Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Navy Culinary Specialists Compete in Annual Iron Chef-Style Culinary Competition

Earlier this week, Navy culinary specialists competed in the Fifth Annual Navy Region Southwest Culinary Competition, in the impressive, state of the art galley at Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado. The galley reopened in December 2010, after nearly $9 million in renovations, and is one of the largest the Navy has to offer. It supports a staff of 30 Navy culinary specialists, and close to 30 civilian contractors, who prepare 2,400 to 3,000 meals a day for naval special warfare, basic underwater deterrence and special warfare combatant craft students.

The competition featured six, two-chef teams representing Naval Base Coronado, Naval Base San Diego, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Naval Base Point Loma, Naval Base Ventura County, and Naval Air Station Fallon.

The chefs were allowed two hours to prepare and present entrées using beef tenderloin, chicken, and coconut milk, the secret ingredient announced just before the competition. They were free to incorporate additional fresh produce and pantry ingredients provided.

As the clock ticked down to the final minutes, the chefs remained calm and efficient during plating and final garnishing.

Judges evaluated and graded the teams’ entrées on presentation, originality, and taste. During the preparation, judges also observed the chefs in the kitchen, in order to evaluate knife work, cooking methods, and proper safety and sanitation.

This year’s judges were Captain Yancy Lindsey, Commanding Officer of Naval Base Coronado, Executive Chef Dorance Aldridge, Executive Chef Joaquin Cueva, Chef Nydia Ekstrom, and Celebrity Guest Chef, “Sam the Cooking Guy.”

First place was awarded to Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Sophia Palafox and Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Ruel Sulandgi, from Naval Base San Diego, for their Beef Poke with Coconut Aioli, Poached Chicken Meatloaf, and Pineapple Coconut Rice. They move on to compete in the annual Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) Culinary Competition later this year, in San Diego.

Second place was awarded to Naval Air Station Lemoore (CS2 (SW) McGee and CS2 Jackson), and third place to Naval Air Station Fallon (CS1 Stinchcomb and CS2 Theodoru). The first three winning teams were presented with engraved plaques.  Additional prizes included bicycles, gift cards, knife sets, and garnishing kits.

Special thanks to Steve at eCoronado, Chief Culinary Specialist (SW/AW) Jason Simmons, and Angelic Dolan, Naval Base Public Affairs, for the opportunity to attend and photograph this exciting competition. We tip our honorary chef hats to all Navy culinary specialists in recognition of their culinary talent and service.

As reported by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Feddersen, Navy Region Southwest Public Affairs, the Navy's more than 7,000 culinary specialists (CS), deployed around the globe, feed on average more than 92 million wholesome and nutritious meals per year, ensuring the Navy's fighting forces operate at peak performance and are ready to respond to threats worldwide. Navy commanding officers agree that nothing impacts Sailors on a day-to-day basis more than the food CSs prepare for them; they believe these top quality meals contribute directly to Sailor quality of life and morale. Today's CSs have greater culinary instruction than ever before. With even more advanced training on the way, Sailors, both afloat and ashore, can look forward to even healthier and better-tasting meals in the near future.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pasta Love: Strozzapreti all'Amatriciana

Mario Batali's Babbo Ristorante describes Bucatini all'Amatriciana, originating from the town of Amatrice, located 100 miles east of Lazio from Abruzzo, as one of the most celebrated dishes in Italian cuisine. Ever since the Abbruzzese shepherds begin the tradition of eating this spicy pasta after a day in the chilly mountain air, the cooking process has always begun with the rich smell of a fatty piece of pork bubbling in the pan. Guanciale, or cured pig jowls, with its distinct pork flavor, is used to achieve the same rich taste that comforted the shepherds of old. Pancetta, a salt-cured Italian bacon, can be used when guanciale is not available. This dish can also be made with or without tomatoes.

While tomato-less gricia is still prepared in central Italy, it is the tomato-enriched amatriciana that is well-known all over Italy and has been exported everywhere. In Amatrice, the dish is prepared with spaghetti, but the use of bucatini has become extremely common after the recipe became popular in Rome. Other types of dry pasta is also used, such as rigatoni, but fresh pasta is generally avoided.

