Friday, December 19, 2008

Ask Mary: Lunch Meat

How long can lunch meat stay in my refrigerator?

Lunch meats are loaded with salts and preservatives, helping them to stay safe and tasty longer. However, the best rule of thumb is still to buy deli meats fresh after just a few days. If the meat is bought from the deli counter, it will typically last about three to four days in the refrigerator. If you buy it at the grocery store prepackaged it will last around 1½ weeks, sometimes longer. Always check the label if you’re uncertain. Some unsliced meats can be kept for about three weeks, but to be honest, I wouldn’t eat any type of lunch meats after a couple of days. Better to be safe and eat fresh!

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How Long Do Things Last?

Food spoils, so it’s important to remember how long things can stay fresh in the refrigerator – especially this time of year. Here’s a cheat sheet:

Opened condiments (ketchup, mayo, mustard, etc.): 1-2 months
Jarred Items (red peppers in oil, olives, pickles, artichoke hearts): 1-10 days
Cooked Meats: 4 days max
Raw meats: 3-6 days
Raw Fish: 2-3 days
Cooked Fish: 2 Days
Sliced Lunch Meat: 3-4 days
Cooked, Hard-boiled Eggs: 4 days
Raw Eggs: 2 weeks
Vegetables: Around 10 days
Lettuces: 4-5 days
Cooked Foods: 3 Days
Butter: 2-3 months
(Frozen foods: 1 month)

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Roasted Root Vegetables!

1 bunch carrots: peeled and chopped into equal size but roughly chopped pieces
2 turnips: peeled and chopped into equal size, roughly chopped
3 parsnips: peeled and chopped into equal size, roughly chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley: finely chopped
2 sprigs of thyme
5 cloves garlic
¼ cup olive oil
Chef pinch of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Parchment Paper
Nonstick spray


In a large bowl combine all the vegetables. Add the leaves from the thyme sprigs (or dried thyme). Add olive oil, salt and pepper. Add non-stick spray to the parchment paper that is on top of a cookie sheet (if your cookie sheet is dark, the bottoms of the vegetables will cook faster, so beware). Add the vegetables and beware of over crowding. If it seems like there are too many spread the extra on a second cookie sheet. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring frequently. Top with the fresh parsley.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Root Winter Vegetables

Root vegetables may not appeal to you on first glance. They’re funny to look at and are not the go-to vegetables for most everyday dishes. However, in these cold winter months, nothing is more satisfying than a delicious root veggie. Our bodies actually crave the delicious taste of these special vegetables, especially when even a small serving is vitamin and mineral-packed. Here’s the low down on some of my favorites.


These lovely veggies look like beautiful white carrots, but they are much stronger in flavor. Unusual as they are to look at, parsnips are a delicious addition to any root vegetable mixture. Raw, fried, boiled or roasted, parsnips are actually very popular in some traditional holiday feasts.


These purple, white and very round veggies are extremely rich in vitamin C. Turnips turn purple where the light has hit them – the insides, however, are white. Turnips “greens,” or the top of the turnip, can be eaten in salads. You can also use the greens in cooked dishes. The older the turnips, the more bitter the greens. The inner part of the turnip resembles a radish in taste and use.


Of course you know carrots, but did you also know they come in variations of color like red, purple, yellow and orange? Carrots are delicious. They are loaded with B-carotene, which converts to vitamin A, and are known to help improve your vision during both the day and night. When my brother was little, he loved carrots so much that he actually turned orange. Luckily he went back to the way he was, but it scared my mom to death in the meantime!

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ask Mary: Washing Spinach?

Mary, Should I wash spinach before I cook it?
Thanks, Dirty Greens

If you are buying market spinach or any green for that matter, you should definitely wash it. The trick is to not bruise it while you wash it. I usually fill up a bowl of water and then pour in my spinach. After it has soaked for about 4 to 5 minutes, I take it out and do it again. You are waiting for the dirt and grime to fall to the bottom of the bowl and then you can remove the leaves off the top. Make sure that you don’t pour the water out with the leaves in the bowl because you could put the dirt back into the leaves. For pre-washed spinach, you do not need to re-wash.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Learning to Cook!

Sometimes I forget that that not everyone has been to culinary school, and that not everyone has the basic cooking skills necessary to prepare a simple meal. Having these skills can be a great gift, and that’s why I write to you weekly, hoping to help give you the tools you need to prepare healthy and delicious meals in your own kitchen. In these economic times, having basic cooking skills is more important than ever.

Before I really learned how to cook in detail, I made the basics: Caesar salad, tacos, tortellini with alfredo sauce, spaghetti, roasted whole chicken and chocolate chip cookies. That was the extent of my culinary palette. After chatting with some new friends recently, who avoid the kitchen unless absolutely necessary, I realized that this limited knowledge is still a common theme in so many lives. Why? Most of us lack the time to learn, the budget to purchase premium ingredients and the experience to prepare the meal.

First thing’s first. Make a weekly budget. Cooking at home costs considerably less than eating out. All it takes is a little information on how to shop and cook wisely and simply. For instance, you may buy a can of green beans for one, open the can, take a few bites, and then put it in the fridge and never eat the rest. For someone who is on a budget, $3 spent on less than half of a can of green beans isn’t worth it. Menu-plan and find ways to stretch that can out for a couple of meals.

Secondly, it’s time to make the time, people! I know this is a tall order - someone is not going to want to cook a fancy meal after a long hard day at work or at home with the kids. But if you can learn the basics, you can pretty much prepare a fairly decent and tasty meal in about 20-30 minutes, tops.

And lastly, experience comes with practice. The more time you spend in the kitchen, the better you’ll be at whipping out delicious meals in seconds flat. Food education is key here. The more you know, the more comfortable you will feel with what you do. If you can’t take a class, I suggest reading magazines or searching the internet for information about the things you don’t know.

Unlike knitting, writing, or biking, cooking is not a hobby. Cooking is a lifestyle. We can’t live without eating. It is a crucial part of our daily life. By just expanding your knowledge of food and cooking a little, you can change your family’s life and make them healthier, happier and more satiated.

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Greens! Kale, Swiss Chard, and Spinach

Sautéed Kale:

Remove the stem of your kale by leaving the kale whole and slicing the stem out of the leaf. Next, roughly chop the kale into equal size pieces. Place in a large bowl. Heat a large sauté pan and on medium high heat add a little olive oil. Add kale to the sauté pan, move around with tongs, and add salt and pepper to taste (chef pinch of salt). You can also add lemon juice, garlic powder or fresh garlic, sautéed onions, and many more extras.

Sautéed Swiss Chard:

Remove the stem of your swiss chard by leaving the chard whole and slicing the chard stem out of the leaf. For added crunch, you can small dice the stem and sauté before you cook the chard and then add it in. Next, wash thoroughly and roughly chop the chard into equal size pieces. Place in a large bowl. Heat a large sauté pan and on medium high heat add a little olive oil. From here, follow the instructions for kale.

Sautéed Spinach:

Remove the stem of your spinach by pinching them with your fingers and leaving the leaves in tact. Wash thoroughly. Place in a large bowl. Heat a large sauté pan and on medium high heat add a little olive oil. Follow instructions for kale or chard from here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Dark Green Vegetables Spotlight!

Kale, Swiss Chard and Spinach

Today I am discussing multiple varieties of greens that are very good for you: kale, swiss chard and spinach. My favorite out of the three is kale. It is a delicious and strong flavored green filled with tons of vitamins and minerals. And no, these greens are not just for garnishing a plate! They actually serve an important role in keeping us healthy and strong.

Kale: There are many types of kale, but for the most part these amazing greens are usually dark emerald green with a grayish tint. Kale is a member of the cabbage family, along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and collard greens. It is loaded with beta-carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin, and is also a great anti-inflammatory.

Swiss Chard: Also known as Silverbeet, Perpetual Spinach, Crab Beet and Mangold, this is also a delicious green. Chard is very bitter and can be used in sautéed dishes or in salads if it is young enough. Swiss Chard stems are one of my most favorite parts about the plant. They look like they belong in a candy store with their brilliant array of colors ranging from red to yellow to white.

