Russian Tea Time Restaurant, Chicago IL

>> Thursday, December 22, 2011

Russian Tea Time Restaurant, Chicago

When Joe was awarded a dinner for two for an excellent sales week, we knew where we wanted to go: Russian Tea Time in downtown Chicago. It's one of our favorite, romantic restaurants in the city, especially in winter-time when we're craving rich, hearty dinners. Russian Tea Time is on 77 E. Adams, just around the block from the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue. It serves a mouth-watering variety of classic Russian and Central Asian foods, and the tea menu is larger than a wine list in an upscale restaurant (our favorite is the coriander tea, a fruity, fresh blend).

The decor is just the way I'd picture an old-world Russian restuarant, if the restaurant was located in a storefront in a big city. The glistening antique samovars, cushy red booths, and balalaika music set a romantic, comfortable mood, and all the staff we've met, except the busboys, are from Russia or the Ukraine. If you choose a vodka tasting flight, it comes with a piece of dark brown bread, a gherkin, and instructions on how to take a shot the Russian way. Na zdorovje!

Joe and I had visited the Art Institute on our engagement anniversary, December 20, and decided to make reservations at this restaurant afterwards. Everything is good, even their beet caviar, though ordinarily I treat beets like you'd treat toxic waste. Since then, we have been trying to re-create the items on their tasting platter, and I'll be posting our recipes here. Hope you enjoy them!

Russian Tea Time platter for two: appetizers.
Clockwise from top: Tashkent carrot salad, stuffed mushroom, beet caviar, cracked wheat (tabbouleh) salad, apple-beet vinaigrette salad, chick pea spread, beef dumplings (pelmeni).

 Russian Tea Time platter for two: appetizers.

Russian Tea Time platter for two: entrees.
Clockwise from top: chicken pozharski, beef stroganoff, stuffed cabbage, Moldavian meatballs, rice pilaf.

Russian Tea Time platter for two: entrees.

Related Recipes:


Santa's Whiskers Christmas Cookies

>> Saturday, December 10, 2011

These are my favorite Christmas cookies, and they’re also pretty easy to make. My mom taught me to bake these when I was a kid.
Makes about 60


1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup red candied cherries, finely chopped
1/2 cup green candied cherries, finely chopped
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 cup flaked coconut


In a large mixer bowl beat butter till softened. Add sugar and beat till fluffy. Add milk and vanilla and beat well. Add flour and beat until well mixed. Stir in cherries and pecans by hand.
Shape into three 7″ logs. Pour coconut onto two sheets of aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Roll logs in coconut to coat. Wrap and chill for several hours.
Preheat oven to 375F. Cut into 1/4″ thick slices. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake about 12 minutes or until edges are browned. Remove and cool.


Vegetable Fried Rice

>> Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One of the best things about fried rice is that it's one of those dishes you can throw together using whatever leftovers are in your fridge. When Meatless Monday rolled around, I found a container of cooked green beans, a couple of ears of grilled corn, some broccoli that was nearly past its prime, a limp green onion, and half a red pepper. In the spirit of reducing our meat intake and being thrifty with our food budget, we whipped together a fairly hearty dinner. Use any vegetables that strike your fancy when making your own version; surely this is one of the reasons fried rice was created!


2 cups white or brown rice
4 cups water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup broccoli, cut into small florets
1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup green beans, sliced
1 green onion, chopped
1/2 cup corn
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp chili garlic sauce
2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup chicken broth


Pour water and rice into a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes for white rice or 40 minutes for brown rice.

Heat oil in a wok until it shimmers. Add carrots and broccoli and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add pepper, beans, onion, corn, and garlic, and fry an additional five minutes, or until crisp-tender. Stir in rice, cover, and reduce heat to low.

Whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour over rice and mix well. Heat through before serving.

Serves 4.


Greek Meat Rub

>> Friday, November 11, 2011

Joe: "I developed this meat rub and seasoning mix after being unsatisfied with commercial blends. If you want to start out with fresh ingredients and dry them yourself, double the initial amounts, and then dry slowly in the oven at 175-200 degrees for several hours."


1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried mint

Mix together well, and place in a dry sealed container. Rub on meats about 30 minutes before roasting or grilling. Add to vegetables before steaming or sauteeing.


Peking Duck

>> Friday, November 4, 2011

Angela: "This recipe has one of the most interesting preparation steps we have ever tried - wait till you see the work-in-progress photos! The key to really good Peking Duck is a crispy, sweet skin, and though the steps are a little odd, it's not hard to do. Actually, the most difficult part was getting the rice wrappers to warm without getting stuck together or breaking. I think we will try a different brand next time."

Joe: "We combined recipes from four different Asian cookbooks to create this one. The taste is unbelievably good. It was the perfect meal to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary on September fifth, and we paired it with a bottle of mellow Malbec."


  • 1 4 1/2 to 5 lb duck
  • 6 cups boiling water 
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tablespoons orange peel
  • 2 tablespoons red vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 10 scallions or green onion stalks, julienned
  • 1/2 large cucumber, julienned
  • 2/3 cup hoisin sauce 
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil 
  • Chinese pancakes

Cut off duck wings at second joint, remove excess fat and any innards, rinse and dry well. Place the duck in a large bowl or pan and pour the boiling water over the bird. Let set for five minutes, then drain, reserving the boiling liquid.

Mix together honey, vinegar, water, and orange peel in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove orange peel and combine with salt, sugar, garlic, onion, and five-spice powder. Add the boiling liquid to the reserved liquid from step 1.

