Seriously Simple: Minced chicken in lettuce cups is easy for lunch or dinner


Years ago I was invited to Hong Kong to attend a food festival, and we visited many historical spots and restaurants. One memorable meal began with lettuce cups filled with minced pigeon. I loved it. Since pigeon (squab) isn’t easy to find and is very expensive, I decided to reinvent that taste memory with minced chicken. It has also become a classic dish on many Chinese restaurants menus.
These Asian-flavored, minced-chicken-filled lettuce cups are incredibly delicious for a luncheon or as a starter for dinner. I usually select ground white meat chicken but you could also use ground turkey. Flavoring the chicken first with the soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar adds a rich taste sensation. Hoisin and lots of pungent fresh ginger enrich the simple chicken flavor. The red pepper and water chestnuts add texture. You can omit them and add pine nuts and Chinese mushrooms for a variation.

The chicken filling still has excellent texture and flavor. As a main course, plan on two or three of these per person.

Minced Chicken in Lettuce

Makes 6 to 8 lettuce cups

For the chicken:

1 pound ground chicken

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 red pepper, seeded and very finely chopped

2 scallions, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

1 cup water chestnuts, rinsed and drained, coarsely chopped

1 head iceberg or butter lettuce, leaves separated into 6 to 8 individual cups, depending on the size of each leaf

For the Sauce:

2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tsp. cornstarch

1. In a medium bowl combine the chicken with the soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil. Set aside.

2. In a wok over high heat add the peanut oil. When the oil is hot but not quite smoking add the chicken and toss every 15-20 seconds for 1 2 minutes or until no pinkness remains. Push the chicken up the sides of the wok, spreading it around so all the chicken comes into maximum contact with the hot pan and breaking it up as you toss.

4. When cooked, push all the chicken up the side of the wok and out of the way and then add the red pepper, scallions, ginger and water chestnuts and toss for 1 minute. Add the reserved sauce ingredients and toss every 10-15 seconds with the chicken and vegetable mixture until well blended and slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

5. Arrange the lettuce cups on a platter or on individual plates and mound with an equal quantity of the chicken mixture. Serve immediately.

Seriously Simple: A sophisticated twist on a Spanish classic

ON IMG_1296a recent visit to the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego, I discovered a refined twist on Spanish gazpacho. This adaptation of tomato gazpacho with vanilla cream is beautiful to look at and requires no cooking. Quick to prepare, this could be your go-to summer soup on hot, humid days. It has become mine. It’s great for both lunch and dinner as a dazzling starter.William Bradley, the executive chef from Addison, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, presents dishes that are flavorful yet simple in their presentation. If you are ever in California, you owe it to yourself to visit Addison. It will be a lifetime memory for you to experience Bradley’s play on ingredients, textures, colors and final presentation.

Bradley suggests that his gazpacho should only be made during the warm summer months to ensure that the tomatoes’ sweetness and acidity levels are at their peak. I have tried this recipe with both ripe heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes. The heirloom tomatoes win hands down. Mix the colors if you like.

You might be wondering why you add lemon-flavored Perrier to this soup. It is indeed a clever addition of light citrus effervescence.

Make sure to slowly blend in a good quality olive oil so that the soup will have a velvety, smooth texture. His other trick is garnishing with a vanilla cream. It is not only interesting but also happily surprising and totally delicious.

Tomato Gazpacho with Vanilla Cream

Serves 6

6 large red heirloom tomatoes, cored and chopped, about 3 1/2 pounds

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded, chopped or 1/2 European cucumber, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3 tablespoons creme fraiche

1 cup chilled lemon-flavored Perrier

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Vanilla Cream:

1/4 cup creme fraiche

1/2 teaspoon best quality vanilla extract

1. Combine tomatoes, cucumber, tomato paste, creme fraiche, Perrier and sugar in a blender. Blend on medium speed for two minutes. Continue to blend and slowly stream in olive oil until mixture is emulsified and smooth. Add sea salt to taste. Chill for an hour.

2. To make the cream, whisk together creme fraiche with vanilla.

3. To serve, ladle gazpacho into chilled soup bowls and garnish each with dollops of vanilla cream. Serve immediately.

Salad Nicoise

Salad Nicoise

Salad Nicoise

Salad Nicoise

This classic Provencal salad is said to originate in Nice, France. Many modern Nicoise-style salads include fresh grilled ahi tuna, but I prefer the imported canned variety packed in oil for a more traditional recipe.

Look for small, bright green beans for sweet tender flavor. You can also use fingerling potatoes and just cut them into thin strips. I prefer hard-boiled eggs to have a bright yellow center that offsets the other colors in the salad. The best method is to bring the eggs to a boil and then turn off the heat, cover them for 9 minutes. Cool and peel.