Spinach: Typical and familiar, spinach is one of the most popular dark greens around. I was amazed to learn that spinach actually contains more iron than a hamburger. Spinach is also loaded with vitamins A and K, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium and vitamin B6. So as you can see, there are tons of reasons to eat this delicious vegetable. I personally like baby spinach versus big hearty spinach. It tends to have a milder taste and works best in salads.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ask Mary: Thanksgiving Leftovers!

Dear Mary,
First of all, what do I do with all of this leftover turkey? Second of all, how long will it keep? Because I do not feel like eating it the very next day…

Good question. Turkey in between white bread could be my staple for a month. I could eat it rain or shine, in a box or with a fox… I love turkey – oh my! Actually, you can keep turkey fresh for up to four days in the frig, and you can freeze it for up to a month.

Here’s a good plan for using your leftovers. Take a break from the bird on Friday. On Saturday, make turkey sandwiches. On Sunday, cook up some turkey chili, and if you still have leftovers, make turkey curry. The chili and the curry can also be frozen if you just can’t eat another bite. Save it for when you don’t feel like cooking!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Top 12 Rules For a Great Thanksgiving!

The most important part about cooking thanksgiving dinner is not to panic. It’s about bringing family and friends together. Here’s my top 12 list for a successful and great thanksgiving:

1. Organize a few days ahead:
a. Make a list of what you want to make.
b. Create a time chart of when you can do things like grocery shop and food prep.
2. Find really good recipes:
a. Make sure you try them ahead of time.
3. Set the table the day before (in my search box you can keyword table setting to find out how to set a table).
4. Find appropriate cooking dishes for all items that will be cooked that day.
a. For instance, don’t wait until the last minute to find out you don’t have a roasting pan for the turkey.
5. Make sure you allow plenty of time for the turkey to cook. If you have never used the oven before it may not be calibrated – check in advance. And make sure the turkey will fit in your oven!
6. Ask Questions:
a. The butcher will help you with the amount of time a turkey will need to cook depending on the weight of the bird (this is not something you want to guess about). A stuffed bird will take longer!
7. Have people bring things, or have them help you cook.
8. You can use pre-made things as-is, or dress them up a bit on your own to make it easier.
9. When it comes time to serve, be aware that the meal should be set out buffet style. Is it ok if the turkey is room temperature. It is nearly impossible to keep such a bird piping hot after cooking it.
10. Use the website for any questions.
11. Remember, don’t panic! Open up a bottle of Champagne and toast yourself for doing an excellent job – no matter what the end product looks like!
12. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Turkey

1 turkey (14-16 lbs. will feed 10 to 12 people)
 2 oranges cut in ½
 2 yellow onions peeled and sliced into rings
 4 stalks celery washed and chopped
 3 carrots peeled and chopped
 2 bay leaves
 2 cups chicken stock
 2 sticks butter softened
 Kosher Salt
 Pepper
 1 Turkey bag
 1 bunch parsley
 1 bunch thyme
 1 cup white wine

1. In a bowl, soften the butter and add salt and pepper. Mix with your hands (the warmth in your fingers will really soften the butter).
2. Clean and dry your turkey.
3. Spread the butter all over the bird (legs, breast, thighs) and throw any remaining butter into the cavity of the bird.
4. Place the bird into the bag – but don’t tie it yet.
5. Stuff the bird with all of the following: oranges, onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, parsley, and thyme.
6. In the bottom of the bag add the chicken stock and wine.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 2 to 2 ½ hours. *Also be sure to read the cooking time and temperature on the bag that you bought, some may vary.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Turkey

Thanksgiving is always around my birthday – sometimes even on the actual day. That’s probably why, as a young girl, I associated turkey, stuffing, gravy and mashed potatoes with presents. Even when it wasn’t Thanksgiving – or my birthday – I found that eating a whole, roasted bird (chicken, turkey or otherwise) made any celebration perfect.

Now that I’m an adult, I don’t hit the present jackpot like I used to. However, I still love a good turkey. When I taught my class last week, I showed the kids that a chicken is just a smaller version of a turkey. Before the big day, practice cooking a bunch of chickens! It will help you get the feel for cooking a whole bird, and you’ll have lots of great leftovers in the refrigerator.

Carving a Turkey

Happy Week of Thanksgiving. This video is with my friends Allison and Gabe. I show them how to cut a chicken, but you can use the same techniques for a turkey. Stay tunned to Cooking with Mary this week for more Thanksgiving tips, recipes, and more.
Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We are so close to another Thanksgiving. Holiday traditions breathing down our necks. Next weeks blogs will be all about Thanksgiving.
Happy Cooking,

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ask Mary: Time Crunch Cooking with Kids

My kids love to cook, but when I get home I am tired and all I want to do is get dinner on the table as fast as I can. This usually doesn’t allow time for my four-year-old to help out. How can we both win?
Thanks, Judy

Dear Judy,
I was a private chef and a nanny for a long time, and trust me, I understand about children wanting to help out. I think the best thing for you to do is find something easy that they can do every night for themselves, like making carrots and dipping sauce. That way they can help without stressing you out too much. Then, when you have more time, like on a Sunday, plan for them to help you do some more complicated tasks. For example, separating broccoli, or peeling carrots, etc., can be really fun tasks for kids to try. Good luck Judy!

Happy Cooking! Mary

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Unique Way to Tenderize-Soaking Chicken in Buttermilk

I find that it is great to soak chicken in buttermilk or milk before cooking. This process will help tenderize the chicken and even remove some of the blood in the veins (which will make everyone more comfortable when eating). It’s a unique and delicious little tip for a perfect meal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Creamy Polenta with Beef Stew (cooking on a budget)

Creamy polenta:


1/2 cup corn meal
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 stick butter
Chef pinch of salt
1/4 cup Parmesan grated


In a saucepot add the milk, water, butter, and salt. Bring it to a boil, turn it down to a simmer, and then rain in the cornmeal (pour the corn meal all over the surface of the pot, slowly mixing all the while). This process will help prevent the cornmeal from clumping. Stir with a rubber spatula. If it gets too thick, add a little more water. When the mixture is soft (and it does not taste like sand between your teeth) it is finished. Add the Parmesan.

Beef Stew:


1 1/2 lbs stew meat (ask your butcher for help)
1 cans tomato
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp herbs de provence
3 cups chicken stock
5 garlic cloves sliced
3 carrots peeled and cut into rustic 1” pieces
1 onion cut into rustic 1” pieces
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper


In a large pot heat the olive oil. Let your meat rise to room temp; add salt and pepper and herbs de Provence. Next when your oil is hot, sear the meat on all sides letting it get a really good color. Next deglaze with Worcestershire sauce, remove from pan and set aside. Next add more olive oil and sauté off the carrots, garlic and onions. Add meat back to the pan. Add chicken stock and canned tomatoes. Add the bay leaf. Cover and let cook for 2 to 3 hours. After 2 hours remove the lid so that the liquid can start to reduce. Salt and pepper again when it is finished cooking.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Polenta

On a recent Saturday night, I decided to throw a last minute party. Because I was short on time, I went to a nearby store that I was unfamiliar with. As I searched in my local grocery store for polenta, the perfect companion to the other items on my last minute party menu, I realized I’d have to ask for help and found an employee to point me in the right direction. Not knowing what polenta was, he asked another employee. Stumped again, they both asked the store manager. Even the store manager was dumbfounded. I thought long and hard about how I could explain what polenta was, but realized that it is a pretty difficult food to describe. We must’ve looked so funny, the four of us, standing in the middle of the store, talking about this mystery food.

Polenta is a very Italian dish, and I have adopted it as one of my favorites. Made from boiled cornmeal and popular in many European dishes, polenta is usually served in a porridge-like state. Polenta can be used as a base for sauces and toppings, or served grilled or baked as its own dish. From scratch, it takes about an hour to prepare. Recently though, “quick” or “instant” polenta has become a common staple on grocery store shelves. Any way you make it, you’ll enjoy.