Using kitchen twine, loop under each of the wings so that it holds up the duck for hanging. Tie up the duck in a drafty place, or hang in front of a fan. Place a bowl underneath the bird. (Note: we hung ours from a plant hanger in the living room, but any hook or doorknob will do. Be sure to make your bird pet-proof, if you have pets that love poultry as much as our cats do.)

Pour the liquid over the bird and let it drain into the bowl for about five minutes. Repeat five times. Discard the liquid and let the bird dry for at least 1, preferably 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350. Take down duck and remove twine. Fill the cavity with the spice mixture. Tie or sew shut, if desired.

Put roasting pan on lower oven rack and fill with 2-3 inches of water. Oil a poultry rack and place in the pan with the bird on top, breast side down. Roast duck for 1 hour, basting occasionally.

Turn duck side up and roast until dark brown, about 25 minutes per pound in total. 
Carve duck into thin slices. Mix hoisin with sesame oil and 1 tablespoon hot water. Heat pancakes or steam them. Serve by spreading hoisin sauce on the pancakes, and laying the cucumber, onions, and duck slices on top, then rolling up the pancake.

Serves 6-8.


Winter Squash, Pine Nut, and Golden Raisin Lasagna

>> Monday, October 31, 2011

 think that this recipe originally came from Weight Watchers, but Joe has made some magically delicious modifications. The result is an unusual and hearty winter dinner that we also like to serve at fall dinner parties.

Serves 4-6.


1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups fat-free evaporated milk
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste
10 oz dry lasagna noodles, cooked al dente (about 12 noodles)
10 oz cooked winter squash, thawed if frozen
1 cup shredded fat-free mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup golden seedless raisins
1/2 cup pine nuts


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place flour in a small saucepan and very gradually whisk in milk and garlic. Warm over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce simmers and is thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

Spread 1/4 cup of cheese sauce over bottom of a 9 X 13-inch glass or metal pan and cover with 3 lasagna noodles; top with 1/3 of squash and 1/2 cup of cheese sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup of raisins.

Cover with 3 more lasagna noodles and spread with 1/3 of remaining squash and 1/2 cup of cheese sauce; sprinkle with 1/4 cup of raisins. Cover with 3 more lasagna noodles and top with remaining squash and raisins; cover with last 3 lasagna noodles, pressing sheets firmly down. Top with remaining cheese sauce; sprinkle with pine nuts and remaining mozzarella cheese.

Cook for 30-45 minutes, until golden brown on top and bubbly.


Dancing Chicken (Whole Chicken Grilled with Beer and Greek Seasoning)

>> Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Joe: "I had been making this recipe for quite a while before I heard my friend Jeff Marian call it 'Dancing Chicken'. His title is much better than mine, 'Chicken with a Beer Can up its Butt'."

1 4-6 pound whole fryer chicken
1/4 cup salt
2 lemons
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can of beer
salt and pepper to taste
1 can of beer
1 tablespoon Joe's Greek Seasoning

Set up your grill for the indirect method. On a gas grill, turn half the burners to medium, leaving the others off. On charcoal grills, place an aluminum drip pan on the bottom grate. Pile the coals on either side. Light the coals and allow to burn.

Remove the giblets and rinse the chicken inside and out. Dissolve salt in a bowl of water and soak the chicken for30 minutes. Drain and pat dry.

Squeeze a lemon into the cavity. Squeeze the juice of another lemon into one tablespoon of olive oil into a cup. Add salt and pepper and brush on the outside of the bird.

Open a beer can (not a bottle) and drink or pour out one quarter of it. Punch two small additional holes in the top of the can.
Put one teaspoon of Joe's Greek Seasoning into the can. Sprinkle two teaspoons over the chicken. Insert the can of beer into the cavity all the way, without bending the can. The bottom of the can and the two legs serve as the base of a tripod, with the chicken sitting, upright, on the grate. Close the lid of the grill.
Grill for 75 to 90 minutes, or about 20 minutes per pound. Once done, remove chicken from grill to cool. The best way to remove the can is to lift the chicken firmly with tongs, insert a long spoon down the neck and push the can out. Slice up the bird and enjoy!


Beth's Easy Cheesy Potato Soup

>> Friday, October 14, 2011

When my younger sister finished high school, she came to live with me and my little girls for a time, and she brought with her a lively interest in food. One of the many easy, cheap, and delicious recipes she invented was this cheesy potato soup. It's perfect First Apartment Food: it costs nearly nothing and takes 30 minutes to make, and it's very filling. In fact, I made the soup one night when my parents were visiting and we had less than an hour to cook and eat before leaving for a charity event. My stepdad was stunned at how quickly I whipped it together!

Like many good soup recipes, it lends itself to all kinds of variations. Have fun with it and make it your own!

5 large russet potatoes, scrubbed
1 medium onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups fat free milk
1 cup sharp cheddar or swiss cheese
Salt and Pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onions

Dice potatoes and onions. Simmer on high heat with garlic in chicken stock until fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Pour in milk and cheese. Heat until cheese is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with salad and bread, and top soup bowls with green onions.

Makes 4 main dish servings.


Jessie's Chicken and Feta Rollups

>> Friday, October 7, 2011

Angela: "I have always loved having daughters. First it was playing with them, then trading clothes and jewelry, and now sharing recipes. Jessie gave me this recipe recently,  She didn't have a meat tenderizer, so I think she flattened the chicken breasts with a hammer. Her boyfriend Erich even likes this recipe, though they are both somewhat picky eaters.You're going to love this one, I promise."