We were out of our favorite bucatini from Rustichella d’Abruzzo, but I found an amazing substitute from the same artisanal pasta company, called strozzapreti. Like all'Amatriciana sauce, strozzapreti ("priest choker" in Italian) has its own story.

According to Wikipedia, there are several legends to explain the name priest choker. One is that gluttonous priests were so enthralled by the savory pasta that they ate too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death. Another explanation involves the housewife ("azdora"), who "chokes" the dough strips to make the strozzapreti, expressing such a rage, perhaps triggered by the misery and difficulties of her life, to be able to strangle a priest! Another legend says wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents, and their jealous and angered husbands silently hoped the priests would choke on the pasta. In appearance, it resembles an elongated form of cavatelli, or a rolled towel. The texture is dense and chewy. Combine it with all'Amatriciana sauce, and your Italian pasta cravings will be more than satisfied.

Strozzapreti all'Amatriciana
Minimally adapted from Bon Appetit
(Serves 4)


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can imported tomatoes, preferably from San Marzano
Kosher salt
12 oz. package of Rustichella d’Abruzzo’s dried strozzapreti pasta, or bucatini
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese (about 1 oz.)


Empty the can of tomatoes, with their juice, into a large bowl. Gently crush and tear the tomatoes by hand, discarding the fibrous core. Set aside crushed tomatoes and juice.

Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and sauté until just slightly crisp and golden, about 4-6 minutes. Add pepper flakes and black pepper; stir for 10 seconds. Add onion and garlic, and sauté, stirring often, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt, add the pasta, and cook until 2 minutes before al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce in the skillet and toss the pasta to evenly coat with the sauce. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water, stir, and continue cooking on low until the sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. Add a little pasta water if sauce seems too dry. Stir in cheese, and transfer pasta to warmed serving bowls.

Newfy Notes:  I love pasta. There are hundreds of pasta recipes out there, but this is one you must have in your go-to collection. It doesn't take much time to prepare, but next time I will double or triple the recipe and freeze portions for future dinners. I would serve this pasta at a dinner party. Who doesn't love pasta? Who doesn't love pork and pasta? This sauce has earned a spot right up there with my favs - Carbonara, alla vodka, Pomodoro, and Bolognese. Go make it now, eat it slowly, and savor each bite.

There's even a postage stamp in its honor!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Horses, Barns and Soups

During our stay at The Home Ranch, on a very cold, but relaxing morning, we bundled up, left the warmth of the lodge, and walked down the driveway to the pasture and barn. The youngsters were particularly curious, and willing to lose their space around the hay feeder to come say hello. This yearling followed me around like a puppy dog, and insisted on nibbling at my jacket every time I tried to take a picture.

John had his own little romance going on a few feet away...

We could have spent hours in the old barn, photographing the weathered wood, windows, rusty hardware, chaps and hats hanging on the walls, and tack.

These are two of my favorite necklaces, made by Jodi Rosano out of her home here in San Diego.  She uses tips from naturally shed antlers, shells, crystals from antique chandeliers, gemstones, pearls, and antique chains, to create her pieces.   Jodi's tag line is Glamour Comes to the Ranch, so I thought it would be fun to photograph my necklaces in the barn.

After having our gloves off for an hour, our hands were numb and it was time to gather in the dining room for a bowl of hot soup. At least two different homemade soups were offered for lunch every day, in addition to salads, hot entrees, and dessert.

Since we've back from the ranch, I've made a couple of big pots of soup for us and mom. Last weekend, I tried Dave Lieberman's Split Pea with Smoked Ham Hock Soup (with Whole Foods' Wellshire Smoked Ham Shank), and Azorean Kale, Sausage and Bean Soup, from David Leite's My New Portuguese Table. Both soups warm you right up, are ideal for a quick lunch or dinner this time of year, and freeze well. If you have enough freezer space, make double batches!

I made some slight changes to this soup, using cannellini beans instead of kidney beans, and chicken broth instead of beef. David adds an additional step to give the soup a little extra body. While the soup is simmering, he suggests spooning a third of the beans and a bit of the soup broth into a food processor, pulsing to make a loose paste, then, if desired, passing the paste through a sieve, and adding the paste back to the soup. I was lazy and omitted this step, but I'm sure it does add body and creaminess.  The original recipe is published here.