Nicoise olives add a briny meatiness to this zesty vegetable and tuna mixture. A classic Nicoise salad always include some anchovies so feel free to add them if your group likes them. I am fond of the Spanish white anchovies that come refrigerated and are milder and sweeter than their canned cousins.

Salad Nicoise

Serves 6 to 8


1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes

1 pound green beans, cleaned and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned (see tip)

1 small sweet red pepper, seeded and julienned

1/2 cup Nicoise olives, drained and stemmed

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced and cut into 11/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons finely basil

Freshly ground black pepper

3 5-ounce cans imported tuna packed in oil, drained and broken into chunks


2 medium cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons grainy Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


3 hard-cooked eggs, quartered

2 small tomatoes, sliced into sixths or ½ pint yellow and red cherry tomatoes, halved

Basil leaves

6 to 10 anchovy fillets, rinsed and drained on paper towels (optional)

1. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the potatoes until tender but slightly resistant when pierced with a fork, 20 to 30 minutes, depending upon their size. Drain and cool. When cool, peel and cut into julienne slices. Place in a large bowl.

2. In a medium saucepan bring water to a boil. Immerse the green beans and cook until tender but slightly resistant, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and place in ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, drain well and place in the bowl with the potatoes.

3. Add the carrots, red pepper, olives, red onion, capers, basil, black pepper and half of the tuna to the vegetables and toss to combine.

4. To make the dressing, combine the garlic, mustard, basil and lemon juice in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until thoroughly combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. When ready to serve, use just enough dressing to moisten the salad. Toss carefully to combine, making sure not to break up the capers. Taste for seasoning. Mound the salad high in a large, shallow serving bowl. Place the remaining tuna (and anchovies, if desired) on the top of the salad. Spoon a little dressing on the tuna. Alternate the egg wedges and tomatoes around the outside edge. Garnish with basil leaves and serve. Serve extra dressing on the side.

Tip: To julienne a vegetable, cut it into a rectangle and then cut into thin slices one way and then cut into thin slices the other way creating long, thin strips that look pretty in the salad.

Advance Preparation: This may be prepared through Step 4 up to one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate the dressing and the salad.


Onion Marmalade is My Summer Sidekick for Flavor


Come summertime, Onion Marmalade is a condiment that I use in many dishes. My Seriously Simple motto is seek out maximum flavor and spend minimum time in the kitchen. Even though it takes some time to cook this, you will have it on hand for a variety of different dishes. It can take the place of traditional sauces like ketchup or mustard or can be an extra layer of flavor in a sauce or dip.

There is lots of room for you to personalize this flavor enhancer. Feel free to add a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme. You can also choose your favorite onion varieties like Maui, yellow or red onions. Use port, beer or red wine instead of the balsamic and wine. (Just keep the same proportions in the recipe.) Add shredded Belgian endive or fennel for a slightly bittersweet flavor. I like throwing in pitted and finely chopped black or green olives to add an earthy taste. You can keep this for a month in your refrigerator.

A Few Ways to Use Onion Marmalade

  • Glaze grilled steaks with a thin layer and then slice the steaks
  • Spread a tablespoon on the bread for a better grilled cheese
  • Serve as an accompaniment to grilled sausages, grilled pork tenderloin, veal chops and tri-tip steak
  • Stir a tablespoon into scrambled eggs
  • Use as a filling in omelets, frittatas and in dips.
  • Top sliced toasted baguettes with goat cheese, blue cheese or brie and marmalade
  • Use as a stuffing for chicken breasts or pork chops
  • Add marmalade and chutney to ground turkey for juicy burgers
  • Top sautéed scallops with a teaspoon of marmalade and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • Add to cooked vegetables like green beans, spinach, broccoli or cauliflower.
  • Use as a topping on pizza or bread.

Onion Marmalade

Makes about 1 ½ cups

This recipe may be doubled or tripled. Make sure to use a larger deep casserole to accommodate the larger amount of onions.

1/4 cup olive oil

4 large yellow, red or Maui (or a combination) onions, thinly sliced

¾ cup red wine

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Makes about 1 ½ cups

  1. Heat oil in large non-aluminum casserole on medium high heat. Add the onions and saute for about 12 to15 minutes or until well softened. Stir frequently.
  1. Add the wine, balsamic vinegar and sugar to the onions and simmer on low heat until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the onions are very tender and caramelized into a deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. Watch carefully towards the end to avoid burning the onions. Add the salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning. Cool and serve at room temperature.

