Happy Thanksgiving!

To all who celebrate in the United States and our citizens abroad, may your day be filled with blessings, abundance and the joy of family and friends. 

Refrigeration Inspiration and a Little Surprise!

It’s that night time shot time of the year again!

A few weeks ago I heard a segment on public radio that I found jarring even though it wasn’t really news to me. It spoke about how much food is wasted or thrown away in the United States. Tons and tons.

No matter how conscientious well all try to be, I think at one time or another, many of us have found ourselves purchasing or even growing more food that we can use or give away. Sometimes it goes to waste because we’re too busy to use it for it’s original intended purpose or recipe. Sometimes it’s because we’re so busy we forgot about the food entirely. While I always try to keep in mind what I have in my fridge and use it up, occasionally it goes to my compost to recycle back into the garden. Better than a total waste, but still not ideal.

However, other times those forgotten contents in my refrigerator become the sole inspiration for what I cook.

I recently opened my fridge to find I had a plethora of arugula, two sad zucchini, some wilting shallots, a large carton of grape tomatoes going south, some rapidly aging brussels sprouts and a couple of portobello mushroom caps mushing it up in my fridge. “So,” I said to myself, “what can I make to use up all of these ingredients fast this week before they become an, er…experiment?”

Following in the answer in the form of my resulting recipes. They start with a wonderfully bright arugula pesto and build on that with 3 easy and delicious meals that provide a little something for everyone. In fact, many of these dishes would make great additions to a holiday table. I hope these recipes will inspire you to dive into the depths of your fridge, think creatively and come up with some tasty saves for those forgotten ingredients and leftover food items that lurk there!


And here’s my little surprise:
Early this summer I was hired to write my first 450 word food article for a magazine! I’m pleased to share this link to my article on chili beers for use in cooking as well as for pairing with food, featured in the Fall issue of The Beer Connoisseur, a premium web magazine on the BeerConnoisseur.com site. You can read the article at this link, but must subscribe for the recipes. It’s an informative and fun magazine and website, chocked full of tasty craft beer, food and travel. I hope you’ll enjoy this little taste for free. Cheers!


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Even though I know better I tend to limit my thinking to “Basil = Pesto.” Not true, and this time of year that’s especially not true when greens like arugula and kale are in season. The peppery arugula makes a delicious and very versatile pesto as you will see. And unlike basil pesto, arugula pesto keeps retains its bright green color. This is now my “cold weather” pesto of choice.

Arugula Walnut Pesto
Makes about 1 1/4 cup

4 cups baby arugula packed, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a food processor or blender, combine the first 4 ingredients and puree until smooth. Transfer the sauce to a medium-sized bowl and stir in the cheese and salt by hand. Any pesto not used immediately can be covered with plastic wrap touching the top of the sauce and another piece of plastic wrap covering the bowl, then refrigerated for several days. You can also make pesto with another green or herb of your choice and nut of your choice, but this combo is dynamite.


pastafinished1BThe ridged cavatappi pasta makes a perfect foil for this pesto-based dish. Best of all, it comes together quickly! Pass some extra cheese if you must…I understand.

Cavatappi with Arugula Pesto, Roasted Tomatoes and Zucchini
Makes 4-6 servings

16 oz. grape tomatoes, split in half lengthwise
2 medium zucchini squash diced to 1/2″
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12 oz. dry cavatappi pasta, penne or other hollow pasta with ridges
1/2 to 3/4 cup arugula pesto, or more to taste
Kosher Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup reserved pasta cooking water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil, then make a foil tray with the sides folded up that is 1/2 the length of the baking sheet. Place the tomatoes into the tray and the zucchini into the flat space on the sheet beside the tray. Divide the olive oil evenly between the tomatoes and the zucchini and toss to coat. Sprinkle the tomatoes and the zucchini with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the sheet into the oven and roast the vegetables until just beginning to brown and soften, about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through the roasting time.

