Cook’s Corner

Cook’s Corner: My top 10 all time recipes



Cheeca Lodge’s White Gazpacho

1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

2 cucumbers, finely diced

6 Roma or plum tomatoes, finely diced

4 cups buttermilk

2 cups sour cream

Juice of 4 limes

Salt and pepper to taste

Pita Croutons

6 pita bread rounds

Olive oil

Toss together in a bowl the peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes, reserving a little tomato and cucumber for garnish. Beat together the buttermilk and sour cream, then gradually whisk in the lime juice. (You may do this by pulsing with a blender or food processor.) Add vegetables to buttermilk mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place in refrigerator while making the croutons.

Make pita rounds: Cut each pita into 8 wedges. Separate the triangles, brush very lightly with olive oil on both sides and toast in a 250-degree oven until crisp, about 10 minutes. Serve the soup with the reserved garnish of chopped cucumber and tomato and arrange pita croutons around edge of soup bowl. Garnish additionally with sliced almonds, if desired. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving, not including croutons: 279 calories (44 percent from fat), 14 g fat, 10 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 2.1 g fiber, 30 mg cholesterol, 325 mg sodium.

Croutons: Per serving, without oil: 79 calories (5 percent from fat), 0.4 gram fat, 3 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 0.5 g fiber, 0 cholesterol, 161 mg sodium. Exchange values: 1.1 bread, 0.1 fat.



3 cups cooked black beans

1 cup frozen corn kernels, defrosted

16 tomatillos, diced

1 bunch green onions, trimmed and finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Worcestershire and hot pepper sauce

Cumin, salt and pepper

Toss the beans with the corn, tomatillos, green onions and peppers. Add oil and vinegar and toss again. Season to taste with Worcestershire, hot pepper sauce, cumin, salt and pepper. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving. Makes about 8 cups, 64 servings.

Per serving: 131 calories (35 percent from fat), 5.4 g fat (0.7 g saturated, 3.5 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 4.9 g protein, 17.5 g carbohydrates, 5.4 g fiber, 26 mg sodium.


Benihana’s Ginger Salad Dressing

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup peanut oil

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

1 tablespoon chopped celery

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Dash each of salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor until almost smooth. Makes about 1 cup.

Per tablespoon: 17 calories (56 percent from fat), 1 g fat, 1 g protein, 1 g carbohydrate, 0.1 g fiber, 0 cholesterol, 86 mg sodium.


Morrison’s Tartar Sauce

3/4 cup finely chopped cabbage

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped green bell pepper

1/2 cup dill pickle relish

About 3/4 cup homemade or good-quality mayonnaise

Toss the cabbage, onion and bell pepper with the undrained relish. Place in a colander, and allow to drain well for 30 minutes. Measure the drained vegetable mixture and combine with an equal amount of mayonnaise. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving to allow flavors to develop. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Per tablespoon: 35 calories (62 percent from fat), 2.5 g fat (0.4 g saturated, 0.7 g monounsaturated), 1.9 mg cholesterol, 0.1 g protein, 3.3 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g fiber, 78.2 mg sodium.

Main dish

El Pub’s Black Beans

1 pound dry black beans

10 cups water

1 large green bell pepper, cut in chunks


2/3 cup olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

4 cloves garlic, mashed

1 large green bell pepper, diced

4 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1 bay leaf

Seasoning mix:

2 tablespoons vinegar

2 tablespoons sherry

2 tablespoons olive oil

Rinse the beans thoroughly and pick out any broken pieces. Place in a large pot, along with the bell pepper and water. Soak until very swollen, preferably overnight. Bring to a boil in the same water, reduce heat to medium and cook approximately 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sofrito: Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the diced onion, garlic and bell pepper until vegetables are tender but not brown. Place about 1 cup of the beans in the skillet and mash well. Add this mixture to the pot along with the salt, pepper, oregano and bay leaf. Cook over low heat about 1 hour. Add the vinegar and sherry and cook over low heat for 1 hour, until thickened. Just before serving stir in the olive oil. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 252 calories (19 percent from fat), 5.4 g fat (0.8 g saturated, 5 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 13 g protein, 39 g carbohydrates, 9.6 g fiber, 1168 mg sodium.