Happy Cooking! Mary

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekly Menu on a Budget

Iceberg lettuce salad with turkey bacon, tomatoes, and light ranch dressing
Chicken parmesan with wheat pasta (remember 1/4 of a cup per person) and green beans

Carrot salad with raisins and celery with an apple vinaigrette
Pot roast with potatoes

Tomato soup and grilled cheese turkey burger (keep the kids plain and put grilled onions on the adult dinner)

Romaine Salad with cucumbers, hearts of palm and tomatoes
Shredded green chilli chicken enchiladas with tomato rice and spinach

Friday- (always plan for something special, just because you are on a budget doesn't mean you can't have a treat)
Mixed greens with mandarin oranges, pecans, and goat cheese
Grilled pork chop with apple chutney (baked apples) and corn gratin

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ask Mary: The Smell of Garlic

What is the best way to get the garlic smell out of your hands and fingers?

Some websites suggest trying things like rubbing your fingers on the flat side of a stainless steel knife under water, salt tricks and lemon washes. As far as I am concerned, however, nothing really works. The best remedy for garlic hands is a little bit of time and patience. There is one other trick that you can try, though. I have found that after working in a kitchen all day with tons of different smells, it helps to soak my hands in a solution of 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 3 parts water. This combination reduces the smell and kills the bacteria that has gotten into my nail beds or deep in my skin. It’s worth a shot.

Good Luck! Mary

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cocoa, Chocolate and The Mystery That is Red Velvet Cake!

Last year, on my birthday, my friends took me out for a nice meal and, of course, the required happy-birthday-singing dessert course. The waitress appeared with the cake, candles glowing, and I could see the rich ruddy hue of the red velvet treat we were about to enjoy. As we took turns taking bites, we realized that most of us were unclear about the ingredients used to make red velvet cake, and we traded assumptions. I suggested that the cake was made using chocolate. But since I was unsure, and my brother Matt happened to have his handy iphone, we googled “red velvet cake” on the spot and discovered the unexpected.

Red velvet cake is actually made with just a sprinkling of cocoa. In fact, the amount of cocoa used in red velvet cakes is so insignificant that some recipes cut it out completely. Turns out that red velvet cakes rely more on buttermilk, red food coloring (or sometimes beets) and sugar – and a cooked flour or cream cheese buttercream icing – to achieve its silky taste. Mystery solved!

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Risotto with Chicken, Roasted Tomatoes and Artichoke


chicken breast - chunks of chicken
artichoke hearts
cherry tomatoes
½ cup arborio rice
½ cup yellow onion diced
½ cup white wine (and a glass for you while you cook!)
2 cups chicken stock
½ stick butter
¼ cup grated parmesan
1 box mushrooms (any type)
salt and pepper to taste


In a sauté pan add a little bit of olive oil and sauté the onions. Make sure that they are glossy and soft. It is very important that they are cooked well – if not you will bite into crunchy onion. Next, heat the chicken stock in another pot. I always forget to do this, but it is really important because it cooks into the rice faster. Now, add the Arborio rice to the pot with onions. Salt a little bit and toast slightly.

Take this off the fire and add the wine. Wait for the wine to evaporate and cook into the rice then slowly add your chicken stock. Make sure the heat is on medium low. Stir with a flat edged spoon to scrape all of the fond off the bottom. Repeat this cooking process until the rice is soft but not mushy. A good way to tell if you are finished is by squishing a piece of rice in between your fingers easily resulting in three beads on your fingers.

At this point you’ll want to sauté your chicken chunks, artichokes and cherry tomatoes in another pan. Once cooked, add these items to the risotto. Also add the cheese and butter. Then call it a day. And drink the rest of the wine!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Spaghetti Squash (also Squaghetti)

This amazing winter squash is one of my favorites. After it is cooked, you can use a fork to scrape away the meat, and as you do this it looks just like spaghetti. Treat it like spaghetti too. You can load it with tomato sauce, meatballs and parmesan for a spaghetti and meatballs dish with ½ the calories and a little more fiber. Make sure when you cook this squash that you cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, add salt and pepper and olive oil, and then make sure that you bake it thoroughly. If you don’t, it will not shred properly and will actually taste like uncooked spaghetti – a little hard and not palatable.

Happy Cooking!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Menu For the Week!

Good Morning,
I have four new webisodes coming out this week and great new posts arriving tomorrow.  For now, here is your weekly menu!  

Tomato soup and grilled cheese with a large green salad.
Kids: Cut the grilled cheese into small triangles.

Iceberg with carrots, tomatoes, and sunflower seeds.
Roast chicken - try slicing lemons and throwing them on top and stuff it with rosemary and garlic with zuchinni and brown rice.
Kids: Cut the wings off for them and make small drumsticks and add a little soy sauce to the brown rice.  And add a little parmesan to the zuchinni.

Chicken and dumplings (take the left over chicken and make a chicken soup and then use bisquick biscuit mix to make the dumplings).
Kids: They should love this dish!

Iceberg wedges.
Meatloaf try adding mozzarella to the middle and use tomato sauce instead of ketchup.
Kids: Make lil' meatballs instead.

Mixed Greens (your choice toppings).
Beef bourginon (delicious and inexpensive)  with polenta (splurge) with spinach.
Kids: Make your own pizza!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Fun! How to roast perfect pumpkin seeds!

How to roast perfect pumpkin seeds!
  1. Clean out your beautiful pumpkin.
  2. Soak the seeds in water (the meat of the pumpkin will fall to the bottom and the seeds will float to the top.  
  3. Lightly dry off the seeds and place into a bowl.  
  4. Toss with salt (kosher of course).
  5. Put into a 300 degree oven and toast for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Increase the temperature to 325 and keep a close watch.
  7. Stir seeds to make sure they do not burn.
  8. Once finished take off the tray immediately and let cool!
  9. Add to a salad for a tasty treat!
  10. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Knowledge is Power!

Here was one of the questions from yesterday’s casting/interview. They said they really wanted to be impressed with my knowledge of food and asked me to give them three tips that would really show my knowledge of wealth. Here goes!

1. When you pour hot water on purple cabbage and bleach out the color purple into the water, you can change it to pink by adding another acid.
2. If you soak herbs such as parsley, mint, and cilantro in cold water before putting it on display, or in front of lights, it will not wilt as quickly.
3. White eggplant is much better for cooking dishes such as melenzalata.

Happy Cooking! Mary

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dream a Little Dream

Okay, so I’m admitting it. I attended a casting call to be the Food Network’s next star chef. Ridiculous, I know, but since this is a blog about my culinary experiences, I thought it best to share.

A lot of us living out here in Los Angeles have a similar dream to be famous on some level or well known in our fields. In fact, I recently hired a wonderful girl to help with my catering duties, and she too has eyes that shine brightly for the promise of Hollywood stardom. Although I’ve found my own path over the years, her sparkle inspired me to go for it.

As I was sitting I the waiting area with over one hundred “chefs,” I could see that this dream belongs to so many of us. And, like so many other shows, the Food Network is looking for a needle in a haystack.

After living here for a while I’ve realized that you may be wonderful but if you are too tall or too blonde or too ethnic or too perky, etc., you might not be what “they” are looking for. Finding what they want in a crowd of people is tough, and being the person that fits into their script is even tougher.

My passion is teaching people about food, which is why I write weekly, shoot webisodes, teach kids and cook for families. I love sharing my wealth of knowledge with you all. That alone makes for a satisfying career. But I still went to the casting anyway, just for the hell of it. Why not, right? After all, how can be considered for the job if you don’t show up for the interview?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Braciole a great meal on a budget

We are all on a budget, but we still want to eat well. Now that fall is here we can buy cheaper meat and braise it for a very flavorful and satisfying result. My Italian mother-in-law inspired this recipe.


2 cups fresh Italian tomato sauce*
2 cups water or chicken stock
2 lbs skirt steak or sirloin
1 cup chopped parsley (must be fresh)
6-8 garlic cloves minced
¼ cup oregano
½ cup olive oil
Chef Pinch of salt and a little more (3 times as much as you would normally put in)
Butcher’s twine (buy this because it is always great to have on hand)

In a large braising dish add tomato sauce* and water or stock. Next in a bowl mix the oregano, parsley, garlic, salt and olive oil and combine well. Pound out your meat between plastic till it’s about ½ inch thick. Place the meat on plastic wrap and spread the parsley mixture over the top. Then roll the meat to create a roulade (pinwheel effect of meat). Tie with butcher’s twine. Get sauté pan and heat oil to a little before smoking point. Salt and pepper the outside of the meat and then sear on all sides for a nice golden brown. Then place the meat into the braising dish (if the meat is too long you can always cut it before you tie it so that it can fit). Braise covered at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 3 hours. It should be nice and tender. Serve with pasta of your choice.