While the veggies roast, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente. When the veggies are done and the pasta is al dente, drain the pasta reserving 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid and return it to the pot. Add the roasted vegetables and any collected juices to the pasta, then gently stir in the pesto. If the sauce and the pasta need to be more moist, add some of the cooking water a little at a time and stir, just until you have the sauce the way you like it. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed and serve.


pork chop 2

Really easy to prepare chops. Keep an eye on them and use the cooking time as a guide and you’ll have nice, flavorful and juicy chops. The Brussels sprouts below can roast alongside in the same oven if desired, just check them separately.

Simple Herbed and Baked Pork Loin Chops with Arugula Pesto
Makes 2 servings

2 – 6 or 8 ounce thick cut (about 1 inch) boneless pork loin chops
1 small clove of garlic, mashed with the flat side of a knife
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon each of finely chopped fresh sage, rosemary and thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons arugula pesto to serve

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients except the pork to form a paste. Evenly divide the paste between the two pork chops and rub them all over to evenly distribute the seasonings. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Place the pork chops in the skillet and sear them on each side, turning once, until you have a nice golden crust, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and place into the oven. Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes until the chops are just done through or the thickest part registers 155 degrees, watch carefully and check so as not to overcook. Remove from the oven, cover lightly with aluminum foil and allow the chops to rest for 5-10 minutes. Serve each chop with 1 tablespoon of arugula pesto on top or alongside.


brusselssproutsEven if you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts—and I can see why because I hated them for years until I tasted this cooking method—you should give these a try. The dark crispy edges and sweet caramelization that happens to these by simply roasting them, transforms them into…well, almost a snack!

Simple Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Makes 4 servings

1 lb. raw small fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed of wilted leaves and stem, then cut in half
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly oil it. Place the cut Brussels sprouts onto the prepared sheet, drizzle evenly with the olive oil, then sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Toss together with your hands to combine and spread the sprouts evenly in a single layer on the sheet. Place in the oven and roast for about 25 to 30 minutes total, stirring once, until the sprouts are tender and have dark brown caramelization spots as shown in the photos. Remove from the oven and serve.


I forget how much I love a good stuffed portobello mushroom. In addition to making use of my forgotten fridge ingredients, these beauties gave me the opportunity to use up some “many days old” bread and the last of some mozzarella cheese that needed to go, too! When served alongside a green salad topped with some apples, dried cranberries, a sprinkle of goat cheese, nuts and a balsamic vinaigrette, you end up with quite an elegant vegetarian meal. Add some roasted Brussels sprouts and you may even have a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal for two!

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Makes 2 servings

2 large portobello mushroom caps, cleaned with a wet paper towel, stems removed, chopped and set aside
2 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 slices multigrain and seeded bread, cut into small (about 1/2 inch) cubes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil, any type
2 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, finely chopped
1 generous tablespoon arugula pesto
2 tablespoons dry white wine (dry rosé will work as well)
2 tablespoons finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil for lightly coating the mushrooms and the stuffing

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a glass baking dish or line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease with a tiny bit of olive oil.

Add the olive oil to a medium sized non-stick skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped mushroom stems and the shallots and cook until the shallots are tender and just beginning to turn golden. Remove from the heat. In a large bowl, combine the bread, parsley, basil and tomatoes. Stir in the shallot and mushroom mixture, pesto, wine, the parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup of the mozzarella. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. The stuffing should just barely hold together when pressed with your hands.

Place the two mushrooms on the prepared baking dish gill side up, drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil onto each mushroom and coat the cap with your fingers. Very lightly season each mushroom cap with a tiny bit of salt and pepper. Place one half of the stuffing into the gill cavity of each mushroom, pressing and mounding the stuffing to fit into a dome shape. Drizzle the top of the stuffing with about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the top of each mushroom with the remaining mozzarella, dividing evenly. Sprinkle the mozzarella with another grind of black pepper. Place the mushrooms into the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes. Check to see if the mushrooms are done and bake for up to 5 to 10 more minutes if needed, or until the cheese is golden brown and the mushrooms are tender. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with a green salad, some leftover Brussels sprouts if you got ’em and a knife and fork.


