Engaging stories of love, joy, comfort and friendship with proven scrumptious, healthy recipes, we celebrate LOVE as the secret ingredient for wonderful food!

Striped Bass with Shallots, Fennel and Persimmons

Striped Bass with Shallots, Fennel and Persimmons ready to cook.

Ready to go into the oven to roast.

Do you think I will live long enough to cook all the recipes I’ve clipped from newspapers or marked in cookbooks? I have made it a New Years Resolution to go through all of the Times Dining sections I’ve saved from the past year that have piled up, that I never seem to have time to get through on my subway ride to work because there are just way too many business messages I need to take care of first. I used to keep piles of those clipped recipes on my kitchen counter for easy access and inspiration. When the piles got to be over a foot tall (seriously), one of my friends told me I was being ridiculous and to move it somewhere. So now I am hiding these piles – in a space in a kid’s closet, under my bed, taking up two deep drawers in a dresser. It’s pitiful.

And then you know what – I come home from work, late, starving and I just want to eat something good and different, so I just make something up, quickly, with what’s on hand, no time to read a recipe. So on Friday night, I made up this dish, always welcoming sweet and savory combos and this, this roasted striped bass with shallots, fennel and persimmons was really, really delicious and different! (and super easy)

Striped Bass Roasted with Shallots, Fennel & Persimmons - finished.

Sorry, I cut this already, getting ready to serve and then remembered to take a pic.

Here’s what I did.

– serves 2 – with a little left over

1 lb. striped bass fillet – washed and patted dry
Olive oil
1 shallot, sliced very thin on a mandoline
1/4 of a fennel bulb, sliced very thin on a mandoline
Salt – preferably French grey salt
Pepper – fresh ground
Paul Prudhomme’s seafood seasoning
2 persimmons, cored, peeled and sliced very thin

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Slick a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Lay out the shallot and fennel evenly in a shape mimicking your fish shape. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper.

Lay your fish fillet on top, covering everything. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the fish and spread around to cover with your fingertips. Sprinkle on Paul Prudhomme’s seasoning to your liking. Cover with persimmon slices and drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on top of those.

Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the fish flakes to your liking.

Serve with love – enjoy!

A question for you all:

What is the difference between the dull and shiny side of aluminum foil? Can somebody tell me? I mean, I know they’re different but for what purpose, if any?

Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes

Duck braised with red wine and prunes on a plate.

I took Judy’s advice and served it with sauteed polenta, along with some green beans tossed with olive oil and toasted walnuts.

I have been wanting to tell you about this dish. It is so delicious, silky in texture, totally yummy and best yet, it’s super easy. You just need time, so a weekend is good. This Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes is a recipe from the famed Judy Rodgers, the chef and owner at Zuni Café in San Francisco. She left us way too soon, just a little over a year ago when she was only 57. (cancer) I feel a kindred spirit with Judy. She was also from St. Louis and she loved great basic food perfected. She was known for refined simplicity.

Her Zuni Café cookbook is different. Her recipes read like she is standing next to you, telling you what to expect, variations that may come up and what to do. Therefore, all recipes are very copy heavy, which is a little intimidating and time consuming to get through it all. But the upside is, she is teaching you HOW to cook, with tips all the way through on every possibility that may come up, and why, not just how to cook that particular recipe.

She has a definite fondness for salting the proteins early, even days before. If you think about it and can do it, it really does work. It tenderizes, promotes juiciness, improves texture, and flavors the meat or poultry all the way through.  It’s interesting, that by seasoning judiciously early, you will use less salt overall. As Judy says, “you will eliminate the habit of repeated doses, and accidental overdoses, of “surface salt” at the table.”  

One of my all-time favorite dishes of hers to make, and it is the most popular dish at the restaurant, is her Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. It takes an hour to order at the café, but that hasn’t put a damper on its demand. I’ll have to share that at another time.

Because I love her roast chicken so much, I thought she couldn’t go wrong with duck, right? She did not disappoint. Here is her recipe. I made it with LOVE for our friends Margaret and Wayne during the holidays, using 6 duck legs and increasing the recipe proportionately, and then we got to have another dinner out of it later that week.

Duck braised with red wine and prunes on a white platter.

I decided it needed a little color so I garnished it with some chopped Italian parsley.

DUCK BRAISED WITH RED WINE & PRUNES – serves 4 – a Judy Rodgers recipe

A rich old French dish. If you use the orange zest or the clove, it will have a dramatic impact on the flavor and character of the dish, making it sneakily festive. I like it both ways. (I used both the orange and cloves)

Muscovy, or Barbiere (Barbary), duck has firm, almost beefy, dark red flesh that supports long cooking and generous old-fashioned flavors. Very good with toasted polenta.

