McCormick Gourmet Dinner Party Chain

About 3 weeks ago, I found out about a contest McCormick Gourmet was sponsoring through their Facebook page.  Called a Dinner Party Chain, participants choose a theme of their own making and then create a menu out of pre-selected recipes provided by McCormick Gourmet. I decided to enter and I WON!!!! I was the first winner of this weekly contest which will be held for a total of 12 weeks with a chance to compete for the Grand Prize (a trip to NYC and entrance to the Food Network Food & Wine Show). I actually entered twice; too much fun to come up with a theme and choose dishes fitting that theme!  I’m posting my winning theme first:  A Santa Barbara Sunset Soiree Brings Local Flavors and Colors Together.

grilled fruit salsa . arugula & peach salad . roasted cumin crusted steak . chocolate crackled cookies
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  Here was my inspiration:
Santa Barbara  . Farmer’s Market on State Street . Cooking with Mona 
I lived in Santa Barbara for 8 years and only moved away because I got married and had to move to San Diego where my husband had a house.  I don’t think I would have ever left Santa Barbara otherwise.  It literally was a slice of paradise – the most gorgeous place I’ve ever had the fortune to live in.  Mona was my sometimes but always chic roommate who was a fellow musician, shopper and foodies.  In our “later” years, we were in each other’s weddings and godmothers to each other’s children.  I wish we still lived in the same city – she would have loved to participate in this dinner party.
Everything about Santa Barbara is beautiful – the beaches, the scenery, the architecture, the ocean views, the mountains, the flora and fauna, the sunsets and the food.  Restaurant fare was somewhat inconsistent what with moderately expensive restaurants catering to tourists but when my friend Mona and I got down to it and bought fresh locally grown produce and other goodies, we’d have ourselves a feast!  We had many dinner parties.  On lazy days, we’d walk up my street, Coast Village Road in Montecito to Trattoria Mollie and pick up a few freshly baked loaves of crusty Italian bread (still warm!), slice some fresh peaches and break off chunks of our favorite cheeses and have ourselves a fabulous meal.
You can’t wait to try these recipes either, right?  Neither can I.
Grilled Fruit Salsa with Lime, Tequila and Smoked Paprika – tropical fruits, tequila & lime with a smokey flavor.  I do believe I will splurge on a bottle of Patron for this!  I get a little loopy just thinking about it!  McCormick suggests serving this with tortilla chips or taro chips.  I would even think that this would go well with organic sweet potato chips which our local grocer is now carrying.  If you can’t find that, I think any of the Terra chips would work nicely with this salsa.
I absolutely adore the peppery taste of an arugula salad.   I first came to appreciate arugula when I lived in Santa Barbara.  Before that, I was probably strictly an iceberg salad kind of girl.  The Arugula and Peach Salad brings together spicy arugula, sweet juicy peaches and a few other surprises with dill weed, toasted sesame seeds and organic basil leaves – ALL from the McCormick Gourmet collection.
A popular beef cut in California is tri-tip.  When I first moved to Texas, I really wanted a taste of home and so set out to buy some tri-tip.  We even bought a charcoal grill just so that I could grill that tri-tip to perfection.  Imagine how DH and I felt when we our local market butcher looked at me blankly when I asked where the tri-tip was.  “Skirt steak?”.  Uh, no.  Tri-tip.  “You wanner make fajiters?”  No again!  I want to grill tri-tip!
Fortunately, our current location is home to many California transplants and tri-tip is routinely sitting in the meat case.  YAY!
The recipe for Roasted Cumin-Crusted Grilled Steaks with Tomato Relish calls for sirloin or NY Strip steaks.  I love either cut but really am partial to tri-tip.  So it will be Roasted Cumin-Crusted Grilled i-tip with Tomato Relish for our family.
How do you close out such a cacophony of flavors?  With something very simple.  Chocolate Crackled Cookies with a glass of milk.  The perfect ending to this magical soiree under a Santa Barbara night sky (because, you know, it’s night-time now that we’ve arrived at dessert).
I will definitely be back with an update including the exotic menu I came up with for a tropical seaside repast.  As I mentioned  I will have a chance to win the Grand Prize in September which includes a 2-person trip to NYC for the Food Network Wine & Food Festival!
There is a lot to do before I can compete for that Grand Prize.  Like I’ll have to cook all the recipes from my winning entry.  I have a lot of planning going on inside my head from thinking about the Santa Barbara look I want for my table, the wines and a couple of other side dishes.
  • Now, I’m not a stingy type of person so if YOU would like to enter the contest and have a chance of winning 1 of the weekly prizes and a chance at the Grand Prize, go to McCormick Gourmet on Facebook here:  McCormick Gourmet Dinner Party Chain Contest.