Bon Appétit magazine used to close every issue by asking a celebrity: “What three items do you always have in your fridge?” The three things I know are in my fridge are good quality parmigiano reggiano cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and nuts of some sort. Without those items, I’m somewhat lost, because WITH those items I can make a world of difference in a lot of dishes. What are your three items?

Treats and Tricks: Spiced Oat and Chocolate Chip Blondies

plated3Halloween is all about sweet treats and for me, that means blondies.

I don’t prepare homemade goodies for the ghosts and goblins coming to our door because we live in the city and it’s just not done for safety reasons. But these bars, individually wrapped and hand delivered to neighbors, would make an excellent Halloween treat! They would also be a welcome addition to any Halloween party and great to have on hand as sustenance for those who service trick or treaters, too!

plated 1What makes these blondies so special is the addition of warm cinnamon spice, vanilla and oats. For a while now, I’ve wanted to translate an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie into a bar and these bars are the tasty result.

This is an easy recipe which comes together in a jiffy. And while I’m not going to say that these are healthy…they do have butter, sugar and chocolate after all…they are healthier than most blondies. In the vicinity of 100 calories per bar, they’re a reasonable indulgence for those of us that need to watch such things! (Me.) Most of all, they are absolutely delicious!

To make these bars my own, I omitted some of the sugar from the traditional blondie recipes I’ve seen (holy cow, is there a lot of sugar in those recipes!), as well as some of the butter, and I used only light brown sugar. Then I added rolled organic oats and chocolate chips to the batter, along with a touch of cinnamon for warmth and a really good dose of bourbon vanilla extract to enhance the overall sweetness. The resulting deliciousness was exactly what I wanted. A tiny bit chewy from the oats, toasty caramel flavor from the sugar and butter, decadent chocolate with a hint of spice and a vanilla hit to amp up the whole bar. Perfect.

plated4These blondies certainly aren’t just for Halloween. In combination with some hot tea or a glass of milk on a cool Fall afternoon, these are delightful. Need something sweet for a summer picnic? These treats will do the trick. They freeze incredibly well, too. In fact, I plan to make more and freeze them to use for the upcoming holidays. Just take what you need out of the freezer, thaw to room temperature and plate, and you’ve got instant holiday or hostess gift, party food…or cookies for Santa.

Below are a few simple “tricks” to ensure making perfectly browned and moist blondies:

Trick number 1: Properly prepare your pan. Click on any image above for instructions.

Trick number 2: Melt your butter only until it is ALMOST melted, then take it off the heat or out of the microwave and stir it until it finishes melting. This will keep it from “cooking” the sugar when you combine it to make batter. Do NOT add hot melted butter to your batter. If you do, you may end up with hard as brick edges to your bars and an uncooked middle!

Trick number 3: Removal from the pan. Click on any image above for instructions.


On another note, I always make a batch of my Spooktacular chili for Halloween and this year will be no exception. You can see that recipe by clicking here and it’s a great idea for Halloween parties, too. Make a chili bar and let your ghosts and goblins decorate their own chili with the fixings. Boo!

Happy Halloween!


Spiced Oat and Chocolate Chip Blondies
Makes 36 small bars

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted* (see “trick” number 2 above)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten to combine
2 teaspoons Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1/4 teaspoon good quality ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

waxed paper and scissors
2 – Wire cooling racks that will fit 13″ long

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with butter. Measure and tear off a piece of waxed paper slightly larger than the 13″ length of the pan. Turn the pan over and cut the waxed paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Turn the pan right side up and fit the cut waxed paper into the bottom of the pan and butter it. (See trick number 1.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla until just blended. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder and salt until well mixed. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and stir just until well mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Turn out the batter into the prepared baking pan. The batter will be thick. Spread it so that it evenly covers the bottom of the pan. It will be a thin layer, but will rise during baking. Bake in the oven for 18 minutes and check for doneness. The bars will be done when the edges are golden brown, the blonde top is just starting to brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Run a table knife gently around the outside of the bars. Place one of the wire cooling racks on top of the pan, then using oven mitts, invert the pan so that the blondies will fall onto the wire rack. You may need to give the bottom of the pan a rap. When the blondies have released, remove the pan. Gently peel the waxed paper off the bottom of the blondies. Place the second wire rack over the bottom of the blondies and invert again so that the top side of the blondies is up. Allow the blondies to cool to room temperature. Slide the blondies off onto a cutting board and cut into 36 even bars. EAT! These blondies may be frozen in small freezer bags for up to two months. Thaw before serving.

