Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Big “O” Tortellini & Peppers Pasta Salad

There used to be a little local restaurant here in Las Vegas called “Three Tomatoes & a Mozzarella” that was a jammin’ spot when it first opened. They were eventually damned by the economy and couldn't keep up with the Big Chain-names and Strip restaurants. Such is life in Vegas. Once they started offering lunch specials at SUPER reasonable rates, it was kind of the tell-tale sign that they were bowing out slowly. But, before all that, they had THE BEST salads. One particular salad that blew my mind when I first tried it, by recommendation from Momma Theresa, was a tortellini salad on a bed of romaine lettuce, accompanied with a balsamic dressing. We would ALWAYS switch out the dressing with their house-made Caesar that, to this day, is still my benchmark at other restaurants, to which no one comes close. Oh how I wish I knew their recipe!

When I saw brilliantly bright peppers at the market, they really had nothing to do with that old favorite. But, they were THREE different colors and somehow a light went on upstairs... three tomatoes…three peppers… I‘d remembered that Tortellini salad, one of which I hadn't thought of in a looong time. Besides, who puts tortellini in their salad?! LUDICROUS! Well, it all worked out and the only ludicrous thing about it is….it’s so good and even quick to make! I guess we’ll call it The Big “O” (Tortellini Pasta Salad). You know...because they are shaped like "O's"...

The Big “O” Tortellini & Peppers Pasta Salad

The Big "O" Tortellini & Peppers Pasta Salad Recipe HERE

1 ½ Package Cheese Tortellini (20 oz.)
1 Each Red, Orange & Yellow Bell Pepper
1 Tomato, large dice
1 Can Small Pitted Olives
¼ Cup Red Onion
½ Cup Fennel Bulb, minced
4 TBSP Fennel Fronds, chopped
2 ½ TBSP Pimento
3 TBSP “Olive Garden” Italian Dressing
1 TBSP Olive Oil

Bring a big pot of water to boiling and drop the tortellini in. They only need a few minutes; keep an eye on them, once they rise to the occasion…top, I mean, TOP, they are ready. Rinse under cool water and chill in fridge while you prep the other veggies.

Set out a large bowl to catch all these veggies as you go.

Clean the tomato and slice into ½ in. thick slices. Run under water and rub seeds and gooey pulp out, so you’re left with just the firmer flesh. All those seeds will make the salad too wet…Yeah, sorry, I don’t know what’s gotten into me today…Moving along; cut them into pieces about the same size as the small olives and add to the bowl.

Clean the peppers; remove the seeds. Chop them into pieces about 1 in. by 1 in. Sort of large dice, or about the same size as the tortellini. Add these to the bowl.

Slice half of a small red onion into thin, thin slices (or use a mandolin, if available). Add to bowl.

Measure out pimentos, add to the bowl.

Drain olives; rinse. Add to the bowl.

Use your favorite kind of olives here, or replace with artichokes, marinated asparagus,...whatever YOU enjoy

Mince ½ cup fennel bulb and chop 4 TBSP fennel fronds.

Chopped fennel bulb adds a GREAT sweetness to the salad 

Fennel Frond chopped up, with a bit of the stem included..chop fine

Add to the mix and Give all a stir to get the flavors going.

Add cooked and chilled tortellini and Olive Garden Italian dressing (other Italian dressing will work here, also, but OG is the Original Gangsta!)  Add to bowl with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper for good measure.

“Stir it Up, little darling, Stir it up.” ~ Bob Marley

Serve chilled and you have a wonderfully fresh and light twist on pasta salad that seems kind of genius but only realy takes about 20 minutes to make. Take to the office potluck, the neighbors BBQ, etc… you’ll definitely have some new friends.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, until next time…Happy Cooking!!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Art & Cooking

Two of my favorite things on the planet: art in any form and cheese in any form, but especially French.

Image from the ultra talented John Burgoyne, illustrator for Cook's magazines. The imagery alone is scrumptious. Where art intersects cooking, that's where I wanna be. With RECKLESS abandon.

My thought for today, on art and on cooking, the two are one in the same - palette, technique and materials...Give it my all or I give it nothing...



Friday, July 18, 2014

Linguine Diva Pescatore “LDP” Cioppino Pasta

With Lana Del Rey's new album on repeat here, her song "West Coast" is my strong favorite, currently. In one section she says...

"Down on the West Coast, they got their icons

Their silver starlets, their Queens of Saigons
And you've got the music, you've got the music in you, don't you?"