*Tomato Sauce:

1 can tomatoes
10 whole roma tomatoes chopped and deseeded
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch basil
1 cup water
Salt and pepper

Cook for ½ an hour on simmer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Mint

I talk a lot about my life as a child. I think it is because there is something so wonderful about childhood memories. They have a dreamlike quality. One dreamy day I keep remembering centers on the mint, or Mentha, herb. When I was a child I would go over to my grandmother’s garden and run through what seemed to be a field of mint that was as tall as me. My vivid memory in this place? Running my fingers over top of the mint to release the sweet smell.

I think if I had to describe myself as an ingredient I would choose mint. Why you ask? Because mint is strong and unforgettable. Mint has a lot of other wonderful properties to boot. It has an aromatic flavor with a cool aftertaste, is great in a variety of dishes, and can even aid in digestion.

One of the things I recently discovered about mint is that if you drink a cup of mint tea it will help cleanse your system and curb your cravings. To store until use, keep your mint in a little cold water in the refrigerator. But don’t wait too long to enjoy it. Mint is best when used fresh.

Happy Cooking!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ask Mary: Soap Scum and Silverware

This isn’t really a cooking question but I thought you might know the answer. How do you get soap scum residue or hardwater stains off of your glasses and silverware?

A great way to get that nasty film off is to soak your utensils and glasses in vinegar and water. I use about ½ cup vinegar to a gallon of water. DO NOT LEAVE IT IN FOR TOO LONG. If you do, the solution will eat away the silver. It only takes about ten minutes for it to remove the film, so no need to keep in longer. After you finish soaking it, wash it again with soap and water. If that doesn’t take care of the problem, repeat the process.

Good Luck!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Deli Paper!

I always keep deli paper (sandwich paper) in my house. You don’t have to cut it and it is very similar to parchment paper. You can cook with it, wrap cheese with it, bake fish on it, and do just about a million other great things with it. Go to your local supply store (like Smart and Final) and ask for it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Mary’s Volleyball Dinner (actually, this is my mother’s recipe!)

Mary's Volleyball Dinner

1 package fusilli pasta
1 can artichoke hearts
3 tablespoons sundried tomato
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 yellow onion chopped
2 tablespoons green onion
4 smashed garlic cloves
½ cup chicken stock
½ stick of butter
8 chicken tenders
1 cup parmesan
¼ cup olive oil

Cook pasta to al dente. Then in a sauté pan heat ½ the butter and ½ the oil in a sauté pan. Salt and pepper the chicken. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes until done. Set aside. Add the rest of the butter and oil to the pan. Throw in the yellow onion and sauté until aromatic and glossy. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until the mushrooms are browned, add the chicken stock, artichokes, sundried tomato, chicken tenders, green onion and salt. Continue to cook for a few minutes more, add the fusilli and the parmesan when finished. Serve!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Humboldt Fog

I worked at Michael’s in Santa Monica for a while and on Saturday nights when we got out the cheeses I would always wait for the remnants of the Humboldt Fog. For those of you who don’t know, Humboldt Fog is a goat cheese ripened by mold with a thin layer of edible ash in the middle. It ripens from the outside in, so underneath the skin is a runny cheese followed by a delicious typical soft goat cheese in the middle.

I love this cheese. It is a perfect cheese as far as I am concerned. When I first discovered it, I was so excited that I wanted to buy it and have it at a dinner party I was throwing that weekend. Of course, when I found out how expensive it was, I had to make a few modifications to the menu to fit this wonderful cheese into my budget.

Once the guests arrived, I immediately presented my wooden tray of beautiful cheeses and fruits. All the other cheeses were the usual suspects – parmesan, brie, and cheddar. I told everyone how excited I was about this new cheese, so everyone tried it at the same time. The reaction I received was unexpected. All of them immediately told me that the cheese tasted like someone’s foot. I was disappointed, but kept my opinions to myself. Over the years, though, I’ve noticed that these same friends are starting to like the taste of Humboldt Fog. They’ve even denied ever having disliked it. Maybe, like with cheese, our taste(buds) get better with age!

Happy Cooking!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Weekly Menu!

Eating on a budget is not difficult. You just have to figure out what to eat and how to shop!


Salad: Mixed greens with tomatoes, cucumbers and balsamic dressing
Entrée: Chicken fajitas with tomato rice
Kids: Chicken quesadillas


Salad: Spinach salad with egg, bacon, and blue cheese with herb dressing
Entrée: Pot roast with vegetables and potatoes
Kids: They should like this


Salad: Caesar salad
Entrée: Whole wheat pasta salad with chicken, sun dried tomato, spinach and mushrooms (recipe will be available Wednesday)
Kids: Pasta chicken and put the vegetables on the side


Salad: Romaine salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and blue cheese with ranch dressing
Entrée: Blackened Salmon (or tilapia) with asparagus and wild rice
Kids: Tilapia with potatoes from the other day with peas


Salad: Mixed greens with artichoke, mushrooms, and parmesan with balsamic dressing
Entrée: Make your own pizza night
Kids: Make your own pizza night

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ask Mary: Reducing Fruits in Cooking

Dear Mary,
Why do you reduce acidic fruits like lemons, limes, oranges in cooking?
Fruity Girl

Hi Fruity Girl,
The reason that you reduce acidic citrus is because you want to bring out the natural sweetness in the fruit. By reducing and cooking it out, you are actually allowing the natural juices to flow freely.
Enjoy! Mary

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To Tip or Not?

“Excuse me, do you have a cappuccino?” said a woman at a home that I was catering for. I replied, “I am sorry miss. We only have Earl Grey tea or coffee.” “Oh,” she said. “Then I will have a mint tea please.”

I quickly ran into the kitchen (with just a thin wall dividing the dining room from the kitchen). I scurried around wondering what I was going to do to appease this woman, exhausted from an 18-hour day. How was I going to make this work? I looked into the cabinets of the person I was cooking for and found nothing.

“Mint tea,” I said to myself. “Grrrrr.”

I know that I am supposed to be catering to people’s needs, but sometimes people don’t realize that we are not a fully operational store with everything at our disposal.

“Think, Mary, Think.”

They had just finished their meal and dessert. And then it hit me. Of course! The dessert course! I quickly ran to the leftover mint that had been tossed about. I had two leaves left and a bunch of stems. My staff looked at me oddly as I began lightly smashing the leaves and stems of the mint to get the true essence out. I threw it all in a sauce pot with water and turned it on high. As quick as I could, I poured it into a tea cup and took it out to the customer with a little sweat on my brow, and of course the woman right next to her said, “Oh that looks delicious! I will have one too.” I ran back in to boil another cup, hoping enough flavor was left in the leaves and stems for just one more cup. Thankfully there was.

After we were all cleaned up, the client came up to me and thanked me for the attention that I had given to her guest. She handed me an envelope with a lovely tip, not only for me but also for my staff.

This experience reminded about how important it is to think on your toes. And how important is it to tip! Tipping is a gesture of kindness and gratitude. Even though we expect services at a restaurant or at our home, it is very kind and greatly appreciated when people tip.

I am constantly asked when catering an event in one’s home how much to tip. Here is how I would break it down. First of all, if it is an enormous event like a wedding or a large party, I would suggest tipping 20% on the overall cost of the event. This will take care of all the servers and the kitchen crew. However, if it is a smaller job, it is very kind if you tip $10 to $50 a person depending on their job title. Again, this is never expected but always greatly appreciated.Remember, the tip goes to the workers who probably are not making much money, and they are the ones making sure that all of your needs are met.

