How did a nice Jewish girl like Orange County’s Chef Jamie Gwen wind up on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, the wickedly competitive reality show, hosted by Alton Brown, on which four chefs sabotage each other for the win? “I credit my mom and her marketing talent with creating every good image of who and what I am,” said Gwen. “It was a new show, and I thought, how bad could it be, and it might bring some attention.” (Spoiler alert if you’re watching reruns: Gwen won with nice girl image untarnished.)
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a certified sommelier, Gwen is the host of “Food and Wine with Chef Jamie Gwen,” a syndicated radio show, heard here on Sundays at noon on Talk Radio KABC. Her third cookbook “Good Food for Good Times 2” (Tastebud Entertainment, $24.95), written in collaboration with her adored mom, Lana Sills, features over 100 recipes themed for 21 parties and celebrations.
”Jamie and I have shared many wonderful times in the kitchen together,” Sills recalled. “I am her sous chef. For years she sat on the counter watching me cook, and now I have the pleasure of learning from her.”
Sills, who once owned a café and bakery in Brentwood, is a cookbook author and food writer whose company, Scrumptious Cooking, does culinary research and recipe development. For 14 years she was executive producer of Gwen’s radio show.
“Spending time cooking has always been a time of bonding for us,” Gwen noted. “That’s what this book is all about, memorable occasions and an opportunity to gather together. I don’t remember everywhere we went as a child, but I remember everything we ate!”
Sills spoke fondly of her own mother, who was an incredible cook. “She was this sweet little Jewish lady who cooked fabulous French food,” she recalled. “She discovered it in cookbooks, and then Julia Child came along somewhere in her life.”
“When I say I come from a long line of great cooks, I mean it,” added Gwen.
For Mother’s Day this mother and daughter, who both live in Newport Beach, will celebrate by hosting a brunch for friends, other mothers and daughters. “We’ve planned fabulous food from the book,” Gwen said. “We took great pride in these recipes—they’re innovative, unique in flavor, but reasonably simple to make and use ingredients that are easily accessible.”
Their menu begins with Champagne Punch and Sills’ Limóncello. “All good brunches need to start with a cocktail,” Gwen suggested. “A toast to wonderful mothers and daughters,” echoed Sills.
Next up, Chilled Avocado and Pineapple Soup with Chipotle Cream. (Find the recipe at ocjewishlife.com.) “It has an extraordinary mouth feel,” described Gwen. “The fabulous sweetness of pineapple is offset by the velvet, creamy texture of the avocado and cold, spicy crema.”
“We serve it in a bowl filled with ice,” added Sills. “You can finish it in so many different ways—with roasted diced pineapple….”
“Or you can make pineappple crisps,” offered Gwen. “Slice an African baby pineapple into thin rings. Lay them out on a Silpat and dry them in a slow oven. And you can make the soup in advance. Because of the acid it doesn’t turn and holds up beautifully.”
Rounding out the meal is their Grilled Cornbread Salad with Arugula and Fresh Herbs. “The addition of fresh herbs in their whole leaf form adds a wonderful bright flavor and aromatic element to the dish,” said Gwen. “And when you grill any lettuce, you add this beautiful smokiness. The natural inherent flavor blooms. You may not think romaine, for example, has a lot of flavor, but when you grill half a head of romaine for Caesar salad, the flavor profile explodes. And who doesn’t love a little smoky barbecue flavor on everything? The same with the cornbread. Whether you use homemade or store-bought, when you grill it, the sugar in the cornbread caramelizes, the texture changes, and you add that smoky barbecue flavor. Toss it with the greens and all the goodies, and the flavors come alive.”
“And in this busy world,” added Sills, “there’s nothing wrong with buying a roast chicken to add to the salad you make yourself.”
“Honoring my mom, we’re making her lemon bars. She submitted this original recipe to Bon Appétit magazine, and it appeared in the “Too Busy to Cook” column in July 1991. Many reviewers claim it is the best lemon bar they’ve ever had.“
“One great cook said that she actually ate the whole pan by herself!” added Sills.
Chilled Avocado and Pineapple Soup with Chipotle Cream
Yield: 6 servings
3 ripe avocados, peeled and diced
3 cups pineapple chunks (fresh or canned), drained
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Mexican crema or sour cream
1/2 teaspoon adobo sauce (from canned Chipotle Chiles in Adobo), or to taste
- Combine avocado, pineapple, lime juice, chili powder, cumin and salt in food processor and blend until very smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until well chilled.
- In a small bowl, stir together crema and adobo sauce.
- Ladle soup into chilled bowls. Top each bowl with a tablespoon of Chipotle Cream and serve.
Grilled Cornbread Salad with Arugula and Fresh Herbs
Yield: 4 servings
“Grilling radicchio lessens the bitterness,” says Gwen.
For the Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Salad:
1 (6-inch round) or 4 (3-inch squares) homemade or store-bought cornbread
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 head radicchio. cut into quarters
1 medium red onion, sliced 1/2-inch-thick
4 cups baby arugula leaves
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 cup black or Nicoise olives
12 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, left whole
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, left whole
1 Vinaigrette: Combine vinegar and mustard in blender; pulse to combine. With blender running, slowly add oil, in a thin stream, to form an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2 Salad: Heat barbecue or stove-top grill to high. Cut cornbread into 1-inch wide strips and brush lightly on all sides with olive oil. Brush onion slices and radicchio quarters with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill cornbread, just until grill marks appear, about 1 minute per side. Grill onion slices until tender and golden, about 5 minutes per side. Grill radicchio until just beginning to wilt, about 1 minute total.
3 Cut grilled cornbread into 1-inch cubes and roughly chop grilled onions. Combine cornbread cubes and grilled onions with remaining ingredients; add vinaigrette to taste, toss gently and serve.
Double Lemon Bars
“We always send home a few wrapped in a ribbon,” says Sills.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest, freshly grated
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces and kept cold
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon zest, freshly grated
Garnish: Powdered sugar
1 Preheat oven to 350°F
2 Combine flour, powdered sugar and zest in bowl of food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press mixture into bottom of 9x13x2-inch baking dish. Bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven; maintain over temperature.
3 Combine eggs, sugar, lemon juice, flour and zest in mixing bowl. Whisk to combine; pour into baked crust. Bake until mixture is set, about 20-30 minutes. Cool completely; cut into 24 bars. Sift powdered sugar over top of bars before serving.
Source: from “Good Food for Good Times” by Jamie Gwen with Lana Sills
Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.