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, snipped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 6 tablespoons roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup seasoned croutons, crushed (or bread crumbs)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 12-18 large spinach leaves
  • 6 oz. thinly sliced deli ham
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butterfly each breast by cutting lengthwise through the chicken breast, almost to the opposite side. Spread chicken open flat. Place between parchment paper or plastic wrap, and pound to 1/4 inch thickness.

In a bowl, combine cheeses, herbs, and pepper. Blend well. Chop red peppers. In another bowl, combine milk and egg and whisk until mixed.

Cover each chicken breast with a layer of spinach leaves, a scoop of cheese mixture spread evenly, and 1 tablespoon of peppers. Roll up, jelly roll fashion, tucking in ends where possible. Place seam side down in pan.

Bake 35 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.

Serves 4-6.


Ragu di Carne (Tuscan Meat Sauce)

>> Saturday, October 1, 2011

Joe opening a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino wine
We spent part of our honeymoon in a lovely isolated villa in the tiny Tuscan town of Creti. Our hosts owned a thriving agriturismo, which is a working farm as well as a sort of Bed-and-Breakfast inn. Creti is close to the town of Cortona which was made popular by the novel "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Francis Mayes. This photo is of our villa at Rosa dei Venti. We recommend this place highly to anyone who wants to stay in an authentic Italian villa but be close enough to all the major attractions of Tuscany.

Angela is in the orange sweater
We signed up for cooking classes on our last afternoon in Tuscany, but came back late from a wine-tasting in nearby Montepulciano due to a lack of Italian road signs and Angela's difficulties with reading a map. The rest of the guests, from New Zealand, Belgium, and Poland, were already cooking the dinner we would share that night. Even though we kept explaining that Angela was the photographer and Joe was the cook, they addressed all the cooking comments to Angela. Nonetheless, we learned an amazing, hearty recipe for pasta sauce that we often make in the fall and winter.

We have converted as closely as possible from metric to American weights and measures.

3 large finely chopped carrots
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup marjoram, chopped
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
2 chicken livers
2 rabbit livers (the agriturismo farm raised rabbits and served a stewed rabbit dish as a main course ("secondi piatti"); if you're not serving rabbit or can't find rabbit livers, substitute 2 additional chicken livers)
8 large plum tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
  1. Saute vegetables and herbs in olive oil.
  2. Stir in beef and pork and cook until brown and crumbly.
  3. Cut the membranes from the livers and finely dice them.
  4. Add liver to meat mixture and cook until foamy, about 30 minutes.
  5. Pour in wine and simmer 10 minutes.
  6. Puree tomatoes and add to ragu. Simmer for one hour.
Serve over a hearty pasta such as rotini or farfalle and a big Tuscan Red wine such as a Barolo or Brunello.
Serves 4-6.


Japanese Cold Spinach Salad with Sesame Dressing (Goma-Ae)

>> Saturday, September 24, 2011

Japanese Cold Spinach Salad with Sesame Dressing (Goma-Ae)

This is a traditional Japanese salad that is a perfect hot-weather side dish or appetizer. Chard works as well as spinach, or you can use steamed green beans instead.

1 pound baby spinach, stems removed
1/4 cup roasted white sesame seeds
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup sake or dry white wine (omit sugar)
½ tsp. mirin


Wash fresh spinach. Blanch spinach in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water.

Grind sesame seeds in a food processor, blender, or with a mortar and pestle. Stir all ingredients except spinach in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for five minutes.

Squeeze all the water from the spinach and arrange in individual serving dishes. Pour sesame mixture over the salad, and serve.

Makes 4-6 side salads.


Coriander Pears

>> Monday, September 19, 2011

My parents have been growing pears on their farm for years. They are big proponents of organic gardening, so their pears are sometimes oddly-shaped and full of...ahem...wildlife. But their sweetness and healthiness make up for everything else.

 Last fall, my mom hurt her back badly at just about the same time my dad was scheduled to go on a charity trip to help people stranded in the desert in the Southwest. I spent a week with her canning produce and peeling fruits to put up in jars. It was wonderful bonding time.

Pears can be a little insipid and sweet when they are canned, so the addition of spices and lime juice made a delicious improvement.


2 cups unsweetened apple juice
2 cups water
Juice of 3 limes (about 1/4-1/3 cup)
2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
4 pounds ripe pears


Sterilize quart jars and lids in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Combine juice, water, lime juice, nutmeg, and coriander seeds in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

Peel pears. Cut them into quarters lengthwise and cut out the cores and any bad spots. Press them into the quart jars, leaving as little room as possible between the fruit. Pour the juice mixture into each jar, ensuring that an even number of coriander seeds are in each jar. Fill the jars to 1/2 inch of the rim.

Wipe the rims of the jars. Screw on lids hand-tight and slowly lower into a hot water bath canner. Boil 15 minutes once the pot reaches a full rolling boil. Remove from the canner and allow to cool. Test the seals before storing.

Makes about 6 quarts of pears.


Roasted Poblano-Thyme Salsa

>> Monday, September 12, 2011

This recipe enjoyed as a complex, smoky dip with chips, as well as brushing it on grilled meats and spooning it on Mexican dishes. While the process may take a little longer than other salsas, you will appreciate the final result. This recipe appears in Angela's book, "The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food."


3 lbs. plum tomatoes, about 20 medium
4 fresh poblano chilies
1 large red onion, sliced 1 inch thick
12 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups tomato puree
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
4 tsp. salt


1. Heat the broiler or grill. Place whole tomatoes and poblanos on a broiler pan or cookie sheet.

2. Broil or grill close to the heat until the exposed side is blotchy, black, and peeling. Turn over the tomatoes and poblanos and roast until both sides are blistered and the skin is blackened.