Azorean Kale, Chorizo and Cannellini Bean Soup
Adapted slightly from The New Portuguese Table, by David Leite
(8 servings)


1 pound dried cannellini beans, picked over, rinsed, and soaked overnight in water to cover by 3 inches
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
8 ounces chouriço, linguiça, or dry-cured smoked Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch coins
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 Turkish bay leaf
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups homemade chicken stock, or low-sodium store bought broth
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 bunch kale (about 1/2 pound), thick center stems and fibrous veins removed, torn into pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Drain the beans, dump them into a medium saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender but still hold their shape, about 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Toss in the chorizo and saute until browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the slices with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the fat from the pot, or if the pot is dry, drizzle in more oil so you have 3 tablespoons. Add the onions and bay leaf and cook, stirring often, until the onions are deeply golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to prevent the onions from burning.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the chicken stock and 5 cups of water, add the potatoes, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are just tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

When the potatoes are cooked, stir in the kale, chorizo, and beans. Turn off the heat and let the soup sit for 10 minutes to marry the flavors.

Remove the bay leaf, season the soup with salt and pepper to taste, and ladle into warm bowls.

Serve with crusty bread and a nice bottle of wine.

Friday, January 20, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Quatre-Quarts

Please excuse my lack of motivation returning to my kitchen and cooking some blogworthy dishes to start off the New Year.  After the holiday season, and our fabulous week at The Home Ranch, where a team of talented chefs entertained our taste buds, I am finally coming down from my Relais & Chateaux high.

I am anxious to get back into the weekly French Fridays with Dorie groove, as the recipes are easily incorporated into our weekly routine. I missed Dorie's Bubble Top Brioche Rolls the first week in January, but was nibbling some amazing Yam Clover Rolls at the ranch that week. I did make Jacque's Armagnac Chicken for week two, but didn't have time to photograph and blog about it. Actually, I've made this chicken twice, and it's wonderful, especially with the addition of prunes.

I debated over this week's cake, because we still have leftover Nutter Butter Peanut Butter Pie from Dooley's 13th birthday celebration, but it was simple enough to prepare, and I could find some takers.

Quatre Quarts translates into four fourths, and is a traditional cake of the Brittany region in the north-west of France. As with the American pound cake, the quatre-quarts is made with equal measures of eggs, flour, sugar and butter. Dorie tweaks the classic version with vanilla extract, or an optional touch of dark rum or Cognac, a teaspoon of baking powder, and sprinkling of brown sugar over the top just before baking. She also separates and whips the egg whites, and uses a cake pan instead of a loaf pan. I substituted cake flour, and opted for a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and two teaspoons of Grand Marnier.

Like many French cakes, Dorie cautions this one may taste dry by our standards. Mine turned out very light and moist, and tastes lovely served as is. Some of the brown sugar melted into the cake during baking, which adds a nice sweetness. But, if you want to sweeten and dress it up a bit, Dorie suggests saucy sugared berries, jam, fruit coulis, whipped cream, creme fraiche, or ice cream and chocolate sauce.

I first tried a piece, as is, with my morning coffee and half a grapefruit (with brown sugar on top). It was wonderful.

Morning Quatre-Quarts

Then, as just a "taster" experiment, I cut a second piece with a small, round cutter, arranged pink grapefruit supremes on the top, sprinkled the grapefruit with brown sugar, and slid it under the broiler for a few minutes. Loved the complementary flavors of the pink grapefruit and brown sugar. I didn’t have time to mess around any longer, but my third version, would include a dollop of whipped cream flavored with a hint more Grand Marnier.

Quatre-Quarts with Pink Grapefruit Brulee

French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s newest book Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, My Dooley-Dog

Today is Dooley's 13th birthday. He celebrated with a few close friends, and a Nutter Butter, Peanut Butter, Whipped Cream, and Carob Chip Pie.

I met him when he was less than a week old. I drove up every week to play with him, bond, and watch him grow. He was conceived the day I lost my first Newfoundland, Ashley. We were meant to be.

Dooley spent several years with Brigadoon, my Leonberger, as his big brother. Shortly after Brig died, at age 11, we brought Diver home, hoping to ease the loss of his companion. Dooley had a little brother for just over three years. After losing Diver suddenly, a year ago last August, we decided to give Dooley all our love and attention.