On another note, if you received the dinner as a gift, make sure that you consider tipping off of what the bill would have cost. You have to remember the person that paid your bill may not have considered the tip, and even though it is so wonderful that you get a free night out, you shouldn’t make the waiter suffer for your pleasures.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Chef Mary’s Chicken Vegetable Stir Fry

3 chicken breasts
1 large carrot
1 zucchini
1 squash
1 red pepper
1 head of broccoli
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup Canola oil
½ cup soy sauce
1 tsp red chili flakes
2 tbsp honey


1. Clean and cut your chicken breasts into strips, set aside.
2. Next have your kids peel the carrot; take the florets of the broccoli off.
3. Cut the top and the bottom off of your pepper and deseed.
4. Cut the zucchini, carrot, squash, and red pepper into long thin strips. Smash the garlic.
5. Next measure out the soy sauce and honey.
6. Heat a sauté pan with a little vegetable oil and add your chicken strips.
7. Salt the chicken for flavor. Let the chicken cook on a medium to high heat so that it browns evenly, and then flip. Next take it out of the pan and put it aside.
8. In the same pan heat up a little more oil and add the strips of vegetables and cook, add a little salt and a touch of pepper.
9. Add garlic (this can be left out), and cook a little longer.
10. Next add the chicken back to the pan and add soy sauce, honey, and a few chili flakes.
11. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Serve with white or preferably brown rice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Zucchini

When I was young, I would wait longingly for summer. Sometimes, it seemed like it would take forever to arrive. But I knew it was worth the wait, because once summer shined its smiling face on my mom’s garden, I knew it was time to plant summer fruits and vegetables. I loved going with my mom to pick out the seeds at the nursery that would become our summer growing patch.

Not even realizing that zucchini is a summer fruit, I was drawn to the zucchini seeds – probably because of the beautiful yellow flowers adorning the outside of the package. It wasn’t until later, when I met my husband, that I learned you can actually stuff the blossoms and cook them up for an extra treat.

The zucchini itself is actually a fruit, thanks to the fact that it is actually the ovary of the female zucchini flower. One of my eight-year-old students reminded me of this incredible fact the other day. Zucchini is often treated as a vegetable, however, in a culinary context. Delicious and soft, the zucchini fruit tastes best small. As they age (and grow in size), they become more fibrous and therefore, less flavorful.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Weekly Menu!


Mixed Greens with goat cheese, figs and walnuts with a balsamic dressing
Roast chicken with green beans and brown rice

Kids: Chicken drumettes with green beans and brown rice (add a touch of soy sauce)


Mixed greens and romaine lettuce with tomatoes, sunflowers and blue cheese
Chicken enchiladas (use leftover chicken) with corn and black beans

Kids: Same (but top theirs with just cheese)


Romaine with blue cheese dressing, turkey bacon and tomatoes
Grilled Steak (you can do a tri tip or sirloin for a cheaper cut of meat) with mushrooms polenta and asparagus

Kids: Steak bites with ketchup and polenta (kids like it) with asparagus rounds (cut asparagus ends into circles)


Mixed greens with carrots, radish, beets and a mustard vinaigrette
Chicken parmesan with angel hair pasta and spinach

Kids: Chicken nuggets (just make the same chicken in smaller bites) with spinach (put parmesan with it)


Iceberg wedge with balsamic dressing and tomatoes
Chicken and Vegetable stir fry (or substitute meat)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kids Are Our Future

Kids Are Our Future

I have begun my quest in teaching children how to eat healthier and live healthier lives. This is extremely important in light of the growing obesity epidemic in children and teens in our country. One way to help kids eat better is to teach them how to make healthier choices, and to show them how to start making these good decisions at an early age. Here are some tips that will help your children grow up happier and healthier:

1. Cook with your children. Find a simple job for them to do and let them do it. It will get them excited about what they are eating for dinner and encourage them to try something new.
2. Eat a meal with your family as often as possible, but at least twice a week.
3. Make dinner a routine. Whether or not you are eating with them, keep the time consistent.
4. Children don’t know everything, so when you are grocery shopping talk to them about the food you are buying.
5. Lead by example. Make sure you are eating healthy, and that they see you eat this way.
6. Treats are fine (McDonalds, Taco Bell, chips, candies) in moderation.
7. Watch the Food Network together.
8. Look up recipes on the internet and make them together.
9. Create lists of vegetables and let your child check off that they have tried them, even if they like them or not. Six months later do it all over again.
10. Don’t make food a battle.

What I Cooked Today… BBQ Ribs

A classic at my house:

1 slab of baby back ribs
½ cup of a good spice rub
1 bottle bbq sauce (I love KC Masterpiece original)

In a large pot boil the ribs for 20 minutes. Heat a bbq grill to medium heat. After boiling ribs, take them out of the pot and rub the dry rub mixture all over the ribs. Add salt and pepper. Then grill for 15 minutes and flip. Grill for another 15 minutes, and then brush on bbq sauce and grill for another 15 minutes. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: White Eggplant

It is always fun to see what you can grow in other parts of the world. While I was in Michigan I was exploring new territory and new produce. One of the incredible things I saw there was the ghostly vegetable known as the white eggplant. What strange sight to behold.

White eggplant is softer and has a milder flavor than its purple counterpart. One of my favorite dishes to make with them is Mousaka or Melenzalata. Because the white eggplant has fewer seeds, the dish will actually come out beautifully and even better than the same dish made with the purple variety. Give them a try.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Food Styling

Hot Dog Stand I did food styling for with Chris Brown.

One of the perks of living in Los Angeles is being able to work on movie sets doing a little thing called “food styling” – something I only learned briefly about while taking some cooking classes in Dallas back in the day. Even though the instructor merely touched on the topic, I was intrigued, and once I moved to Los Angeles, I knew I had to try it.

Food styling is literally designing the way food looks for a scene. Today, my task is to design a great cafeteria scene and make it look authentic. Mixing set design with culinary technique is an interesting challenge. It’s a dirty (and, of course, yummy) job – but someone’s gotta do it!

Weekly Menu

Tilapia with a fresh salsa (fruit or tomato)
White rice
Steamed snow peas

For kids: Bake the fish with a little butter.

Rosemary & Garlic Roast Leg of Lamb
Rice Pilaf
Steamed Broccoli

For kids: If you have leftover fish, make fish tacos for the kids; if not, make chicken and broccoli.

Baked chicken stuffed with rice and green beans
(add pine nuts for fun)

For kids: Chop up chicken for the kids.

Shredded Chicken Enchiladas (you can use any leftover chicken from the night before)
Sliced Avocadoes
Black Beans and Sour Cream

For kids: Make cheese and chicken quesadillas for the kids.

Lasagna! Great for the whole family!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ask Mary: Corn on the Cob

Dear Mary,

I really love this time of year. One of my favorite things is eating corn on the cob. But I hate dealing with hot scalding water - it's dangerous and messy! What can I do?

Dear Corn Lover,

I actually never boil corn. I either grill it or bake it in the oven. Wrap the cobs in foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. The foil retains the juices, keeping the corn as tender as if you'd boiled it. Grilling is also fun - leave on the husk, and areas of the cob will turn brown and crispy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bill's Farm

Sneezing and sniffling, camera thrown over my shoulder, a cup of coffee in my hand - I am a city girl on an exploration. It's seven-thirty in the morning. I'm an hour early, but workers are already hard at work unloading bins of corn for the soon-to-arrive shoppers. I take a couple of shots and listen to their easy banter.

I'm at Bill's Farm in Harbor Springs, Michigan - a family-built, owned and operated farm. We're surrounded by acres and acres of fresh fruit trees, vegetable and flower rows. Since they knew I was coming, I make myself at home. Eagerly, I head off into a field. Because I'm only wearing flip flops, I feel the dirt between my toes, and wonder if maybe I should have worn my Nike Air tennis shoes. But, who cares? It's glorious!

Bill's main crops are corn (my favorite) and melons. Both are growing like weeds (pardon the expression), and I can't help it - I jump, like a kid, between the rows, to get a better look at the vegetables. Taking more pictures as I go.

In the next field over, I spot a tractor. A man sits up high on its seat - staring into the distance. I follow his gaze and see the hills. They are covered in golden yellows and green sage and speckled with wild flowers. I take a deep breath with him, and for a moment, we enjoy the morning.

