Simply Cooking with fresh ingredients and love

What’s in Season

Vanilla Hot Chocolate – A Wonderful Gift from the Heart

This year for the holiday I am more focused on giving gifts I have made rather than those I have bought, partly because I don’t like Christmas shopping crowds but more so because I think that giving handmade gifts is a way for me to convey how much each person means to me, truly giving from my heart to theirs. I thought I would share a recipe from our next class which any chocolate lover will appreciate as a gift.


Vanilla Hot Chocolate Mix
The secret to this recipe is to use the best chocolate you can find such as Valrhona, Scharffen Berger or Ghirardelli. To give as a gift you can wrap it up prettily in a glass jar and attach the serving instructions to the jar, see the photo of one way of decorating the jar.


2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split crosswise and scraped
3/4 pound semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder such as Droste’s

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise. Place the sugar in large bowl and scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the sugar. Once all the seeds are scraped out also add the pod to the sugar. Using your hands, work the seeds into the sugar with your fingers. Wrap plastic wrap tightly to cover the bowl and let the sugar mixture stand overnight at room temperature.

The next day, using a food processor fitted with metal blade, process the semisweet chocolate and the milk chocolate until finely ground, using the pulse button.

Remove the pod from sugar. Add the ground chocolate and cocoa powder to the sugar and use a whisk to thoroughly blend it all together. Note: do not substitute natural cocoa for Dutch process cocoa in this recipe.

The cocoa mixture can be stored at room temperature for up to six months.

To serve: For each serving, heat 8 ounces milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until scalded or microwave for 2 1/2 minutes at full power. Whisk in 1/3 cup of cocoa mix into the warmed milk. Serve with softly whipped cream or marshmallows.

Makes approximately 5 cups of cocoa, 15 servings.

Happy Holidays!

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The Jewels of Winter, Pomegranates

Pears, apples, persimmons and one of my favorites, pomegranates, are appearing in the farmer’s market this time of year. I love their deep crimson color which makes them both enticing to look at and explains the sensual appeal they add to any dish. Pomegranates are an ancient fruit which have been widely acclaimed throughout history as an aphrodisiac. But in addition to possibly improving your love life they are a terrific antioxidant, with ample amounts of Vitamin C.

The hard exterior of the pomegranate intimidates a few folks — leaving them perplexed at how to eat one. Don’t let the exterior keep you from trying one though it really is not that difficult to cut open a pomegranate and the delicious treat inside is worth the effort.

The fruit of the pomegranate is literally its seeds which are not only beautiful with their glistening, ruby like exteriors but are also tasty, orbs of satisfying sweetness with a tart edge. A pomegranate really has no fruit per se, but rather contains many edible seeds. By cutting open the pomegranate you can extract the seeds.

I picked up a few pomegranates this last week at the farmers market and it inspired me to write tips on how to open and seed a pomegranate, how to make pomegranate juice and to share an autumn salad with beets and pomegranate recipe. Pomegranates are in season from now until January.

Photo Credit: Chany Crystal, Israel
Photo Credit: Chany Crystal, Israel

How to Open a Pomegranate

Step 1 – Be careful and cut the crown off

First, it is important to work carefully with pomegranates both their juice and seeds will permanently stain your clothing so wear old clothes you don’t care about when working with one. If you use a wooden cutting board, the stains left on the board can be cleaned with either vinegar or lemon juice. For these reasons I prefer another method, other than the cutting board method, which is to cut up the pomegranate instead in a sink full of an inch or two of lukewarm water. The reason for this will become apparent in a moment. Every pomegranate has “crown” at the top of it. Place the pomegranate over the sink full of water with a paring knife carve off the top of the pomegranate just a 1/2 inch to an inch or so away from the crown in a circle. Try not to pierce too many seeds in the process.

Step 2 – Score and tear open the pomegranate

With a paring knife lightly score the shell of the pomegranate along the existing ridges from the area of the crown down to an inch or so from the bottome . You will make five scores, one down each of 5 ridges. Do this carefully. After scoring the pomegranate take hold of it with both hands and place it partially submerged under water, tear each section from the top down along the scoring, literally opening up the pomegranate into five sections or petals. Once you have done this with each of the five sections, it will look much like a flower or a starfish.

Step 3 – Remove seeds
At this point you will want to carefully remove the bright red seeds from the surrounding membrane. Let the seeds drop into the water. The water is of benefit here as the seeds will drop to the bottom and the membrane will actually float to the top helping separate the two.