When we are home, he is always close by. He sleeps on the floor by my bedside, is the first to kiss me in the morning, takes the place of my bath mat when I'm in the shower, and is always sprawled out across the kitchen floor when I'm cooking. He is the inspiration for the name of my blog. When I come home from work, I may find him fast asleep on the couch. He chases bunnies during his numerous naps of the day, with paws twitching and legs running in Newfy dreamland. Balls of fur, or cousins, drift throughout the house, only to be captured by the Dyson Animal every few days. He doesn't see or hear very well, but manages to recognize the sound of my car as I pull in the driveway, welcoming me home with his barks. He loves baths and being brushed for hours. His soft snoring awakens me all through the night, but assures me he's close by and content. Sometimes he paces at night, can't find his way in the dark, and slips on the wood floors when he tries to get up. He has slowed down on our walks, but still has a downhill trot. He is our faithful alarm clock and persists in his mile walk to Starbucks every morning, refuses us the luxury of sleeping in on weekends, and demands a continuous supply of Newfy-hugger-duggers, tummy and ear rubs, and morning Nutter Butter cookies. He has a list of over 20 nicknames. He's a rock star about town, stopping traffic and posing for photos at least once a week. He's a gentle, loving boy, and is never aggressive with other dogs. He has complemented my life for 13 years, and I cherish every moment of these bonus years.

Happy Birthday, Newfy-Pie. We love you so much. XXXOOO

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Coming Home Again - Our Week at The Home Ranch, Colorado

Within moments of arriving at The Home Ranch, Colorado, you’ll begin to realize why guests return year after year. You may even run into Anne, who will likely be into double digit visits. This was my second visit, John's first, and our third Relais & Châteaux ranch vacation together. This is the way we love to play.

I traveled to the Home Ranch, solo, about five years ago.  It was fall - the aspens were glowing, the pasture lush and green, and the Elk River flowed freely. I spent most of my time horseback riding and fly fishing. The winter landscape is equally stunning, with snow-covered mountains and meadows, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, icicles adorning the magnificent hand-hewn log lodge and cabins, and miles of pristine trails through the peaceful valley.

The horses are fuzzy with their winter coats, and the ranch dogs are thrilled to be romping in the snow. The winter season offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, horseback riding, tubing, yoga, cuddling by the fire, and soaking in the hot tub. Downhill skiing at nearby Steamboat Springs, dog sledding, and other off-ranch excursions are also available. All seasons offer exceptional gourmet cuisine.

Our flight from Denver into Hayden was delayed a few hours, and we arrived about 8:00 p.m. Eric was at the airport to greet and drive us back to the ranch for dinner. The chefs stayed late to make sure we didn't go to bed hungry, and guests were still gathered around the inviting, communal table, reminiscing about their day, and finishing off the wine.

After dinner, wine, dessert, and meeting new friends, we retreated to Lonesome Cow, one of the south-facing lodge rooms. There are also several cozy cabins within walking of the main lodge. We slept soundly, and slowly awakened to this beautiful sunrise.

Sunrise, from Lonesome Cow

Breakfast service begins at 7:30, with coffee, tea, fresh juice, a platter of fruit, and freshly baked pastries, scones or rolls. Hot breakfast choices may include Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, Gruyere and Herb Omeletet, Tuscan Eggs, Huevos Rancheros, Cheese Souffle, Waffles, or Eggs Benedict.

Fresh Berries and the most amazing Orange Scones

Tuscan Eggs - poached eggs served over polenta, spinach, and
ranch-cured Prosciutto, with a roasted red pepper sauce

Cheese Souffle

During breakfast, the wranglers and ski guides come in to chat, and arrange morning activities. One morning, Kelly and Alec harnessed Ebony and Ivory, the newly acquired Percherons, for a sleigh ride around the sparkling, snowy meadow.

A perfect Colorado morning for a sleigh ride

Wrangler, Kelly

On another morning, ski guides, Mike and Mark, set us up with boots and snowshoes for a hike. Selina's Timber, and Johnny's Amos, are more than willing to tag along. Having the company of these two goofs helped when we were missing our Dooley-dog. Amos will forever be your friend if you throw chunks of ice for him to fetch, and Timber loves to pounce in the snow, bury his head, and frantically dig for whatever he's heard scurrying below.

