Tina Ray Cooks

Spice is Nice

A couple of years ago we went to New Mexico on vacation. We spent our time in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and I fell in love with all the different kinds of chilis and the different ways you can use them with other ingredients to create all kinds of dishes. I came home wanting to try to find ways to use Sourthwest ingredients with French techniques, since I really love French cooking. I did work on that project for a while but when winter came I succumbed to beef bourguignon, coq au vin, cassoulet and all those good stick to your bones french stews I imagine were meant to ward away the Mistrals in Provence.

In honor of the beginning of March, I made rellenos stuffed with chicken, using fresh poblano peppers and some of my cache of New Mexico spices. I get mine from Chimayo to Go. They sell spices and corn flour and everything wonderful you need to make your own New Mexico feast.

First, I roasted 4 chicken thighs with a little season salt and pepper.

I add a pat of butter to each thigh and a little water and cover them with foil and roast for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees.

I also roasted 4 gorgeous Poblanos, also at 400.

Then I shredded the chicken.

And peeled and seeded the peppers.

I grated about 1 1/2 Cups each of Monterey Jack and Pepper Jack cheeses.

I set all of those aside and made my sauce. I made a roux by melting some butter. Ideally, I’d only use 1 stick but I had a stray piece that looked excluded so I threw it in too.

After the butter melted, I added a tsp of Guajillo pepper.

And  1/4 C flour. and mixed that all together.

Pretty color!

Then I added cream. A lot of cream. Maybe 2 cups but enough to get a thick-milkshake consistency, stirring all the time, of course.

You could use milk but why?

After that was all put together and reached the right consistency and seasoned with salt as needed, I removed it from the heat and poured a few small ladles full into the bottom of a square pyrex dish.

I filled one half of the open pepper with chicken then topped with the cheese combo,

Folded the empty side over the top and placed in the dish.

To top it all off, I poured some sauce over the chills until they were covered. Then I layered on a healthy helping of the cheese, then more sauce and cheese and finally covered the whole thing with the rest of the sauce.

Then into the oven, 400 degrees fro 30 minutes and voila!

Serve with sour cream and enjoy. (Even picky thirteen year old daughter ate them!!!)


Still Room for Tradition

For a long time, I’ve been griping about the seeming takeover of the obscure and the complicated. (See what I mean?) The trends in food seem to be toward odd ingredients and complicated processes. It’s as if there is some sort of one-upmanship in cooking with things like squirrel and alligator and making foams and dusts. Finally, I feel somewhat vindicated, if the New York Times can vindicate someone. The article today in the Dining section spoke directly to the trends and the constant return of the classics of days past, Julia Child’s days,  Jacues Pepin’s days, Escoffier’s days, even Savarin’s days.

I’m going to make a Tournedos Rossini this weekend. In honor of Rossini’s birthday today (Feb. 29, 1792).

And the Winner Is…

Years ago I used to be a caterer. I got my start making picnic baskets for tourists on Whidbey Island in Washington State. They were filled with quiches and cold mediterranean chicken and pates and desserts. I never was one for the usual thing- sandwiches, cookies, brownies. I wanted them to be more like real meals than just a selection of deli items. One of the most requested was my chocolate mousse. I haven’t made it for years but today I dusted off the recipe for our Oscar night dessert.

We usually do some version of food based on the movies nominated.Last year we went all out and made an offering for each movie nominated.

Oscars 2011

I can’t remember them all but we had California Cobb Salad for The Kids are All Right  and  Blackberry Pavlova for Black Swan.

We even did an Onion Crusted “Squirrel” for Winter’s Bone.  The best part is our son really thought it was squirrel and, being undaunted by anything potentially edible, he dove right in. Later we told him it was only chicken. I think he was disappointed not to be able to brag about having had squirrel.

This year, we are being a little tamer, in all ways. We each chose a category and what/who we would like to win and I created a dish around it. We also agreed that we think Descendants will win the big one so we made a dish for it.