Advance Preparation: May be prepared up to a month ahead, covered in an airtight container and refrigerated.

Easy as Pie Peach Crostata

Peach Crostata: Easy as Pie

Easy as Pie Peach Crostata

Easy as Pie Peach Crostata

When I am in a pinch for time but want something special for dessert I often fall back on preparing a crostata. Sometimes called a galette in French cooking, this free-form tart has endless variations. A crostata is made by rolling out pastry dough into a large round. The fruit is placed in the center of the pastry and the dough is pulled up around the fruit and folded over to create a rustic looking tart, rather than a perfect-looking formal fruit tart. This couldn’t be easier.


The unassuming appearance is a good thing. Even my friends who fear pastry making have great success with this recipe because it doesn’t have to be picture perfect. The rough country look also expands the opportunity for variation. I have seen versions that feature thick raspberry jam, fresh pitted cherries, apricots and nectarines, blueberries and raspberries to name a few. Depending upon the sweetness of the fruit you select you may need to adjust the amount of sugar you add.


Make sure to roll out the pastry dough to a large 13-inch circle. I keep extra flour on the pastry slab and rolling pin to keep the dough from sticking. The dough can be immediately rolled out and doesn’t need to rest because I use frozen butter that keeps the dough sufficiently chilled. I also use white pastry flour that has a lower gluten content and does not need to rest. If you are using all-purpose flour you can chill it for a half hour before rolling out.


In this crowd-pleasing dessert, the skin is deliberately left on the peaches for a rustic texture. Nectarines can be substituted for the peaches if you like. I like to serve this warm so I will bake it an hour or two before serving. Don’t forget a scoop of French vanilla ice cream.




Peach Crostata

Serves 6



1 1/4 cups white unbleached pastry flour or all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) frozen, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup ice water



5 tablespoons sugar, divided

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided

6 medium or 4 large peaches, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch pieces


1 pint French vanilla or berry ice cream (optional)


  1. Prepare the pastry: Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process for about 5 seconds. Add the butter and a few tablespoons of water and process until you have a crumb-like texture, about 5-10 seconds. Pat the dough into a round form for easy rolling. If using pastry flour continue immediately. If using all-purpose flour, refrigerate, covered for half hour.
  2. Place a 10-inch diameter removable bottom disc of a springform or removable tart pan on a heavy baking sheet with a rim that is lined with parchment paper. (You won’t need the sides of the springform or tart pan for this freeform tart.)
  3. On a floured surface roll out the pastry into a round 13 inches in diameter. Roll the pastry back onto the rolling pin and transfer it to the tart bottom round, laying the dough flat to cover the round with a 3 inch border overlap all around on the baking sheet. Refrigerate while making the filling.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400F. In a medium mixing bowl, combine 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon flour and the peaches. Remove the tart from the refrigerator and sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon flour evenly over the center of the crust. Arrange the fruit mixture in the center of the pastry and then fold about 3 inches of the pastry edges up around the fruit, making pleats, to look like a free-form tart. Use your thumb and forefinger to make the pleats in the pastry.
  5. Brush the pastry with water and evenly sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over the pastry and fruit.
  6. Bake the tart for 40-45 minutes or until the fruit filling is bubbling and the crust is caramelized. Let cool at least 20 minutes on a wire rack. Slide the tart pan bottom to a serving platter. Slice and serve with ice cream.

Advance Preparation: Can be made up to 8 hours ahead and kept at room temperature. Serve room temperature or reheat in the a 325F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.


Watercress Vichyssoise is a Refreshing Companion to Your Favorite Sandwich

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Chilled soups are the perfect food to eat in the summer’s warm weather. An added bonus is that they should be made ahead which will keep the kitchen cool in the heat of the day. You can make this up 3 days in advance and refrigerate until ready to serve. Cold soups can be a prelude to a lovely meal or be a satisfying companion to a favorite sandwich. I like to serve the soup in small bowls on a large plate to leave room for the sandwich.

Vichyssoise, a pureed cooked vegetable soup, is traditionally served chilled. ““Vish-ee-swaz”, as it is pronounced, usually includes potatoes, leeks and cream. This is a lighter version swapping out chicken broth for the cream. Fresh watercress and basil update this classic summer soup. A finishing dollop of lemon-basil cream gives it a bright, appealing look. If you want a dairy-free version, just garnish with shredded basil instead of the lemon cream. Remember to season the soup just before serving since the flavors become muted when cold.

Here’s a few sandwich combinations to get your creativity going. Don’t forget to seek out artisan breads for best flavor.

