Friday, May 8, 2015

A Frenchman and a Mexican walked into a bar.....Creamed Spinach and White Queso Nachos

So it was just Cinco De Mayo and every flipping food blogger is writing up and publishing a recipe about a Mexican dish that will be the new addition to your party table. So that is exactly what this post would have been if I had gotten to it on time. However, I did not so here it is a little late.

So these nachos are really from a restaurant in South Carolina called California Dreaming. At least the idea is. They are the least truly Mexican nacho recipe possible. But they are really dang tasty. So California Dreaming made these nachos pretty well but I will say they were a little on the bland side. So I have taken the idea and souped it up for a new and better Nacho experience.

My idea of the perfect nacho is that there is flavor from the cheese and flavor from the toppings. And somehow if done right they become more than the some of their parts. I also think there should be both cheese sauce and shredded cheese. And as for toppings they should be colorful and fun.

So this recipe uses a queso sauce as well as a creamed spinach sauce shredded jack and romano cheeses and jalapenos, white onion, fresh tomatoes, cilantro, california black olives. Sour cream and Salsa are served on the side. It's kind of amazing. You should try these. Enjoy Ya'll!

Creamed Spinach and White Queso Nachos

1 Bag good quality nacho corn chips ( Chains like Chipotle sell fresh chips by the bag)
Creamed spinach Sauce ( see recipe)
White queso sauce ( see recipe )
1/2 cup grated white cheddar or jack
1/4 cup grated Romano
1/4 cup diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons red onion diced
handful chopped cilantro
4 chopped chopped scallions
1/4 cup canned black olives
Sour Cream
Salsa Fresco

For the spinach ( this makes extra creamed spinach for leftovers)

Creamed Spinach Sauce


1 quart heavy cream
4 ounces of crushed garlic
1 pound frozen spinach thawed and drained really well
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
A pinch or two of nutmeg
A splash of sherry vinegar
2 ounces of butter


Bring the cream to a simmer in a sauce pan over low to medium heat then add the garlic
Reduce cream by half.
Add the spinach, salt and pepper
Heat for approximately 5 mins or so add the butter and the vinegar
Transfer to a blender and blend till smooth
Hold warm

Homemade White Queso Dip


1/2 pound white american cheese
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 4oz can of green chilies
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper


Place the cheese the milk and the butter in a sauce pan over low heat and cook slowly till melted together stirring frequently to combine
Add in the green chilies, cumin, garlic powder and pepper
Add salt to taste
If it's too thick add a little more milk
Hold warm till serving

To Prepare Nachos

Heat spinach and Queso Sauce separately

On a large platter spread some chips on the bottom then pour some queso over them and spinkle some cheese and olives and scallions over them
repeat layers two more times
Place in oven for till cheese starts to melt
Remove from oven pour some spinach sauce over them
Top with remaining cheese
Broil till the cheese is browned
Remove form the oven and top with remaining toppings
Serve with sour cream and salsa on the side

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Carbonara the Pasta Guilt Left Behind

I can't think of a pasta dish that embodies the essence of round luscious meaty savory goodness more than this pasta dish.  It's a rich dish to be sure and made the traditional way it's probably the epitome of Italian edible decadence. The dish is Roman and was originally what the cooks from the restaurants would make for themselves late night after work and a couple of rounds of wine. An absolute play on the breakfast for dinner theme.

I first had carbonara when I went to Switzerland. It was prepared by one of the local ladies I met there. She was from the Italian part of Switzerland, Tessin. A small but beautiful area comprised mostly of mountain bound lakes and towns bordering Italy proper. The regional dialect there is Italian and the food stems also from the boot of Italy lying just below.

The version she made was a traditional one in which egg yolks are mixed with hot water to keep them from scrambling then tossed with hot pasta, bacon, loads of pecorino romano cheese and finished with a heavy dose of ground black pepper. It's delicious.

The second opportunity I had to try carbonara was at the Magic Pan a restaurant that I worked for during college. They made it in a very American manner using cream instead of egg and adding sauteed onions and mushrooms and some green peas along with the bacon. It actually was more delicious. That's right forgive me my Italian friends but it was.