Apple and Oat Cake with Vanilla Yogurt Cream

finishedcake1With October upon us tomorrow (my birthday!), I’m definitely in the mood for Fall ingredients like butternut squash, leafy kale and fresh apples. Lately I’m trying to cook healthier dishes for a number of reasons and that means lighter cooking without sacrificing flavor or texture. Thanks to the latest edition of Cooking Light magazine, I found some inspiration. Their Whole-Grain Apple Cake with Yogurt Cream sounded so delicious and very easy to make…I just had to give it a try.

As is often the case for me of late, once the time rolled around that I could make the cake—a rainy day last weekend—I started prepping in the kitchen and realized that I did not have what I needed. Time to improvise.

While I didn’t change the recipe a huge amount, what I did change resulted in a pretty magnificent, not-too-sweet and technically gluten-free cake. It was very dense, apple forward and delicious, but with fewer calories than most apple cakes. The vanilla yogurt cream adds just the right touch of creamy decadence that one wants in a topping.

My simple substitutions included making my own “buttermilk” from 1% milk and lemon juice and adding a little extra lemon for some kick, because apples love lemon. I also used oat flour instead of whole wheat, rolled oats instead of quick, candied ginger instead of powdered and a little more cinnamon, please. I loved the resulting texture, which was less airy than the original appeared to be since I didn’t change the leavening to compensate for the denser oat flour. Additionally I made my yogurt cream the way I always do…with 2% Greek Fage yogurt, a little brown sugar and some Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, and left out the whipping cream called for in the recipe. Very, very yummy and a great sub for whipped cream on most sweets that aren’t opposed to some tang.


It’s that night time shot time of year again.

One of the things I’ve learned on my own about substitutions in baked goods is that one must be extremely careful to not upset the balance of leavening or the liquid to dry ratio in a recipe. If you respect that, you can learn a lot about baking by experimenting…which is basically what I do in my kitchen.

Having said that, the idea of this cake and the method that Cooking Light used to reduce the fat and calorie content in a favorite recipe was very enlightening. One of the most brilliant ideas was that of freezing your butter so that you can then grate a small amount of it into the topping. This allows for excellent distribution of a very small amount of fat, while providing great flavor and crispness in the streusel topping. That’s a trick I’ll keep handy for the future…and my stick of butter is now residing in the freezer just waiting to go.

My only wish for this cake would be to find a good substitution for canola oil. I did use it in the recipe below, but may try a different type of oil next time, even olive oil. I am becoming less and less of a fan of canola oil because it isn’t very pure and doesn’t seem to be as healthy as some other oils on the market. If you have other ideas for substitutions that are healthy and work well in baking, please let me know!

Apple and Oat Cake with Vanilla Yogurt Cream
(Slightly adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves 10

Note: Oat flour is more caloric and has slightly more fat content than whole wheat flour, but is a healthy flour. Technically this recipe is now gluten-free, but if you’re sensitive to gluten you should review the ingredients carefully. Hopefully by not using whipping cream in the yogurt cream, some of the low caloric balance is restored.

2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice added to 1% milk in order to make 2/3 cup total of lemon juice and milk “buttermilk” (let mixture to sit for 10 minutes and thicken before using)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cup oat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped candied ginger
2 cups grated apple such as Honeycrisp or Gala (if not using organic apples, peel the apples before grating)
Baking spray for the pan

3 tablespoons rolled oats
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon brown sugar packed
1 1/2 tablespoons frozen unsalted butter, grated
dash of kosher salt

Vanilla Yogurt Cream:
3/4 cup plain 2% Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. For the cake, place the first 5 ingredients (thorough eggs) in a large mixing bowl and beat together with a hand mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds until well combined. In a medium bowl combine the flour and the next 5 ingredients (through the ginger) and stir well with a whisk. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and beat at low speed until just combined. Stir in the apple by hand. Pour the batter evenly into a 9-inch non-stick cake pan that has been coated with baking spray.

