Chef Mila's Amazing Brazilian Mojo

When Chef Mila comes to the Wight house to do that thing she does,

it's a family affair.

Mila was our across-the-street neighbor for years. We had our

second children almost simultaneously. There was laughter, tears and

life changes that formed bonds to last forever. Some of the best

meals our Somerset Lane annual progressive dinner had were created in

Mila's kitchen, and she's still creating magic.

So when Mila arrives to fix dinner for our extended family, it's a

party. My contribution is a festive table setting. It's hard to keep

up with the Brazilian mojo that Mila infuses, but I try. This year

the theme was "Red," and if I say so myself, it was a lively contrast

to the rain pouring down outside. Red plates, red polka-dotted

glasses, red, orange and purple flowers in red vases -- the table

looked more like a carnival than a dreary March weekend. Go me.

Mila arrived, took over kitchen duties (which eclipsed my "Red"

efforts in a nanosecond) and the party began. Mila brought her

assistant Celeste, who treated us like royalty -- and I do love to be

treated like royalty since I am usually the short order cook and

towel washer in the family. Mila even invited my Mary Rose into the

kitchen and embraced her eager efforts graciously.

The meal began with a trio of hors d'oeuvres: potato pancakes with

smoked salmon, creme fraiche and caviar; stuffed sweet baby bell

peppers; and sweet and sour chicken skewers. Accompanying the first

course was a generous selection of wine and champagne that Mila's

husband had selected from Trader Joe's. The mache salad with chives

vinaigrette was amazing -- this was Mary Rose's grand effort and she

did a great job.

The plates looked as good as they tasted and included nasturtiums

from the back yard. Go Mary Rose. The main course, shrimp with

butternut squash served over jasmine rice, had just enough coconut

milk and fresh cilantro to give it an island feeling. Mila completed

the feast with poached pears with blue cheese. At that point, food

and hunger had nothing to do with each other, but we enjoyed every

bite. She bundled up the leftovers and packed them in the fridge,

which was a blessing and a curse, I've been eating them all week

long.

All of the recipes are available on Mila's Web site:

www.chefmila.com. Or you can call her at (949) 515-9031 and plan an

event of your own. Or you can also track her down at Sur la Table

where she teaches cooking classes. Go Mila.

Stuffed Sweet Baby Bell Peppers From the kitchen of Mila

Graves-Payne

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 package baby bell peppers (find them at Trader Joe's)

2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to taste goat cheese or

any other cheese of your choice (enough to stuff bell peppers)

Fresh chopped chives, parsley or basil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Wash and clean the peppers, removing seeds.

Mix goat cheese, chopped herbs and salt and pepper.

Make a small cut in the peppers and stuff each one with a small

amount of cheese mixture.

Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top of each one.

Bake in 450-degree oven until peppers are soft and cheese is

melted, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve as a side dish or appetizers.

* KAREN WIGHT is a Newport Beach resident. Her column runs

Saturdays.

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