The Happy Cooker

Two Hearty Soups for the Cold Winter Days

By Mary Frederiksen, AKA The Happy Cooker

(Editor’s Note: This column was first published in the High Desert Wine Explorers Newsletter in October, 1999)

While taking classes at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California, I obtained this potato soup recipe. The flavors are robust and complex. It is easy to prepare and sure to please your guests. The second soup recipe is a colorful, elegant soup with a crunch of wild rice and almonds. Both soups are hearty enough to serve as a light supper meal with warm, crusty bread. Enjoy!

POTATO SOUP WITH MUSHROOMS AND MARJORAM

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced into 3/4 inch pieces
1 onion, diced into ¼ inch pieces
1 large leek (white part only) diced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh chervil
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh marjoram
4 cups of chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Ground nutmeg to taste
1 cup of sour cream
2 tablespoon of butter

Method:

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil to medium heat and sauté the potatoes and onions until golden (5-7 minutes). Add the leeks and mushrooms, and cook three more minutes. Add half of the chopped chervil and marjoram. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Season the soup with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Puree with an immersion blender or in a blender until smooth. Stir in the sour cream and butter. Sprinkle some of the remaining chervil and marjoram on top of each serving.

WILD RICE AND NUT SOUP

Ingredients:

½ cup of wild rice
2 tablespoons of minced shallots
2 tablespoons of butter
½ cup of mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup of flour
4 cups of chicken stock
¼ cup of carrots, grated
¼ cup of slivered almonds, toasted
1 cup of half and half
2 tablespoons of dry sherry
Chopped parsley for garnish

Method:

Add wild rice to 2 cups boiling water, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Drain the rice. Toast the almonds in a small amount of butter, then drain onto a paper towel. In a large saucepan, sauté the shallots slowly in the remaining butter. Add mushrooms and sauté for 2 more minutes. Stir in flour. Gradually add the stock and stir until slightly thickened. Add cooked rice, almonds and carrots. Simmer 5 minutes. Add the half & half and sherry. Heat thoroughly (but do not boil). Garnish with parsley. Enjoy!

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Another visit to Michael’s at South Point

By Mary Frederiksen, AKA The Happy Cooker

Earlier this month to celebrate my birthday, Glen made reservations for us at MICHAEL’S. I have written many
reviews of this wonderful dining establishment and am very pleased to say that they are still doing all the right
things to make any dining experience there a memorable one.

In Las Vegas, we have seen many high end, off strip restaurants close due to the economy, but Michael’s has only
gotten better. When we dined this time, the welcome veggie tray was more refined with all the items fresh, tasty and
inviting. From the quail eggs to the dill marinated cauliflower, we enjoyed them all.

The Chateaubriand for Two remains our favorite dish and it was superb!

The dessert for my birthday was a delectable French Chocolate Mousse cake that melted in my mouth and
I fear went right to my hips. Ahhhhh, but what a way to go!

If you are in Las Vegas and are wanting an old style, high end, great service dining experience, try MICHAEL’S
at the South Point Hotel and Casino. You will not be disappointed.

http://www.southpointcasino.com/dining/michaels.php

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Napa Valley’s Rutherford Grill Revisited

By Mary Frederiksen

I do not recall the first time we ate at the Rutherford Grill in Rutherford, California. I do remember that the first meal there was delicious, memorable and a delight. Enough so that, each and every time we are in the area, we dine there. Such was the case on our recent 37th anniversary celebratory trip in November.

Rutherford Grill

Rutherford Grill

We scheduled our drive time so we could arrive there for dinner on the first night of our visit and then again for lunch the day we were driving home.

What impresses me most about this restaurant is their consistency in producing delectable meals that never disappoint. The service is always top notch, with friendly, attentive servers who do their best to accommodate every wish of the diner. For example, in years past, we have enjoyed a special dish that is not always on the menu. No worries — all we needed to do was mention it to our server and he made it so.

We started our meal with an order of their jalapeño cornbread. It is served in a personal sized iron skillet pan and delivered hot from the oven. It melts in your mouth and never disappoints.

Jalapeño Cornbread

Jalapeño Cornbread

Next, we ordered the special dish I mentioned, a combination of baby back pork ribs and rotisserie chicken. The rotisserie oven is a thing to behold. You can see the gorgeous meats on display through their glass window in the kitchen. The manager even opened up the glass case to allow the photograph above to be taken. The aromas were epic!