To prepare the streusel topping, combine the rolled oats and the next 4 ingredients (through kosher salt) in a small bowl and toss to combine. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife gently around the edges of the cake pan, place a plate on top of the pan and invert the cake onto the plate, then place the rack onto the bottom of the cake and invert back onto the rack to finish cooling, streusel side up. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To prepare the vanilla yogurt cream, place all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk until combined. Slice the cake into 10 pieces and serve each piece with about 1 tablespoon of the cream.


finished cake top view

It’s the Simple Things

Happy September! Welcome to blue sky days and the winding down of the summer season. Although our summer is still making its presence known, we had a tease of fall a couple of nights ago that promised a welcome cooling off not too far down the road.

I’ve overused the word “busy” lately, because that’s what this year has been. Busy with work, busy with family, busy with life. And it’s all a very good thing. The only bad thing about it is that my blog has suffered a bit, as has my inventiveness in the kitchen. I beat myself up about that a little…thinking that I should only post when I have something excitingly new and different to share. Am I right or am I procrastinating? I’m not sure.

What I am sure of is that as time goes on and the busier I get, I find it’s the simplest things in life that get you by and prove to be the most enjoyable. Like taking a ten minute break or walk during the week to clear your head, or a lovely longer hike in a forest over the weekend. An evening sitting out on the deck enjoying an unexpected cool breeze and the night sounds. An unplanned road trip for a day just for a change of venue. An ice cream on a sugar cone. A spontaneous run through someone else’s sprinkler on a hot day! Moments.

Enjoying the simpler things also applies to food. Of late we’ve been enjoying the simplest of dishes comprised of the summer season’s bounty. Bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches both traditional with plain bread and mayo…and with some twists, fresh field peas, green beans from the garden roasted or snapped, a squash casserole, or with a bit more effort a squash and tomato galette, watermelon salad, grilled corn salad, lemon, strawberry, blueberry, or peach sorbets or pops…simple, delightful.

So today what I’m sharing is just that. Some simple, easy foods to enjoy before the season is over and we move into fall. Some of the recipes above I’ve posted before and you’ll see those highlighted and can follow the links to their posts. Some of the new recipes below aren’t really recipes so much as a method. Most all of them are quick to make and leave you with some time to sit and enjoy their simply wonderful flavor. I highly recommend dining alfresco if you have the opportunity!


Some seriously good eats. Field peas, charred broccoli with lemon and goat cheese and Cooking Light’s carrot and potato pancakes with curried yogurt dipping sauce. A Vegetarian’s delight!

Our Classic Family preparation for field peas or snapped green beans:
4-6 side servings

3/4 lb. shelled, rinsed and drained field peas such as black-eyed, pink-eyed, purple hull or lady peas
— OR —
3/4 lb. snapped green beans, rinsed and drained
2 oz. good quality raw bacon strips
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or to taste
1 measured teaspoon granulated sugar

Place the peas or the green beans in a medium-sized saucepan. Cover with water by 1 inch. Add the bacon, salt, pepper and sugar and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down and cook until just tender to the bite, about 15 to 20 minutes. Scoop out with slotted spoon and enjoy.

If you only try one of these recipes, don't miss this corn salad!

If you only try one of these recipes, make it this corn salad!

Grilled Corn Salad
(Slightly adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine) My new favorite!
Serves 4

5 ears of fresh corn, husk and silk removed
3 1/2 tablespoons of good quality mayonnaise (I use Duke’s)
2 generous tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1/8 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
1/8 scant teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 1/2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh cilantro
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a grill or grill pan for medium heat. Grill the corn, turning it occasionally until tender and charred, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Using a chef’s knife, hold the cob upright over a cutting board and cut the kernels off the cob cutting downward. Transfer the cut corn kernels to a medium bowl.