3. Turn down the heat to medium. Mix together the onion and garlic and place them on another broiler pan. Roast or grill them, turning frequently, until the onions and garlic are soft and have browned edges. Cool to room temperature.

4. Pull the peels from the cooled tomatoes and cut out the tomato cores. Pull the peels off the chilies, and then open the peppers and remove the stem, seed pod, and any remaining seeds. Chop the peppers into l inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl.

5. In a food processor, pulse the onion and garlic until finely chopped. Add to the bowl of poblanos.

6. Coarsely puree the tomatoes in the food processor, and then add them to the bowl. Stir in the tomato puree, water, cilantro, thyme, and salt. This fresh salsa should be used within five days if you are not planning to can it.

7. For canning, ladle salsa into sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2 an inch of headspace. Slide a knife or spatula inside the jar to remove air bubbles; adjust headspace if necessary. Dampen a kitchen towel and wipe around the rims of the canning jars. Screw the canning lids onto the jar until finger-tight.

8. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Yield: 4 to 6 pints

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
This recipe was featured in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Caprese Salad

>> Sunday, September 4, 2011

I made this salad for Joe one summer evening as part of  a birthday picnic. Since then, we've enjoyed the same salad at the courtyard restaurant at the Art Institute of Chicago, where they used several colorful varieties of heritage tomatoes. We also had this salad during our honeymoon in Tuscany, where the dish originated. In Tuscany, they often use buffalo mozzarella instead, which gives it a subtle musky taste.

When the tomatoes come on heavy in summer, and even the neighbors won't take any more, this salad is a wonderful way to use up your produce. If you grow an herbal garden, like we do, you can pick your fresh tomatoes and fresh basil at the same time. If you're buying tomatoes, make sure they are excruiciatingly ripe so that the flavors pop. One of the best features of authentic Italian cooking is that they insist on buying the freshest, best produce at the beginning of the recipe.


1/2 pound fresh soft mozzarella cheese, sliced as thinly as possible
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, thinly sliced
3-4 large fresh basil leaves, torn into large pieces
Freshly ground salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, if desired


On a large serving plate, alternate mozzarella, tomato, and basil in a circular pattern, overlapping the slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, drizzle with oil and vinegar.
Makes 4 side salads. 


Bread-and-Butter Pickles

>> Thursday, September 1, 2011

Angela's old-fashioned sweet pickle recipe is a staple with sandwiches or at summer picnics. The stories vary about the name "bread and butter" pickles, but the most consistent explanation is that in the Depression Era, these pickles along with bread and butter might well be a person's midday or evening meal. Keep that in mind just in case our current recession falls into an actual economic depression!

  • 4 pounds small pickling cucumbers
  • 1/3 cup pickling salt
  • 4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whole mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoons celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 3 cups green tomatoes, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 5 cups onions, thinly sliced
  • 11 to 12 pint canning jars
  1. Sterilize canning jars.
  2. Scrub cucumbers well. Slice off the ends of cucumbers and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Place layers of cucumbers and salt in a large bowl, and cover it with a layer of ice. Place in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours to make the cucumbers crisper. Drain well.
  3. Combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, ginger, celery seeds, and pepper in a large saucepan or pot. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Stir in the cucumbers and onions and return to a boil. Remove from the heat. 
  4. Pack vegetables into hot jars, and then ladle the sauce over the vegetables, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Slide a knife or spatula inside the jar to remove air bubbles; adjust headspace if necessary. 
  5. Dampen a kitchen towel and wipe around the rims of the canning jars. Screw the canning lids onto the jar just until finger-tight. Process 15 minutes in boiling-water canner.

Yield: 12 pints.

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
This recipe was featured in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Blackened Cajun Corn

>> Friday, August 26, 2011

Even though this summer's corn harvest hasn't been as good as usual, there's still plenty of good fresh corn out there. Joe makes this side-dish if he is cooking meat blackened Cajun-style. If you aren't serving this with pan-fried blackened meat, use some butter or olive oil and cook the ingredients until brown.

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 medium finely-chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • Blackened pan drippings, or 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun Spice Mix

Warm the drippings, butter or olive oil.  Add the onion cook until brown and caramelized. Add the red pepper and corn and cook until tender. Add the spice mix and stir well before serving.

Makes 4 1/2 cup side servings


Tzatziki Sauce

>> Monday, August 22, 2011

This Greek cucumber/yogurt sauce is one reason gyros taste so magically delicious. July and August are the months when gardeners are drowning in cucumbers, so it's a great time to make a big batch of this sauce. Best of all, it's really easy to make.

In this picture, I used the tzatziki sauce as a dressing for a cucumber salad. It can also be used as a dip for veggies or pita wedges, or a condiment for any kind of sandwich.


2 (8 ounce) containers plain yogurt
2 cucumbers - peeled, seeded and shredded
1 tablespoon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
salt to taste


In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir until well-combined. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.


GumballHead Beer

>> Thursday, August 18, 2011

This summer beer recommendation comes from my step-daughter Jessie, a beer aficionado and Chicago bartender extraordinaire. It is a light, fruity wheat brew from Three Floyds brewery. By the way, a few years ago wineries were adding gimmicky names and labels to their products - and beer is following along. This one's a little much, don't you think?


Panzanella - Cucumber, Tomato, and Italian Bread Salad

>> Monday, August 15, 2011

Panzanella is a traditional summer salad in Italy and a thrifty way to use up bread that is getting dry and hard. This fresh and light salad is perfect for the dog days of summer, when you don't feel like cooking and it's too hot to eat something heavy, anyway.

