Brussels Sprouts Salad

I have recently become the president of the Brussels Sprouts Fan Club. Brussels sprouts have great health benefits and should be included in our weekly eating. The January 2010 issue of Food & Wine magazine featured a recipe for Brussels Sprouts salad.  Since I am trying to eat more of these healthy creatures it quickly caught my eye. Their recipe suggested serving roasted Brussels sprouts in an everyday salad. Their suggested dressing had cayenne and chili pepper which is much too spicy for me so I created my own version. Enjoy it before this winter vegetable is no longer at its peak.

Cook, Eat, Laugh…Claudia

½      pound fresh Brussels sprouts, rinsed and cut in half
2        Tbs olive oil
¼      tsp sea salt
dash freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 400*F

Place sprouts in a baking sheet with a one inch rim. Sprinkle evenly with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 20 mins. –stirring once after 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Salad Ingredients:

½       head Red Cabbage, sliced thin
½       cup canned mandarin sections, no sugar added, drained
¼       cup dried cranberries
¼       cup sliced almonds, plain or flavored
¼       cup Feta cheese, crumbled


2        Tbs Balsamic vinegar
1        Tbs Dijon mustard
1        Tbs honey
1        Tbs fresh lemon juice
½       teaspoon sea salt
dash   freshly ground pepper
½       cup extra virgin olive oil

To prepare Dressing:

Combine vinegar, mustard, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisking continuously, slowly add the olive oil until it is thoroughly blended with the vinegar. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Assemble salad adding optional ingredients as desired.

Optional ingredients:

¼       cup packaged onion ring topping
¼       cup canned white beans or kidney beans
¼       cup dried cherries
¼       cup chopped nuts of your choice

Focaccia Pizza with Foster Kids at Mary Graham

Twice a month, Rima and I have the pleasure of cooking with the youth at the Mary Graham Shelter for San Joaquin County. We always bring focaccia and chocolate chip cookies as well as ingredients for making a simple lunch together. This past lesson included a green salad, a fruit salad and PIZZA made with our 5 Minute Focaccia dough. Each student made their own pizza and one girl was inspired to stuff the crust with cheese and then shape her pizza into a heart.
Cook, Eat, Laugh…Claudia

Focaccia – Another Great Thing About Stockton!

A recent article from the LA Times extolled the virtues of Focaccia as a great back to basic bread. Rima and I know this to be a fact. And what could be easier than preparing focacccia in Just 5 Minutes??? Our 5 Minute Focaccia Mixes come in 4 delicious flavors: Original, Rosemary, Chocolate Chip and Raisin.   Be on the lookout for our new packaging coming soon to your favorite store: Rinaldi’s, Podesto’s, Regalo Bello, Wrappin Up, Taste of Heaven, Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, Beyond Pots & Pans-online….

For recipes and photos of delicious variations like bruschetta, fruit toppings, vegetable toppings, pizza and bread pudding – check out our past Blog posts.
Cook, Eat, Laugh…Claudia

Chocolate Bread Pudding for Your Valentine

This week we have been demonstrating the ultimate in comfort dessert:
Chocolate Bread Pudding
made with our 5 Minute Chocolate Chip Focaccia Mix.

For serving suggestions and tips – watch the TV clip from our latest appearance on Sacramento & Co – abcNEWS10. WATCH TV SHOW Cook, Eat, Laugh…Claudia

Valentine Chocolate Bread Pudding

Butter a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.

Place 4 cups cubed Chocolate Chip Focaccia made from A Tavola Together 5 Minute Chocolate Chip Focaccia Mix (day-old is best) in the pan.

Melt 1/4 cup chocolate chips with 2 cups milk (lowfat is fine.)

Beat together 2 eggs, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 2 Tbs cocoa powder and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.

Beat in chocolate milk mixture.

Pour over chocolate focaccia cubes.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Bake 40 mins. at 325° or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serve warm with Powdered Sugar, Whipped Cream or Vanilla Ice Cream.

Garnish with fresh raspberries.

Fancy Food Show

This weekend, to be precise January 16-18, 2011 we are presenting our 5 Minute Focaccia Mix at the fabulous Fancy Food Show at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Come by and say hi if you happen to be there. You will find us at booth 4512. Hope to see you there! Rima and Claudia

Pomegranate: local goodness from a goddess

Pomegranate is a fruit that was greatly appreciated in ancient times and then forgotten but in the ongoing quest to find new ways to help us lead longer, healthier lives, science often returns to things that have been used regularly for thousands of years. That is the case with the pomegranate.  