When she sings it, I'm inspired. I'm like, "Yeah! I have the music in me." It's that good song feeling we all get when we are moved by the music. And we certainly do have our icons...this is true. One icon is known to the world and helped inspire this week's recipe making process...

This recipe was born after watching Diner’s, Drive In & Dives last week. Believe it or not, I’ve never watched that show but heard Gene Simmons was going to be on and, believe it or not, I once worked for Gene. Well, kind of. I worked for The Woman who worked for Gene at the Hotter Than Hell Wedding Chapel. We saw a lot of crazy sh*t.  I could write a short book about my time there, but let’s just say it was the KISS chapel…in Las Vegas…the only one in world like it. Actually, it was batsh*t crazy banana pants almost every single day. It was fun! I guess I’m weird like that -  with a fascination for all things bizarre, eccentric or outside of the “box” so to speak. Maybe being born in Vegas does that to people, I’m not really sure.  In any case, I felt that I had to watch the Gene episode for old times’ sake.

Back in the day he would stop in once in a while (which was not really stopping in, but more like bringing the circus.) On one particular occasion, it was June in Las Vegas and the air unit went down in our VIP Room, set to house Gene and his guests. The temperature was rising like an oven in there and we were scrambling to get someone out to fix it. It did eventually get fixed but in the interim, we had fans set up everywhere providing some relief. One problem, though, there were bodies I was a circus. At one point, I maneuvered through the crowd to a spot I thought was clear only to find out why that spot was clear....within a minute Mr. Simmons shouted to me ," YOUR BLOCKING THE FAN!!!"
"Oh NO!" I thought. The whole room stopped and looked at me. Silence. Faces. I quickly jumped out of the spot, heart-racing, knot-in-throat...THE DEMON had just flagged me. Oh man. Not good. Until he quipped.... "I mean, WHERE would KISS be without our FANS?!" ... the room laughed and returned to their conversations, signings and gatherings. Ahhhhh, well played Gene Simmons, well played. So, the one thing I can say about Mr. Simmons is that he IS a very powerful and intimidating man. I can see the allure. But, he’s also quite charming.

Okay, getting back to the recipe, on this episode they stop in at the Monterrey Fish House and make a divine-looking Sicilian Holiday Pasta with a base of marinara and clam broth and an amalgam of seafood. I was sitting there Oh-Mah-Gawd-ing. I’ve been thinking about that damn dish all week. I watched the scene in slow motion and wrote down the assemblage of ingredients. “I can do this,” I thought.  So, I set out to find what I was looking for.

At the local grocery, I talked to the nice gentleman behind the seafood counter about the dish I was dreaming up. Shrimp, Crab, Clams were essentials but the rest was sort of fluid. He said their swordfish was looking good…and it did, mighty fine indeed. So, I swooped that up and added salmon to the mix. You can use almost any fleshy fish in this recipe but I LOVED the swordfish and would double it but skip the salmon, next time.

Linguine Diva Pescatore "L.D.P." Cioppino Pasta

Serves 5-6


7 Tomatoes, skins removed
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp  Grapeseed Oil
1 White Onion, chopped
7 Cloves Garlic, minced,
½ tsp red pepper flakes
Sprinkle of Black Pepper
1 tsp Dried Basil
½ tsp Dried Oregano
1 Cup Loose Basil Leaves, chiffonade


1 Cup Clam Juice
1 Cup Dry White Wine
1 Cup Water
Shrimp Shells
Sprig of Thyme


1 Tbsp Grapeseed Oil
1 ½  lb Clams
1 lb Shrimp
½  lb Snow Crab
1 ½ lb Firm White Fish Steaks (swordfish, cod, halibut, seabass, etc..)


1 lb Linguine
Large Pot of Water
Salt for Water

In a Dutch Oven or large pot, add olive oil and grapeseed oil. Heat oil on medium heat and add garlic & onions; sprinkle black pepper over the top. Cook on medium heat for 5-10 minutes (or until they turn translucent) stirring occasionally. Take care not to burn or brown for the marinara won't taste just right.

Add chopped tomatoes, skins removed. To remove the skins first, just steam them for a few minutes in a covered pot with about an inch of water in the bottom. Let them cool on a cutting board and the skins will slip right off, leaving just the tomato flesh to work with.

Chop up the tomatoes and add to onions/garlic. Add red pepper flakes, dried basil and dried oregano.

Chiffonade (see pic below for a quick how to chiffonade) half of the basil bunch; reserve the smaller delicate leaves for garnish.  

Easy Chiffonade- Stack, Roll, Slice into threads

Add the chiffonade basil to the pot.

Cover and simmer low for one hour.