Not-So-Sweet But Deliciously Moist Chocolate Cupcakes

I’ve really only just started to explore the world of baking primarily because I hate to measure.  Case in point, I goofed with the recipe below and instead of 36 cupcakes, ended up having to bake 54 because I calculated my flour wrong.

I decided to start baking cupcakes from scratch because I wanted to be able to control the sweetness.  I’ve been impressed by the chocolate cupcakes from our local H-E-B grocer and big box places like Costco, Sam’s and *hiss* Walmart.  Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t classify them as gourmet but they all pretty much taste the same to me and have a very loose texture.

I recently made a Martha Stewart chocolate chip cupcake recipe so I had high hopes for it.  On my first go, I thought “this is it!” – wonderful flavor (I used Guittard dark chocolate chips – yum) and decadently dense but after making two batches a week later, I realized it was just TOO dense for a cupcake.  When all I want to do is drown my throat in milk, then it’s not that great a sweet experience.  As a recovering diabetic, I save my dulce indulgences so it had better be good!

I don’t really know what the perfect cupcake should taste like but the recipe below that I discovered on pinterest via is it for me.

I just finished making a batch to take to a friend’s house later today and decided to use a 4 oz bar of Ghirardelli unsweetened chocolate instead of the usual Baker’s unsweetened chocolate baking squares.

Does the brand or quality of chocolate for a baking recipe make a difference?  For you novices like me – yes.  Absolutely.  The batch today has a much more refined taste than the ones I made last weekend.

As far as I’m concerned, I don’t need to look again nor do I ever need to buy or order cupcakes again.  (I just need to work on my decorating skills which are dismal).  This recipe is just too easy and makes not-so-sweet and really quite deliciously moist cupcakes.

via from Modern Day Baker by Nick Malgieri

makes 18 cupcakes


  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (recommended:  Ghirardelli or like quality unsweetened chocolate baking bar
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.

For the cupcake batter, stir the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt together in a mixing bowl. Set aside.  NOTE:  I do adjust my sugars for most recipes like this so I shave off about 2 tablespoons of sugar from this recipe, but that is just my personal preference.

Put the cut up chocolate in a large mixing bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Let stand for 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Blend in the melted butter and then the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla and sour cream.

Add the flour and sugar mixture in 3 separate portions, whisking until smooth after each.  (whisk, whisk, whisk – I know – lots of whisking.  Just blend it in gently.)

As this makes a relatively thin batter (little ice cream scoops will runneth over with this stuff), I fill a spouted measuring cup and then pour amongst the muffin pans.  I fill to about 3/4 which makes 18-19 cupcakes per recipe for me.

Bake the cupcakes until they are well risen and your trusty toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes or so.  In my oven, these cupcakes are done at about 17 minutes.

Cool in the pans on racks for 5 minutes, then transfer the cupcakes to racks and cool completely before icing with your frosting of choice.

Next Up:  Not-So-Sweet Frosting  (do you sense a pattern here?).

Smooth & Sweet Iced Tea

I have been on a mission to find a recipe for iced tea.  One that I could also use with my choice of sweetener (Truvia®).  I’ve found it in a recipe that was shared to by cookincode3.  I’m in the process of brewing the tea for the Truvia® batch but I can tell you that the sugar version is good.  REALLY good.  I don’t think I’ll be buying any more HEB diet iced tea or any commercial iced tea to serve at home and will be following this recipe and passing it down to my Texas-raised kiddos.