Originally the plant came from Afghanistan and Persia and was brought into Europe by the Phoenicians and later on to the Americas by the Spaniards. We can proudly say that today, our own valley, the San Joaquin valley is the pomegranate capital of the USA. As a matter of fact, we boast the only commercial production in the Unites States.

Externally the pomegranate is a fruit that is yellow-reddish in color; internally it is divided by a white bitter membrane that surrounds delicious red prism-shaped arils. Inside the aril, there is a little edible seed that provides valuable fiber. 

Pomegranates, bursting with seeds, symbolize fertility and fecundity in many traditions including Chinese, Greek, Persian, Roman and Arab. Even now, in Turkey it is customary for the bride to throw a pomegranate on the floor to then count the number of arils that escaped the fruit in order to predict the number of kids she will have.

In Christian religion this symbolism is enriched with spiritual meaning as seen in the “Madonna della Melagrana” painting of Sandro Botticcelli, where the fruit is the symbol of fertility in the hand of the Madonna.

The pomegranate reputation started with the legend of Persephone. Persephone the daughter of Demetra (goddess of vegetation) was kidnapped by Hades (god of the underworld) who wanted to make her his wife. Demetra  frantically looked for her daughter everywhere, leaving her duties and letting the earth fall into the harshness of winter. Zeus knew what his brother Hades had done and arbitrated her release. Persephone could have gone back to her mom as long as she would not touch neither water nor food during her stay in the underworld. Unfortunately Persephone overtaken by hunger ate a few arils of pomegranate, but for the most part the fruit remained intact. Because of this, she could have been trapped but Zeus struck a deal with Hades, so that the bride could stay with her mother for 6 months and with him 6 months. Hades agreed. Since then the months in which nature is flourishing are the months in which Persephone lives with her mom, while the cold months are those in which Persephone lives with her husband and the mom is unhappy.  At the end of the winter when Demetra knows that her daughter is coming home, she gets joyful and all plants and fruits begin to bloom. As time passes, Persephone ultimately falls in love with Hades because she ate the fruit thus the legend began.  

The season for pomegranate goes from September to January. During the season I like to freeze the arils to enjoy them the rest of the year. They are a wonderful surprise on salads year round. 

The use of pomegranate in medicine can be traced back to 1552 BC, but only recently it has made headlines with the new discoveries of its highly restorative medicinal values. Contemporary science has rediscovered that pomegranate juice is high in three different types of polyphenols, potent forms of antioxidants, and it appears to inhibit the onset of atherosclerosis, reduce the risk of heart disease, and mediate high blood pressure. Pomegranate extract also has demonstrated anticarcinogenic properties that are effective in suppressing a variety of cancers, including skin, breast, and colon cancers. It is high in vitamin C and potassium, a good source of fiber and low in calories. 

To open a pomegranate, first cut off its ‘crown’, then break it into sections.  Remove the arils with your fingers, and collect them all in a small container.

When buying pomegranates, choose those that are heavy, they will be full of delicious juice and without splits on its skin.  When stored in the fridge, this fruit can keep for several months.

To celebrate the New Year we suggest a “Happy New Year” pomegranate salad for a 2011 full of good fortune. In Italy pomegranate is a fruit that represents abundance and with its hard shell it also symbolizes a future protected from adversity.


Happy New Year Pomegranate Salad

2 heards of red radicchio, 4 oz gorgonzola, 1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts, arils of 1 pomegranate, 2 oranges, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tesapoons salt and pepper (plus extra to taste)

Peel the orange, cut a slice off the top and bottom of 1 orange, stand the orange upright, and cut downward to remove the rind and pith in thick strips. Cut the orange crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, capturing any juice.
Blend pistachios, half the gorgonzola, salt, pepper, olive oil and the orange captured juices. In a bowl spread the radicchio leaves, the orange slices, the rest of the cheese cut in small cubes and the pomegranate arils. Drizzle with dressing and serve and Felice Anno Nuovo!  

Happy New Year!

Almond Baked Halibut

This so easy and good for you recipe has ONLY 2 main ingredients:  halibut and ground almonds!  Of course a little olive oil, sea salt and pepper make it fantastic.  Substitute Orange Roughy or any mild fish when Halibut is not in season. You can even cook the fish in a pan.  Saute’ the leeks first then transfer them to a serving dish. Then in the same pan, cook the fish in a little olive oil – just a few minutes on each side and dinner is ready. Watch the video as seen on TV.