Main dish

Pad Thai

1 pound fettuccine or 1/6-inch wide rice noodles

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon mashed and finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/4 cup white or rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon ketchup or hoisin

Hot sauce, as desired (optional)

1 bunch green onions, cut in 1/4-inch lengths

1 pound bean sprouts

1 bunch cilantro, snipped fine

Lime wedges

1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Optional ingredients: Cucumber, carrots, long white radishes, all shredded or cut in fine julienne

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Place in colander to drain. Have peanut dressing ready: In a blender or food processor mix the soy sauce, peanut butter, garlic, sesame oil, vinegar and ketchup. Add hot sauce if desired. Add to the hot pasta or rice noodles and toss to coat well.

Serve immediately tossed with the green onions, bean sprouts and cilantro. Add optional ingredients as desired. Garnish with chopped peanuts and lime wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature. Note: If you are taking this to a potluck, wait to add the bean sprouts until just before serving. Makes 8 servings (or 24 potluck portions).

Per serving: 453 calories (37 percent from fat), 18.8 g fat (3.4 g saturated, 0.4 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 12.5 g protein, 60.3 g carbohydrates, 4.5 g fiber, 783 mg sodium.

Main dish

Laurenzo’s Ziti with Broccoli

1/2 pounds fresh broccoli, cleaned and chopped into bite-size pieces (about 2 cups, or 1 large head)

1 pound imported Italian ziti

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 cups heavy cream

4 ounces (1 cup) imported Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded

Place broccoli in a saucepan with about 1/2 cup of water and cook over high heat, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well and keep warm. While the broccoli is simmering, cook pasta to al dente stage in boiling water, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Saute the garlic in the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until garlic is lightly browned. Add the broccoli and saute about 1 minute. Add the ziti, heavy cream and grated Parmesan and cook about 1 additional minute, tossing well.

Spoon into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Top with mozzarella cheese and bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Serves 8.

Per serving: 825 calories (63 percent from fat), 58 g fat (34 g saturated, 18 g monounsaturated), 195 mg cholesterol, 24.6 g protein, 53 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 469 mg sodium.


Key Lime Meltaways

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup confectioners’ sugar, divided

Fine lime zest (about 1 tablespoon or to taste)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed Key lime juice (regular limes can be used but the flavor is slightly different)

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream the butter and 1/3 cup of the confectioners’ sugar until fluffy. Add lime zest, juice and vanilla and beat until fluffy. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Add to butter mixture, beating on low speed until just combined.

Roll dough into logs about 1 inch in diameter and wrap in waxed paper or parchment paper. Chill at least 1 hour and preferably overnight to allow flavors to develop.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Place remaining 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar in a resealable plastic bag. Remove logs from waxed paper and slice into wafers about 1/8 inch thick. Place on baking sheets spaced 1 inch apart. Bake until barely golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool slightly. While still warm, place in the sugar-filled bag and toss gently to coat. Store baked cookies in airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 10 dozen.

Variation: Replace the lime juice and zest with orange or carambola juice. Instead of a confectioners’ sugar dusting, brush with 2 tablespoons orange juice mixed with 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar while still warm. Alllow to dry completely before storing.

Per serving: 21 calories (50 percent from fat), 1.2 g fat (0.7 g saturated, 0.3 g monounsaturated), 3 mg cholesterol, 0.2 g protein, 2.4 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 5 mg sodium.


Cheesecake Flan

For caramel:

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water (just enough to make the sugar cook smooth)

For flan:

1 can (14 ounces) condensed milk

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

5 eggs

Pinch of salt (1/8 teaspoon)

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces

Cook the sugar and water in a small skillet until it turns golden brown. Pour immediately into a 1-quart mold and tilt from side to side to coat the mold evenly before caramel stiffens. Allow to cool.

In a blender or food processor put the condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, salt, vanilla and cream cheese, which has been cut into small pieces. Blend until no lumps of cream cheese remain. Pour into cool mold. Place mold in larger pan, and pour enough hot water into larger pan to come halfway up the sides of the mold. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool and then chill before cutting

Per serving: 329 calories (40 percent from fat), 14.7 g fat (8 g saturated, 4.2 g monounsaturated), 123 mg cholesterol, 9.4 g protein, 41 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 180 mg sodium.


Microwave Dulce de Leche

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Stir the ingredients together thoroughly in a deep, microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Cook on high for 3 to 4 minutes; stir well. Cook 3 to 4 minutes more and stir again. Cook and stir for a total of 10 to 12 minutes, until caramelized and thickened as desired. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 215 calories (24 percent from fat), 5.8 g fat (3.7 g saturated, 1.6 g monounsaturated), 22.7 mg cholesterol, 5.3 g protein, 36.5 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 84.9 mg sodium.

