Friday, November 30, 2007

Ask Mary: Oils

Dear Mary,
I can never decide what oil to use when cooking. Which is better? Olive oil, Canola oil or peanut oil?
Thanks so much! Michelle

I am asked this question almost daily and my answer is simple: When in doubt use olive oil. Olive oil heightens and layers any dish thanks to its rich, beautiful flavor. It’s perfect for salads, pastas and even a delicious pureed soup. I like to use olive oil when I want its taste to shine. But, like any rule of thumb, there are always exceptions.

For example, canola works better than olive oil in salad dressing emulsions (perfectly blended mixtures of oil and vinegar). That’s because olive oil is heavier than canola, and doesn’t mix as well. Plus, since the taste of olive oil is more intense and can mask other flavors in an emulsion, beautiful vinegars or fancy mustards really shine best in canola.

Canola also has a higher smoke point than olive oil, making it more ideal for sautéing. Peanut is great for cooking at hotter temperatures too and has a unique nutty flavor that is lovely in stir fries.

As far as health benefits go, however, olive oil takes the prize. There is research to support that small amounts of good olive oil can help reduce coronary heart disease, thanks to the predominance of Oleic fatty acids (monounsaturated fats) in the oil. Monounsaturated fats have been proven to raise good (HDL) cholesterol as well.

It is important not to over use any oil. Even though they contain beneficial fatty acids, they are still significantly high in fat and calories. One tablespoon is equal to 14 grams of fat and 120 calories. (Men should have anywhere from 1600-2000 calories a day, and women around 1200 calories a day).

Before you choose the right oil for your cooking needs, first consider these questions:

-What are you using it for?
-What temperature are you cooking at?
-What type of flavor do you want?
-What is healthiest?

I hope this is helpful!

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Ask Mary: Parmesan

Is Parmesan better shredded or grated?
Thanks! Allison

For those of you who don’t know, shredded parmesan is when the cheese comes in long strands. Grated parmesan looks more like dust. I grew up believing that shredded was the way to go, even though both can be used as a substitute for the other. But, as my mother says, “They just don’t taste the same.”

Strangely, even if the cheese comes from the same original piece, this is actually true. Do a taste test and you’ll see what I mean. As I’ve grown as a chef, I’ve found that I personally like the grated better – mother’s teachings aside. The flavor is more appealing and delicate than the shredded variety, and the texture is perfect for sprinkling on just about anything.

The reality, however, is that you can’t go wrong with either method. Parmesan is delicious any way you eat it. It’s important to remember that the kind of parmesan you get in a shaker at the grocery store is not the same as authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano – a hard, granular cheese made from raw cow’s milk and named for the producing areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia.

Made on age-old artisan farms, Parmigiano-Reggiano is more expensive than the store processed variety, but worth the extra pennies. It’s a true taste of Italy.

Have a Happy Adventure! Mary

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Ask Mary: Egg Separation

Hi Mary,
How do I separate an egg without breaking the yolk?

Have you ever read a recipe that asks you to separate the egg white from the egg yolk and panicked? You’re not alone. Clean egg separation is a task that takes patience and practice. Are you up to the challenge?

I think it is always best to crack the egg on a solid surface with a single, hard firm hit. Repeated strikes against the surface will increase your chances of breaking the yolk, making a mess of your whites. Skillful separation is an important skill because many recipes will ask you to whip the whites. And, if there is any yolk residue in the whites, the eggs will not whip (fat from the yolk prevents proper whipping).

There are a lot of expensive gadgets designed to assist you in this task, but honestly, they are not worth the price tag. Simply relax and let your hands do job. My favorite way to ensure perfect egg separation is to let the whites drip slowly through my fingers, all the while keeping the yolk in the shell. Sure, it’s sticky. But getting messy is part of the fun!