When we honeymooned in Tuscany, the midday sun was fierce and most people observed the very civilized custom of closing everything down for a few hours, lunching and napping, and then going back about their business later in the day. Night was a time for socializing. Everyone turned out on the streets and parks to visit, have a drink, and play games with their kids. Lovely.

This salad was one of the refreshing ones we tried before our midday siestas, and we've made it many times since we came home. One of the most wonderful things about having a backyard garden is that we can go out and pick our own lunch or dinner any day of the week. Now that tomatoes and cucumbers are weighing down our vines, dinner is ready in less time than it would take us to run to the store for produce.


4 cups coarse hard bread, such as ciabbata, baguette, or French loaf
4 plum tomatoes
2 medium cucumbers (we like the seedless ones the best)
1 small red onion
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Immerse in warm water for two minutes, and then allow to drain in a colander. 

Cut the tomatoes and cucumbers into 1-inch pieces. You can peel cukes if you like, but we like the skins on as long as they are not too scarred or dark green and bitter. Peel and cut the onion in half. Thinly slice each half. Place these vegetables and the bread in a serving bowl and toss them until mixed. 

Chop the basil and olives and put them in a small bowl. Pour the olive oil and vinegar into this bowl, along with the salt and pepper. Mix well and pour it over the salad, tossing it well to coat. Serve at room temperature.

If you have leftovers, eat them within the next day or two, before the bread gets mushy and unappealing.

Serves 2-3 as main-dish meals, or 4-6 as side salads.


French Bread Pizzas

>> Friday, August 12, 2011

This is about the quickest, easiest way to enjoy a pizza. It also contains cheap and easy-to find ingredients. These factors together make it a perfect recipe for our daughters who are out on their own, and hopefully not starving because they don't have any twenty-something-friendly recipes. Below the basic recipe is a bunch of ideas on how to jazz them up if you're not 20 or prefer something more interesting. These pizzas, cut into small pieces, also make a quick and easy appetizer.

1 24-inch french bread loaf
1 10-oz. can of spaghetti or pizza sauce
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese (and/or any other cheese you like)
Garlic salt
1 tsp. dried or fresh oregano

  1. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut the bread loaf in half. Cut each half lengthwise down the middle so you have 4 pieces. 
  3. Put the bread slices on a baking sheet.
  4. Spread the sauce on the cut surface of each quarter.
  5. Sprinkle the bread with mozzarella cheese.
  6. Sprinkle the garlic salt and oregano over the pizzas.(Note: any cheese that lands on the pan instead of on the bread is likely to burn, so scoop it up and put it back on the bread.)
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the bread is warm.
Serves 2-4 people.

  • After spreading the sauce, add thin slices of tomato to the bread. Top with grated parmesan cheese and garlic salt before baking.
  • Add pepperoni slices, cooked Italian sausage bits, chopped olives, mushroom slices, green pepper, pineapple bits, ham or bacon, if desired. Note that olives and meat will make the pizza more salty so you might want to go with plain garlic powder rather than garlic salt.
  • Sprinkle the bread with red pepper flakes, chopped fresh basil, or parmesan cheese before cooking.


Jalapeno Dill Pickles

>> Thursday, August 11, 2011

If you're like us, the beginning of August is the time you're drowning in cucumbers and tomatoes. Like generations before us, we have begun canning our produce, and enjoy the fresh taste of summer in the middle of winter. This recipe is featured in Angela's book, "The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food."


4 lbs. small pickling cucumbers
8 cups cold water
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 tsp. pickling spice (if desired, remove extra allspice and coriander)
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
4 Tbsp. dill weed, or 2 to 3 heads of dill, chopped
6 peeled garlic cloves, crushed
4 jalapenos, thinly sliced length-wise


1. Sterilize canning jars.
2. Scrub cucumbers well. Slice off the ends of cucumbers and cut cucumbers lengthwise into spears.

3. Place layers of cucumbers and salt in a large bowl, and cover this with a layer of ice. Place in the refrigerator for two to three hours to make the cucumbers crisper. Drain well.

4. Mix together the spices and vinegar in a medium pot or saucepan. Bring to boil and stir well.

5. Place half of a garlic clove in each jar. Pack cucumber wedges vertically in jars, alternating with slices of jalapeno, leaving little space between each spear. Ladle the brine over cucumbers, leaving a 1/4 inch of headspace. Slide a knife or spatula inside the jar to remove air bubbles; adjust headspace if necessary. Dampen a kitchen towel and wipe around the rims of the canning jars. Screw the canning lids onto the jar just until finger-tight.

6. Process in a boiling-water canner for 20 minutes.

Yield: About 6 pints

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
You can find other canning and preserving recipes in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Herbal Teas

>> Sunday, August 7, 2011

This year our herb garden is overflowing more than ever, probably due to the long stretches of hot sunny weather and occasional downpours. We're cutting and drying all sorts of herbs, and some of them make great teas. Here are a few combinations to try. If you don't grow the herbs yourself, you should be able to find them at a farmer's market or local Asian or Latino grocery store.

To make iced tea, follow the directions and refrigerate before serving over ice.

Lemon Verbena Tea

1 cup lemon verbena leaves
3 tablespoons lavender flowers
1 teaspoon dried lemon peel

Pour the herbs into an airtight container, cover, and shake until thoroughly mixed. Place the lid tightly on the container. For a cup of tea, use 1 tablespoon in a cup of boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and strain out the leaves and peel. Add sugar or honey, as desired.