Ranch Dogs, Amos and Timber

Skate skiing is quite popular at the ranch. I had never even walked in snowshoes, or tried conventional cross-country skiing, and need much more practice before I attempt skate skiing with Steven and Cynthia.


John and I spent a morning out on the trails, photographing the skiers and everything else we could capture. On another morning, we walked through the pasture to visit the 90+ horses and explored the awesome barn. In the summer, guests put on their boots for an evening of music and two stepping in the loft.

Skiing the fresh powder with Amos

Snowy pasture

One of the yearlings

Rows of saddles up in the loft

On the way back to the Ski Hut, we found Ella and Louis, squealing with glee as they tubed down the hill. Of course, Timber was there to join in the fun.

Tubing with Timber

After skiing or hiking off breakfast, Chefs Clyde, Craig, Hunter, JD, Owen and John were back in the kitchen, or outside by the grill, creating something extraordinary for lunch. Two soups, and three or four salads, were always available for a lighter meal or first course. Additional options may include bison burgers, fajitas, pasta, poultry and fish.

Soups, and Grilled Chicken or Steak Fajitas

Horseback riding is saved for the afternoon, when the temperatures are a little warmer and the trails less icy. The scenic and peaceful winter trail winds down through the aspens and along the edge of the river, takes about an hour, and leaves time for an afternoon ski, or curling up with a book in the lodge with ranch cat, Buster.

Wranglers, Kelly and Alec

Nourishing my inner cowgirl, on Brown Jug

The guides are always willing to take a drive off-ranch to nearby towns, lakes and trails. We spent a few hours one afternoon with Mike down by the river, where he introduced us to the Dipper - North America's only truly aquatic songbird. It catches all of its food underwater in swiftly flowing streams by swimming and walking on the stream bottom. Mike has it made, as a ski guide during the winter in Colorado, and captain of his own whale watching charter boat in Alaska during the summer.

Dipper, and John's ice photography

Chef Clyde grows his own produce in the summer and sources his game as close to home as possible. The ranch has its own pigs and cattle, and plans on adding chickens in the spring.  To accompany him in the kitchen, Clyde recruits young, talented chefs from culinary institutes across the United States to work at the ranch.

Chef Clyde making southwestern sausage

Chef Hunter making Cavetelli pasta

Some of the kids at the ranch were invited to the kitchen to help prepare the dinner rolls, and bake cookies to fill the bottomless cookie jars in every room and cabin. Louis was so proud to have helped Owen make these Yam Clover Rolls and admonished his sister when she gave away the secret ingredient before they were served.

Clover Rolls alla Louis

Before you know it, the sun is setting the sky on fire and everyone is gathered in the lodge for wine, cocktails, and hors d'oeuvres.  

Sunset over the meadow and reflecting on the dining room windows

Oysters on the Half Shell, Flatbread

The dinner entrees were unbelievable.  Of course, we overindulged with what we don't typically eat at home - venison, duck, elk, guinea fowl, and goose. Fish and vegetarian options are also offered nightly.

One of the fresh, delicious salads offered as the first course

Venison Chops

Lamb and Mushroom Risotto

Tasmanian Salmon

I don't know about you, but I'm not used to eating three meals a day, two with dessert, and cookies in between. I justified doing so this week because we had to photograph as many dishes as possible, and then couldn't let them go uneaten ;-) And Owen, new to the ranch as pastry chef, knocked our sweet socks off.

Owen rolling pear strudel for the breakfast pastry of the day

Pear Tart, Chocolate Bouchon, Espresso Crème Brûlée

I could go on and on with more photos and stories of our week at The Home Ranch, but I think I should leave you now, with a promise to share more photos and a few recipes in some follow up posts. Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and maybe we'll run into you at the ranch during our next visit.

Update:  Here's a follow up post, with more photos of horses and inside the barn, with a recipe for soup! Horses, Barns and Soup


Full Disclosure:  We were guests of The Home Ranch for the week, in exchange for photography services.  We provided our own air transportation, and paid for alcohol and gratuities.  We were not obligated to write about our experience, and all of the opinions expressed herein are our own.