When you write about food for a living, what you put on the table at a dinner party, take to a potluck, contribute to a family gathering or place in a gift basket is always under scrutiny.

You can’t get away with picking up coleslaw at the deli or grabbing a box of doughnuts at the bakery.

I deal with that pressure by turning time and again to Cook’s Corner recipes that have proven their worth.

And in more than 30 years of doing this column, I have accumulated favorite recipes I make over and over.

Here are my top 10. And, in the spirit of the interactive nature of Cook’s Corner, I’d love to hear from readers about their own favorites.

Appetizers and first courses

• In 1993, Dawn Sieber, then-executive chef at the Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, shared her recipe for this glorious white gazpacho, which I make often.

The vegetables can be cut up in advance, but to keep the soup white and the vegetables crisp, don't combine them with the buttermilk mixture until just before serving. Low-fat dairy products are fine.

I like chopped cilantro, hot pepper sauce and extra sour cream as garnishes, and for a heartier meal sometimes add a can of cannellini beans.

• For a long time the original Café Tu Tu Tango in Cocowalk was the place to go in the Grove, with its wall space gallery for local artists and eclectic café menu. Their black bean salsa is my go-to when I need a super-quick snack for game day, served with tortilla chips.

It makes a lot, so you may want to halve the recipe. But you can use leftovers, which refrigerate or freeze well due to the vinegar, as a condiment to zip up a burrito or Spanish omelet. The recipe dates to 1991; a Tu Tu Tango lives on in Orlando.

Salad Dressings and Condiments

• I often get requests for the miso dressing from The Unicorn and this ginger dressing from Benihana. I make it often; not only is it low-calorie, but it packs a terrific flavor punch for an everyday side salad. It’s also great with a main-dish salad of tuna or sliced chicken or grilled shrimp.

• If you are from the South and of a certain age, you remember Morrison’s Cafeterias, where the food tasted of a gentler and yes, less cholesterol-conscious time. I loved the squash casseroles and congealed salads and all things battered and deep fried. Getting the tartar sauce recipe was such a kick.


• When I take the time to make black beans from scratch, I use this recipe from El Pub, a longtime Little Havana favorite.

A debate over who makes the best black beans in Miami would no doubt become incendiary. But I’m partial to this recipe given to me in 1987 by El Pub’s Florentino Perez. This recipe does take a long time to cook, but the prep work is minimal and I usually make a double batch so I can freeze half.

• I created this recipe for Pad Thai when a restaurant wouldn’t part with its version. Because ingredients such as fish sauce and rice noodles were not as easily available then as they are today, I used what you could easily find in a grocery store. I’ve added those ingredients as options.

I take this dish to just about every potluck supper or office party I attend and always am asked for the recipe. It’s economical, feeds a crowd, and can be made heartier by adding cooked shrimp, chicken or stir-cooked egg.

• I love this simple but fabulous recipe from Laurenzo’s in North Miami, kindly shared by David Laurenzo in 1990. It’s a nice meatless supper and wonderful to bring to a potluck where vegetarians are often limited to salad.

You can even make this in advance, up to the baking stage. I bring along extra Parmesan cheese and crushed dried red peppers for sprinkling on top.


• These are my signature cookies, which I mail out by the dozens every year for Christmas, and for birthdays and “missing you” packages. These Key lime meltaways taste divine, with a sweet-tart-buttery kiss, and you can make them in stages.

Prepare the dough one day, roll it into logs and refrigerate for a week or freeze for months before slicing and baking.

• For this flan, I use a small Bundt pan with decorative impressions that always makes it look spectacular. Because it is firmer than a traditional flan, it can be sliced easily into small portions so it is great for a dessert buffet.

Best of all, you zip it together in a blender and the only thing tricky is taking the caramel off the stove before it burns. The recipe is from Irela Messer, who submitted it to a recipe contest when I was the Miami Herald food editor back in 1986.

• Long before dulce de leche became mainstream across America, it was popular in Miami, brought here in a variety of forms by immigrants from Cuba, and Latin and South America. Making it the old-fashioned way involves a lot of tedious stirring and cooking over low heat.

This microwave version provided by a reader is the ultimate fast indulgence. Note: Don’t double this recipe; it won’t cook properly.

Send questions and responses to or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172. Replies cannot be guaranteed.

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