Happy Cooking, Mary

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ask Mary...Grocery Shopping the Day Before

I just had the most amazing Thanksgiving shopping experience. I went to Whole Foods and, in anticipation of the pre-holiday crowds, there was a valet service waiting to take my car so that I could shop. Once inside, the lines were at least 10 people deep, and people were packed tightly down each isle. I highly suggest that you don't wait until the last minute to buy your holiday turkey. Unfortunately I did. But thank goodness for premium customer service. Only in LA!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ask Mary: From Rare to Well Done (and everything in between)

Dear Mary,
What is the difference between Rare, Medium Rare, Medium, Medium Well and Well Done?
Thanks so much! Jess

Great question! Here's a cheat sheet:

  • Rare (120° - 125°): Very bloody, deep rich flavor, very tender. For very good pieces of meat. No juices have been released from the meat yet.
  • Medium Rare (130° - 135°): Lighter red, juicy, tender, great for most all steaks and lamb. Juices start to bead at the top of the meat.
  • Medium (140° - 145°): Reddish-pink, has lost a lot of juices on the top, but not all. I suggest this for pork.
  • Medium well (150° - 155°): Pink and turning gray. I don’t suggest this temperature for anything.
  • Well done (160° and above): Gray, flavorless, tough. My advice? Serve this version with steak sauce! Lots of it!

Good Luck!

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Ask Mary: Garnish a Turkey

What's the perfect way to garnish a turkey?

Easy! Pomegranates are a perfect way to give your turkey that special touch. You can slice them through the middle equilaterally, and then layer them around the border for a professional look.

Happy Cooking!

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Monday, November 19, 2007

What I Made Today...Holiday Appetizer Recipes!

A Trio of Dips: Onion Marmalade, White Bean Puree, and Roasted Garlic Red Pepper Sauce
(served with Black Pepper Seared Beef and Goat Cheese-Stuffed Dates)

Trio of Dips


Onion Marmalade:

1 yellow onion
Olive oil

White Bean Puree:

1 can white beans
4 cloves garlic
1 sprig of thyme
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup cream
salt and pepper

Roasted Garlic Red Pepper Sauce:

2 red peppers
5 cloves garlic
1 tsp cayenne
¼ French bread loaf, white part only


Onion Marmalade:

1. Slice onions thinly, and slowly cook them in a sauté pan on low heat. You can put a little water in the pan to make sure it doesn’t burn the onion. If the onion burns, you have to start over.
2. In a blender, blend well using a little olive oil, thenand add salt and pepper to taste.

White Bean Puree:

1. In a sauté pan, add olive oil and whole garlic cloves. Slowly brown them.
2. Rinse the beans and add them to the garlic.
3. Add thyme leaves, then add salt and pepper.
4. Add the cream and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add to the blender and puree.
6. Reserve for later.

Roasted Garlic Red Pepper Sauce:

1. Roast garlic and peppers in the oven. Put the oven on 350 degrees F, and cook for about 10-15 minutes (roast garlic in a pan with olive oil and salt).
2. Take the peppers out and put them into a plastic bag. Let rest for a few minutes.
3. Under cold water take off skin.
4. Add peppers, olive oil, white bread, and garlic with oil to the blender.
5. If mixture is too thick you can add water.

**Serve all three dips with French bread slices.

Black Pepper Seared Beef

1 sirloin
1/4-cup black pepper
1/2-cup mayonnaise (good mayonnaise, Best Foods, etc.)
1/2-cup sour cream
2 tbsp horseradish
1 French baguette

Cut sirloin into strips; dip all four sides in black pepper. Add salt to all four sides and in sauté pan, sear-in a little canola oil to create a crust. Take off the heat and allow it to cool. In a bowl mix sour cream, mayonnaise, horseradish, and a little salt. Slice baguette into nice pieces. Slice sirloin into thin pieces.

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon

16 dates pitted
1 package of goat cheese
16 bacon strips

Stuff dates with goat cheese, and then wrap with bacon. (You may need to put a toothpick through them to make the bacon stay attached). Bake at 325 for 6-8 minutes.