When I trek back up to the house (where they hold the market), my mind wonders in amazement - the food growing in those rows finds its way onto my table. After buying my produce, I turn, reluctantly, to leave as eager shoppers rush past, chattering on about close parking spaces, bulk purchases and great deals.

Driving away, I spot a mother turkey with her five large babies walking in single file alongside the road. I take another deep breath. I'm so glad I took the time to have this adventure!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Honey Rocks!

This ingredient is great to eat at breakfast, delicious as a garnish, and a perfect addition to any fruit salad. And no - it isn't honey from the bee - it's a cantaloupe! This melon, grown mostly in Northern Michigan, has a great name, but it's also my grandmother's favorite fresh fruit. Fall is the perfect time of year to enjoy a juicy, beautiful slice of cool cantaloupe - and Honey Rocks - are the best of the best!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Time to Plan...

When they learn that I'm a chef, there's one question people always ask, "What should I make tonight for dinner?"

There's a way to avoid the stress of "oh, no, not chicken again!?" It's called weekly menu planning. This may seem like an added chore, but once you get used to it, you'll enjoy its benefits.

When you create a dinner menu plan for the week, it gives you a chance to check your refrigerator and pantry for items you might already have at home. That way, you won't accidentally purchase another bottle of ketchup at the grocery store, or forget that you needed a stick of butter. Once you've purchased all of the items you need for the week, you won't have to swing by the supermarket on your way home from a long day at work, just to pick up a spring of parsley! (It will also keep you from pulling into that fast-food drive-thru, because you're too tired to figure out what to make for dinner!)

To get you started, I've posted a simple weekly dinner menu plan. I'll leave the food preparation to you - this is about learning the ease of weekly planning. There are some dishes posted twice - because it's good to use leftovers!

Tomato salad with basil and mozzarella
Grilled fish (any type) with Herbs of Provence add a squeeze of lemon
Steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots
Steamed brown rice

For kids:
Baked plain white fish (Tilapia is a good cheap option)
Raw carrots
Serve with ketchup

The wedge - 1/4 iceberg lettuce with Blue Cheese dressing and diced tomatoes
Penne pasta with mushrooms, artichokes, sundried tomatoes, parmesan, chicken and green onion

For kids:
Penne pasta with chicken

Shredded iceberg with carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli with Ranch dressing
Chicken enchiladas (stuffed with brown rice, chicken and cheese)
Black beans
Corn on the cob (sprinkle parmesan and parsley)

For kids:
Cheese quesadillas
Try shredded iceberg salad

Romaine with avocado and Italian dressing
Flank steak
Blue cheese couscous
Green beans

For kids:
Green beans

Romaine with cucumber tomato and basil
Turkey and vegetable lasagna

For kids:
Turkey meatballs with tomato sauce

Friday, September 5, 2008

Ask Mary: Scallop Cooking

Dear Mary,
How do I cook scallops properly? I love to eat them in restaurants, but whenever I try to make them at home, they come out as chewy as a rubber band.
Frustrated Scallop Lover

Dear Frustrated Scallop Lover,

When I was in culinary school, I went home for the holidays and announced that I would be cooking dinner for my family. Among all of the dishes that I could have chosen to impress them with my new-found culinary skills, I chose to make them scallops. What a mistake! The scallops arrived at the table clear and completely under-cooked. I was so embarrassed and quickly boiled up some pasta.

Since then, I've practiced and found some tips to making great restaurant-like scallops:

Use a cast iron skillet. Put a little oil in it first so that the scallops won't stick. Get the pan really hot. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. And then sear. Sear 5 minutes on one side (more time if scallops are bigger, less if they are smaller), and then turn them over and sear 3 minutes the other side. When you are finished, throw some butter in the pan and gloss them a bit before serving.

No more chew - just buttery and delicious! Your friends and family will be totally impressed!

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I always try to cook with fresh, organic and healthy foods. It's the way I feel everyone should shop; of course some stores make it easier and more affordable than others. Fortunately, I have a great big pantry that holds all of my goodies. (When you buy in bulk, you save.) But the other day, I spied a moth in my pantry. If you've ever had a moth in your pantry, you know the nightmare that awaits: the hunt for bugs.

So, I began my quest of conquer and toss. It felt horrible to throw out boxes of food because they were contaminated with larvae, but it had to be done. After several hours, I was satisfied that I'd taken care of the problem and went to bed. But the next morning, when I went in to make my coffee, what did I find? Another moth on the wall. Furious, I made a call to my lovely exterminator.

After a lengthy conversation, he said that I could put up pheromone traps in my pantry. Unfortunately though, he told me that the real problem wasn't coming from the pantry: the moths were riding in on the food that I'd purchased. Without chemicals in my food, there would be bugs.

So, here was my dilemma: if I bought chemical-infused products, I could be assured there would be no bugs, just chemicals. If I continued on with my organic regime, I would have to be prepared to greet a bug from time to time.

I decided to go with the lesser of two evils: if moths won't eat the chemicals, neither should I.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What I Cooked Today... Prosciutto and Fig Pizza

For the Game!

Pizza with prosciutto, arugula, figs and emanthel cheese...

  1. 8 figs
  2. ¼ c emanthel cheese
  3. 1 ½ mozzarella
  4. ½ c fresh olive oil
  5. 4 slices prosciutto
  6. ½ cup arugula

Basic pizza dough recipe: (pizza dough really is easy to make but if you don't have time you can always buy it.)
  1. 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast 
  2. 1 cup warm water 
  3. 2 tablespoon vegetable oil 
  4. 1 teaspoon salt 
  5. 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided use

Activate the yeast by adding it to the warm water (water should not be too hot or it will kill the yeast) then add the oil, salt and flour, mix gently, sometimes if you over mix the dough will become tough. Let it rest in a large greased bowl in a warm place to proof cover it with a towel or syran wrap. Te dough should double in size, this should take around an hour. Then you want to beat it with your hands to eliminate the air.

Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface. This recipe is best with thin crust pizza so about a 1/4 " thick.

Add a little olive oil and top with mozzarella cheese and then with the emanthel cheese. Add prosciutto and figs. Bake at 325 for 20 minutes.

Top with fresh arugula.

For added fun: grill the pizza dough and then add the ingredients above.

Grease the grates on the grill, throw the pizza on top of the grill with out any other ingredients.  Let it cook for 2 to 3 minutes and then flip.  Add the cheese and other ingredients on top.  Close the lid and finish cooking.

Happy Cooking, Mary

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Green Figs

Green Figs

A few years ago, I was introduced to the green fig. When I pulled it apart with my fingers, I was shocked to discover that its juicy center was a beautiful bright pink.

Figs are now quite possibly one of my favorite fruits. The wonderful thing about them is that they're seasonal, so just when I feel I can't possibly eat one more, they're gone!

These days, I have a fig tree in my backyard. So, I'm always fighting off other neighborhood creatures for a handful of little plump delights: yesterday it was a gathering of brightly colored birds, then a lizard and later in the evening, a possum. Everybody loves figs. Except my mother.

My mother believes figs are an acquired taste. They're earthy, yet extremely sweet. And she simply cannot acquire the taste long enough to actually fall in love with them! But oh, how I have tried and tried!

So, tomorrow, I'll feature one of the great recipes I created along the road to the fig-conversion of my mother: Pizza!

Monday, September 1, 2008

New Season.

New Fall Line Up!

  1. Monday- Webisodes or weekly menu break down
  2. Tuesday- Ingredient of the day/ In my kitchen
  3. Wednesday- Recipes
  4. Thursday-Funny Story/Tip/Fact
  5. Friday-Ask Mary

September blogs!

I can't believe it's been a whole year since I created my blog; sharing my recipes, holidays, traveling adventures and even building my own website -- with you! It's been great to learn about what you like and discover new things that I like, too. If there's one thing I've learned, it's definitely that there's still so much to learn!

Fall is just around the corner - I can smell it in the air. I'm sad to see the light-hearted easy ways of summer disappear, along with some of my favorite foods, like fresh fruits and fresh barely-cooked meals, but there is a certain excitement brewing.