  • 1 pinch baking soda
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 6 tea bags
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 6 cups cool water


  1. Sprinkle a pinch of baking soda into a 64-ounce, heat-proof, glass pitcher. Pour in boiling water, and add tea bags. Cover, and allow to steep for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove tea bags, and discard; stir in sugar until dissolved. Pour in cool water, then refrigerate until cold.

Doc Severinsen’s Braciola

In 1994, I met Doc’s better half, Emily Marshall as part of my “interview” to become Doc’s road manager.  They flew me out to Santa Barbara, put me up at the Biltmore Four Seasons and put the requirements of the job before me:  I would have to move to Santa Barbara (meaning leave Buffalo), travel all over the USA & Canada with Doc and  I would accompany Doc to all events related to his concerts.  Emily added, “You will eat very well with Doc.  He loves food”.

Stay in Buffalo?  Take the job offered with the San Diego Symphony or go on the road with Doc?  I went with Doc.  AND, I proceeded to pack on the Doc equivalent of the “Freshman 15”.  Unfortunately, it was more like the “Doc 25”.

The recipe below is one we used during an AM Buffalo (ABC) appearance.  I’ve done it before and once even threw all the ingredients into a crockpot (I chopped the beef into stew-sized pieces).  It’s delicious and reminiscent of my Mom’s holiday morcon.

I swear – I am going to do one or the other for Christmas this year!  Enjoy Doc’s braciola!

Doc’s Braciola

  • 1 Full cut beef bottom round –
  • — cut ½” thick
  • 1⁄4 lb Prosciutto, minced
  • 1⁄2 c Fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Hard cooked eggs
  • 2 small Cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 T Grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1⁄3 c Raisins, soaked in water
  • Plump
  • 1 small Carrot, grated
  • 1⁄3 c Pine nuts
  • 2 T Cooking oil
  • 1 Stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 T Onion, chopped
  • 1⁄3 c Dry red wine
  • 1⁄2 t Italian seasoning
  • 16 oz Italian plum tomatoes
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Handful of fine bread crumbs

Cooking Doc severinsen’s braciola

1. Flatten meat with mallet to ¼” thickness.
2. Seasoni both sides with salt and pepper.
3. Combine prosciutto, parsley, eggs, half of minced garlic, 4 tbls cheese, raisins or half of grated carrot, pine nuts and bread crumbs.
4. Spread stuffing over meat.
5. Starting at narrow end, roll steak jellyroll fashion.
6. Tie with string at 1″ intervals or fasten with toothpicks.
7. Heat oil in a large skillet.
8. Browni meat well on all sides; remove to platter.
9. Sautei remaining garlic and carrot, celery and onion until wilted; remove to platter.
10. Drain off excess fat. Add wine to skillet to deglaze pan drippings.
11. Return meat and vegetables to skillet with remaining 4 tbls cheese, undrained tomatoes and italian seasoning.
12. Meati should be covered with vegetables and tomatoes.
13. If not, add small amount of water to cover.
14. Simmeri about 1 hour.
15. Remove meat, strain sauce, cool and remove any fat that comes to surface.
16. Return meat and sauce to skillet; continue cooking until meat is tender.
17. Remove string from meat, slice and serve with sauce and spaghetti if desired.

My New “Go To” Banana Bread Recipe

This is a moist & delicious banana bread recipe that i foundat   I’ve adapted it so if you want to see the original recipe, go to


  • 4-5 mashed, very ripe sm-med sized bananasout
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (you can use bleached, too)
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or fine grind espresso (I used Cafe Bustelo)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup Guittard extra dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2-3/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour one 9×5 inch loaf pan or in my case a round baking pan 9″x1.75″.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the bananas, sugars, butter, milk, and egg; set aside.
  3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, instant espresso powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and stir just until combined. Fold in the dried cranberries chocolate chips.
  4. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan and smooth surface with a rubber spatula. Bake in preheated oven for 55-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool completely before serving, at least 1 hour.
IMPORTANT:  BE PATIENT and let your banana bread cool or you’ll end up with 1/2 cm of the bottom staying in your pan.  I found that out today thanks to impatient 3 yr old who set the table with fork, spoon &* dish waiting anxiously for her “-nana bread”.
Variations:  I’ll be trying this again as soon as the fresh cranberries are out at my local HEB.