Wine: Cabors, Chateau du Cayrou, 1996

For 4 Servings:

4 Muscovy duck legs (10 to 12 ounces each)
4 cups medium-bodied or hearty red wine, such as Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon
2 cups Duck Stock or other bird stock or Chicken Stock
2 medium yellow onions (about 8 oz. each), root end trimmed flat, peeled, and cut into 1 ½ inch wedges
2 ounces garlic cloves (about ½ cup), unpeeled
1 bay leaf
2 wide strips of orange zest about 2 ½ inches long, removed with a vegetable peeler, and/or a whole clove (optional)
12 prunes, preferably with pits

Trimming and seasoning the duck legs (for the best flavor and succulence, do this step 2-3 days in advance):
Trim lumps of fat, ragged edges or meatless flaps of skin (it’s worth saving and rendering these: even a few scraps can be enough to flavor a soup). Rinse the duck legs, lay between dry towels, and press to absorb surface moisture. Season evenly all over with salt (we use a scant ¼ teaspoon sea salt per pound of duck). Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Cooking the Duck:
Preheat the oven to 300°.

Reduce the red wine and the stock separately to about 1 cup each. The stock should have body and will be slightly salty. Set aside.

Press the duck between towels to wick off excess moisture. Place a dry 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot enough that the duck hisses on contact, add the legs, skin side down, and leave to set a golden crust, about 10 minutes. The duck will begin to render fat within a few minutes; reduce the heat if the fat starts to smoke. Turn the legs over and brown for just a few minutes on the flesh side, then arrange skin side up in an ovenproof 3-quart sauté pan. Pour off the rendered fat from the skillet; if any appetizing golden bits remain in the skillet, add the reduced red wine to the pan and simmer briefly, stirring to dissolve them. Set aside.

Duck braised with Red wine and Prunes ready for the oven in a Le Creuset pot.Nestle the onion wedges in between the duck legs. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and optional orange zest and/or clove. Add enough of the reduced wine and stock, in about equal doses, to come to a depth of ½ inch; save any extra wine and stock for extending the sauce. Swirl the pan as you bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover tightly, place in the oven, and cook for about 1 hour.

Turn the duck legs over and add the unpitted prunes, making sure they are submerged in the braising liquid; work quickly, so you don’t lose too much heat. (If you are using pitted prunes, add them after 10 minutes more.) Cover the pan tightly and return to the oven.

After another hour (or about 40 minutes if the duck legs are on the small end of the range listed), turn the legs over, turn the heat up to 375° and return the pan to the oven uncovered. When the legs feel just tender and are slightly browned, usually within another 20 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Turn off the oven and place a serving platter to warm in the oven for a minute or two. Leave the duck legs to rest for about 5 minutes, then carefully lift from the sauce to the warm serving platter.

Skim the abundant fat from the surface of the braising liquid, and taste the liquid. If it seems thin in flavor or texture, set the pan over medium heat and, skimming attentively, reduce to the texture of warm maple syrup. If the sauce tastes too rich, dilute it with a trickle of water. If you seem shy on sauce and you have extra wine and reduced stock, add a little of each, then simmer to bring the sauce to a slightly syrupy consistency.

Serve each duck leg with 3 prunes and a few silky onion wedges and slippery garlic cloves. There should be a few tablespoons of sauce for each leg.

Roasted Vegetable Soup and Meat Buns

Grinding beef chuck on a KitchenAid.

For my birthday, back in November, one of the gifts from my boys was a meat grinder to attach to the KitchenAid that they gave me last year. This thing will grind meat, vegetables and even hunks of hard cheese – think Parmesan for pesto! I’m excited about that. So my husband has had this fantasy of recreating his grandmother’s meat buns. He’s talked about it for at least 20 years. I have no idea what he’s talking about, never having had a meat bun, nor did I grow up with knishes. So this was his project. I knew to get out of his way and spent the afternoon in my painting studio, working on a new canvas. He did, however, ask me to make a vegetable soup to complete our dinner.

Here he is grinding away. He used ground chuck and corned beef!

So I took out 4 cups of homemade chicken broth from the freezer and gathered a variety of vegetables from the fridge. I decided to oven roast the beauties first, to bring out their natural sweetness. Besides, I love making pretty arrangements on the baking sheet.Vegetables lined up to roast in the oven.

Look at this – so pretty!

And then at the very end, I threw in several handfuls of escarole. I LOVE escarole in soup, as long as it’s still bright green with a little crunch.
Cut vegetables with olive oil and salt ready to roast.