Fall brings to life one of my much-loved guilty pleasures: football. No kidding. Sundays, after shopping at the farmer's market near my house, I always come home and put on the TV so that I can listen to a game while I unload my produce. It's not really about the game, though, it's the nostalgia. Football always makes me think of college. And college football was about tailgating parties. Mixing vodka with o.j. or serving Bloody Mary's. Tailgating was the perfect excuse for serving up a few classics: buffalo wings, hamburgers, hotdogs, sausages with peppers (if you were an East Coast fan), seven-layer dip, chili, nachos...

These days, I don't need tailgating parties as an excuse to grill. I make my fall favorites for friends who come over to watch the game and eat my buffalo wings. Me? I just listen -- I'm too busy in the kitchen whipping up fresh Bloody Mary's!  

Happy Cooking!

Friday, August 8, 2008

It is finally here! After weeks of work my full website has been launched.   It will now connect all of my different sites together.  I will be starting all new posts, webisodes and new surprises starting September 1st.  Until then I will have a few more European videos to post.  
Happy Cooking! Mary

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Good Morning.
I have new posts coming soon!
Happy Cooking,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ask Mary: Should I Give Heirlooms a Try?

Ask Mary: Should I Give Heirlooms a Try?

Hi Mary,
I am not really a fan of tomatoes but everyone keeps saying that heirlooms are worth trying. My main concern? Their price. What do you think?

Sometimes at farmers markets they will give you a taste to encourage you to buy what they are selling, so that’s one way to find out if you like these incredible fruits. I think that heirloom tomatoes are the magnum of tomatoes. They are indeed a little pricey, but if you buy one and toss it with a little salt, pepper, good olive oil and a delicious fresh mozzarella, you will find yourself extremely satisfied with the flavor and forget all about the price. Let me know how it goes!

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Heirloom Storage Tip

Make sure that you do not refrigerate heirloom tomatoes. Keep them on the counter at room temperature. If you do cut them, however, you can refrigerate them for up to an hour before serving without losing their delicious flavor.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Yellow Heirloom Gazpacho


  1. 6 yellow heirlooms (cut top and cut into small pieces)
  2. 3 cloves garlic
  3. 1 shallot
  4. ¼ cup almonds
  5. ½ cup olive oil
  6. ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
  7. 1 bunch chives chopped
  8. 2 tbsp goat cheese
  9. 4 crostini (toasted bread)
  10. salt and pepper to taste


Chop and blend well the following items in the blender: tomato, garlic, shallot, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and almonds. If you are having a hard time blending add more olive oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chop the chives to garnish, and spread goat cheese on crostini to be served in the middle of the soup.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Heirloom Tomato

A true California treat. I wait around all year for this delicious fruit. Or is it a vegetable? In California, when these tomatoes come fresh off the trucks from the farm, I guarantee you that you would never put this tomato into the same category as any vegetable. These beautiful, multi-color FRUITS of all different shapes and sizes take over my menus through the summer months.

True heirlooms are cultivars that have been “nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations.” Not only are these fruits gorgeous in color, shape and size but they have delightful names such as Green Zebra, Mortgage Lifter, and my personal favorite, Lilian’s Yellow Heirloom.

Happy Cooking!

Monday, July 21, 2008

You are What You Eat

Monday lunch. I grab my lunch box, which was usually pink with some cartoon character on it, also wearing pink. I take it to the table in our very small classroom. The smell of lukewarm meats, fruits and treats lingers in the air. I reach into my lunch box and find mom’s culinary delight for the day. My typical mom meal consists of turkey with American cheese and mayonnaise on Wonder Bread, Pringles, a green apple, and a Caprisun – tropical flavor of course.

The more I think about my childhood lunches, the more I realize that what we used to eat as children can really describe who we are as adults. Sometimes, you can even break down who a person is by just one type of food.

A perfect example of this: My mom’s friend and her husband were given two pieces of art. She received a two-dimensional sculpture of a green apple, and her husband was given a two-dimensional sculpture of a red apple. The thought behind it was simple: she was a combination of sweet and sour, and her husband was simply sweet. What are you?

Happy Cooking!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ask Mary: Storing Pecans

Dear Mary,
What is the best way to store pecans? When I buy them they seem to go bad so quickly.
Thanks, Faye

Great question. Even though nuts are a dried good, it is best if you keep them in the refrigerator. They are very perishable. This actually goes for all nuts. The heat is really tough on them and you will find that if you keep them on your shelf you will be throwing them out sooner than you have to.

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Don’t Let Those Nuts Burn!

Don’t Let Those Nuts Burn!

Whenever something is burning in a kitchen, nine times out of 10 it’s the nuts. That’s because it is so easy to burn nuts when you cook them. This is bittersweet as nuts are easy to remake, but sadly, they are very expensive.

Two tips to avoid disaster and keep your wallets fat:

1. Roast nuts in the oven. Oven temperatures stay constant and can prevent overheating.
2. When nuts are finished cooking, put them on a different cooking sheet to cool. Even though they are out of the oven, the old cookie sheet remains hot and could burn your perfect concoction post-bake.

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What I Cooked Today… Candied Walnuts


  1. 1 cup walnuts
  2. 2 tbsp white sugar
  3. ½ tbsp tobasco
  4. ½ cup water


Preheat the oven to 325. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients except the walnuts. Then, once the mixture is like wet sand add the walnuts. Toss together and spread on a cookie sheet and a greased piece of parchment. Bake for five to six minutes. This is a delicious treat for any salad.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Walnuts

“Stay away from the nuts,” my dad always said to me as a little girl, referring to walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, pecans and any other delicious morsels that came my way. I always thought it was because he didn’t like them and he was saving us from the inevitable fate of eating one. However, I later learned that in fact he did like them. Actually, he loved them. But he was always afraid that we would choke on them because they break apart so easily in your mouth.

It took me years before I actually began eating them, and it took me even longer to like them. Now that I do, I think they are a perfect accompaniment to almost any salad, fish or chocolate dish around. They are also loaded with tons of Omega-3 fatty acids and are known for lowering cholesterol.

For those of you who don’t know, many of the walnuts we eat today are genetically modified versions of the originals. These new nuts are designed to have thinner shells with more nut-meat inside. Translation: heaven. And speaking of heaven, I think walnuts look like a pair of pale, brown, caramel angel wings, with each ridged side connected by one thin centerpiece. There’s nothing like them.

Happy Cooking!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ask Mary: Asparagus Types

Dear Mary,
Which do you like better? Fat or skinny asparagus?

I actually like them both equally. It really depends on what I am cooking. For instance, if I am grilling them, I like buying the fatter ones. If I am sautéing them, I usually like the thinner ones. For salads and pastas, I prefer the fat ones so I can chop them up. But they all taste great!

Enjoy! Mary

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Prosciutto Prep Gone Awry

I have an Italian for a husband, and anyone who is Italian – or is married to one –knows that prosciutto falls into its own food group. One Saturday, when we were first dating, I thought I would bring home some things to make a prosciutto sandwich. I went to the store and asked for about ½ lb or so of prosciutto. When I got home, I was so proud, and got to work preparing the sandwiches.

My husband James came into the kitchen to help, and immediately found and opened the prosciutto to sneak a bite. When he opened it, however, he found that the deli clerk had cut it way too thick and did not stack it between pieces of parchment paper. It was a big mess! I will never live it down. And I will never make another mistake like that. Always make sure your deli clerk slices your prosciutto nice and thin!

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What I Cooked Today… A Typical Spanish Salad

Spanish Salad with White Asparagus

  1. 1 head of iceberg lettuce chopped
  2. 1 carrot shredded
  3. 1 can of white beans (drained and rinsed)
  4. ¼ red onion shaved
  5. 4 white asparagus marinated
  6. 1 can drained tuna (drained)
  7. ¼ lb sliced prosciutto
  8. 1 tomato quartered
  9. 2 soft boiled eggs quartered


  1. ¼ c red wine vinegar
  2. ½ c olive oil
  3. salt and pepper to taste


On a large plate, arrange all of the following ingredients and top with olive oil, vinegar, and a little salt and pepper. You can let your guests pour their own olive oil and vinegar as well.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday: Ingredient of the Day- White Asparagus

It was such a dream to walk around Spain, France and Italy and see these amazing asparagus varieties. First of all, the size was uncanny. They can literally be a handful. The flavor is out of this world ¬– fresh, milky, a little less pungent than common varieties, and delicious. Whenever I go to Whole Foods looking for them they are never as big as the ones I found in Europe. And they never seem to have that pearly white skin.