Still in Search of Chorizo de Bilbao

My cousin Anne-Marie in BC sent me a link to a possible solution to my seemingly never-ending question for chorizo de bilbao.   In looking at the link she sent me and searching for further info, I came across this posting from Tomas Alcantara in the Philippines:


All you guys interested in Chorizo de Bilbao, whether Marca El Rey or otherwise, should try to contact a certain Dr. Ricardo Soler who is a well-known personality in Manila and dabbles on the side in culinary activities.

He is the same person who wrote Reggie Aspiras to correct a report in her column in the Inquirer about the errors made by two famous Filipino chefs, Gene Gonzalez and Claude Tayag, who said kare-kare originated in Southeast Asian countries.

I don’t know him nor do I have any contact details but he seems to be the only one hereabouts who knows the facts behind the myths regarding some of our foods.

I read his comments on kare-kare and was really impressed. He explained that it had nothing to do with Southeast Asia but rather with the British occupation of Manila during the Spanish times. The British army of occupation consisted of Sepoys from India who introduced their own curry to the people of Cainta, Rizal and who did not go back with the British when they left. They married locals, which explains the dark features of the present inhabitants of Cainta. Anyway, when they ran out of the spices used in the original curry, they made a fusion of the dish using bagoong as the complimentary side dish to make up for the lack of the needed spices. This history is now recognized as the correct origin of kare kare which, Dr. Soler also attributes to the minting of such words as karinderia and karendera as well as karihan.

But to get back to chorizo, Dr. Soler has not written on this yet but a friend of his told a friend of mine that Dr. Soler says there is no such thing as Chorizo de Bilbao but that this was just the name given to chorizo produced in Manila by a certain Mr. Genato. Genato was also the one who made and sold Royal Macaroni and Spaghetti but apparently sold these two items, when he left for America during Martial Law, to a big local food producer who now makes and still sells them in America from where these are exported to the Philippines.

To ‘brand’ his chorizos, which were competing with other chorizos imported by Tabacalera, Genato, according to Dr. Soler’s friend who told my friend, decided to give them a distinct brand, Chorizo de Bilbao, the latter being the town in Spain his family was from and made the chorizos spicier by using more paprika or pimenton. He sold them in small packages but later canned them in a green one-gallon can with a gold-colored lid. He also used invented the name Marca El Rey and the logo of king and crown. This is still the classic can used for chorizo de Bilbao.

While in the States, Genato had a food company called Cudahy, based in Cudahy City in California produce and can his Chorizos de Bilbao Marca El Rey in his classic green can. He realized that the Filipino market would patronize his product and indeed these made great sales in California’s Filipino and Oriental food stores. Soler does not say whether Genato sold the rights to Cudahy but this may be the case, in my personal opinion. You see, Soler said that the Cudahy company was later bought by an affiliate based in Illinois, which continued producing the chorizos Marca El Rey in the classic can.

This is my own idea – It may be that the latter company was bought by the company that you guys say now produces the Chorizo de Bilbao Marca El Rey in the original can and with the original ingredients.

I have no doubt that Dr. Soler knows the facts and because of this, I have discovered in the Internet that there are only two countries in the world where Chorizo de Bilbao, Marca El Rey or otherwise, exists, the US of A and the Philippines. To know for sure, check if anyone in this group knows of Dr. Soler and his address and contact the man.

Nov 13, 2008 | 12:25 pm


I thought for sure that it was made in Spain.  So glad I didn’t cave and buy those super-expensive chorizo sticks I’ve seen in local gourmet markets!

I don’t know if the link my cousin sent me for the chorizo is the same as what is written of above but I just may give it a whirl:


My only reservation is that they added “Senor” to the name which makes me think it’s not the real deal.  *sigh*