The Chicken and Ribs Combo Platter

The Chicken and Ribs Combo Platter

The dinner comes with their signature cole slaw which is crafted from a highly guarded secret recipe. I have, in years past, attempted to duplicate this slaw in my home kitchen with moderate success. Theirs is still the very best.

The Pit at Rutherford Grill

The Pit at Rutherford Grill

Also on the plate is a generous serving of mashed potatoes. This side dish is unique in its construction and flavor, the perfect comfort food.

Glen ordered a lovely bottle of wine and our dinner was complete. It was the perfect way to start and end our wine country visit. The restaurant has offered free corkage for years and it has become the place to find local winemakers dining and conducting business. By the way, their wine list is among the best we have seen, and their wines by the glass are full 8 ounce pours at a third of the cost of a bottle.

Do yourselves a favor and try this dining spot and perhaps you will return there as we have for over 20 years.

Don’t believe me? Check out what Zagat bloggers have to say about the Rutherford Grill:

http://www.zagat.com/r/rutherford-grill-rutherford/menu

The Rutherford Grill
1180 Rutherford Road
Rutherford, CA 94573
(707) 963-1792

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Peppery Pasta Recipe

By Mary Frederiksen, AKA The Happy Cooker

This cold but spicy-hot pasta salad has been a potluck favorite of mine for many years. The ingredients are easy to find and the preparation time is minimal. This recipe first appeared in the High Desert Wine Explorers newsletter in May, 1998.

SOUTHWEST PEPPER AND FUSILLI SALAD

Salad Ingredients:

One-half pound fusilli pasta, cooked, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh jalapeno pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chili pepper
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, diced in bite-sized pieces
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, in small bite-sized cubes

Dressing Ingredients:

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic (or more!) minced
One-half teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Preparation:

Place cooked pasta in a large serving bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add all of the remaining salad ingredients and toss.
To make the dressing, whisk the vinegar and olive oil together thoroughly and then add all the remaining dressing ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss the pasta with the dressing. Chill salad and serve. Enjoy!

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Something Sweet, Something Savory

By Mary Frederiksen

This recipe was created by my wonderful friend, Janet Forcinel. We met her through our wine club activities in the early 1990s. She is a gourmet cook who has studied formally in cooking schools on the east coast. She is also a fellow Registered Nurse. She says that you can substitute smoked salmon in this recipe; I have tried this, with delicious results. This became a staple at our December sparkling wine and food pairing get-togethers. I thank Janet each time I prepare and serve this creative and delicious dish.

SMOKED BEEF CHEESECAKE

CRUST

1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons melted butter

Preparation: Mix ingredients thoroughly. Press evenly in the bottom of a springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Set aside.

FILLING

3/4 cup chopped onion
5 ounces smoked gouda, grated
6 ounces chopped smoked beef
3 eight-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
4 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation: Cook onions to caramelized state. Mix cream cheese and eggs together. Fold in grated gouda, chopped beef and onions. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour over crust in springform pan. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes or until firm. Cool. Chill.

Enjoy!

Wine pairing suggestion: If ever there were a dish that could hold its own against an Aussie sparkling Shiraz, this is it. Substituting smoked salmon for the smoked beef, you will have a match perfect with Brut Rosé Champagne.

This column first appeared in the January, 1998 issue of the High Desert Wine Explorers newsletter.

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R & R on the Central Coast and Fine Dining at The Range restaurant

By Mary Frederiksen, AKA The Happy Cooker

Two wonderful “finds” on our vacation to the Central Coast are an excellent massage therapist and an excellent dining place.

If you are in the Arroyo Grande area and are in search of a wonderful masseuse, look up Laurie Waller. She has an office in old town Arroyo Grande on Branch Street. She came highly recommended to me and she was excellent! But beware; she books up quickly. You can check out her web site at www.lauriewaller.massagetherapy.com

Tell her Mary sent you ☺

During one of our sessions, I asked her about good restaurants in the area. She recommended a place in Santa Margarita named THE RANGE. It has been in business since 2006 and this was first time I had heard of it. So of course we went there to dine the next evening.

The Range restaurant in Santa Margarita

The Range restaurant in Santa Margarita

After having dinner there, I can see why they have no need to advertise. Once a dining establishment maintains a wonderful reputation, “word of mouth” from highly satisfied customers is all the advertisement they require. Reviewers on YELP gave them a perfect 5 out of 5!

The building is small and charming, with an indoor seating area that accommodates 30 diners and an outside area that will seat another 50 or more. There are only five parking spots outside the door, so be prepared to park along the street or at businesses nearby that close early.