Oscar 2012 Menu


Hawaiian Plum Sauce Braised Short Ribs (recipe here)- The Descendants (Best Movie)

Brie and Raspberry En Croute– Midnight in Paris (Best Original Screenplay, Woody Allen)


Yorkshire Pudding with Rib Eye and Chanterelles “Coming Out” and Topped with Beef Gravy- Beginners (Best Supporting Actor, Christopher Plummer)


Chocolate Mousse “Poop”-  Bridesmaids (Best Supporting Actress- Melissa McCarthy)

Forgive me- it’s my daughter’s idea. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what it means. I’m not one for potty humor, but I had to laugh at her creative thinking.

Chocolate Mousse (no poop)

adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

3 squares Ghiradelli Bittersweet (70%)

3 squares Ghiradelli White chocolate

1 scant tsp Instant Espresso dissolved in 1/8 C water

1/8 C Mathilde orange liqueur

2 egg yoks

½ C heavy cream

1/8 C sugar

2 egg whites

pinch salt

Over a double boiler melt chocolates together. Remove from heat and stir in espresso and orange liqueur. Add egg yolks one at a time, whisking them in completely.

Whip cream with sugar until stiff. Set aside.

Whip egg whites with salt until stiff. Fold egg whites into cream.

Fold egg white and cream mixture into chocolate, beginning with a dollop then adding in the remaining mixture. Fold until well combined but do not over mix. Spoon into cups and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Valentine’s Day Feast


My gift to my family on Valentine’s Day is a four course dinner. We lay out nice linen and drink champagne/sparkling cider and we eat for about three hours.

This year’s menu:

Boston Lettuce with Manchengo and Roasted Shallot-Champagne Vinaigrette

Crispy Prawns over Orange Slaw

Pine Nut Herb Crusted Rib Eye, Sweet Potato Anna and Citrus Sautéed Snap Pea Julienne

Chocolate Pot Au Creme

My favorite of the night:  Crispy Prawns over Orange Slaw (get recipe here)



Corn in Winter

I love corn! I get really depressed about this time of year because the only corn I have is a bag in my freezer and sadly I can’t even say it’s corn I froze from last summer. (hmm, something to do this year) Nevertheless, I have to get my creamed corn fix. I know that creamed corn is easy to make and there are a million recipes out there, but I find it so pretty to make so here’s my variation.

I start with orange, yellow and red peppers.

I sautee those with shallots and then add in corn. Yes, frozen corn this time.

After the veggies have softened up I take half of the mixture and puree it with heavy cream in the food processor. Then I add it back to the remaining stuff in the pan. I add cheddar cheese and more cream and heat it through, until it thickens slightly.

Creamed Corn with Peppers and Cheddar

Serves 4

tbsp butter

1/4 each of a red, orange and yellow pepper cut into small dice

1 shallot

2 C fresh or frozen corn

1 C heavy cream

1 C grated cheddar cheese

salt and pepper

Melt butter in a shallow pan over medium high heat. Add in shallots and peppers; cook for 1 minute.  Add in corn and cook until all veggies are softened. Pour half the veg mixture in the food process with about 1/4 c of the cream. Puree until mostly smooth. A little chunkiness is ok. Add the puree back to the pan and pour in remaining cream. Add in cheese and cook until thickened, about 5-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Elevating the Pantry

I haven’t been cooking for the last few days. As much as I love to cook, I think that I also like the break from the obligations of family dinners from time to time. We’ve had a lot of evening events this week, so dinner has been either a quick-nothing -to -write about family favorite like beef stroganoff or tacos. I say this because there are innumerable recipes out there for both and ours tends to take the form that my little children liked years and years ago and now like to come home to, a sort of taste memory that reminds them of the comfort of their childhoods. And, since her taste buds are just developing, our middle schooler prefers these dishes to my “experiments.”

In this day and age when foodies are constantly trying to “elevate” recipes, it made me wonder what place comfort foods- defined differently in different families- has. For example, my stroganoff is made with ground beef. I know it’s classically made with beef slices from a round roast or other tough form of meat. It was, after all, invented to deal with tough cuts of meat, to make them palatable. But, my kids would never eat it that way, so we persist in making it with ground beef. My kids are older now and will be more adventurous, but when I was a young mother, I just wanted them to eat something besides mac and cheese.

