Cooking Cat food this week

This is Cat Cora week at Casa Kessel. In preparation for my interview with my favorite Iron Chef tomorrow at the Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa, I've been making something different every night from "Cat Cora's Kitchen" and "Cooking From the Hip."

I'm anxious to learn more about her new cookbook due out in June called "Classics With a Twist." I can't wait to get my hands on it!

At some point, Cat says, while you're preparing this Porchetta, the expression "What a mess!" will cross your mind. It did mine! But I didn't let that stop me. It was totally worth being covered from wrist to elbow in herb paste to taste this incredibly moist and flavorful pork loin. I served it with crispy roasted potatoes.

I noticed that each of her recipes has a surprising element to them. Capers with brussels sprouts? Mmm, mmm, mmm!

The pudding looks good, no?

My significant other can sometimes be tough to please, when it comes to dessert. Substituting anything other than frozen yogurt can be tricky business.

But we both enjoyed Cat's recipe for Rizogalo (Creamy Rice Pudding). Fresh lemon zest is added to the pudding, as it's cooking. Smooth and fragrant, the pudding cooks up quickly, and I was able to use the leftover rice I had in the fridge.


Call 911 for some great apps

Chef Jon Ashton cooked up some fun at the second annual Celebrity Chef Dinner for United Food Bank of Plant City. The event took place at the HCC Trinkle Center Feb. 20. I was there, and this guy really knows how to cook AND entertain at the same time. What a great time!

You might recognize the "The Mad Chef" from Liverpool, England. He is currently the food correspondent of the nationally syndicated morning show, "The Daily Buzz," and also the in-house chef for "Relish" magazine.

The event began with some killer appetizers. These chocolate-covered strawberries were yummy.

A cooking duel between Plant City's finest and Hillsborough County's finest highlighted the first course.

Served with a delightful trio of dipping sauces -- mango puree, orange marmalade with dark rum, and pineapple chutney, these crispy coconut shrimp were prepared by the Plant City Fire Rescue Department. Understandably, they were a huge hit!

The Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Department made a panko-encrusted, prosciutto-wrapped red snapper with a roasted mango and chipotle pepper sauce. The blend of ingredients produced a wonderful contrast of flavors. Another hit!

The scene stealer and people's choice was the beurre blanc scallops, with a tropical slaw that was drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The slaw hinted of jalapeno with toasted coconut and jicama slivers. Congrats to the Plant City Police Department!

But the real action was on stage, where Chef Jon entertained, cooked and poured shots of vodka... and entertained, cooked and poured more vodka. He even poured vodka into audience members' open mouths for donations. Who could refuse Van Goh Double Espresso Vodka?

Now that's fun!

His dinner included family-friendly fare -- a simple midweek pasta, chicken with sweet-shallot mashed potatoes and lovely scones with black pepper strawberry jam.

Chef Jon Ashton, me, and the emcee of the evening, my colleague and friend, Tampa Tribune food editor Jeff Houck. Yoohoo, Jeff. We're in this picture!


Importing a slice of Cuba

In my Table Scraps column last week, I wrote about Cuban bread. I indulged my craving and took a trip to Mauricio Faedo's Bakery in Seminole Heights.

If you have trouble finding the place, just roll down your window and let your nose guide you. That sweet smell of bread perfumes the parking lot. It's out-of-this-world good bread!

Can't make the trip? Here's a great video clip. You'll wish your computer had scratch-n-sniff:

Mauricio Faedo's Bakery
5150 N. Florida Ave., Tampa
(813) 237-2377


Catching up with Cat

Get out your calendar and scribble this date down. Or click and drag it. Or do whatever you non-Mac users do.

"Iron Chef" fanatics will want know that Chef Cat Cora is giving a cooking demonstration at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb 27, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, in Tampa. Doors open at 4, and seats are limited, so get your tickets early. They're $35 and $45.

There's no way in the world I'd miss out on this one!

Purchase your tickets from the Hard Rock Store or any Ticketmaster outlet.

The event also includes a free, one-hour meet-and-greet for the public from 3 to 4 p.m. in the hotel lobby.

You'll be hearing more from me about Chef Cora soon. I've been granted an interview with this Iron Chef prior to her cooking demo, and I'm riding on cloud nine!


Whoopie! It's almost Valentine's Day.

If given the choice of any dessert, I almost always pick cookies. But between you and me, I'm not very good at decorating them.

To remedy that, I decided this year to experiment with powdered sugar and paper doilies. These lace-like, heart-shaped cookies turned out so pretty. They're a delicious variation of a whoopie pie.

Before moving to the South, I always thought "whoopie" was a figure of speech for sex used only by contestants on the old television show "The Newlywed Game." However, that's not the case.

These soft chocolate, sandwich cookies are filled with a creamy pink frosting that is not overly sweet.

Happy Valentine's Day!


1 cup sugar

3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup milk

Almond filling:

1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon almond extract

Pink paste food coloring

Small pieces of of lace with porous design or paper doilies

Powdered sugar

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together sugar and butter. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Mix together dry ingredients, and then add them alternately with milk to butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Cover and chill for 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sift a layer of unsweetened cocoa onto a flat surface. Roll dough out to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out cookies with heart-shaped cookie cutter. Place cookies on ungreased cookie sheet. When cool, spread almond filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Top with remaining cookies, rounded side up.

To stencil cookies, place them in the center of plate. Position lace or doily over each cookie, as desired. Sift powdered sugar onto cookies. Tap plate gently on counter to force sugar through holes in lace or doily. Carefully remove the lace or doily straight up.

Almond Filling:

In a small mixing bowl, combine sugar, butter, milk and extract. Stir until smooth and creamy. Tint with food coloring.


Breaking news you can eat.

Today in my Table Scraps newspaper column, I wrote about my new favorite cookbook, "The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern."

Matt and Ted's book has quickly taken residence on the shelf where I keep my most used cookbooks. I was actually wishing they would do a local book signing, and - you heard it here first - the Lee brothers will be in the Tampa area to do two events on April 8!

I was so excited to get an e-mail from Matt this morning. He said he and his brother will be doing a demo, tasting and book signing from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Williams-Sonoma at West Shore International Plaza, 2223 North West Shore Blvd., in Tampa.

The duo will be demonstrating book recipes for Creamy Asparagus Soup with Grilled Asparagus and Buttermilk Pudding Cakes, and sharing samples of their Cheese Relish.

At 6 p.m. they will appear at Savannah's Cafe, 1113 Central Ave., in St. Petersburg.

Both events are listed on their tour schedule at simplefreshsouthern.com.

Hope to see you there!