Peppermint Tea

8 oz peppermint leaves
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
8 oz lemon balm leaves
8 oz fennel seeds

 Pour the herbs into an airtight container, cover, and shake until thoroughly mixed. Place the lid tightly on the container. For a cup of tea, use 1 tablespoon in a cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes and strain out the herbs. Note: this tea aids in digestion and stomach pains.

Soothing Chamomile Tea

3 teaspoon marjoram
3 teaspoon chamomile flowers
3 teaspoon bergamot leaves
2 teaspoon dried orange peel

Pour the herbs into an airtight container, cover, and shake until thoroughly mixed. Place the lid tightly on the container. Bring the water to a boil; then remove it from the heat. For a cup of tea, use 1 tablespoon in a cup of boiling water and allow them to steep for 10-15 minutes. Remove herbs.


Tofu with Bonito and Ginger (Hiyayakko)

>> Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tofu with Bonito and Ginger (Hiyayakko)

We've enjoyed this dish as an appetizer at one of our favorite Japanese restaurants, and finally decided to re-create it at home. This is also a great dinner for a hot night when it's unthinkable to even turn on a stove. Experiment with the size of grater you use so that the ginger root doesn't get all tangled in the teeth, as it did on Angela's first attempt. Alternatively, you can buy a jar of grated ginger at many stores.


1 pound extra firm cold tofu, drained
1/4 cup scallions, green onions, or chives, finely chopped or sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, finely grated
1/4 cup dried Bonito (fish) flakes
Soy sauce

Cut the tofu into 1 inch cubes and place in a serving dish. Place a dot of grated ginger on top of each cube. Immediately before serving, sprinkle the bonito flakes carefully on top of each piece of tofu, then top with the scallions or chives. Serve with soy sauce for dipping.


White Summer Sangria

>> Monday, August 1, 2011

We made this refreshing punch for a BBQ party for Joe's birthday. It went so fast that I didn't get the time to take a photo!

1 cup whole strawberries
1 bag frozen sliced peaches
1/2 cup white rum
1/2 cup Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
1 orange, sliced
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups lemon-lime soda
1 1/2 cups white grape juice
1.5 liter bottle of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc wine
Ice cubes

Place the berries and peaches in a  large pitcher or punch bowl and pour the rum and Triple Sec over the fruit. Let it marinate in the fridge for an hour. Add the orange slices. Pour the wine, grape juice, lemon juice, and soda over the fruit. Stir and pour over glasses of ice cubes to serve.


Parsley-Oregano Pesto

>> Friday, July 29, 2011

Our herb crop has matured faster than any other year, so we're trying a new kind of pesto. This is a fresher, lemony version of our usual pesto. Each year we put away quite a bit of pesto from our herb garden, and in the middle of winter, when we're out of dinner ideas, we always seem to come across one more package of frozen pesto.


1 cup fresh parsley, stems removed
1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 tsp grated ginger
3 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt


      Process all ingredients in a blender or food processor, until thick and creamy. Freeze in 1/4 cup portions in small freezer bags. To cook, heat and toss with cooked pasta.


Scallop and Snow Pea Stir Fry

>> Sunday, July 17, 2011

Scallop and Snow Pea Stir Fry
Sometimes we just need dinner to be simple and easy, especially on a Friday night when we have big plans after dinner. This easy stir fry can be on the table 25 minutes after you walk into the kitchen, and it's low fat and veggie rich as well.

When we make a stir-fry, we like to chop all the ingredients ahead of time and set them next to the wok in the order that we will add them to the pan. These dishes cook so quickly that it's nice to have everything ready to throw in when it's time. The shellfish remains tender, while the veggies stay crisp, just the way it should be.

Scallop and Snow Pea Stir Fry


2 cups white rice
4 cups water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 green onions, chopped
10 oz. fresh scallops (we used bay scallops here)
8 oz. snow peas
2 tbsp rice wine (saki or Shaoxing) or vermouth
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp chicken broth


Pour rice and water into a pan and heat to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Heat oil in a wok until shimmering. add the garlic, onions, and ginger and stir-fry for two minutes. Add the scallops and snow peas and stir-fry for 3 minutes, or until the scallops are white and just done.

Whisk together the wine, soy sauce, and broth. Pour over the scallops and heat through. Serve over the rice.

Serves 4


MegaBeans (Mixed Baked Beans)

>> Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thanks, Lee Coursey, for taking this picture for me.
The lady who originally gave me this recipe called these "MegaBeans", and I can't think of a better description. Sweet, smoky, tangy...these beans are perfect for a potluck or picnic, and everyone raves about them afterwards. Best of all, you can put them in a crock pot and let them cook all day. If you make this the day before, the flavors will blend even better when you reheat it, or try serving it cold.


6 slices bacon
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (16 ounce) can black beans, drained
1 (16 ounce) can great Northern beans, drained
1 (28 ounce) can butter beans, drained
1 (16 ounce) can red kidney beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1 cup ketchup
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Dice bacon, then cook until evenly brown and crisp. Place in the crock pot or regular pot.

Cook the onion and garlic in the bacon drippings until onion is tender; drain the grease and add it to the pot. 

Pour in all cans of well-drained beans. Stir in ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, vinegar, and black pepper. Mix well.  Cook on low heat for at least 4 hours, or in a crock pot at least 6 hours, until the beans are in a thick, rich sauce.


Dill Pickle Relish

>> Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chicago is home of the famous Chicago dog, which isn't complete without the neon-green sweet relish. We're not sweet relish fans ourselves, so when the garden starts overproducing cukes, peppers, and dill, we start making our dill pickle relish. This recipe is featured in Angela's book, "The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food."


