Monthly Archives: February 2012

Lobster Tacos with Chipotle Cream

These lobster tacos make great appetizers with taco shells made from won ton wrappers! You can make them full size as well for a meal using regular corn tortillas.


Lobster salad

4 Lobster tails, steamed

1 stalk celery, diced

1 c. chipotle cream

Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Chipotle Cream

½ c. sour cream

½ c. mayonnaise

3 t. chipotle pepper, canned in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 Tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped


2 ripe avocadoes

2 t. lemon juice

½ medium onion, diced

¼ t. garlic salt

2 T. mayonnaise

Shredded lettuce

1 package won ton wrappers

Vegetable oil for frying


To make chipotle cream: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.

To make lobster salad: Cut open the lobster shells with a sharp knife and remove the lobster meat. Cut the lobster meat into bite-sized chunks. Place in a medium bowl and add celery, 1 c. chipotle cream and black pepper to taste. Stir to combine.

To make guacamole: Halve avocadoes, remove seed and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp. Place in a small bowl and mash with a fork. Add lemon juice, onion, garlic salt, and mayonnaise. Set aside.

Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter or the bottom of a glass, cut the won ton wrappers into circles. Heat vegetable oil for frying. Place the won ton rounds into the oil, 2-3 at a time. Using two forks, gently fold them in half in the oil and allow to cook for 6-8 seconds. Remove and drain. Continue folding and frying the rest of the won ton wrappers. To assemble: Place a small amount of shredded lettuce in the won ton “taco shell.” Add a generous tablespoon of lobster salad. On a plate, place four small mounds of guacamole (about 1 T. each). Set the lobster tacos onto each mound to keep it upright and serve. Makes 30 appetizers.

Tropical Caprese


1 Ripe mango, peeled and sliced lengthwise

1 ripe papaya, peeled, seeded and sliced

1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced

Fresh mozzarella

2 c. Baby spinach


Extra-virgin olive oil

2 T. fresh cilantro, minced


Place about 1/2 cup of baby spinach leaves on a plate.  Add a slice of mango and top it with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a slice of avocado. Arrange wedges of papaya around the edges of the plate.  Squeeze fresh lime juice over the salad and then drizzle with olive oil.  Garnish with fresh cilantro.  Serves 4.

The Walk-In

Mornings in the kitchen are very busy.  In addition to doing prep work for the day’s menu, there are deliveries of fresh produce, meats and seafood to receive—lettuce, escarole, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkin, onions, and carrots.  Italian cuisine relies on the freshest ingredients. Alessandro said that Chef wanted us to help clean out the walk-in refrigerator where the produce was stored to make room for that morning’s delivery.  We were to throw away all the old vegetables, wipe down the shelves, sweep and mop the floors.

The walk-in refrigerator at Santa Caterina is like a refrigerated closet about half the size of a single-car garage. It was kept at a temperature of 38 degrees F.  Alessandro and I carried the plastic crates of vegetables out of the walk-in and placed them on the marble table where the Garde Manger chef usually worked.  We sorted through everything and began reshelving the crates.  He handed me a large container of eggplant and opened the door to the refrigerator for me so I could enter.  My face was hit by a blast of cool air and I smelled the earthy fragrance of the vegetables in the locker as I stepped inside. “Clunk” the refrigerator latched behind me.  The light was still on and I was able to see where to place the crate of eggplant on one of the shelves.  Then I turned around and fully realized that the door had locked behind me. There wasn’t a handle on the inside that I could use to open the door.  The walk-in refrigerator at HCAT back in the U.S. had a handle on the inside.  What was I going to do now?  Hmmm. Well, I certainly wouldn’t go hungry.  There was a lot of food in here. But I was wondering how to calculate the amount of air inside.  Craig would know how to figure it out. How long would I last? Would someone notice I was missing?  Then I had an idea. I timidly stepped towards the door and knocked.  A few seconds passed and the door opened. Alessandro stood there shaking his head.  He raised his arms, palms up and said,

Che cosa sono io che vado fare con voi?” (What am I going to do with you?)

I gave him a sheepish grin and went to get the mop.

Chef had been carving watermelons with floral designs to decorate the tables in the main restaurant While we were cleaning out the refrigerators. He finished the one he was working on and beckoned for me to come over. He showed me how he carved designs in them.