Enjoy! Mary

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Ask Mary: Thanksgiving

Can you share some Thanksgiving cooking tips?

Do you know what to do to make your Thanksgiving meal great? It is not as difficult as you may think to cook for your family and friends, but some advance planning is suggested. Here are a few things that you may want to consider when cooking your Thanksgiving feast.

1. Cook your turkey for 20 minutes per lb at 350 degrees F.
2. Don’t pack your turkey with stuffing. This can lead to bacterial contamination (and no one wants that on Thanksgiving!). Cook stuffing separately.
3. Add chicken stock to the base of your chicken to keep it nice and juicy.
4. Brining your turkey is always a good way to keep the moisture in too.
5. Important – If you don’t overcook your turkey then it won’t be dry.
6. Make anything you can the day before. Green beans, stuffing, peeled potatoes, pies, and cranberry sauce are all great day-before dishes. Preparing prep items, like chopped onions, celery and carrots, can also save time.
7. Set your table the day before.
8. Let your turkey rest for about 30 to 45 minutes before serving.
9. Don't fret. You can always cheat and buy already prepped things to make your life easier. (I like to make the meal from scratch, but cheating is okay if you don't have time to do so).
10. Plan your menu ahead of time.

Good Luck, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

What I Made Today...Great Stuffing Recipe for Thanksgiving!

The best. Trust me.


2 loaves of French bread
5 celery sticks diced
2 shallots minced
1 onion diced
1 pkg. dried cranberries, re-hydrated
1 stick of butter
1 can chicken stock
1 bunch of thyme
1 bunch sage
1 bunch rosemary
pinch of both salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Dice onions, shallots and celery, heat up a frying pan. Put oil in to just cover the bottom. Add the shallots, onions and celery, then toss in a pinch of salt. Cook these until the outside is glossy and you can smell everything cooking. Dice up bread into little squares and put into a mixing bowl. Then add rosemary, thyme, sage, olive oil, and salt. Next, add chicken stock and re-hydrated cranberries. Mix it all together and either stuff the bird or put it in a pan and cook separately! I prefer to do the latter.

Enjoy! Mary

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Thanksgiving Recipes Coming Soon!

Thanksgiving Recipes Coming Sunday!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What I Made Today...

Miso Soaked Black Cod

This is such a beautiful and simple dish. It will wow anyone that comes to dinner. Black Cod is also known as the butterfish, thanks to its rich buttery flavor and smooth texture. This fish literally melts in your mouth. My favorite recipe is one that I made through trial and error. I like to serve it with julienne vegetables of your choice, and bok choy. (If you have never cooked bok choy, it is very simple - just cook the leaves with a little salt, pepper and oil until they soften.)

Black Cod Recipe

four 8 oz pieces of black cod
1 cup mirin (rice wine)
1 container of white miso
1/4 cup brown sugar

In a small pot on medium heat, cook the mirin for about 3 to 5 minutes (keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn). Add the brown sugar and cook for another 4 minutes. You want the sugar to melt completely. If it is not melted, you can feel the granules of sugar between your fingers. After it is melted, add the miso and with a whisk stir out any lumps. Let this mixture cool completely.

Add the fish to the mixture and store in a container. This should sit overnight – or up to two days. When you are ready to cook, remove some of the excess marinade by whipping it off. Then heat the oven to broil, and in a non-stick sauté pan on medium heat cook the fish bottom (skin side down) for a few minutes. Then put it into the oven. Cook for about 6-8 minutes. Serve and Enjoy!

Happy Cooking!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ask Mary: Buying Eggs

Dear Mary,
What kind of eggs should I buy? White or brown? Large or Xlarge? Grass fed, free range and organic? There are so many options out there, and it gets confusing.
Thanks, Melanie

This is a tough question, but thankfully, there is really no right or wrong answer. My personal preference is to buy large eggs because most recipes call for them. Using Xlarge eggs in place of large eggs in a recipe might throw off the balance of what you are cooking.