5 lbs. of pickling cucumbers
1 cup red bell pepper
1 cup yellow onions
5 1/2 cups cider vinegar
3 tsp. dill seed
1 tsp. celery seed
6 cloves garlic, minced
5 Tbsp. Kosher salt


1. Sterilize canning jars.

2. Wash cucumbers and peppers well. Cut off the ends of cucumbers and onions and dice them. Chop in a food processor or blender — using about three to four short pulses on “chop” setting — to yield pieces about ¼ inch in size.

3. After washing the peppers, remove the stems, seeds and white membranes. Cut into 1 inch pieces or slices and then chop in a food processor — using about three to four pulses on the “chop” setting — to yield pieces about 1/4 inch in size. Combine chopped cucumbers and bell peppers and set aside.

4. In a large kettle or Dutch oven, stir together the cider vinegar, dill seed, celery seed, minced garlic, and pickling salt until the salt dissolves. Add chopped vegetables and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer ten minutes.

5. Spoon the hot relish into the pint jars, leaving half an inch of headspace. Slide a knife or spatula inside the jar to remove air bubbles; adjust headspace if necessary. Dampen a kitchen towel and wipe around the rims of the canning jars. Screw the canning lids onto the jar just until finger-tight. Process in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes.

Yield: About 7 pint jars

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
This recipe was featured in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Mama Nona's Arracheras (Mexican Beef Barbeque)

>> Monday, July 4, 2011

Arracheras (Mexican Beef Barbeque)

Some people would call this a Tex-Mex fajitas-style barbeque, but in the central ranching area of Mexico, this is a staple recipe that uses the rather tough skirt steak or flank steak beef cut. Angela learned this recipe from her Mexican ex-MIL, and anywhere you find people from the state of Guanajuato grilling, they may just have this on the coals.

We made this on Jenn's request for her high school graduation, and our midwestern family had never seen or tasted soft corn tortillas before. In the Chicagoland area, we prefer El Milagro brand corn tortillas, made right in the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago. Flour tortillas also work, if you can't find or prefer to eat flour instead of corn.

Arracheras - grilled skirt steak


2 1- to 1 1/4-lb. skirt steaks, trimmed of membrane and excess fat
1 12-oz. bottle or can beer
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 to 3 tbsp. Mexican hot sauce
3-4 cloves minced garlic
12 corn tortillas (8 in. each), warmed until they are soft and pliable
 Lime wedges
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped white onion
Fresh red or green salsa, hot sauce, or pico de gallo
1 cup chopped tomatoes 
1 cup queso fresco, crumbled

Joe grilling marinated skirt steak


If you get the meat from a Latino butcher, ask them to put the meat "En la machina", or in a mechanical meat tenderizer. Otherwise, pound the meat flat with a meat tenderizer mallet. 

Cut meat into 4-5" wide sections. Put the meat in a large resealable plastic bag or on a platter. Stir together beer, lime juice, hot sauce, and garlic, then pour over steaks. Cover and refrigerate 1-4 hours.

Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for medium-high heat. Drain meat, then grill it  3 to 4 minutes per side, turning often, till crispy on the edges and fully cooked. Spray flare-ups with water.

Warm tortillas on a hot dry griddle, turning frequently, until soft and pliable. Watch your fingers!

Slice or pull apart meat into 1-2" sections. Build arrachera tacos with meat, chopped cilantro, onions, salsa, tomatoes, cheese, and a squirt of lime, as desired.
Serves 4-6


Chicken Skewers with Low-Fat Peanut Satay Sauce

>> Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chicken Skewers with Low-Fat Peanut Satay Sauce

I don't know how it happens, but usually when we have company over, we also over-plan our week or have so many commitments that we're scrambling to get the house clean and the dinner cooked before our friends arrive. But last weekend, Joe got up early, made these yummy skewers and the sauce, and picked up around the house while I was still sleeping.

Our friends ended up having trouble getting their little kids to bed, so we carried the whole feast across the street to their house, and grilled it on Aaron's new retro-style grill. It was awesome.

10 oz uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 cup fat-free yogurt
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
2 tbsp soy sauce
I tbsp. sesame oil
salt and pepper, to taste

If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes to prevent burning. Cut the chicken into 1" chunks and thread them onto the skewers. Sprinkle with the curry powder and set aside.

Stir together the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate.

Cook the chicken skewers on a medium grill, turning frequently, about 5-8 minutes. Serve with the satay sauce on the side.

Note: these skewers taste great with a side of skewered, grilled vegetables, like red and yellow peppers, Vidalia onions, mushrooms, and whole cherry tomatoes.


Asian Cellophane Noodle Salad

>> Monday, June 13, 2011

Asian Cellophane Noodle Salad

Make this fresh crispy salad the day before a heat wave, and let all the flavors marinate overnight. If you use rice, cellophane (bean thread) noodles, and gluten free soy sauce, the entire meal is gluten-free.


3 3/4 oz uncooked cellophane noodles
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce (optional; if you are vegan, use the same amount of soy or miso in place of fish sauce)
2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup chili-garlic or Sriracha sauce
2 medium carrots, julienned
1 cup snow peas, julienned
1 medium cucumber(s), julienned or diced


Cook noodles according to package directions, drain, and set aside.

Stir together cilantro, garlic, oil, vinegar, sugar, chili sauce, and fish sauce in a large bowl. Add noodles, carrots, snow peas and cucumber; toss well. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving; this salad is best when made a day ahead.