The main dining area inside The Range -- can you hear the Old School Country and Western music playing?

The main dining area inside The Range — can you hear the Old School Country and Western music playing?

We were warmly greeted by Marti, our server, and another gentleman whose name I did not get. The service throughout our dinner was superb. The attentiveness and care exerted a very calming, comfortable atmosphere and made for a wonderful overall experience.

All the dishes we selected were meticulously prepared and artfully presented, and was a delight to our palates! The pictures of each dish speak volumes about their attention to details. The flavors were fresh and refreshing! They use many locally grown and produced products.

We started with an assortment of breads that were prepared in their kitchen. Their jalapeno cornbread was not too spicy but full of flavors not usually seen in cornbread. The molasses gave the bread a light brown color and the cornmeal was ground to a wonderful texture. With just a hint of jalapeno, we enjoyed it thoroughly. They served a homemade rye bread that Glen announced was one of the best he had tasted. The herbed garlic bread and the French style bread rounded out the bread plate. All were served with a generous amount of fresh creamery butter. Seconds were available upon request, but don’t spoil your appetite! The feast was just beginning.

The yummylicious breads

The yummylicious breads

One of the appetizer specials of the evening composed our next course. It was a flatbread of pesto, fresh mozzarella and pecorino romano cheese, chicken confit, topped with heirloom tomatoes, local basil, frieze, arugala, shaved red onion, all bathed in an elegant vinaigrette dressing. It was perfect!

A pizza and salad all in one!

A pizza and salad all in one!

Carmelized onion soup followed. It was prepared with a sherry thyme broth and topped with Gruyere croutons. Perfect, again!

Classic caramelized onion soup

Classic caramelized onion soup

The original Man Salad, a take on wedge salads

The original Man Salad, a take on wedge salads

Our salad course was The Original Man Salad. It consisted of a Salinas iceburg wedge, Homestead Farms Hampshire bacon threads, heirloom tomatoes, croutons, herbed blue cheese in a Kendall Farms crème fraiche dressing. It was a masterpiece and could have been a meal in itself.

Glen’s main course was forest mushroom ravioli with garlic confit in a Champagne herb cream sauce. As you can see from the picture, the serving size was very generous and we took home two of the raviolis to enjoy the next day at lunch!

mushroom ravioli

I chose a chef’s special for that evening and it, too, was perfect! Panko crusted Alaskan sand dabs in a caper beurre blanc, with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables, including yellow and zucchini squash, cauliflower and spinach. The plate was garnished with fresh herbs and fried onion twists. I have had sand dabs in other restaurants but this was the best, by far.

sand dabs special

We saved some room for dessert and ordered the Meyer lemon pound cake with fresh berries, vanilla bean ice cream and berry coulis. It was yummy and, with coffee, the perfect end to our meal.

Thanks to the chef, the owner and all the serving staff for developing such a fine dining establishment. Whenever we return to the Central Coast, we will be dining there again.

If your travels take you to Santa Margarita, be sure to make dinner reservations at THE RANGE and prepare yourself for a wonderful culinary adventure.

They accept only cash or checks, NO CREDIT CARDS. Our dinner bill was $94 with tax — a steal, in my opinion.

They do not have a web site but I have included their information for your convenience.

THE RANGE RESTAURANT
22317 El Camino Real
Santa Margarita, Ca. 93453
1-805-438-4500
Open everyday from 5 – 9 pm

A note from Glen: The Range has an excellent wine list, with nearly all selections coming from the Central Coast wine regions. There are a number of jewels here, at very reasonable prices. I was surprised, and happy, to see wines from Saxum, L’Aventure, Tablas Creek, John Alban, and a Petite Sirah from Aaron Wines.

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Two Sumptuous Summer Salad Recipes

By Mary Frederiksen

As we enter the dog days of summer, now is the time to have one final bash with family and friends around the pool, out at the park, or just a big neighborhood get-together. Side dishes, especially salads, are a welcome sight at any picnic, luncheon, or pool party spread. Here are two of my favorites.

This Sweet and Sour Cole Slaw recipe is deliciously different, refreshing, and low in calories. The Raspberry Spinach Salad has always been a crowd pleaser. This salad is high in calories, so you may want to make it as a potluck dish for your next block party …thus spreading the calories among all your friends!

SWEET & SOUR COLE SLAW

Ingredients:
1 head of cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
2 green onions, sliced
2 carrots, grated
½ cup green bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/3 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup cider vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Preparation:
In a large bowl, combine cabbage, onions, carrots, green pepper and celery seed. In a.saucepan, heat the oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to boiling. Pour over salad, toss well, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Serves 8-10. Enjoy!