I have over the years adapted the original Pan recipe to include egg yolks. It's rich it's decadent and it's so good you'll find that no amount of guilt will stop you from wanting to consume the whole plate. So just enjoy and stop feeling badly about eating rich things. If you eat them on occasion there's nothing wrong with it. After all if one is to feel guilty about something they might as well have enjoyed it!

Fettucini Carbonara ala Forrest


4 1/2 ounce Bacon Drippings 
8 tablespoons Mushrooms, quartered/halves
8 tablespoons Sautéed Onions
 8 tablespoons Precooked bacon, 1⁄2" pcs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley Chopped
8 Tablespoons Parmesan/Romano Cheese mix
10oz  Whipping Cream, un-whipped
3 egg yolks 
16 oz Fettuccini, cooked 
Salt to taste
loads of Black Pepper freshly ground


In a sauté pan add the onions, mushrooms, bacon pieces, and cheese mix in a hot pan with the bacon drippings. Heat for several minutes. 
In another pot heat cream
In a bowl slowly add 1/4 cup of cream to the egg yolks and gently mix.
Add the cream and fettuccini and blend well with the other ingredients. 
Heat for several minutes.
Add egg mixture
Add chives
Do not allow the cream to cook too hard or hot or to evaporate—only heat the ingredients thoroughly. Pour the fettuccini onto a heated large oval platter. 
Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top and serve. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Ok it's time for this soup. When I worked at the Magic Pan this soup was somewhat of a revelation. It's so good that it was one of those things on the Pan's menu that people came into have specifically. It was in essence a "hook" dish. You know one of those dishes that restaurants dream of having that people come in time and again as fans to savour.

Now if you have been reading my blog you will know that I have referenced the Magic Pan Restaurant before. But for those of you who have not been a brief story.

The Magic Pan was a restaurant chain started by a Hungarian Couple , the Fono's in San Francisco in the 1970's. The original concept had been an Austrian style crepe restaurant mostly with recipes from Mrs Fono's family background. There were Ham crepes and Spinach crepes and chocolate and Strawberry crepes for dessert.

The business expanded and was purchased by Quaker Oats in the 1980's. They took the concept expanded it to a french country kitchen concept and rolled it out across the nation. The center piece of each Magic Pan was the giant tile enclosed Crepe Wheel which spun around and cooked the crepes and other dishes while the customers looked on. I remember as a 12 year old being taken to the Pan and being just mesmorized by the giant cooking wheel of crepe goodness! It was one of the first "chain" restaurants in the country in a time when the US was just beginning to discover different foods. The Pan delivered that and at a decent price point. It was also a perfect time for a crepe restaurant as like fondue, crepes were all the rage in the 1970's. The thing that was interesting about the Pan looking back was that all of the food was cooked on site with real recipes. This required a staff of cooks to be behind the scenes at all the locations and was not a cheap way to do business. Amongst the many reasons for the demise of the chain was the rise of sit down restaurants like TGI Friday's and Applebee's that offered a full service bar and menu with a central commissary supplying the chain. This meant cost savings on site and guaranteed that that food was the same everywhere. Interestingly enough this concept was pioneered by Howard Johnson's, who with Jacque Pepin at the helm produced frozen entrees which could be uniformly served all over the US.

Eventually through falling revenues and customer base the Pan collapsed. Interestingly enough the last Pan to close was the Mclean Store where I worked. A testament to Sue the manager and eventual owner I understand, who ran a tight ship and kept it afloat!

Even as people turned away from the Magic Pan because of trends so today people are looking back and recognizing the value that the concept had  not only as a novelty but as a place and a culinary experience. Whether the scene of many a boozy lunch by the ladies of Mclean or candle lit dinners for couples in love in the evenings, the quiet elegance and french country charm enveloped the diner in a world beyond the Mall and beyond their own. Upon entering the Tyson's Pan one was struck by the charm and sophistication of the surroundings. The excellent service and of course the tasty and interesting food. Food which for the time was new, foreign, and different. Before food TV, Media, food blogs and the internet., Americans were new to many of the foods the Magic Pan was serving.
And many look back with fondness to the time and place they discovered those foods for the first time. The Magic Pan.