I balance this, though, against an increasingly visible cooking world full of specialized ingredients. Personally, sometimes I feel like making Tournedos Rossini and sometimes I feel like making a regular old cheeseburger. The thing, I guess, I get judgmental about is when folks with cooking blogs and cooking shows demonstrate using processed foods. Instead of homemade stock, they use broth in a carton from the grocery store shelf. Instead of making pasta, they use pre-made, again from the grocery store shelf. Sure, these things take time to make but if you really love to cook, stocking your pantry is every bit as rewarding as preparing some insanely complicated dish. I find solace in these, perhaps tedious, tasks. They remind me of what I love about cooking, perfecting a skill.

I also get really zen. I’ll set aside a day, turn on my favorite music and make pasta all day. There is nothing more enjoyable to me than cutting up a mire poix  or the smell of bones roasting at 7 am so I can get my stock going early. The great thing about making stock is that you leave it alone for the day and when you return you have this beautiful and very useful tool in your pantry.

In this day and age where we tend to worry about the quality of the food we are serving our families, I really can’t understand processed foods. If anything perhaps the sort of elevation we should be looking to in our cooking is a harkening back to basics that will serve us well day to day. Going to the freezer to fetch some homemade lasagna noodles makes me feel good about what I’m making my family.

I know it takes time. But what else should we be making time for than to live well. Isn’t cooking really about living well? Why skimp?

I Dream of a Viking

My kitchen is woefully inadequate. I have an electric stove, which I have hated for years but I keep thinking that if I am going to go to all the trouble of buying a gas range, I should hold out for the best. And, I have picked out exactly what I want. Ideally, I’d like a 60″ Viking range with two ovens.

While other women dream of Louboutins I dream of gas ranges. Really, this one should have bright red legs to distinguish itself like the shoes.

So what’s the problem? I don’t currently have 60″ of space for a range. I’d have to gut my kitchen and move pretty much everything- dishwasher, cabinets, sink. So, even though the cost of this beauty is already nearly prohibitive, the cost of the work it will take to make it fit makes it impossible. Unless I win the lottery.

I could just go to Home Depot and get a nice non-professional 30″ gas range, I suppose, but that would be such a let down. For now I’ll stubbornly muddle through with my electric. The one good thing: it’s easy to clean.

Phew, it’s Monday!

What a busy day yesterday! It was, of course, Super Bowl and there was a fair amount of food to be made, but there were some non- Super Bowl things that needed doing.

I made a cake.

the crumb coat stage...and the insides of my refrigerator...

Two years ago I started sending my husband to work with a cake every week. I resolved two issues with these cakes. First, I had a burning need to make cake but we couldn’t possibly eat an entire cake, and that was when my son was still living with us even. People in workplaces always love a cake left in the lunch room. Which brought up issue number two. My husband’s workplace was full of angst, as many a workplace tends to be, and I thought what better to lift people’s spirits than a pretty layer cake that also just happens to taste fantastic. It worked to the extent that after a year I stopped sending in a cake a week and they were begging for more. Now I don’t do one every week but on a more random basis. Still, they beg and I couldn’t disappoint my fans- Super Bowl or not.  Vanilla cardamom cake with pistachio buttercream made it to the office today where it was promptly devoured, I hear.

I made bread.

When I was a kid, my father made bread for the family several times a week. Daily, if my older brothers were home from college. They could eat whole loaves at a time, but that’s another story. I used to hate my dad’s homemade bread, because all the other kids at school got Wonder bread sandwiches and I wanted that. It was so white and perfect and soft. I didn’t realize how actually lucky I was! My kids are the lucky ones now. I make bread whenever we need it and they actually prefer it to the store stuff. Thank goodness!

I made wings.

This is the before pic, obviously

Three ways. Apricot soy singer sauce. BBQ. And, good old Frank’s Red Hot.

Hubby made his awesome ribs. Which we were so ready to eat  (and the game was starting) that we didn’t take any pictures of the final feast.

Today, I rest. Yea, right! Ha Ha.

Have a happy rest of your Monday.

Friday Dinner

I’m a fan of The Pioneer Woman. I love her show, I love her website, and I love her food. So, I’ve been craving some of her beefy sandwiches and I couldn’t decide which one I would make so I made up a new dish inspired by my favorites parts of her Marlboro Man Sandwich PW Style and her Mushroom and Swiss Sliders with Spicy Fry Sauce. Here’s what I did.