Summer raspberries... Mmmmmm!

Summer raspberries… Mmmmmm!

RASPBERRY SPINACH SALAD

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons raspberry jam
1/3 cup vegetable oil
8 cups spinach, rinsed, stemmed and torn into pieces
¾ cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup fresh raspberries
3 kiwis, peeled and sliced

Preparation:
To prepare the dressing, combine vinegar and jam in a blender or small bowl. Add the oil in a thin stream, blending well. Toss the spinach, half of the nuts, half of the raspberries and half of the kiwis with dressing on a platter or in a flat salad bowl. Top with remaining nuts, raspberries and kiwis. Serve immediately. Serves 8. Enjoy!

This article was originally published in November, 1997 in the High Desert Wine Explorer newsletter.

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PASTA PLEASURES

By Mary Frederiksen

When we were house hunting in 1989, we were very impressed with the model homes at King Ranch in Victorville, where we later purchased a home. The floor plan was ideal. The model home we purchased was named “Bordeaux”—another plus. What impressed us further was a coffee table recipe book entitled “Vintner’s Choice” that decorated the living room table of that model home. The sales manager later gave us that book as a gift when the developer sold all the model homes. It was a compilation of stories, wine descriptors and recipes from 126 California wineries.

One of the recipes I have used on numerous occasions comes from Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery. We were served this dish at a wine tour event in the Eberle caves and eating it brought back many fond memories of our previous visits there.This is a perfect lighter (yet rich) dish for the summer.

Paired with a rich Chardonnay, it is even better!

PASTA ALFREDO CON PROSCIUTTO
(adapted from a recipe by Gary Eberle)

Ingredients:

8 ounces butter
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces prosciutto, diced
8 ounces mild Italian sausage, removed from the casing
1 pound sliced mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint heavy cream
1 pound pasta of your choice
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces chopped fresh basil

Method:

In a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat, melt together one tablespoon of butter and four tablespoons of olive oil. Lower heat to medium and add prosciutto and sausage. Sauté until the sausage is cooked. Drain off the fat. Add the mushrooms and garlic, and continue cooking for another five minutes until the mushrooms have wilted.

In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter until just frothy. Slowly add the cream and heat thoroughly, combining the two ingredients well. Continue cooking over medium heat until the sauce is reduced slightly and coats the back of a spoon.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water with one tablespoon of oil added, until the pasta is al dente (slightly undone in the center). Drain and place the pasta in a heated bowl. Add the cream sauce and toss. Add the cooked sausage mixture and toss again. Add about half of the Parmesan cheese and the fresh herbs and toss one more time. Add more cheese if necessary, or allow the diners to add their own at the table.

Serves 4. Enjoy!

(this article first appeared in print in August,.1997 in the High Desert Wine Explorer newsletter)

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Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

By Mary Frederiksen

If you asked me to name my favorite food, I would have to say chocolate. As my husband, Glen, tells all our friends, “She has to have it every day!” OK, so I am addicted to chocolate; I freely admit it. Now that you know I am a ‘chocoholic,’ I’d like to share with you one of my favorite recipes. It has been in our family since I can remember. I had misplaced it for a short time and was pleased that my sister, Carol, was able to find it for me again. If you are a chocolate lover, I think you will find this recipe easy and delicious. ENJOY! (…it is also GREAT with a good Zinfandel…)

CHOCOLATE DREAMS

Ingredients:

4 squares (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
One and one-fourth cups flour
One-half teaspoon salt
Chocolate frosting

Method:

Combine chocolate and shortening in the top of a heat-resistant glass double boiler, and melt over boiling water. Add sugar; mix well. Add eggs and vanilla, then flour and salt, stirring thoroughly with each addition. Remove from heat. Spread batter in a well-greased 13 x 9-inch heat resistant glass baking dish. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 18-20 minutes. Remove from the oven. When cool, spread with chocolate frosting.

Chocolate Frosting: Melt 2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate with 3 tablespoons hot water and blend in 1 tablespoon butter. Cool. Add 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar and one-half teaspoon vanilla. Spread over Chocolate Dreams. Enjoy!