Step 4 – Separate out the seeds
You can scoop the seeds up with your hands or with a sieve. Place seeds in a bowl for use in a dish or for eating by themselves.


Pomegranate Juice

To make juice from the seeds, place a cup or so of the seeds at a time into a blender. Pulse for a short time just until juice starts to be extracted and seeds are just broken. Remove the seeds from blender the blender and pour into a fine sieve placed over a bowl. With a wooden spoon or a spatula push down on the seeds to extract the juice. Add sugar to your desired level of sweetness.

In general two large pomegranates will yield 2 cups of juice

Beet and Pomegranate Salad

3 golden beets
1 cup small dice red onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 cup pomegranate seeds
2 cups arugula or other leafy greens
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese


Preheat the oven to 375?F. Roast the beets for an hour. Let cool the beets cool completely. When cool peel the skin off the beets and then dice them into 1/2 inch cubes.

In a 10 to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over high heat place cut up beets, onion, vinegar, broth, orange juice, sugar, and orange peel together, stirring often, until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons.The reduction time should take between 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, or you can store airtight up to 1 day ahead.

Mix pomegranate seeds with the beet mixture. Add salt to taste. Spoon beet mixture on top of salad greens on individual plates. Sprinkle generously with feta cheese.

Note: Red beets can be substituted by the gold makes the dish visually appealing.

Serves 4

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Welcome to the Simply Cooking School Blog

Welcome to the new Simply Cooking School blog. Part of our philosophy is about creating community which we do by providing a space to share good food and conversation. So we figured a blog is the perfect way to use technology to create community by sharing our knowledge and by allowing you have your share your knowledge. We will be posting our thoughts, recipes, recent finds at the farmers markets and at local grocery stores and hope you do to also by commenting with your thoughts by clicking on the Comments link at the end of each post.

So if you have suggestions or sites that you love, or a recipe you just want to share please do so.


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Irvine Farmer’s Market and Fresh, Organic Herbs

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday morning, I took a tour of the Irvine Farmer’s Market, at Campus and Bridge in the University Center across from UCI in Irvine. The tour and lunch afterwards at Britta’s Cafe were organized by the new Orange County Chapter of Slow Food. The Irvine market is one of the larger markets in the county and I highly recommend checking it out. In addition to produce, the market also has purveyors of locally caught fish, hand made freshly prepared food items, local artisans selling their creations and musicians performing. It is a great place to shop for seasonal food and to chat with the farmers who enthusiastically converse about their delicious produce.

While traipsing through the market, one of our arranged stops was at the stand with Lilly of the Herb Chef. As you probably guessed the Herb Chef specializes in farm fresh organic herbs. As summer is fast approaching many herbs are now in season including sage, rosemary, mint, basil and the slightly less common dandelion greens and watercress. Not only can you buy from the Herb Chef at the market but their fresh picked herbs are also available via their website. Lilly was quite knowledgeable about the herbs grown at both or her family farms located in Bell Gardens and Fillmore.

Lilly shared some mint recipes with us and I am going to share one with you along with my recipe for Minted Ice Tea. Mint is quite versatile as it can be used in both cooking dishes and in drinks. It is a perennial plant originating in the Mediterranean so it also likes the Southern California climate as well. I grow spearmint in the backyard in a pot, as left in the ground it well spread everywhere and anywhere it likes, so if you do not want a yard full of mint it is best to grow it in a large pot. Here on the Pacific Coast, it will die back in the winter, but come spring time it will start to sprout new bright green leaves.

Some basic ideas for mint are: chop up mint leaves and blend into fruit salad. Add leaves to a citrus sorbet for both taste and as a finishing touch. Finely chop leaves and sprinkle over rice pilaf or use in mojitos by crushing the mint leaves.

Minted Ice Tea

Minted Ice Tea
A great light, refreshing drink for summer.

Place 8 bags of black tea in a pitcher of water, take a large handful of clean, fresh spear mint, stems included and place in water with tea bags. Let sit overnight and it is ready to drink the next day.
Variation: Add slices of one fresh orange to the mixture to give it a more spicy, citrus flavor.
Makes 1 1/2 quarts.

Sugar Snap Peas with Mint


2 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 pound sugar snap peas
3 green onions, chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon, coarsely chopped fresh mint

Heat oil in a large skilled over medium heat. Once oil is heated add the sugar snap peas, the green onion and the garlic. Add salt and pepper. Stir fry for 4 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in mint leaves. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed, to taste.

Irvine Farmer’s Market is 8 am – noon every Saturday (rain or shine) and is located in the University Center at the corner of Campus and Bridge.

The Herb Chef website:

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