For me the Pan was a great place to work, filled with a fun and interesting cast of characters. I learned a lot form those folks. Many of them were full time employees, I was the summer help but we all got along and they welcomed me and Kai into the fold with open arms. Salty and Rough they were the workers who make this country great. They worked hard and they played hard. But as a group they were awesome to spend that summer with. And this was where I learned that food service comes with a healthy serving of humor, cause people are very funny when it comes to their eating habits and the things they say about food. For example a young couple came in and was obviously on a date. Trying to be proper and order for his date the young man announced to me that... "she will have the St. Jacques "Creepie" and I will have the Beef  and Mushroom "Creepie"", mispronouncing the word "crepe". Well as you can imagine it was hard to keep a straight face, and the crew referred to the crepes as "creepies" the rest of the summer. Lots of milelage from that one. Ah, but it's the little things that make life fun!

Now to the food. There were serveral dishes which made the Magic Pan famous and there are people who would disagree which were their favorites. There was of course the famous Potage St. Germain, or french country pea soup served with a dallop of sour cream and a mini decanter of Sherry wine. There was the Orange Almond salad. Amongst the crepes were the chicken and beef and seafood options and then there was the famous Monte Cristo Sandwich which to this day I have never had duplicated.                      ( Although I hear Bennigan's ripped off the recipe). Then there were the saute pans, with veal picatta and fettucini Carbonara         ( Still my favorite version ever). And lastly the desserts. All excellent washed down with the Pan's excellent Bloody Mary!

But today I can't think of another Pan recipe I would rather recreate than the famous Potage St. Germain. Now finding the exact recipe for this was very difficult indeed but I did find it. I got a copy of the original cooking manual and here it the recipe. If you try it you will enjoy it! Yum! So Enjoy ya'll.


1 (1 lb) ham bone 4 1⁄2 cup water 
1 (13 oz) can chicken broth
 2 cups split peas 
2⁄3 cup finely chopped leeks or green onions
 1⁄3 cup finely chopped carrots 
1⁄3 cup finely chopped celery
 1 tsp granulated sugar
 1⁄2 tsp garlic powder
 1 tsp salt 
1⁄4 tsp thyme 
1 bay leaf
 1⁄2 tsp pepper
 21⁄2 cup milk
1 cup whipping cream 
1 cup chopped ham, cooked
1⁄2 cup chopped chicken, cooked (optional)

Place ham bone in large pot.
Add water, chicken stock and peas and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes.
Sauté the onions, carrots and celery just until limp.
Add them to the soup pot along with all the seasonings and continue to simmer until peas are very soft and mixture is thick—about 45 minutes. 
Remove ham bone. Gradually stir in the milk and cream. 
Add ham and chicken. Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Potage St. Germain soup should be served with a dollop of sour cream and a splash of sherry. The sherry was served on the side in a tiny glass pitcher, while the sour cream was placed in the bowl and dusted with chopped parsley.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Broccolli Cheese and Dill Pickle Soup.

This soup came about because I had a lot of dill pickle juice in the fridge. I have seen dill pickle soup recipes on blogs like Noble Pig before but I wanted a slightly different soup. So I was making broccoli cheese soup one day and added some dill pickle juice. The combination of the broccoli with the dill pickles is something totally unexpected and kind of amazing.  I have made this now as a full blown recipe and I find it's really tasty.

If you want something delicious and unique give this soup a try I promise you'll love it!! Enjoy!