As far color goes, I don't think one tastes different from the other, but I do like to use them as a way to know which I should eat first out of my fridge – in other words, I use them to indicate which one is more perishable. I like to alternate buying brown eggs one week and white the next as a way to color code their age.

When it comes to how the chickens are raised and fed, I prefer to buy eggs made from free-range, grass fed chickens. And if there is an organic option, I always choose it. Again, this has little to do with taste, but a lot to do with supporting sustainable agriculture.

Happy Cooking!

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Pure Deliciousness... Braised Short Ribs and Creamy Polenta

These are my comforting favorites during cold winter months! Can you say yum???

The photo’s were taken by an amazing photographer named Michael Rueter. His website is, and he can also be reached at 818.268.3630.

Happy Cooking!

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

French Macaroons

While visiting Paris, my parents kept walking by this hole-in-the-wall shop. Everyday when they would walk past the shop, a long line of Parisians would be snaking out of the door. Curious, they decided to walk in and see what all the fuss was about. The moment they entered the shop, their eyes were amazed by the most beautiful macaroons they had ever seen. Tempted, they bought a few, and of course, got a real sampling – brilliant reds, greens, browns... you name it. Mom and Dad took that first bite and were instantly hooked.

As a treat, they took a box to dinner that night for all of their friends. With the box on the table, my mom found out that these were no ordinary macaroons, and much more special than she thought. All of the waiters were teasing them, trying to sample a few for themselves. Eventually she gave in (French waiters are notoriously handsome) and handed over the remaining macaroons to the waiters. The thank you she received was overwhelming. Apparently, these macaroons are famous in Paris.

After hearing this story, I found myself walking in Beverly Hills, and stumbled upon this perfect little macaroon shop. Each macaroon was beautifully colored, with flavors and textures to dream about. The first bite simply melted in my mouth. I just had to surprise my mom with an overnight box of the incredible cookies. The owner and chef, Paulette Koumetz, explained to me that I needed to bubble wrap the macaroons and pack them with an ice pack. I was thankful for the tip, or they likely would've spoiled. When my mom received the package, she laughed and smiled. It was a perfect treat, and although it didn't travel as far as Paris, the amour she felt from the experience was the same.

Paulette Macaroons
Chef Paulette Koumetz
9466 Charleville Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA
(310) 275-0023

Happy Cooking!

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What I Made Today...

Challah Brioche Bread Pudding

A rich delicious treat.

1/2 a loaf of good challah, brioche, or croissants
8 eggs (use 4 of them just for the yolks)
1/2 cup 2% milk
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 cup sugar

Cut bread into 1 1/2 in. cubes and let sit out to dry (the dryer the better). Mix together eggs and sugar, then quickly add milk and half and half. Add the bread and mix with your hands to keep the bread in squares. Put into a 3 inch dish that has been sprayed/greased heavily. Place that dish in a pan of water and cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes.

Happy Cooking!

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My First Job!

After culinary school, I went out into the world to find a job. Being a woman in a field of mostly men, I wanted to act as tough as I could. At my first interview, I walked into a Spanish speaking, male dominated kitchen, where the majority of the staff was at least 15 years older than I was. I knew that I had to prove myself to everyone because this was (and is still) one of the best restaurants in LA. Landing this job would be a dream come true.

I tried desperately to fit in. And then I was given one of the biggest challenges of my life. The chef (who was actually a woman) looked at me with no sympathy and calmly asked me if I had ever cleaned a soft-shell crab. I tried hard not to panic, because the truth was that I hadn't. But I held it together and looked her in the eye and said, "Yes!" Then she narrowed her eyes and said, "Did you bring your scissors?"

I grabbed my scissors, wondering what on earth I could possibly need them for as she led me to the back table. There, in all their glory, were bushels of crabs squirming around. Each bushel is equal to 13 crabs, so there were quite a few. I observed as a very tough gentleman carefully cut off their faces and gills and then tossed them back into the lot. All I could think was, "OH MY GOD!" But then, my tough side jumped in. This was a test to see if I could hack it with the big boys. I wasn't backing down.