The afternoon was spent prepping things for dinner service.  I was exhausted by the end of the day. Dark clouds promised rain as I left the hotel.  There were more tourists than usual hovering around the bus stop in Amalfi waiting to see which buses would take them to their destinations.  I realized that the ferries were not running due to the weather and the bus would be crowded.  If you are not one of the first people to board the bus, you chance having to stand up which is always challenging given the twists and turns of the roads. I decided that it would be a good time to browse through the bookstore and board a later bus to Positano.  I also wanted to purchase a scale so I could see if I had lost any weight.  Walking up and down these steep hills must be making a difference.  When I had first arrived in Positano, I had weighed myself on the scale in front of the pharmacy in town and the result was alarming.  But it had been broken ever since with a sign taped to it that said “Non funzionando,” or not working.  I wanted to know if my weight loss was progressing. I found a couple of interesting novels at the book store and then wandered through the piazza and up the cobblestone walkway to search for a hardware store.  Luckily, there was a small appliance store that had an assortment of scales and I purchased one.

When I returned to the bus stop, the bus to Positano had just arrived and I climbed on board and scanned the available seats for one next to the window.  As I started to sit down, I noticed a big wad of chewing gum on the cloth seat and decided to move across the aisle to another seat.  Some English tourists boarded the bus behind me and the woman plopped down on the seat that I had rejected.

“Oh,” she cried out a moment later. “There’s gum on me bum!”

Her husband scrutinized her wide bottom and produced a white handkerchief that he used ineffectively to wipe the gum from her skirt.  They were both still muttering over her plight when the bus reached Positano and I got out.

I arrived at the apartment earlier than usual that afternoon and found Brandi talking on the telephone to her children at home, David sleeping and Ben reading in the living room.  They were all taking their afternoon break and had to return to work at 6 PM. I knew that Brandi really missed her two children, who were living with her Mom for the summer while she was in Italy.  David had a girlfriend at home and talked to her and his parents often in the late evening after work. He was generally very quiet and was very focused on his work at Le Sirenuse. He kept a small, digital camera in the pocket of his chef’s pants and would show us all photos of some of the food that he had helped prepare. When he wasn’t working, he spent a lot of his free time trying to catch up on his sleep.  Ben was an avid reader and was engrossed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Sometimes he would read right up until the time he was supposed to start his afternoon shift and would dart out the door running to get there in time. I think that was why he often left the apartment a mess.  I decided that this would be a good time to talk with him about keeping things clean.


“Yes, Mama,” he replied. (Was he mocking me?  Making fun of my age?)

“Ben, I don’t care what your bedroom looks like, but we all need to use the main rooms and you’ve got to keep your junk picked up.”

“Yes, Mama. I understand.  I’ll clean up from now on.”  He got up off the couch, put down his book and carried his dirty dishes into the kitchen. It annoyed me that he had called me “Mama.”  I was here to learn about Italian cooking – not to be his babysitter!

Lemon Tofu, Winter Greens, Mushroom and Sun-dried Tomato Strudel


1 lb extra-firm tofu

Finely grated zest of one lemon

1/3 c. fresh lemon juice

¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil

3 T. fresh dill, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely grated or mashed to a paste

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Sea salt or kosher salt


Sea salt or kosher salt

1 ½ lbs. collard greens or kale, tough stems removed

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ c. thinly sliced onions

12 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, sliced (about 3 c.)

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 c. olive oil

1/3 c. thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes

8 oz. phyllo, thawed in refrigerator

Paprika, for dusting


For the tofu:  Place the tofu in a bowl and mash to a rough puree with a fork, or squeeze through your fingers.  Add the lemon zest and juice, olive oil, dill, garlic and pepper flakes.  Stir well to combine and season with salt to taste.  For the vegetables: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 T. salt.  Add the greens and boil until tender but still bright green, 3-4 minutes.  Drain in a colander or sieve, pressing down hard on the greens with the back of a wooden spoon to remove excess water.  When the greens are cool enough to handle, transfer them to a cutting board and coarsely chop.  In a large skillet, heat the remaining ¼ c. olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring until browned around the edges, 3-4 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper.  Increase the heat and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are caramelized and the pan juices have thickened and glazed the vegetables, about 5 minutes. Stir in the greens and sun-dried tomatoes.  If there is a lot of liquid in the pan, simmer, stirring, for a few minutes until it has evaporated.  Remove from heat.  Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400o F.  To assemble:  Brush a 10-inch skillet or 10-inch deep pie plate with some of the olive oil.  Unwrap the phyllo and unfold on a large work surface.  To prevent drying, keep the phyllo covered with a damp kitchen towel as you work.  Lay 5 sheets of phyllo in the prepared pan, brushing each layer with olive oil and placing each sheet at a slight angle to the one below to make an even overhang, and letting the edges hang over the sides.  Spread the vegetable mixture evenly over the phyllo.  Cover the vegetables with 2 ore more layers of phyllo, brushed with olive oil after each layer.  Spread the tofu mixture evenly on top of this layer and then finish with 8-10 more sheets of oiled phyllo.  Trim the edges of the phyllo with kitchen shears.  Brush the top layer with olive oil and score the top layers (as far down as the tofu layer) into 6 wedges.  Dust the top with paprika.  Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 35 minutes.  Rest for 5 minutes, then slice through the score marks and serve.  Serves 6.