Broccoli Cheese and Dill Pickle Soup

makes 6 servings

1 large white onion diced finely
1 cup diced carrots
2 lb broccoli florets chopped (can be frozen but thaw before using)
1 cup dill pickle relish
1 1/2 cups beer ( Wisconsin lager ) at room temperature
4 cups chicken stock ( have some extra on hand in case it needs thinning out)
2 cups dill pickle juice
1 cup dehydrated potato flakes 
1/3 cup flour
1 stick butter
1 cup milk
   salt to taste
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 tablespoons of worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon mustard powder
2 dashes of nutmeg
2 tablespoon Franks hot sauce
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated swiss cheese
1 cup sour cream


Melt  1/4 stick butter over medium heat in a heavy bottomed stock pot and add the onion and carrots.
Cook onion and carrot till soft but not brown. 
Add rest of the butter to melt.
Place milk in the microwave and heat till warm but not boiling.
Add flour to the onions and carrots and cook making a roux until it is slightly blond.
Slowly whisk the milk into the onion butter mixture and let thicken
Add dill pickle relish
Heat chicken stock in a pot and slowly add in.
Pour in the beer and stir to combine
Add in potato flakes
Add in cheese a little at a time whisking till incorporated and smooth and thick
Add in dill pickle juice stir to combine
Add in broccoli and cover.
Let simmer for about 20 mins until the broccoli is tender.
Add in spices and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Turn off heat. Let soup sit for 10 mins.
Then pour half the soup into a blender
With top on and holding with a towel blend the soup till pureed and smooth
Add back into the pot with the other half of the soup and stir to combine
Reheat to serve. 
Serve with crusty bread and top with a dollop of sour cream and a little more grated cheddar. Enjoy!!!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Eisenhower's Famous Quiche

My Grandmother Irene left a cookbook written in her hand in a bound notebook. A collection of recipes which were original and created by her.  Family recipes she wrote down. And recipes she obviously found in newspapers and magazines.

Several of them are from famous people's kitchens or special events that were documented in the media of the day. She had for example a recipe for the chicken salad that was served when Queen Elizabeth II came to the states to visit. And this recipe from Mimi Eisenhower who apparently made it often for the President.

This was such a common practice and I am sure that many ladies of the day did the same thing. It would be a fun activity especially if you have kids to go back through these collections of recipes and look at what your Grandmothers were interested in or what they were cooking. Finding a window into their lives in a way that we don't normally see.

This recipe is actually really good. I have made it several times and really enjoy it. I hope you do too.
Enjoy Ya'll!

Eisenhower's Quiche

For the Crust:


1 Stick Margarine
1 3 oz package cream cheese
1 cup of flour
2 tablespoons of water

Place in a food processor and combine
Press the into a 9 inch pie pan


3 Eggs
1/4 cup grated onion
1/2 lb grated swiss
1.2 pound grated cheddar
1 cup cubed ham
8 slices crisp bacon crumbled
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup cottage cheeese
1 Tablespoon flour


Combine dry and wet ingredients separately then combine and pour into the pie shell

Bake for 45 mins at 350 degrees let cool for 10 mins before serving.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Southern Biscuits and Gravy ( my slightly elevated take on a classic )

I have to preface this by saying that I did not grow up in a biscuit family. I grew up in a cornbread family.  My knowledge of true biscuits came later on about the time I attended college in rural Virginia. There I encountered this tasty dish maybe for the first time on a consistent basis. And the gravy that went over them was part and parcel of what I remember from local diners in Harrisonburg. This recipe is based on one that was taught me by Phil, who managed the local Howard Johnson's next to campus. Who would have thought that an aging chain restaurant would hold such culinary secrets. I've tweeked it over the years but this stuff is no joke. So delicious and decadent. 

Phil's Mustard Chive and Cheese Biscuits: 

These are a combination of cream and buttermilk with cheese biscuits and come out so well. Phil used common Swiss Cheese and parmesan but Gruyere or Cheddar make excellent sustitutions. The mustard powder is a nod to a savory biscuit and flavors it so well.


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
4 oz. very cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
6 oz of shredded Swiss cheese
3 oz of grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons melted butter


Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Whisk all dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. 
Cut in butter until mixture resembles crumbs. 
Add heavy cream and buttermilk and mix together until dough comes together 
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead a few times
Pat out dough into a rectangle on a floured board 
Sprinkle 1/4 of cheese over one-half of the rectangle, fold over on itself
Roll out slightly with rolling pin
repeat layering and folding four more times. 
Roll to 1 1/2-inch thickness and cut into about 2 1/2-inch squares ( love square biscuits) 
Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet placing them together on sheet which will help them rise
Brush the tops with the melted butter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt
Bake until golden on the middle rack, 14-16 minutes, turning once. Yields 12.