So, as quickly as I could, I cleaned them all, all the while listening to their whistles and feeling them crawling against my skin. Never in my life will I do that again. BUT I won that day. I got that job and was finally on my way to becoming a chef. And I now know how to clean soft-shell crabs. It's quite a party trick.

Happy Cooking!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ingredient of the day: Shallot

Ode to the Shallot!

A relative of the onion, the shallot is basically a smaller onion with a sweeter, milder flavor. Unlike onions, which grow in a single bulb, shallots form in clusters in a manner similar to garlic.

What can you do with it you ask? Pretty much anything. You can dice it, slice it or roast it! Add it like you would add garlic to any of the same dishes for an extra layer of flavor. OR you even can actually use shallots as part of the dish – for example, in a dish like "Green Beans with Crunchy Shallots." Any way you cook them, they are a tasty treat.

Shallots are not uncommon, and can be bought in most grocery stores. If you are as concerned with prep time as I am, you might want to find a store like Whole Foods that has them available for purchase already peeled. Keep in mind, though, unpeeled shallots stay fresher longer.

Happy Cooking

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Monday, November 5, 2007

What I Made Today...


Today’s beautiful masterpiece is Ossobucco with Spinach and Saffron Couscous (and for the kids, home made chicken nuggets!).


2 veal shanks
2 tbsp canola oil
2 cans chicken stock
½ cup of baby carrots
1 large yellow onion diced
5 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp Herbs of Provence
½ cup white wine
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Season the meat with salt pepper and Herbs of Provence. Heat a skillet with a little bit of canola oil, and place the veal presentation side down first. Sear on medium to low heat. Brown and then flip. Put into a deep braising dish that has a lid. Next, put in a little more oil and sauté onions, carrots, bay leaf and garlic. Brown, and if the food starts to burn add a little chicken stock and scrape it around. Once the vegetables have browned add chicken stock and white wine and reduce a little. Pour over veal shanks and close with lid. Put in the oven at 325 for 2 hours.

Happy Cooking!

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

What is in Season?

We should always try to cook and eat with the seasons. In the winter, we should eat heartier vegetables and meats to prepare for the cold months ahead.

Here are 10 seasonal items I like to look for in the markets and the grocery stores this time of year:

1. Root Vegetables: parsnips, carrots and turnips are perfect for winter.
2. Beets: red or yellow, beets are easy to cook; put them in water and cover and bake for 40 minutes at 325, then peel off the skin.
3. Cranberries: yum!
4. Chestnuts: delicious in salads, and a favorite holiday treat.
5. Parsnips: peel and roast with salt, pepper, oil and garlic at 350.
6. Sweet potatoes: scrumptious with chimichurri sauce.
7. Heartier meats like roasts: braise roasts with vegetables, wine, stock, and crushed tomato.
8. Lamb: rack of lamb is my favorite served with mint jelly (I am from Oklahoma and this is a true southern tradition) at a perfect medium rare.
9. Pheasant: you probably won’t cook this, and neither will I.
10. Duck: difficult to cook, but very rewarding.

Cheers and Happy Cooking!

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Farmers Market

It's early Sunday morning, and everyone is ready to go to the Farmers Market.

Happy November! Mary

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ask Mary: How to Finish a Meal

Dear Mary,
What is the best way to finish a meal?
Cheers! Paul

Absolutely, cheese is the best way to finish a meal. When making a cheese platter for the table, I suggest a hard cheese like Parmesan, and a soft cheese like a Triple Cream (similar to a Brie). Finish the platter with a a beautiful goat cheese like Humble Fog. If you can't find this brand, go for Chevre. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also try a sheep cheese like Petit Basque. It's just wonderful.

Check out this website for more options:

Sheep cheese is easier to digest than other cheeses, and in my opinion, it has a delicious flavor that can't be beat!

Happy Hunting,

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