My favorite variety of asparagus is called “White Gold.” Grown in Europe, these beautiful and expensive vegetables are worth every penny. To keep them white, they are grown with little light and increased exposure to ultra violet rays. Asparagus have so many healthful properties, but it’s the aphrodisiac properties that make me smile. One look and you’ll know what I mean!

Happy Cooking!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ask Mary: Steak Cuts

What is the best cut of steak? I am always unsure of what I should buy.
Thanks, Dana

I prefer a T-bone. It contains parts of the filet (the smaller side) and the strip loin (the larger side). And, of course, it has the bone still attached, which allows the meat to stay tender while cooking. It also contains a lot of delicious flavor.

The only problem with T-bone steaks, however, is that you will have to spend a little bit more money. Buy it for the weekend and make a celebration of it if you choose to go for it.

Also, when buying a steak, make sure you do the following: press down on the meat and make sure you can see your nail imprint. I learned about this tip in Italy when shopping for a Florentine cut. Hope this helps!

Happy Cooking!

“Meat” Me in Greece…

Cooking in today’s world, we have gotten use to the idea of meat coming in a nice container covered in plastic with a pad at the bottom of the container to catch any excess juices. We buy meat in different cuts, styles, sizes, and from different animals. However, given all of these conveniences, we have been far removed from the actual animal that our food has come from. I guarantee that if any of us were ever faced with a living, breathing animal before slaughter one of two things would happen. Either we would begin to appreciate our food more, or we would all become vegetarians.

Prepackaged, accessible meat is now part of our culture. In others, though, you can still find whole animals with entrails intact. I have to admit, I find these conveniences very accommodating, but I do see how we lose something in the process from farm to table. Even though I have yet to see an animal butchered, seeing an entire animal makes you more aware of what you are eating, and humbles you a bit. The difference definitely lies within the taste and the feel of the meat. Fresh is always best.

Almost every country I visited in Europe had its butcher shop with their beautiful fresh meats, but the most amazing was the market I visited in Athens, Greece. I was caught off guard by many of the things that I saw, and yet it was all very impressive to see. Food for thought…

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What I Cooked Today... Chicken with Fine Herbs

Chicken with Fine Herbs


1 whole chicken
½ stick softened butter
1 tbsp kosher salt
a couple of cranks of fresh cracked pepper


I have done a lot of chicken recipes that are the same but different. This takes the same old things and switches up the flavor a bit. This recipe is a great way to use that same old chicken with the basic things you keep in your pantry at all times.

Take the softened butter and add the fine herbs and the salt. Wash the chicken and pat dry with a towel, place on a cookie sheet. Take the softened butter with herbs and salt and rub all over the skin. Next, crack the pepper over the top. Place in an oven that was preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. Perfection!

Enjoy! Mary

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Fine Herbs

Parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil…

A beautiful mixture of herbs used fresh or dried. Their flavor is released throughout the cooking process, and the longer it cooks, the more intense the flavor gets. I usually buy this herb dried to keep around the house on a regular basis. I use it most often with chicken, but I find that it can be used on salads with a little touch of salt at the end to give it a nice flavor. I also use it in pastas as a finishing touch.

I always love fresh herbs as well. You will truly see the difference between fresh and dried. However, just remember that when you use fresh ingredients, you have to use more of them to get the same flavor. But the reality is that you can’t really go wrong with either.

Happy Cooking!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ask Mary: To Add or Not to Add (Dressing), That is the Question!

Dear Mary,
I never know whether or not to add salad dressing to other people’s salads or to let them do it themselves. What do you think?

I like to offer my guests a simple homemade vinegar and oil mixture that they can add to their salad themselves. To me this is very acceptable. What isn’t acceptable at your fancy dinner party is putting out a variety of mediocre salad dressings and having everyone choose their favorite one. That being said, if you want to use something like a pre-made Kraft or Wishbone dressing, go ahead and just lightly dress the salad before you serve it. The bottles really take away from a nicely set table.

On the flip side, for a truly casual dinner with your immediate family (mom, dad, children), go ahead and put out the bottles. They won’t judge you for it, and believe me, we’ve all done it!

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tip of the Day

Here is a tip that I love. Take your traditional Greek salad and add a little touch of dried cherries or cranberries. It gives the salad a sweet, salty, and acidic accent that modernizes this familiar favorite.
Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What I Cooked Today... Greek Salad

Greek Salad


  1. 1 green or red bell pepper deseeded and chopped
  2. ¼ cup Kalamata olives (pitted) (in the pic they are black olives)
  3. 2 tomatoes cut into quarters
  4. ¼ cup feta cheese (I like to buy the cubes of feta and slice them into large slices to lay on top)
  5. 1 tbsp dried oregano
  6. ½ lemon
  7. ½ cup red wine vinegar
  8. ¼ cup olive oil


Chop all ingredients and place into a large bowl for your guests to serve themselves. Squeeze lemon over top and add the dried oregano. Let your guests add their own amount of vinegar and olive oil to taste.

Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: Olives


When I was younger, my great grandmother would invite us over for tea. Tea for youngsters actually meant Coca Cola, olives and goldfish, but that’s exactly how we liked it. A child’s dream. My brother and I would sit at the grown-up table in our lovely pressed outfits waiting for extraordinary treats to be brought out from the kitchen. Without fail, the black olives that we loved so much would end up on our fingertips and we would eat them off one by one. Meanwhile, our great grandmother would try not to reprimand us while quietly snickering under her breath.

Traveling has really fueled my love for olives. What was once only native to the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia is now found in all parts of the world. My favorite olive is the Kalamata, which is grown in Greece and offered as a tasty snack at the beginning of each Greek meal. The Kalamata is very dark in color and small in size. And of course, a true Greek treat! Enjoy!

Happy Cooking!

Monday, June 23, 2008

What I Cooked Today... Saganaki

Perhaps my favorite splurge on my European trip was the infamous or famous Saganaki from Greece. This timeless classic is a flaming piece of cheese with brandy. The Greeks will bring it to the table lighting on fire, and yelling "opa" to get you in the mood. The first time I had it I think I ate almost all myself, but after about an hour I realized that wasn't such a great idea. A little goes a long way. "Opa!"


1 lb Kasseri Cheese (a very salty and aromatic cheese)
1 tbsp butter
1 lemon
2 tbsp brandy
And of course a lighter!


First, slice the whole cheese into ¼ inch thickness. Follow that by topping the whole thing with butter and broiling it on a cast iron plate. The fun part comes next at the table. Pour the brandy over the top and light with the lighter. Be careful not to burn yourself! Lastly, squeeze lemon over the top, and be careful not to let the seeds fall into the cheese. Delicious!

Happy Cooking!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Regular Schedule Starts Monday!

Monday we will be back to our regular set up. I am back from my amazing trip and will still be showing webisodes from there, but the rest of the week will have recipes, tips and more based around my trip!
Happy Cooking!

The End Of Finding the Fish! Santorini, Greece

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cooking with Mary, European Adventure: Santorini, Greece! A Great Greek Feast

We missed the boat for the day, but we were hungry and stayed for a bite to eat. The fish there was so fresh it literally was walked off the boat 10 feet to the kitchen.
Happy Cooking!

Sunset Taverna
Santorini, Greece

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Good Morning

Thank you for taking this amazing adventure with me. I have a few more webisodes that will be coming out in the next few days, and by the middle of next week I will be up and running for the regular line up. 
(Monday-Webisodes, Tuesday-Ingredient of the Day, Wednesday-Recipe, Thursday-Tips, Stories and More, and Friday-Ask Mary)

We will finally learn how to grill that beer can chicken, how to grill asparagus and how to cut chicken off the bone. In the meantime, I will be writing about my travels, and sharing recipes, stories and tips from all of my terrific experiences. Stay tuned. Mary will find the fish and it will be posted by this evening! Pacific time of course.

Happy Cooking,