Seasoning Smarts

Keep your taste buds happy. Use these spice rack basics in unexpected ways to add fabulous flavor to everything you cook.


Stir ¼ teaspoon into a smoothie or sprinkle it into a cup of green tea. It also tastes great on sliced peaches and winter squash.

Bay Leaves

Simmer one in your vanilla pudding for a sophisticated flavor. And don’t forget to add a bay leaf to rice or grains before cooking.


A sprinkle of thyme elevates canned soup to gourmet status. It’s equally delicious stirred into mashed potatoes and store-bought chicken salad.


Use it to wake up a ho-hum turkey or ham sandwich or add pizzazz to your potato chips and oven fries.


It’s classic in apple pie but also provides an unexpected burst of flavor to popcorn and chocolate-chip cookies, oven baked chicken and meat dishes.


This citrusy spice adds a refreshing kick to marinades, grilled meat, roasted potatoes and baked goods. Try it in cookies and breads.


It’s delicious tossed on potatoes or cauliflower before roasting; a dash also gives grilled cheese sandwiches an exotic edge.

Mustard Powder

The subtitle flavor perks up meatballs, turkey burgers and bread stuffing. Try adding it to olive oil before you sauté veggies.

Curry Powder

Use it to rev up crab cakes, shrimp salad and chicken soup. Or toss with mixed nuts to add major flavor.

Dried Red Pepper

A pinch of cayenne or red-pepper flakes adds a pleasant heat to omelets, guacamole and salad dressing.


Beso BBQ Brisket

“Comfort food is about nostalgia. When I eat barbecue, it takes me back to my childhood in Corpus Christi, Texas. We’d have barbecue for every special occasion — Easter, birthdays, baptisms. These days I make a brisket, which I slow-roast and cover with a more contemporary, Latin-influenced sauce. It’s a favorite dish at my restaurant, Beso, in Las Vegas.”

  • ⅔  cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons anise seed
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seed
  • 1½  teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1½  teaspoons onion powder
  • 1½  teaspoons juniper berries
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 6- to 7-pound brisket, excess fat trimmed
  • Beso BBQ Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1. Combine sugar, salt, anise, fennel, garlic and onion powders, juniper berries, and paprika in a bowl; rub over both sides of brisket. Place meat in a roasting pan and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 10 to 24 hours.

2. Heat oven to 275°F. Discard all marinating juices. Pour 4 cups Beso BBQ Sauce and chicken broth over brisket; cover pan tightly with foil. Roast until tender, 5½  to 6 hours. Allow brisket to cool slightly before slicing thinly; serve with cooking juices and remaining BBQ sauce.

Serves 6 to 8.

Beso BBQ Sauce

  1. In a saucepan cover one 2-ounce package (4 to 5) dried mulatto or ancho chilies with water and simmer until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain, cool, discard stems, and roughly chop; set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 diced onion, 1 clove chopped garlic, 1 seeded and chopped jalapeno, and 1 peeled and cored apple; cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in one 6-ounce can tomato paste, 1¼  cups apple cider vinegar, one 12-ounce jar unsulfured molasses, 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves, 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, 1 teaspoon salt, and reserved chilies. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and stir in 3 cups of ice. In batches, puree sauce in a blender. Can be kept refrigerated, up to 3 weeks.

Makes 7 cups.

Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie

“I love anything with lemon, and this pie is that delicious combination of tart and sweet with a crispy crust. My mother made a great lemon meringue pie, but hers was not a mile high. I wanted mine to be more special, so I added extra egg whites — to make the topping higher — and sugar to make it sweeter. Comfort food is something you’d eat standing at the refrigerator with a spoon — and simply can’t stop eating. I probably could devour this entire pie all by myself…and I’m really not kidding.”

  • 1 recipe pate brisee (recipe follows)
  • ⅓ cup cornstarch
  • ⅔ cup sifted cake flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 recipe meringue (recipe follows)
  1. Heat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface roll one single crust of the pate brisee into a circle that’s ⅛ inch thick and transfer to a 9-inch pie tin. Trim and crimp edges decoratively, then chill until firm. Prick bottom of the shell with a fork, line with parchment paper, and add pie weights or dried beans; bake until edges begin to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove paper and weights; continue baking until golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes more. Let cool.
  2. For filling, combine cornstarch, cake flour, salt, sugar, lemon juice, and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, then cook until it becomes very thick and almost translucent, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Remove pan from heat. Whisk in egg yolks one at a time. Return pan to low heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring.
  4. Remove pan from heat and whisk in the lemon zest and butter. Transfer to a bowl set over ice water and let mixture cool, stirring occasionally. Pour into cooled crust; cover and chill until firm, about 1 hour.
  5. Prepare meringue, then pile on top of pie and spread evenly so that it touches crust all around. Broil until brown, about 2 minutes, watching constantly to avoid burning. Serve at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10.

Pate Brisee

In the bowl of a food processor combine 2½ cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Add 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces; process until mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. With machine running, add ¼ to ½ cup ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; don’t process more than 30 seconds. Divide dough into 2 equal balls, wrap each in plastic wrap and flatten. Refrigerate 1 hour before using or freeze up to 1 month. Makes one 9-inch double crust or two single crusts.


Combine 7 egg whites, ¾ cup sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Beat until warm and sugar is dissolved. Remove bowl from heat and whip mixture to stiff peaks.

Classic Basil Pesto

  • 4 cups packed basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • ¾ cup (3½ ounces) pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Combine all ingredients, except the oil, in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped.
  3. With the motor running, slowly pour the oil into the feed tube.
  4. Use immediately or freeze for up to a month.

Makes 2 cups.

Pesto Tips

  1. To intensify the green color of your pesto, blanch herbs for five seconds to boiling water, then shock them in ice water and squeeze dry; continue with the recipe.
  2. When you mix pesto with pasta, save some of the pasta cooking water so you can add a bit if the sauce is too dry.
  3. To store pesto up to 4 days in the fridge, press plastic wrap onto the surface, smoothing out air bubbles. The wrap will keep it from oxidizing and turning brown.

15 Things to Do with Your Pesto

  • Mix it into bread crumbs to make a crust for pork chops or chicken.
  • Make flavored croutons by tossing bread cubes with it before baking.
  • Stir into rice or mashed potatoes.
  • Add it to meatball, meat loaf, or burger mixtures.
  • Scramble it into eggs.
  • Thin with a little water and vinegar to make a salad dressing.
  • Mix with cream cheese and slather on a bagel.
  • Spread a thin layer on noodles when you’re making lasagna or stir into the ricotta mixture.
  • Mix into bread dough, biscuit or muffin batter or smear on crescent rolls, roll up, and bake.
  • Dollop on crostini and top with a cherry tomato for a quick hors d’oeuvre.
  • Add a little vinegar and use to marinate cheese and veggies for an antipasto plate.
  • Stir into crepe batter, then fill crepe with goat cheese.
  • Use in place of mayonnaise for potato or pasta salad.
  • Spread on rustic bread, sprinkle with cheese, and broil until melted.
  • Stir into vegetable or tomato soup.

Fried Zucchini Strings

  • 1 whole Zucchini
  • 4 cups Canola Oil For Deep Frying
  • Sea Salt
  1. Using a julienne peeler, cut the zucchini into very thin pasta-like strips. Discard the center core with the seeds. Blot with paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
  2. Heat 3 inches of oil in a deep fryer to 375°F.
  3. Add the zucchini strands without over filling the pan. Turn when the zucchini strands are golden brown. Brown the other side; remove and drain on paper towel.
  4. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve at once.