California Caprese-Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil and Avocado

It’s the middle of August and my tomatoes are almost done. I’ve had a banner year in terms of yield, but since I planted in April and we have an early growing season, almost everything came ripe at once in July. I always say I’m going to stagger the planting, but I never do because I’m so enthralled by choice when at the nursery. Better Boy? Green Zeebra? Lemon Boy? Brandywine? San Marzano? Why yes, I’ll take one of each please.


This is about 2 weeks worth of tomatoes in July.

Since I don’t can my tomatoes, I mostly make sauce and soup and freeze it. I also freeze peeled and seeded tomatoes. And we eat lots and lots of fresh tomatoes in salads, on bagels, in sandwiches (best BLT ever), but the caprese is probably our favorite way of eating fresh tomatoes. The traditional Insalata Caprese originated on the Italian island of Capri and includes red sliced tomatoes, white sliced fresh mozarella and green basil; all the colors of the Italian flag. I call this a “California” Caprese because the non-traditional addition of avocado which, if you don’t have Green Zeebra tomatoes, gives a lovely bit of color as well as it’s smooth creamy flavor to the dish. Also, I include balsamic vinegar which is not traditional when ordering this salad in Italy, but has become more common here in the US. In this recipe I use a reduced balsamic which is often called “cream of balsamic” or “balsamic glaze“. I like the little bit of extra sweetness and the fact that it sticks to the ingredients rather than running off and pooling on the bottom of the plate. Play with this all you want; use all colors and sizes of tomato. Leave off the avocado or if you’re vegan, consider it a substitution for the cheese. But what ever you do, use the best possible ingredients; use  truly ripe tomatoes and the best quality fresh mozzarella (either buffalo or cow’s milk) you can find. The mozzarella you grate on pizza is not the same thing as fresh soft mozzarella, trust me. Use a decent quality vinegar or leave it off all together as the Italians do. This recipe is so simple you can assemble it in five minutes and can easily bring it to a pot luck to be assembled there.

California Caprese; Tomato, Mozzarella, and Avocado.

California Caprese-Tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella, and Avocado


  • 1 pound fresh ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4" thick
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/4" thick
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced 1/4" thick
  • 1/2 oz fresh basil leaves, sliced chiffonade
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic syrup or vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon maldon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Slice all the tomatoes, cheese and avocado. Layer them onto a platter, alternating colors of tomato (if you have them) with slices of cheese and avocado.
  2. Sprinkle the basil chiffonade (sliced into "ribbons"), the sea salt, and pepper over the top.
  3. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over everything.

  California Caprese; Tomato, Mozzarella, and Avocado.


Emulsified Sauces and How to make Hollandaise

by formerchef on August 10, 2014

Asparagus Hollandiase and All About Emulsified Sauces

Emulsified sauces are one part chemistry, one part culinary magic. Take two ingredients which, “like oil and water”, should not blend together, and with a little effort, they become one delicious whole.

An emulsified sauce is literally the blending of fat (butter or oil) and water (wine, vinegar or egg yolk- which is more than 50% water). Combine them together with heat, centrifugal force, or just a vigorous whisk and you suddenly have one sauce where there were once two separate ingredients which typically do not play well together.

The scientific term for this refusal to mix is “immiscible” which is defined as two liquids that are incapable of being mixed, caused by surface tension between two molecules. However, when it comes to emulsified sauces, there are other forces at play (heat and/or movement) which will cause one part to incorporate into the other.

The best known emulsified sauces are hollandaise or mayonnaise. They are what are considered permanent emulsions. Once blended, the sauce stays that way unless it breaks due to an outside force such as high temperature or an inaccurate ratio of the two main ingredients (fat and liquid). Other emulsified sauces are a “temporary emulsion” like the vinaigrette. Without any artificial thickeners, a vinaigrette will combine when whisked or shaken and then once it settles it will separate into oil and water. My personal “house dressing” is a pesto vinaigrette. There is always have a jar of this in our refrigerator.

Almost all emulsified sauces share three things which make them the perfect complement to the main dish; fat, acid and salt. The fat, be it butter or oil, gives a rich texture to the sauce. The acid, typically lemon juice or vinegar, offers a piquant counterpoint to the fat, and salt opens the taste buds to enhance all the flavors.

Hollandaise04 The five ingredients of Hollandaise


The internet abounds with “easy” hollandaise recipes. Many of them involve a blender. Yes, you can do it this way, but there is a certain satisfaction in making something the old fashioned way with just a bowl, a whisk and five simple ingredients. The ability to make a classic hollandaise is a skill every cook should have in their repertoire. There’s nothing wrong with using a blender, but give the traditional way a try.

Hollandaise is considered one of the five “mother” sauces (Béchamel, Hollandaise, Espanol, Tomato and Veloute) from which most other sauces derive. For example, Bernaise sauce is the most common sauce derived from Hollandaise. It’s basically Hollandaise with the acid ingredient (vinegar or lemon juice) replaced by a strained reduction of vinegar, shallots, and fresh tarragon, and is most often served with grilled steak.

There are several theories as to the origin of Hollandaise sauce. The first is that it started in Normandy which is the dairy capital of France. During World War 1, dairy production stalled and much of the butter had to be imported from Holland. Since the base of the sauce is butter, the name indicated the origin of the butter. Another option is that the sauce came from Holland in the form of a custard, thinned and smoothed with melted butter.

Many people are afraid of the sauce breaking. High heat is the enemy, as is too much butter. A broken Hollandaise can happen when the eggs get too hot and begin to curdle, or if too much melted butter is whisked into the egg suspension. Each egg yolk can only suspend 4-6 tablespoons of butter, though sometimes larger batches can hold a bit more. A broken sauce can be rescued with a bit of cold water (see the recipe below).