First I sautéed some sliced shallots in 3/4 of a stick of butter.

Then I added some mushrooms, about 2 lbs.

Once they were soft and most of the liquid was reduced, I added in 1/2 c Bristol Cream Sherry and 1/8 c worcestershire sauce.

After the liquid was reduced a little more,I finished with 2 tbsp of butter and set them aside.

Mmmm, I can still smell the sherry in the house this morning.

Then I went about making the burgers

and frying them up.

Then I put them on a sheet pan, topped them with the mushrooms and gruyere cheese. Stuck them under the broiler just to melt the cheese and Voila!

Oh, and we did not forget the fry sauce

but we kept it on the side, because my family has a strange relationship to mayonnaise. Sometimes we like it and sometimes we don’t and no three of us like it in the same recipe at the same time, so I had to use caution. It was determined, and I think this is historical, that the fry sauce was “awesome” and should be on the burger. You will notice, too, we didn’t do buns. We tend to stay away from unnecessary carbs and hamburger buns, while delicious, especially when slathered in hot butter, are not the best use of carbs.

The true test: “You HAVE to make this again, mom!”

Bunless Mushroom Gruyere Burgers

1/2 c mayonnaise

1/2 c ketchup

2 tsp cayenne pepper

3/4 stick butter

1 large shallot, sliced

2 lb white mushrooms

1/2 c Bristol Cream Sherry

1/8 c worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp butter

2 lb ground beef

16 slices gruyere

Combine mayonnaise, ketchup and cayenne pepper in a bowl. Set aside in refrigerator.

Preheat Broiler.

Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Stir in the shallots and cook until soft. Add in the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid and most of it is reduced. Stir in sherry and worcestershire sauce. Reduce liquid by half. Finish by stirring in the remaining butter and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Form patties and fry in a pan on the stove top until rare (that is if you want a medium rare finish but cook longer if you want it more well done). When finished place on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Spoon the mushroom mixture on top of the burger. Top with 2 slices of cheese per burger and place under the broiler until cheese is just melted. Put on a plate and top with fry sauce.

Serves 4 (2 per person)

(All photos by my 13 year old daughter, Jolie.)

Super Bowl, duh

Everyone is talking Super Bowl this week. All the foodie blogs and websites have SuperBowl menus and recipes galore. It’s just one more pretense for making really yummy food. I am no exception. I’m really excited for Sunday.

I am not much of a pro football fan, although my husband and I spend every Saturday in the fall glued to college football, much to my daughter’s dismay. It’s a weekly opportunity to come up with some delicious game day food, too. However, this year, as a new New Englander,  and a former New Yorker, I am rooting for the Patriots.

There are those fun commercials, too. It’s very hard to take a potty break or even a snack break during the Super Bowl, because who wants to miss one of those great ads?

But, I have one word for why I am most excited about this year’s game: MADONNA! I have to admit I was a Madonna groupie way back in the 80’s, or might have been if I had the where-with-all to go to more of her concerts. So, it stands to reason that I am really excited to see her perform the half-time show, even if it is only 12 minutes long.

All this means is that there are reasons to make a feast. We are just a small group- me, hubby and kid- and so I have learned not to go too crazy with too many food options when it’s just the three of us. So, we have settled on the traditional. Ribs, Chicken Wings and Veggies with “Dip”.

Here are our recipes for great football traditions.

JRay’s Apple Braised Baby Back Ribs

see the recipe here .


We have been making this dip since I was a little girl, tooling around my grandmother’s kitchen. It’s nothing fancy but it still tastes great after all these year. It goes great with chips, veggies, and wings, even. My grandmother used a fork to blend the liquids into the cream cheese but I figured out a food processor is just as effective.

1 8 oz package cream cheese

1 tsp seasoning salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp chili powder

5-6 dashes worcestershire sauce

1/4 c milk

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and combine. If too thick add a little milk a little at a time to get the consistency of a smooth and loose dip that’s not too runny. Adjust seasoning to your palate. Enjoy.

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