First printed in the High Desert Wine Explorer Newsletter in September, 1995

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Basilic Restaurant: Swiss Precision on Balboa Island

By Mary Frederiksen

On a recent trip to Newport Beach, California, we happened on a wonderful dining spot on Balboa Island. We had done some research prior to our trip and were intrigued by a highly rated restaurant named BASILIC. This intimate and romantic restaurant seats only 24 diners. We were vacationing with two other couples and we weren’t sure if the restaurant could accommodate our large group. We called and left a reservation request on their answering machine Monday afternoon when we arrived at our hotel. They called us on Tuesday morning to say that they had room for our party of six at 6:15 that night and we snapped up the reservation!

We all ordered the prix fixe 5-course chef’s dinner and sat back awaiting the culinary treats that were to be bestowed upon us.

Let me tell you a little about the chef and his restaurant before I tell you about the delicious meal we consumed.

BASILIC RESTAURANT first opened its doors in February, 1997. It is the pride of chef/owner Bernard Althaus, and features excellent Swiss-French cuisine. Born and raised on the west side of the Alps, Althaus was educated in Lausanne. He then served his apprenticeship there working at Chalet Suisse, before coming to the U.S. where he served as the chef for the French team of the 1970 America’s Cup. He then continued this journey as a private chef on charters in the Caribbean before returning to Switzerland.

In 1990, Bernard and his wife, along with their two children, came to Newport Beach for the wedding of a family uncle. With plans to travel across the United States, they purchased a motor home and rambled around the country for a year. Like many, they found the combination of beautiful weather, ocean views, and nearby skiing that Southern California offers to be irresistible and too good to leave behind.

After relocation to Orange County, Althaus began cooking alongside fellow Swiss native Ernst Zingg at Le Cellar in Fullerton, after which he spent almost two years at Newport Beach’s Pascal restaurant. He then spent over five years at Mezzanine restaurant before opening Basilic in 1997. Althaus has since been spending most of his time perfecting his exquisite dishes and pleasing his clientele five nights a week on Balboa Island. At home, he harvests his own garden to produce the fresh herbs used in his dishes and grows the yellow and red organic heirloom tomatoes found in the seasonal Special Salad. The name of his restaurant, BASILIC is actually the French word for basil, Alhaus’ favorite herb for seasoning. Chef Althaus also stops by the local Farmer’s Market everyday to pick up fresh and organic produce. In the kitchen, he prepares each and every dish to order, making sure each plate is served to perfection.

And now, on to the foods we enjoyed that night…

The first presentation was a gift from the chef, an amuse bouche of feta cheese, garlic and olive mousse on toast. Creamy and scrumptious, indeed.

The soup course was an asparagus and cauliflower delight that was so rich and creamy. The flavors were balanced perfectly.
All of our soup bowls were emptied and there were smiles of delight all around.

The salad course arrived next. It consisted of asparagus spears, mixed tender salad greens with organic beets and goat cheese all kissed with an elegant sherry vinaigrette dressing. How could this dinner get any better?

Next came the fish course, which was herb crusted Alaskan halibut filet with lentils and tomato concasse. The fish dish was presented bathed in a Champagne beurre blanc.

(Note: “Concasse is from the French word, concasser, “to crush or grind”. It is a cooking term meaning to rough chop any ingredient, usually vegetables. In this dish, the tomatoes were expertly peeled, seeded, chopped, and then seasoned to perfection.)

It had been a long time since I tasted halibut as fresh and flavorful as the filet piece that was in this dish. The freshness of all the ingredients and masterful preparation by the chef made this most memorable.

The meat course was next and it, too, was expertly prepared and presented. Our plate arrived with a grilled Angus beef filet mignon garnished with roasted potatoes, baby vegetables in a porcini mushroom red wine sauce. The filet melted in my mouth! The baby vegetables were zucchini, yellow squash and carrots. Every item on the plate was fork tender and delectable.

The dessert course was next and I hoped I could find room in my stomach for the items chef Althaus created. We were presented with three taste treats: a Swiss dark chocolate cake, mixed fresh berries in cream, and chocolate ice cream topped with meringue. All items were judiciously and deliciously bathed in fresh raspberry sauce, whipped creams and garnished with fresh mint from his garden.

It was very clear to see why Basilic has consistently received high ZAGAT ratings along with numerous other culinary awards. The care taken by the chef and his staff members make this a restaurant not to be missed when you visit the Newport Beach area.

If you want to see pictures and learn more about this jewel of Balboa Island, go to their website and have a look. Their menus are fun to see as well as descriptions of their monthly events.

Basilic Restaurant
Swiss French Cuisine

217 Marine Avenue, Balboa Island, California 92662
949-673-0570

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays at 5:30 p.m.
Closed Sundays and Mondays

http://www.basilicrestaurant.com/

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