Limoncello (Lemon Liqueur)

You can make your own limoncello from the following recipe!  It is very strong and best served in very small glasses.


Two fifths of 100 proof vodka
4 cups sugar
5 cups water

Zest of 15 fresh lemons


Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any residue of pesticides or wax. Carefully zest the lemons with a zester or vegetable peeler so there is no white pith on the peel.

In a 1-gallon glass jar, add one fifth vodka and the lemon zest. Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 days in a cool dark place.

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water and cook until thickened, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Let the syrup cool before adding it to the limoncello mixture. Add the additional fifth of vodka. Allow to rest for another 10 to 20 days.

After the rest period, strain and bottle, discarding the lemon zest. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.


           The Amalfi Coast is famous for their lemons, which are huge—often 6-8 inches in length.  The lemon trees planted along the Amalfi Coast are grown on well-drained terraced land overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, where they get the required six hours of sunlight daily. The variety that is grown is called Sfusato Amalfitano, from the Italian word affusolato which means streamlined and refers to the lemon’s elongated shape. It has a thick, pale yellow skin with an intense aroma that comes from the essential oils in the skin.  The pulp is acidic and juicy with very few seeds.         

           The existence of lemon groves are documented as early as the 11th century when crusaders, returning from Palestine, brought along citrus fruit trees.  In the 15th century the beneficial effects of vitamin C against scurvy was discovered. Matteo Camera, a historian from Amalfi, wrote in the 17th century that lemons were shipped from Minori, a picturesque fishing village located between Positano and Amalfi, two hundred years earlier.  He also documents that shipments included limoncello and cetrangoli (bitter oranges).

            The harvest of Amalfi Coast lemons is limited to 25 tons per hectare.  The lemons are picked by hand from February to mid-October.  Nets are placed under the trees to collect fruit that falls before it is harvested by hand. If they are picked before they are ready to use, some will rot.  But if left on the tree, they will not rot and will only grow bigger.  The warm climate and long growing season in Italy allow for a long harvest season. 

            It is not certain where the recipe for the regional liqueur limoncello originated. In Amalfi, limoncello had been used for ages by fishermen and countrymen to fight the morning cold.

            The first recipe to be documented originated in 1900 in a small boarding house on the island Azzurra, near Capri.  The innkeeper there, Vincenza Canale, treated her patrons to her homemade liqueur as a complimentary, after-dinner digestivo. In 1988, her grandson Massimo Canale started a small handmade production of limoncello using his Nonna’s recipe and registering the trademark.   Today, the family’s company, Limoncello di Capri, is one of the leading limoncello manufacturers and is still run by the grandchildren of Signora Canale.

Pumpkin Risotto


2 T. butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 t. sage

1 cup arborio rice

1 cup canned pumpkin

3 -4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat the butter and oil together in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring continuously, just until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and continue to stir, using a wooden spoon, to coat the rice with the oil. Add 1 cup of the stock.  Cook, stirring constantly until the liquid is almost all absorbed. Continue stirring and adding stock one cup at a time until the stock is all absorbed and the rice is tender. This will take about 20 minutes. You don’t want the rice to get mushy – it should have a small “bite” to it. Add the pumpkin and parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon it immediately into heated shallow serving bowls.

Veal Medallions with Artichoke Hearts and Mushrooms


1 ½-2 lbs. veal cutlets, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces


4 T. butter

1-10 oz. can beef broth

1 c. sliced mushrooms

2-6 oz. jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained

½ c. red wine


Fresh ground pepper


Pound veal pieces between two sheets of plastic wrap with meat mallet.  Flour and brown in butter.  Remove from skillet.  Scrape bottom of pan and add wine, beef broth, and tarragon.  Return meat to skillet with mushrooms and artichoke hearts.  Cover and simmer until veal is tender and sauce thickens.  Serve over rice.

Kitchen Rules

When I got to work, Alessandro let me make the contorno (vegetable side dish) for the evening meal.  First I had to peel and dice another huge red pumpkin, which was the size of a basketball.  The flesh or meat of the pumpkin is very hard, like an acorn squash, and the knife I was using wasn’t very sharp.  I honed it on a steel hanging from a hook above one of the sinks and started dicing.