Traditional uses for Hollandaise include on eggs benedict, or with vegetables like asparagus and artichokes, or on poached fish.

Do you make hollandaise from scratch? If not, what do you do? Do you make any other emulsified sauces? Which are your favorites? I’ll be showing you how to make mayonnaise next!

Hollandaise Small Photos-001

How to make Hollandaise

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1 cup


  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or white wine vinegar)
  • 2 sticks butter, clarified (or melted)
  • .5 teaspoon kosher salt
  • pepper (white pepper, dash of tabasco or cayenne pepper)


  1. Melt the butter. If you want to use clarified butter, skim off the fat solids which rise to the top when the butter is melted.
  2. Melted butter yields a more flavorful sauce but clarified butter will give a thicker, stiffer sauce which may be more resistant to breaking.
  3. Bring about 2 inches of water to a low simmer in a medium sized sauce pot. Place a large heat proof bowl over the simmering water. The bowl should fit snugly, but the bottom should not touch the water.
  4. Add the egg yolks and the lemon juice to the bowl off the heat and whisk them rapidly they become pale yellow and begin to thicken (about 20-30 seconds).
  5. Place the bowl over the hot water. If you are using a metal bowl which might get hot very quickly, you may want to turn off the heat under the water. If you are using a thick bowl or a heavy double boiler, turn the heat down to very low.
  6. Slowly whisk in the warm clarified or melted butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until the butter is suspended in the egg yolks.
  7. Whisk in the salt and pepper
  8. The sauce should be thick, but not lumpy. It should drizzle off a spoon, not be as thick as pudding. If it’s too thick, whisk in a bit of water, a teaspoon at a time.
  9. The sauce can be held warm for about an hour over a warm pot of water.
  10. How to rescue “broken” hollandaise:
  11. In a clean bowl, add a tablespoon of cold water. Whisk in a small amount of the broken hollandaise. Slowly add in the rest of the hollandaise, whisking briskly until it is all emulsified. The hollandaise will appear lighter in color once it has water added to it.
  12. Variations:
  13. Bernaise- replace the lemon juice with a strained reduction of vinegar, shallots, and fresh tarragon.
  14. Dijon Hollandaise- add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, whisked in with the egg yolks at the beginning. This can help stabilized the sauce and keep it emulsified.
  15. Sauce Noisette made with browned butter instead of clarified butter



Grilled Zucchini with Toasted Fennel Seed Vinaigrette

August 2, 2014
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Are you knee deep in zucchini? If you have a garden, it’s that time of year. I learned a long time ago that unless I want to feed an army, buying a six pack of zucchini seedlings is a mistake and will result in friends and neighbors running the other way when they see you in the street with an armful of large green squash. Leaving said squash on doorsteps in the dead of night is another option of course, but may not endear you to your neighbors.

Still, every year we grow one plant and that’s more than enough for us to eat, and to share with family and friends. The growing season is early here; we planted in April and were harvesting the first zucchini in early June. It was so hot in July the plant almost gave up, but this week it seemed to regenerate, giving us …

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Steak au Poivre

July 12, 2014
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Like most classic dishes, steak au poivre has as many versions as there are colors in a jumbo box of crayons. Food historians think that the dish originated in the Normandy region of France in the 19th century. Lore has it that it was a favorite late night meal in bistros and bordellos due to the reported aphrodisiac qualities of pepper. By the early 1900′s the dish was popular in Paris and Monte Carlo restaurants, yet there’s no shortage of controversy there either. Several French chefs of the era laid claim to Steak au Poivre. The popularity remains today and you are likely to see a version of a pepper crusted steak with covered with a sauce made in the same pan on every American steak house menu and most French bistros.

Traditionally, Steak au Poivre is made with beef tenderloin (filet mignon) but rib eye, New York strip …

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All About Pepper

July 7, 2014
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A little bit about pepper….

You might be surprised, but pepper is the most traded and most popular spice in the world. Peppercorns are the fruit (aka drupes) of the tropical vine, Piper Nigrum. When the fruit is ripe, it turns red, but sometimes it’s picked and processed before it’s ripe which then changes the pepper.

The flavor profile of peppercorns can change like wine, depending on where the pepper is grown, when it is picked, and how it is processed. Also like wine, descriptions of the peppercorn’s favor can vary widely; floral, cedar, fruity, smoky, citrus and licorice are commonly used. Vietnam may be the world’s largest producer of pepper but the most coveted peppercorns hail from Telicherry, in India, where the spice originates.


What does the color of the pepper tell you about it?

  • Black peppercorns are the mature fruit of the pepper vine, picked when between
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Greek Pasta Salad

June 30, 2014
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It’s officially Summer! And you know what that means, right? Vine ripe tomatoes and cucumbers filling the gardens and farmer’s markets along with fresh herbs. And cold summer salads, one of my favorite things to eat. I love a traditional Greek Salad with briny olives, sweet tomatoes and earthy feta and combining those flavors with some pasta makes it a treat good enough to bring to a summer picnic and hearty enough for a Meatless Monday meal. The salad would also be a delicious accompaniment to grilled chicken, lamb kabobs or grilled fish.

This recipe could not be easier. If you can’t find tiny grape tomatoes or Sweet 100′s just dice up the sweetest tomatoes you can find. Fresh oregano is delicious, but dried will also work in a pinch.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!


Greek Pasta Salad

Yield: 6 Cups


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