In another medium bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, lime juice, paprika, cayenne, feta and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Combine the corn with the dressing mixture and toss to thoroughly coat. Cover the salad with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 15-30 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. Serve with additional feta and cilantro sprinkled over if desired. (Dressing can be made 2 days ahead, covered and chilled. Corn can be grilled and cut from cob 1 hour ahead and stored airtight at room temperature.)

Watermelon and Feta Salad with Mint or Baby Arugula (Rocket)
Serves 4-6
(This salad is best made shortly before you plan to eat it. The watermelon will release its juice the moment the salt hits it.)

1/2 of a small seedless watermelon, fruit cut from rind and into 1 1/2 chunks (about 8 cups)
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped OR 2 1/2 cups of baby arugula leaves
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (or more to taste)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl gently combine the watermelon, mint or arugula, a generous pinch of salt and several good grinds of black pepper to taste. Add the feta cheese and gently toss to combine. Taste again and add more salt, pepper and feta if desired. Serve within an hour, ideally, to keep the watermelon from becoming too soupy.

BLT Pizza
You’ll have to decide for yourself how many this will serve depending on your level of hunger…at least 2 folks. Prepared crust gets this on the table in 15 minutes from the time your bacon is cooked.

1 Prepared 12-inch pizza crust
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 medium fresh tomatoes such as heirloom Cherokee purple or other favorite, sliced fairly thin
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of slivered or chopped fresh basil leaves (about 10-12 leaves)
4 ounces fresh buffalo mozzarella sliced, then cut into 1 inch pieces
3 cups baby arugula leaves
good quality extra virgin olive oil

Pizza stone and a peel, ideally
corn meal if using a peel to help release the pizza

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F with a pizza stone placed in the middle rack of the oven. If you do not have a pizza stone, place your crust on a flat baking sheet instead of a pizza peel and proceed to top it as below.

Place a good pinch of corn meal on your pizza peel if using one, then place the prepared pizza crust on top of that (or a baking sheet if not using a stone.) Drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil over the pizza crust and use your clean hands to rub it all over the surface and edges of the crust.

Place the tomato slices evenly across the crust leaving a scant 1/2 inch border along the outside, trying not to overlap but covering the surface area of the crust very well. Sprinkle the black pepper over the tomato slices and then evenly distribute the basil over the tomato slices. Place the mozzarella on top of the tomatoes and basil, again evenly distributing. Using the peel, place the pizza into the oven on top of the stone, centered, or place your baking sheet directly into the oven. Bake the pizza for 10-12 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly, and the edges of the crust are nicely browned. Use your peel to remove the pizza from the stone and place it on a large cutting board, or slide your pizza off the baking sheet onto a cutting board. Top the hot pizza evenly with the crumbled cooked bacon, then the arugula. Finish the pizza with a tiny drizzle (about 1 teaspoon) of olive oil on top of the arugula. Cut into six wedges and serve.

BLT Pizza is a one dish meal!

BLT Pizza is a one dish meal!


Hurray for Upside Down! Georgia Peach, Bourbon and Cherry-Studded Skillet Cake

cake6***Warning. A healthy, low calorie, vegan or gluten-free post is not ahead.*** 

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those types of recipes, but this isn’t one. Nope, not even with the fruit. Still with me? Here’s a dessert that’s worth the calories.

Skillet cakes have been around for a long, long time, and inverting skillet cakes to show off a topping dates back as far as the middle ages. Maybe that’s why the mere mention of a pineapple upside down cake or a tarte tatin makes our mouths start to water and our eyes grow wider in anticipation of that very first bite.

The universal appeal of these cakes has been bred into us. This is particularly true in the Southern United States, where pineapple upside down cake has played an integral part in holidays and a served as a symbol of Southern hospitality since Jim Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company ran a nationwide recipe contest in 1925 for utilizing canned pineapple. The response was overwhelming, receiving some 2,500 recipes for the festive cherry-studded pineapple wonder cake alone!

Of course most any fruit can serve as the “upside down” star of a skillet cake. And today it’s time to move over, pineapple, because there’s a new symbol of Southern hospitality in town. PEACHES ARE KING.