It took me most of the morning to dice the entire pumpkin into 1/8 inch cubes. The finished product filled an entire bucket! Then I put the first potato on its side and took a thin slice off the top, hollowed it out and placed it cut side down on a cookie sheet. I prepared 30 potatoes total and then steamed them in the oven.  While the potatoes were steaming, I sautéed the leeks and pumpkin in olive oil until they were tender and then stuffed the potatoes with them, sprinkled on Parmigiano cheese and voila!  I placed the extra diced pumpkin in a rectangular stainless steel container and placed it in the reach in refrigerator for later use.

In a restaurant kitchen you can only wear your wedding ring, no other jewelry (what if it fell in the food?), no artificial nails (what if they fell in the food?) and you certainly can’t smoke (what if it fell in the food?).  However, in our kitchen some of the cooks did smoke.  Usually they went into the pastry area where the windows are open to the cool, sea breezes to offset the heat because the ovens are always on.

The owners of the hotel are two elderly sisters who have strictly forbidden smoking in the kitchen.  One of them looks alot like George Costanza’s mother on “Sienfeld” except that she has brown hair and the other is taller, a little thinner and died blonde.  They occasionally come into the kitchen to point out something that they want prepared for them for lunch.

The one that looks like George’s mom came in just as Alessandro had lit a cigarette.  He quickly put it in the side pocket of his checkered chef pants and began rapidly patting the pocket, trying desperately to put it out all the while with a sheepish grin on his face, a “Buon Giorno” for the owner and smoke billowing out of his pants!

In the afternoon, we made ravioli again.  We make a different type nearly every day and about 4-5 people help as we do 600 pieces each time. Today it was red pumpkin ravioli.

By the time we were finished making the ravioli, it was time for me to change and walk down the hill to Amalfi for the bus.

When I got off the bus in Positano, I headed down the narrow alleyway for the internet café. I really looked forward to checking emails each afternoon and learning what everyone at home was doing. Gretchen was preparing for another trip to Rwanda to teach business classes to women survivors of the genocide there and to provide seed money so they could begin their own social ventures to improve their communities. Brian was on his way to London for a speaking engagement and a screening of the documentary film and Eric’s U. S. Navy frigate was deployed in the Caribbean where they were doing drug interdiction work in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard.  I reflected on the fact that men were previously defined by their career accomplishments and women were defined by their families.  Based on the fact that Craig was inspiring young minds at the U. S. Naval Academy and our three children were really making a difference in the world, I could conclude that we were both very successful.  But I knew that times were changing.  More women had their own careers or were choosing to follow their passions once their children left home.  I felt really lucky to be able to pursue my passion for cooking this summer.

The Internet Cafe in Positano

On my way back up the hill from the beach to the apartment, I passed one of the shops selling hand-painted ceramics.  (Ugh! I’m really getting a work out on these steep steps! I figured out that each day I walk approximately 5 miles and traverse up and down – but it seems like mostly up – 545 steps!) Most of the ceramic shops in Positano sell bowls, platters, pitchers, olive oil bottles, spoon rests and house numbers decorated with yellow lemons, purple grapes or gray-green olives. But this one had beautiful blue and green bowls and platters decorated with drawings of fish in the window. I loved unusual serving pieces and had collected a number of platters and bowls from other countries during our travels. Maybe I’ll purchase one of the fish bowls before the summer ended to add to my collection.

I was tired by the time I finally reached the apartment and was not happy to see the living room a mess again.  Ben, Brandi and David were all at their respective restaurants and would not be home until after 11PM.  I gathered up Ben’s papers, book, t-shirts, dishes, two glasses, clock and a sheet and dumped them all on his bed.  I thought that maybe he would finally get the message, but when I awoke the next morning I discovered that Ben had managed to dig his alarm clock out of the pile of stuff on his bed and had placed it on the floor next to the sofa where he was soundly sleeping when I left the apartment the next morning. Tomorrow I vowed to talk with him.

Buttermilk Spice Cake


3 eggs

¾ c. oil

1 ½ c. sugar

2 c. flour

1 t. baking soda

1 t. salt

2 t. allspice

1 c. buttermilk

1 t. vanilla

1 c. chopped walnuts

1 c. chopped prunes or raisins



1 c. sugar

½ c. butter

½ t. baking soda

½ c. buttermilk



Preheat oven to 300oF.  Cream together eggs, oil and sugar.  In separate bowl, combine dry ingredients.  Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk and mix until well blended. Add vanilla, walnuts and fruit.  Cook in bundt pan for 1 hour 20 minutes or until cake springs back slightly when pressed.  Cool.

Combine ingredients for icing and cook 15-20 minutes or until soft ball stage.  If candy thermometer is used, it should be 234o-238o.  Pour over cake.


NOTE:  To determine if the icing has reached “soft ball stage,” fill a measuring cup with cold water and drop a small amount of the icing from a spoon into the water.  It should form “soft balls” as it drops to the bottom.