Meat buns on parchment paper covered cookie sheet.The meat buns, as Steve claims, were pretty good, not yet ready for prime time as they were not like his grandmother’s. So I’ll let him practice some more before turning over that recipe.

Do you have dishes from your grandmother that you long for?

After all the richness of holiday food, this soup can bring you to your senses with some good clean cooking. It is healthy deliciousness that will warm your innards and satisfy. To make, this soup was simple and quick. Can’t go wrong with that!Vegetable soup in a white rimmed bowl.


4 cups of chicken broth, preferably homemade
4 plum tomatoes, cored and cut in half
3 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 3” long pieces
2 parsnips, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 3” long pieces
5 cremini mushrooms
Handful of green beans, cleaned
Handful of okra, cleaned and top ends trimmed
1 shallot, peeled and cut in half, lengthwise
1/2 of a red bell pepper, cut into 1/2″ strips
1/4 of a fennel bulb, cut into strips
2 stems of rosemary
3 stems of thyme
4 leaves of escarole, washed and cut into 1” ribbons
1 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Warm chicken broth in a medium sized saucepan.

Arrange all vegetables, except for the escarole and parsley on a baking sheet, along with herbs, drizzle on some olive oil, season with salt and pepper, toss to coat. Roast until not quite fork tender, about 12 – 15 minutes. You may want to remove some vegetables before others.

On a cutting board, cut the vegetables into bite size pieces, and add to the chicken broth, scraping all the juices and olive oil into the soup as well. Discard the herbs. Taste and correct seasoning.Vegetable soup in a pot with escarole.

Warm everything until it’s nice and hot. About two minutes before serving, stir in the chopped escarole to wilt. Portion out into 4 bowls, garnish with chopped parsley and serve with LOVE!

Happy New Year 2015!!! Porchetta with a Persimmon, Pomegranate and Frisee Salad

Porchetta and salad leftovers.

Lunch the next day with leftovers!

It’s been a whirlwind year. I feel very blessed to have all of you in my life. It would be so grand to meet you in person one day. Perhaps some day!! But for now, being “blog/pen pals” is just great too.

Thank you for your support of MARY’s secret ingredients. It is my dream to make MSI into a really big business to be able to feed folks on both ends of the spectrum. To inspire home cooks of all experience levels with exciting new ingredients to spice up their cooking and to be able to help eradicate worldwide hunger, as we will donate 10% of our profits to Feed The Children, is what this business is all about. I hope we can succeed.

We all want to eat great food and making it at home assures that we know exactly what we’re putting into our bodies. My boys, having been raised around home cooking from all sides, are now quickly surpassing and teaching me new things every day. You know, when you’re young, you’re totally fearless and that’s where they both are now. They text me pictures of what they’re making, what they’re eating, how to do something better. It’s exciting to be constantly pushed by them to do new things. Now one of them is deep into bread making and trying to teach me actual “tests” to see if the dough has risen enough, rather than my seat-of-the-pants “feel” I learned from my mother.

And then don’t forget that intentions are just as important as actions. If you make your food with loving intentions, it will always taste better. It’s a bit of magic. Try it and you’ll see.

Our Christmas day dinner was shared with Agata’s family (Zach’s girlfriend). Her father came here from Poland in the early eighties when breadlines were the norm over there. He speaks English, the mother, not so much, so Zach said. And my Polish is limited to a few choice curse words that Zach says I even pronounce those wrong too, along with a few common phrases, learned from my parents. Agata, kind as she is, says I speak “old Polish.” (Zach has learned to speak Polish fluently.) This was our first meal of both families together and nervousness was running high, which was all totally unnecessary. It was a delightful evening without a pause in conversation. Her mom understands (seems to me) everything and was totally engaged the entire evening. Her father loves to tell stories and was a fan of my cooking. Her sister has a five year-old boy, named Justin, who couldn’t have been better behaved. Angelic, (which I’m told is not always the case) and just delightful!! He spent some time on the floor by the Christmas tree, drawing, explaining that there are green emeralds and red emeralds and that he was drawing a red emerald. (don’t you love it?!) A great time was had by all!Porchetta Pork Roast.

I made a fake porchetta, somewhat following a Melissa Clark New York Times recipe, but my older son recommended this method of cooking – and you know what? He was right. This pork was tender, juicy and delicious!! Some of us had thirds!


One 9 lb. bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder roast
¼ cup chopped fennel fronds
¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tbs. chopped fresh sage leaves
7 garlic cloves, minced and mashed to a paste with the salt
 Tbs. kosher salt
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 heaping tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Score skin and fat all over pork, taking care not to cut down to the meat.