Almond Baked Halibut

Servings: 4   Prep Time:  5 minutes   Cook Time:  15 minutes

1 1/2  pound halibut fillets

3         Tbs olive oil, divided

1/2     cup almond meal (finely ground almonds)

1/2     teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground pepper


2        Tbs olive oil

2        leeks, rinsed well and sliced thin, up to the green

1        large onion, peeled and sliced thin

1/4     teaspoon sea salt

1/4     cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 400*F. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 9 x 13-inch the baking dish. Place almond meal in a small plate. Dip one side of the halibut in the almond meal and pat gently to remove any excess. Place in the baking dish, almond side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until done.

Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a large, heavy bottom skillet over low heat. Add onion and leek, sprinkle with sea salt.  Cover and cook for 8 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. They should turn a light brown but not burn! Add white wine, increase heat and cook for 1 minute until liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat. Serve with halibut.
Cook, Eat, Laugh…Claudia


Staying in the Chestnuts theme we cannot omit mentioning Castagnaccio. Castagne (chestnuts in Italian) are commonly found in the hills of many Italian regions, from Veneto to Lombardia to Tuscany which in old times made them popular with poor people. In the past I have been scolded by some readers for appropriating dishes to Tuscany when they were “not only” Tuscan. In order to keep peace, this time I will say that the Castagnaccio I am about to share with you is the “Tuscan” version. Honestly I have to say that I am not a big fan of it (no offence to my compatriots) but I do not even love “Marron Glace`”, so I suggest you try it and decide for yourself.

The main ingredient in Castagnaccio is chestnut flour, and the end of November is the best time to find good one.  Quality is fundamental when buying chestnut flour so look for soft, light flour. This kind of chestnut flour will be naturally sweet!

This already particular cake has also another peculiar ingredient. Rosemary! The legend says that the rosemary used in Castagnaccio has love elixir power. The young man who eats the cake offered to him by a young woman will fall in love with her and he will ask her to marry him! So let’s get cooking and making these boys fall in love!!


10 oz chestnut flour

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups water

3 tablespoons EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)

2 oz raisin

2 oz pinenuts

1 oz walnuts (roughly chopped)

1 fresh sprig rosemary (leaves only)

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl soak raisins in water to revive. In a large bowl sift flour and salt. Then add water a little at the time, mixing until you have a light batter. Squeeze water out of raisins. Set aside a handful of raisin, pinenuts and walnuts. Add raisin and nuts to the batter and mix. Brush the bottom of the pan with one tablespoon of olive oil and pour the batter in the pan. Sprinkle on top the rest of the nuts, raisin and the rosemary leaves. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil bake for 30 minutes or until a crusty top is formed and the nuts get a golden color.

Turkey Soup by the Sea

My mother-in-law makes the best Turkey Soup! It is especially good when enjoyed the day after Thanksgiving at her home in Carmel.  She starts by putting the leftover turkey bones in a pot with water then “boils the heck out of them.”  After skimming the fat she then adds chopped onion, celery and carrots. She also adds rice and a chopped potato. She seasons it with sea salt, pepper and cumin and lets it simmer.  If you don’t have any leftover turkey bones you can often find turkey stock either fresh made or packaged at your local supermarket. I have seen both at Draegers and Trader Joes.

Chestnut & Wild Rice Dressing

Stuffing vs Dressing – What’s the difference? After doing a little research, I found there is more variation across the nation in ingredients than just the name.  It seems that the name is mostly a regional preference. Whether cooked inside the turkey or outside, with white bread, cornbread or rice the tasty ingredient combinations are endless. This recipe combines wild rice and brown rice, cooked butternut squash and chestnuts.  Shopping Tips:  Many supermarkets sell mixed rice medleys, cut & peeled butternut squash, roasted & peeled chestnuts, chopped onion & celery and chopped hazelnuts.

Chestnut & Wild Rice Dressing
Roast in the oven 2 cups of peeled and cubed butternut squash that has been sprinkled with some olive oil and sea salt. Bring 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil. Add 1/2 cup wild rice and 1/2 cup brown rice. Reduce heat to low and simmer 40-50 minutes until tender. Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a large skillet. Add 1/2 cup each chopped onion, chopped celery and chopped apple.  Add 1 tsp each chopped fresh sage, marjoram and thyme. Season with a dash of white pepper and sea salt. Saute’ until fragrant and tender. Stir in cooked rice, butternut squash, 4 quartered chestnuts, 1/4 cup dried cranberries and 2 Tbs butter. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes to combine flavors. Taste and adjust for salt. Garnish with 2 Tbs chopped hazelnuts.

Cook, Eat, Laugh…Claudia