Sausage and Thyme, Cream and Sherry Gravy:

The secret to amazingly different cream gravy is actually two fold. One is the spice thyme and the other is Sherry. Actually in two incarnations. 

2 pounds really high quality ground pork sausage.
1 1/2 cups flower
3/4 stick butter
5 cups whole milk
11/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon franks hot sauce
3 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 cup sherry cooking wine ( yes cooking wine )
1 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons fresh thyme chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chives finely chopped
Salt to taste


In a large heavy bottomed pot break up sausage and cook till done
drain half of the rendered fat.
Add butter till melted then add flour and stir till cooked and the raw flavor is gone ( about 3 mins)
Add spices and cook for another 2 mins
Slowly add the milk and stir constantly using a whisk
Add the sherry cooking wine and cook for about 10 mins till the gravy is thick and has set up. If too thick add more milk.
Season to taste it will take some salt make sure it's not under seasoned
Just before serving stir in the vinegar 
Serve over biscuits and top with chives

Monday, February 9, 2015

Spicy Dijon Shrimp and Grits A Twist on a Charleston Classic

Shrimp and Grits have become a well known dish all over the country. What started off as a breakfast food in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia has become an iconic dinner offering all over the country at fine restaurants as well as down home joints.

The dish originated in the fishing and shipping communities and was served simply with white grits and shrimp cooked quickly in a few ingredients. Onion, tomatoes and green peppers were stired together in a pan with a little oil cooked till soft and then some catsup and water was added. The shrimp went into the pan and then they were served over bowls of creamy white grits which had a little butter in them. Sometimes a little bacon fat was used and crumbled bacon added to the mix. This is pretty much the recipe that appears in the Charleston Receipts cookbook. Which is the oldest collection of recipes put together in print of Low Country recipes of all sorts.

Today chefs all over are reinventing and adapting this dish for modern pallets and trying to add their own unique twist. There are versions with all sorts of things in them. I have adapted my recipe slightly taking a cue from one of my favorite pasta dishes, Shrimp Dijon and Linguini. I kept the peppers in but took out all the cream. Yes can you believe it. There is butter but no cream to speak of. The one thing I kept was the peppers but changed them to red pepper for color and taste. So I hope if you would like a modern update on shrimp and grits you try this at home. Cause when I did it came out rather lovely. Enjoy ya'll!!

Spicy Dijon Shrimp and Grits with Bacon Cheese Grits
makes 4 portions with extra grits


1 lbs large shrimp peeled and deveined tail on
1/2 tablespoon garlic flavored oil
2-3 tablespoons dijon mustard
1/4 cup butter
2 teaspoons Siracha Hot sauce
4 scallions chopped
4 pieces of bacon cooked and crumbled
1/2 of a red pepper chopped into fine dice
1 1/2 cup stone ground grits
5 cups chicken stock
3 ounces soft goat cheese or Marscapone if you are not a fan of Goat Cheese
2 tablespoons bacon grease
1 cup half and half

For the Shrimp:

In a metal or glass bowl place the shrimp in with the dijon and combine till well coated. Place in fridge covered for at least 2 hours
When ready to cook place small about of garlic oil in pan and cook pepper till just done then add the shrimp add the butter and Siracha and when shrimp is cooked spoon over the grits garnish with the bacon and the scallions and serve immediately.

For the Bacon Cheese Grits:

Bring the water and half and half to a boil add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Stir in grits with a whisk making making sure there is no clumping.
Cook for an hour to an hour and a half stirring occasionally to make sure grits are not clumping.
Before serving stir in cheese and bacon grease
Taste and adjust seasoning
Can be held for up to 2 hours if too thick add water and stir again till creamy.


Place grits in the bottom of a wide bowl and divide shrimp among the four plates. Spoon butter and hot sauce mixture over the shrimp. Garnish with the bacon and the scallions.