In a food processor, combine fennel fronds, rosemary, sage, garlic, lemon zest, salt, fennel seed, red pepper flakes and black pepper. Pulse together. Pour in oil. Pulse again until it forms a paste. Rub all over pork, making sure it gets into all crevices. Cover the roast with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove pork from refrigerator 2 hours before you want to cook it. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Unwrap and transfer pork to a covered Dutch oven and roast for 2 hours and check on the moisture level in the bottom of the pan. You may need to add a little water. This method produced the juiciest meat! At approximately 4 hours, check with a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. It should read 180 degrees, and the roast should be fork tender or check with a paring knife. Uncover the roast and place under the broiler to crisp the skin – watch carefully.

Transfer pork to a cutting board or platter and let rest 15 to 30 minutes before serving. Skim the fat off of the juices left in the pan. Taste and correct seasonings. Serve the juices warm with the meat. Make sure everyone gets some of the cracklings.
Persimmon pomegranate and frisee salad.

And then I served this salad with the pork, which was really divine. Persimmons are in season right now so find these flat bottomed beauties and be sure to make this soon as it will not disappoint. Different, with the bitter greens contrasting with the sweet sugared walnuts, pomegranate seeds and persimmons, this was an exciting alternative to sautéed apples with pork. This was also originally a New York Times recipe from David Tanis, but I have changed the greens to be mainly frisee replacing a lot of the chicory he calls for, as I thought that would just be way too bitter. Young chicory from the summertime might work, but not now – too tough and bitter for my taste. Everyone LOVED this salad so give it a go.


4 oz. walnuts, about 1 cup
4 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. fleur de sel or other coarse sea salt, crumbled
2 shallots, finely minced
¼ cup sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
6 Tbs. walnut oil
6 - 7 medium Fuyu persimmons, peeled
12 – 14 oz. frisee and radicchio leaves including a handful of chicory leaves, chopped into bite size pieces
1 cup pomegranate seeds

Make the sugared walnuts: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put walnuts in a small bowl. Pour very hot tap water over the walnuts for 1 minute, then drain. Add sugar and fleur de sel. Mix to coat nuts evenly, then spread them on the parchment. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until crisp and caramelized. Cool, then break walnuts apart. (May be prepared up to 5 days ahead; store in the cupboard in an airtight container.)

Make the vinaigrette: Put shallots in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and the sherry vinegar. Let mixture steep for 10 minutes. Whisk in walnut oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Core and cut persimmons into 1/2-inch-thick wedges and transfer to a large platter with a well. Salt persimmons lightly, then dress with some vinaigrette. Add the frisee, radicchio and chicory  leaves and gently toss with hands to coat leaves, pulling persimmon pieces to the top. Scatter pomegranate seeds over the top, along with any collected juices. Garnish with sugared walnuts and serve.

Polenta squares on a plate.Our plate was rounded out with a sautéed polenta square

Carrot ginger soup with a dollop of creme fraiche.We started with a bowl of Carrot Ginger Soup and finished with 

Holiday cookies and cakes.a plate of Holiday cookies, Polish Poppyseed cake and Gingerbread. It was a great meal!!

Happy New Year to all!!!

Dutch’s Spirits Colonial Bitters Cod Fish Vegetable Stew

Dutch's Spirits trio of American Era Cocktail Bitters.The next item from our MARY’s secret ingredients winter box is this adorable set of 3 different bitters. What do you do with bitters? Make fantastic cocktails, of course! They have lots of recipes both on their website and in the box. However, I’ve used one of them – the Colonial bitters – as a finishing touch in this amazing fish stew! Try this Dutch’s Spirits Colonial Bitters Cod Fish Vegetable Stew on a cold winter’s night and everything will warm up, I guarantee!!

I love the packaging – particularly the hats! Dutch’s Spirits may be a new company, but they have a rich history. Their home – a distillery, farm and upcoming restaurant – was actually the former property of bootlegger and gangster, Dutch Schultz, until the Feds busted him during prohibition in 1932. Isn’t that so cool? The distillery was underground and had an extensive network of interconnected tunnels and bunkers to make the booze then move it out for sale. This property is literally five minutes away from our home upstate. We can’t wait until it opens to get the full tour!

Now, back to food. Try this stew. It is so good, so healthy and has a unique flavor from the bitters. Just add three dashes to each bowl righ before serving, mix around and voila! The Colonial bitters is made up of juniper, allspice, orange, cinnamon and lavender among other things  so it goes beautifully with Herbs de Provence. It was a perfect combination!!

