meeting flower show in Columbus, Ohio. And a very special luncheon in LA to shower my youngest and her soon to be first with so much love.

One of thing I’ve missed most about traveling is eating. Dining out, eating in, trying new foods, especially with new faces. One culinary standout on this last trek was cocktails at my college roommate’s home in Rochester. My friend Missy made the most amazing asparagus asiago phyllo apps. One bite and I knew I had to have the recipe.

Here’s her asparagus in phyllo with asiago. Take one of the wrapped packages of phyllo dough out of the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for at least three hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt one-quarter cup butter in a small saucepan.

Unwrap the phyllo and cut the stack in half lengthwise. Cover one stack with a damp paper towel.

Using the phyllo height as a guide, cut off the tough ends of a bunch of thin asparagus so that the tips and ends of the spear will extend beyond the phyllo dough strips when rolled up.

Take one half-sheet of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle grated asiago cheese vertically down one end. Place the asparagus spear on top the cheese. 

Gently roll up, so the tops and ends of the asparagus spear show.

Place the roll, seam side down, on a baking sheet. Brush the top with more butter and sprinkle with more cheese and a little freshly ground pepper.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown and crispy.

Best served hot, stright out of the oven.

This birthday, just like that appetizer, was a birdie for sure!

where the buffalos roam

food detective

Categories: Appetizers, Poultry, Grains and Pasta, Sauces and Such, Dinner for Two, Supper, Lunch, Posted on May 12, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

Maybe it’s all the playoff games, draft picks, and NFL schedule releases but lately I’ve been craving buffalo chicken. With my own schedule ramping up it’s time to get creative in the kitchen, not only for inspiration but for timesaving shortcuts.

I love when I find ready-prepped ingredients. Whole Foods carries the best pulled rotisserie chicken in their prepared food case where they have all the fixings for making pizza. Peering through that glass door a lightbulb went off. How about buffalo chicken pizza.

As I picked up a container of shredded chicken,

I grabbed one of their freshly shredded mozzarella.

I make an amazing from scratch pizza crust. Growing up my girls called it homemade homemade pizza. But when I was in Trader Joe’s I spied their flatbread pizza crust on display. When I picked it up to inspect I found it unbelievably light with airy pockets like focaccia. I quickly realized this could be the perfect foundation for that night’s dinner.

Buffalo sauce is a cinch to make. In a small saucepan combine one third cup Frank's hot pepper sauce, quarter cup cold unsalted butter, two teaspoons white vinegar, eighth teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, dash garlic powder and an optional quarter teaspoon cayenne pepper if you want to really spice things up. Over medium heat whisk as it comes to a simmer.

As soon as it begins to bubble on the sides of the pot, remove from the heat and stir with whisk. Cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Shake or stir well before using.

For buffalo chicken flatbread, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to heat up. Toss the four to six ounces shredded rotisserie chicken with tablespoons of buffalo sauce to taste. Set aside.

Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over a 17”x6” flatbread crust. Sprinkle the surface with an eighth teaspoon garlic powder and some freshly ground pepper.

Scatter with three ounces of shredded mozzarella. Top with the sauced chicken. Sprinkle another ounce of mozzarella on top.

Scatter an eight of red onion and two green onions thinly sliced over the prepared crust.

Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and cover the baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Place the flatbread on the pan and bake for 6-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown and crisp on the edges.

Cut into strips and serve with extra buffalo sauce and ranch dressing.

Great with a chopped ranch salad. If you have any leftover, they make a great appetizer. Cut each strip into small squares and reheat at 350 degrees until warmed through.

on the rise

food detective

Categories: Eggs, Dinner for Two, Supper, Lunch, Posted on April 25, 2023 by Sandy Bergsten

There is nothing quite like a cheese soufflé. They rise as if by magic. The result a savory, airy, light edible cloud. And fear not, once you master the basic technique it is almost as easy as making an omelet. It’s also a great last-minute supper because you probably have all of the ingredients on hand.

If this is your first souffléing, be sure to carefully read through the recipe twice. Do not attempt to wing it. This is a recipe you must follow precisely. And before you start, be sure to measure out all the ingredients ahead of time.

For cheese soufflé its important that your eggs are room temperature. Take them out earlier in the day.

I used to make my soufflé in a 6-8 cup souffle dish. But now I find individual soufflés are a bit more dramatic. And those of you who know me, know I love a good white ramekin! I wipe the dishes thoroughly with softened butter, dust the insides with finely grated parmesan cheese, then tap out the excess and set aside. The cornmeal texture of finely grated parmesan helps the soufflé scale the walls of the dish while it cooks.

Grate three ounces of swiss, jarlsberg or gruyere cheese. Add one tablespoon grated parmesan cheese.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk in two tablespoons of flour.

Cook the roux for a couple minutes, whisking frequently, taking care that it doesn’t burn.

Whisk in three-quarters cup whole milk, continue whisking until a smooth sauce forms.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in a pinch of kosher salt, ¾ teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/8 teaspoon powdered garlic, pinch of cayenne pepper, pinch of grated nutmeg, a dash of ground pepper, and the grated cheeses.

Carefully separate the eggs. It’s crucial that no yolk lands in the egg whites. If that happens the whites will never form stiff peaks. I separate each egg into a small bowl one at a time, then transfer the clear egg white to a clean larger bowl. That way if a yolk breaks on the fourth go you haven’t ruined all your egg whites. When the sauce has cooled considerably whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Save the fourth yolk for another use.

Whip the four egg whites until stiff peaks begin to form.

Stir in one quarter of the whipped egg whites into the cheese mixture to lighten the cheese mixture.

Pour the lightened cheese mixture into the bowl with the egg whites and gently fold until almost mixed with a rubber spatula.

The goal is to incorporate the two with as few folds as possible.

Carefully pile this mixture into the prepared 6-8 cup soufflé dish or two tall 16-oz individual soufflé dishes. Place the soufflé dish in the preheated oven and immediately reduce the heat to 375 degrees. Bake for 30-35 minutes until puffed and golden with a set center. Do not open the oven door at any time.

Serve immediately with a simple green salad and baguette, This classic is certain to lift the spirits!

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