Yields about 8 cups of salad.


Tabbouleh Salad

>> Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tabbouleh Salad

Tabbouleh is a traditional Middle Eastern salad that's usually made with Bulgur wheat. If you are sensitive to gluten, though, you can use quinoa instead of cracked wheat for the salad. Either way, this is a cool and refreshing summer salad.


2 cups water
1 cup Bulgur wheat or raw quinoa
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 bunches green onions, diced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 tbsp. fresh mint, minced
3 tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
 2 carrots, grated


Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Add wheat or quinoa; reduce heat cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with fork, and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, combine olive oil, salt, lemon juice, vegetables, and herbs. Stir in cooled quinoa and refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Make 4 side salads.


Super Sun Tea

>> Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thanks to Kevin H. for this photo.
Just about any kind of loose or bagged tea will make great iced tea, but this is one of our favorites. Not only is it refreshing, but the coriander seeds and mint are good for digestion and freshening your breath. Coriander is also good for diabetics and those with high cholesterol. If you grow your own herbs, this is also a good way to use up the abundance of mint leaves and coriander once your cilantro goes to seed!

1 cup orange pekoe or black tea leaves
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1/4 cup mint leaves, torn
2 quarts hot water

Place ingredients in a clear container and pour the water over it. Cover the container and place it in a sunny location for at least 2-4 hours. Strain out the leaves and seeds. If you like sweet tea, add sweetener before refrigerating. Serve over ice with mint leaves or a lemon garnish.


Joe's Rib Rub

>> Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day is a great time to fire up the grill and cook up these sweet-tangy ribs. I always ask him to put in more brown sugar - yum!


1 Tbsp. paprika
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. seasoned salt
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed
1 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne powder
1/2 Tbsp. ground cumin


1. Mix together spices, herbs, and sugar and place in an airtight container.

2. When ready to use, rub on meat cuts such as beef or pork ribs, steaks, or beef or pork loin. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes, and then brush the meat with vinegar.

3. Grill or broil 3 to 4 inches from heat.


Mini Cheesecake Tarts

>> Monday, May 16, 2011

This week, our couples' bible study was held at our house, and we needed a quick and delicious bite-sized treat. These cheesecake tarts could hardly be easier.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup light butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar or Splenda

1 small package Jello pudding, cheesecake flavor
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Fresh berries (we used blueberries and raspberries)

Mix together crust ingredients. Press 1/4 teaspoon into each mini baking cup in a mini muffin pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 4 minutes (be careful to watch for over-browning). Let cool.

Mix together Jello package, lemon zest, and milk according to package directions. Let set. Spoon into cooled muffin cups. Top each tart with a berry. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Makes 18-25 little tarts.


Stuffed Peppers with Walnut Sauce (Chiles en Nogada)

>> Tuesday, May 3, 2011

We have been wanting to try this traditional Mexican celebration dish for a while now. Our friend John's birthday dinner was a great time to serve this, and they spent the rest of the night moaning about how good it was.

This festive dish, resplendent with the colors of the Mexican flag, is traditionally served on September 16 in honor of Mexico's Independence Day, though it is popular anytime in the late summer and fall when the walnuts are fresh and the pomegranates abundant.

For the Meat
2 pounds pork, finely chopped
1 small white onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic
about 1 Tablespoon sea salt

For the Picadillo (fruit stuffing)
4 Tablespoons safflower or canola oil
1/3 cup chopped white onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup chopped raisins (I used golden raisins)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or almonds
1/3 cup chopped candied acitrón or candied pineapple
1 fresh pear, peeled and chopped
1 apple, peeled and chopped
1 plantain, peeled and chopped
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with juice
salt to taste

For the Chiles
12 fresh poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, and seeded, leaving the stem intact

For the Walnut Sauce
1 cup fresh walnuts
6 ounces cream cheese (not fat free) at room temperature
1-1/2 cups Mexican crema or 1-1/4 cups sour cream thinned with milk
about 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon sugar (optional)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the Garnish (I didn't use a garnish when making these yesterday)
1 Tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro leaves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

  1. Cut the meat into large chunks, removing any excess fat. Place the meat into a large Dutch oven with the onion, garlic, and salt.
  2. Cook meat until brown on all sides.
  3. Warm the oil in a large, heavy skillet and sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat until they turn a pale gold. Stir in the browned meat and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the cinnamon, pepper, and cloves, then, stir in the raisins, the 2 Tablespoons chopped walnuts, and the candied acitrón.
  5. Add the chopped pear and apple, and mix well.
  6. Add the tomatoes and salt to taste, and continue cooking over medium-high heat until most of the moisture has evaporated. Stir often so that the mixture doesn't stick.
  7. Let cool, cover, and set aside. The picadillo may be made 1 day in advance.
  8. Make a slit down the side of each chile, just long enough to remove the seeds and veins. Keep the stem end intact.
  9. Drain the chiles on absorbent paper until completely dry. Cover and set aside. The chiles may be prepared 1 day in advance.
  10. Place the nuts, cream cheese, crema, and salt in a blender and purée thoroughly. Stir in the optional sugar, cinnamon, and sherry, if using, until thoroughly combined. Chill for several hours.
  11. Preheat the oven to 250ºF.
  12. When ready to serve, reheat the meat filling and stuff the chiles until plump and just barely closed.
  13. Put the filled chiles, covered, to warm in the oven.
  14. After they are thoroughly heated, place the chiles on a serving platter or on individual plates, cover with the chilled walnut sauce, and sprinkle with the parsley and pomegranate seeds.

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