Dutch's Spirits Cod Fish Stew ingredients.

The vegetables in this stew.


2 cups fish broth
½ cup white wine
7 small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and halved or quartered
4 carrots, scraped and cut into pieces
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks
5 radishes, scrubbed and halved
3 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
2 handfuls of sugar snap peas, strings removed
1 tsp. Herbs de Provence
1.5 lbs. fresh cod fish fillets, washed and paper towel dried
2 tsp. harissa
Chopped cilantro
12 dashes of Dutch’s Spirits Colonial Cocktail Bitters

Dutch's Spirits Cod Fish Stew - Harissa on Cod.Spread harissa all over the cod on one side and let sit for 20 – 30 minutes.

Dutch's Spirits Cod Fish Stew in a skillet.Dutch's spirits cod fish stew in a bowl.Place broth, wine, carrots and potatoes in a medium-sized skillet, and partially cover, then bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 6 minutes. Add herbs de Provence, radishes, parsnips and tomatoes. Partially cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Scrape some of the harissa off of the fish. Cut the fish into large chunks. Add the fish to the skillet and simmer for 3 minutes, gently turning in the skillet. Add the sugar snap peas and simmer for 3 more minutes.  The sugar snap peas should still be crisp but the rest of the vegetables should be tender. The fish should be moist but opaque and flake into sections when gently separated with a fork.

Salt to taste. Portion out the stew and stir 3 drops of Colonial Cocktail bitters into each bowl. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with LOVE!

Gran Luchito & Buttermilk Marinated Roast Chicken

Gran Luchito Smoked Chili Paste.The next item from our winter box is the Gran Luchito Smoked Pepper Paste from Chelsea Market Baskets. (They also make the best holiday gift baskets!) The owner, David Porat, sent this to me months ago to try out. I immediately loved it and wanted it in a box, but it wasn’t available until just now. This little jar is packed with potent taste and should be invited in to everyone’s kitchen! It truly is an ingredient, not to be eaten right out of the jar as it is super strong. Mixing it with other things allows you to appreciate the full flavor of these rare smoked Mexican chillies that have all been ethically sourced – nice! I made this Gran Luchito & Buttermilk Marinated Roast Chicken recipe and it is so good!! (There are other recipes here as well.)

You may remember that my husband is not a fan of smoked things, but he LOVES this chicken. The paste also has a bit of agave and some garlic. This recipe is so easy with only four ingredients and again, it’s because the chilli paste is packed with flavor. Just plan ahead to marinate it for 2 days. This way, the chilli flavors really permeate the meat and the buttermilk makes it creamy and silky all at the same time. Do it on a Saturday and you’ve got yourself an easy dinner for a Monday evening. Make it with LOVE and it will overflow with extra deliciousness! 


One 3.5 lb. whole chicken
1.5 cups of whole buttermilk – preferably Kate’s
1.5 Tbs. of Gran Luchito Smoked Chilli Paste
1 tsp. crushed Juniper berries

Two days before serving, wash and paper towel dry your chicken. Using poultry shears, cut along each side of the chicken backbone and remove it. Turn the chicken breast side up and press on the breastbone to flatten the chicken. Using a sharp knife, cut partway through both sides of the joint between the thighs and the drumsticks as well as cut partway through the joint between the wings and the breast. This will allow the chicken to cook much faster.
Gran Luchito Buttermilk Marinated Roast Chicken ingredients.
Combine the buttermilk, Gran Luchito and crushed juniper berries in a small bowl and whisk together. Gran Luchito Buttermilk Marinated Chicken in a bag.Pour this mixture in a ziplock bag and put your chicken in. Close the bag and distribute the marinade all over. Store in the refrigerator for two days, turning the bag over and rubbing the marinade in periodically.

Gran Luchito Buttermilk Roasted Chicken in a pan.On the day you’re serving the chicken, preheat the oven to 450°. Place the chicken with the marinade in a non-stick, ovenproof skillet. (I did this or you can drain it from the marinade as essentially it does make a mess in your skillet but it probably imparts more flavor this way. With the skillet being non-stick, it fortunately cleans up easily.)

Set the skillet over high heat and cook the chicken until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the chicken for 30 minutes, until the skin is browned and the chicken is cooked through. Carefully remove the chicken from the skillet (remember the handle is piping hot so do not grab it unless you have a hotpad on!) and place on a platter. Let the chicken rest for 5 – 10 minutes. Cut it into 8 pieces and serve with LOVE.Gran Luchito Buttermilk Roasted Chicken on a platter from Nov 17, 2014