Peel Shrimp for use later, leaving just the tail on. You can take the tail shell off, of course; I like the look & makes for easy pick-up-and-eat shrimp.

Save the shells in a stock pot and heat on medium with a sprig of thyme. Refrigerate shrimp for later.

Add one cup of clam juice to a stockpot.  Originally I thought I’d make my own but as my son loves to say, “NOBODY’S GOT TIME FOR THAT!” so I used a promisingly labeled bottled of Bar Harbor all natural clam juice, and it was just right.

Add one cup of water and one cup of dry white wine. Bring all to a boil then lower to a simmer; cover & simmer for 45 minutes. Add a few splashes of water as the water evaporates.

Strain out solids & toss those; set the broth aside.

Prep your fish by cutting out any skin/bones/bloodlines – rinse clams, fish, shrimp, crab, etc… Pat dry. Cut fish into portions so everyone gets at least one good piece. Sprinkle fish steaks & shrimp with salt and pepper. Set aside for a few minutes while you prep the pasta –

Fill a large pot with water. Add a good dose of salt. Bring to a rolling boil and drop your pasta in. Time it for 9 minutes.

Now you’ve got a lot going on – pasta’s boiling, marinara is done, broth set aside, fish waiting to be cooked…last pan you’ll need is a big one, like a paella pan. Add marinara, clam broth and Snow Crab to pan and stir/heat together.

Now, while your pasta and sauce are working, get a grill pan searing hot with 1 Tbsp grapeseed oil. Put the fish steaks in, pretty side down and grill for 3 minutes.

Add Clams while fish cooks. Toss any that don't open up.

Flip fish and grill the other side for 30 seconds. Into the sauce they go; put them down in the sauce with the pretty side facing up and the 30 second side down under the sauce, so they can finish cooking and absorb all the deliciousness.

"Pretty" Side Up

Add Shrimp to the hot pan; grill for 45 seconds per side & into the sauce they go.

Add a ladle of pasta water – I use the salted pasta water as the salt in the dish so taste as you go, and when it has a good salty-ness, it’s good to go. I used a couple ladles.

Let the water evaporate a bit over medium heat – about 4 minutes. Turn heat off.

Finish with the remaining half of your fresh basil bunch chopped or chiffonaded & sprinkled generously over the top.

Strain the cooked pasta, but don’t rinse!

Serve family style in a large pretty dish over a bed of linguine and saucey-fish goodness over the top or in bowls with noodles and a ladle of sauce and fish over top.

YUM YUM YUM is all there is to say.

I hope you LOVE it, too!!!

Until next time….Happy Cooking! 


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pretty in Pink Baja Salad feat. Watermelon Radish

Watermelon Radish has a bit milder sweeter flavor than the well known table radish with bright hot pink magenta flesh

I had a flowery poetic post started but for today, I'm sticking with the heat- Sriracha - Cha Cha Cha!

I give you a lyric that's been stuck in my head for days from one of my favorite Tiger Army songs, which has been on repeat today.

"It lives where love has died, this ghostfiiiii-iiii-iire!
Where poison flowers bloom
It sears from beyond sight
In the graveyard of promises
It burns right through the night

Only a lover lost burns in Ghostfire"

 ~ Tiger Army

I would argue that the Ghostfire he's feeling is actually....Sriracha.

Sriracha in a salad dressing? Why not! A little teaspoon never hurt anybody. The bright freshness from the lemon and radishes, the creamy goodness from the avocado, the crisp lettuce and then that spicy little kick comes around and flicks you in the forehead. In a good way. Hey! It wasn't a punch now, calm down. Assemble this salad in 15 minutes or less & you've got a good thing going.

Pretty in Pink Baja Salad feat. Watermelon Radish

Printable Version HERE

1 Watermelon Radish, sliced & trimmed edges
2 Tbsp Lime Juice
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
¼ Red Onion, sliced thin
¾ tsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Tbsp Cilantro, chopped
1 tsp Sriracha
½ Avocado, cut into large squares
1 Head of Red Lettuce, reddish ends only
Salt & Pepper, to taste

In a non-metallic bowl, toss the sliced radish, onion, red wine vinegar, lime juice, a sprinkle of salt, a sprinkle of pepper, sugar, olive oil, cilantro and Sriracha.

Let that groove together for 10 minutes while you cut up the other goodies (lettuce and avocado.)

I made it as a “bed of lettuce” under the marinated radish dressing & avocados….so I only used the pretty red and green ends, and not the center - the lighter green part- I saved for another day.

Yes, it's just that easy~ & pretty

Until next time....Happy Cooking!!