  • Cold marinated sliced flank steak and arugula leaves on sourdough rolls spread with spicy mayonnaise
  • Prosciutto, tomatoes, roasted peppers spread with garlic mayonnaise on sesame seed bread
  • Chopped smoked salmon and egg salad on rye bread
  • Cold grilled chicken slices, sliced avocado and tomato Salsa stuffed in a warm sesame pita bread
  • Fresh crumbled goat cheese, marinated sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red and yellow peppers on a sourdough roll spread with garlic mayonnaise

Watercress Basil Vichyssoise with Lemon Cream

Serves 6-8

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium leeks, white part only, cleaned and coarsely chopped

1 1/2 pounds white rose potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped

¼ cup basil leaves

1 medium bunch watercress, leaves only

8 cups chicken broth

Salt and white pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Lemon cream

1/2 cup sour cream

2    tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1    tablespoon finely chopped basil leaves

  1. In medium soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add leeks and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add potatoes and continue sauteing for about 5 more minutes or until softened. Add watercress and basil and continue sauteing 3 minutes or until wilted.
  1. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and cook for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  1. Puree soup in blender or puree with an immersion blender right in the pot. Pour into medium bowl. Add salt, pepper, and lemon juice and taste for seasoning. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  1. To make lemon cream: combine all ingredients in small bowl and mix until well blended.
  1. To serve, ladle soup into serving bowls and garnish with dollop of lemon cream cream.

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Baby Back Ribs with an Asian Twist

baby-back-ribsI love baby back ribs. Maybe it’s because they seem to have more meat and a less pronounced pork flavor. Growing up just hearing that ribs were on the menu would make me happy. Fourth of July at our house always meant a barbecue blazing with porterhouse steaks and plenty of baby back ribs. My mom relied on teriyaki sauce for the steaks and a sweet tomato based barbecue sauce for the ribs.

Through the years I have experimented with different ways to cook baby back ribs and different sauces to complement them. Despite being a California girl, I never learned the ins and outs of proper barbecue techniques. Usually it was throw the ribs on the barbecue and brush sauce on them a few minutes before they were done so the sauce wouldn’t burn the ribs.

I have found that first marinating the ribs and then baking them in a 325F degree oven enclosed in aluminum foil, essentially steaming them, results in a moist and very tender slab of ribs. An extra bonus is that this can be done a day ahead, cooled and refrigerated.

This marinade combines the slightly sweet soybean flavored hoisin sauce with honey and rice wine vinegar for an Asian-style glaze that is a fun twist on classic sweet American barbecue sauce. You can also try this method with fruit sauces or chutneys.

If you’re wondering what to serve with these tasty morsels, consider simple coleslaw flavored with a bit of chopped cilantro. Grilled corn on the cob would be just right with the ribs. A platter of grilled vegetables drizzled with vinaigrette would round out the menu and offer choices for everyone at the table. For an easy dessert, how about fresh summer berries with sliced pound cake? To drink I like ice-cold Chinese beer or dry Rose.

Help is on the Way:

  • When you are selecting ribs I prefer the meaty and less fatty baby back ribs, sometimes called loin ribs. They have a covering of meat over the bones and also between them that makes them leaner and meatier than spare ribs. They are shorter and smaller than spareribs. They are a bit more costly than spare ribs but I think well worth it.
  • Look for racks that have significant meat on the ribs and not a lot of fat. It’s best to purchase fresh ribs that have not been frozen.
  • Sometimes you will find the smallest ribs cut up and called Chinese-style ribs. These are the small ribs from the end of the loin rack. You can substitute these individual ribs if you prefer; these make a great appetizer.
  • Use this marinade on pork tenderloin or chicken.
  • This may be prepared 1 day ahead through step 4, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before grilling.

Hoisin-Honeyed Baby Back Ribs

Serves 4-6


1/2 cup hoisin Sauce

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons oil

1 scallion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

4 pounds pork loin ribs cut Chinese style or baby-back ribs

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Place the ribs in a jumbo plastic sealable bag. Add the marinade to the ribs and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours, turning occasionally.
  1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
  1. Place the ribs on a piece of foil large enough to wrap tightly without any holes. Place the package in a large roasting pan and bake for 1 hour. Or alternately, place the ribs in a roasting pan and cover well.
  1. Remove the ribs from the oven. Remove the ribs from the foil, drain and reserve the juice and place in a dish.
  1. Prepare the barbecue for medium-heat grilling. Grill the ribs about 3 inches from the flame for 5 to 7 minutes on each side or until they reach the desired doneness, basting occasionally with the remaining marinade, making sure they do not burn. Place on a serving platter and serve with the reserved juices, if desired.