How could you possibly say no to a slice of this peachy keen cake?

Georgia is in the midst of a banner peach season which started in May, so it was only a matter of time before I used some fine local peaches to make a cake. I particularly enjoy fresh peaches with cherries. And when they’re combined with the customary brown sugar and butter topping of an upside down cake, these two fruits take on a lusciously glossy appearance with an absolutely divine light caramel taste. A good measure of cinnamon added to the batter brings warmth and extra flavor to the cake. Splash a little Kentucky bourbon into that batter and sprinkle a bit more over the top of this cake when it’s hot out of the oven, and you’ve got a real winner.

While the warning at the beginning of this post does apply, this cake is actually quite light to eat with an appealing, fluffy crumb. By scaling back on the butter and sugar found in a typical upside down cake recipe, the cake still retains just the right amount of caramelized goodness that one expects, but without the overpowering sweetness. It makes a beautiful and company-worthy cake that really stands alone, but you can guild the lily if you must by adding a dollop of whipped cream alongside—for nostalgic purposes, of course.

Just look at all of that cinnamon goodness and the crumb on this cake!

Just look at all of that cinnamon goodness and the crumb on this cake!

I foresee this basic cake recipe working well in the winter season, too, by using fresh apples and cinnamon scented with some orange zest or fresh pears with lemon, ginger and brandy. Really, the possibilities are endlessly delicious.

cake7Georgia Peach, Bourbon and Cherry-Studded Upside Down Skillet Cake
Makes 8 Generous Servings
Make this cake in a well-seasoned, 10-inch cast iron skillet. It will not be the same made in a cake pan and will be harder to release as well.

Ingredients for the Topping:
1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) of unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups of peeled and sliced fresh peaches, Georgia or other (about 4 medium peaches)
1/2 cup pitted fresh sweet cherries, cut into halves

Ingredients for the Cake Batter:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (3/4 stick)
1 cup granulated sugar (I use cane sugar)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon Madagascar Bourbon vanilla
1 tablespoon Kentucky bourbon, if you’ve got it, or other good quality bourbon
1/2 cup milk (2% is fine)

2 additional tablespoons of Kentucky bourbon to sprinkle over the finished cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a well seasoned, 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium low heat, then add the brown sugar and stir while the mixture gently simmers for about 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and lay the peach slices facing in the same direction into the skillet on top of the sugar mixture, creating a circular fan design. Stud the peaches with the cherries, cut side down.

In a small bowl, sift together the first 4 ingredients for the cake batter. In a large mixing bowl, beat the softened 6 tablespoons of butter with a hand mixer until it’s light and fluffy on low, then add the granulated sugar in three additions. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla and the bourbon and beat to combine, then add half of the flour mixture, beating until just blended. Beat in the milk, then add the remaining flour mixture, beating until just blended. Spoon the batter into the skillet on top of the fruit topping, smoothing until it is evenly spread.

Bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is a golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow the cake to stand in the skillet for 5 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the outer edge of the cake and invert the cake onto a large cake plate. Be sure to keep the cake plate and the skillet completely pressed together while inverting, then gently remove the skillet from the cake and replace any fruit that may stick to the bottom. (If your pan is well-seasoned, the fruit shouldn’t stick.) Sprinkle the top of the cake with the 2 tablespoons of bourbon and allow the cake to cool on the plate on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature as is, or garnish with whipped cream or even vanilla ice cream, if you must…I understand.


It’s hard to believe something that looks like this when it comes out of the oven can be turned upside down and become a show-stopper.

Cooling Comforts: Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad

finished 1“We’re havin’ a heat wave, a tropical heat wave….”

The rest of Irving Berlin’s song doesn’t apply, but the first line has been painfully true here these last few weeks. Close to 100 degrees F in June? Yeah, that’s pretty hot, even for the South. Now it’s July, and we can expect more of the same.

There are many ways to cool off in the heat of Summer. You can enjoy the air conditioning, mercifully. In your free time you can hike along cool streams and rivers and take a dip or jump into a pool…or even a run through a sprinkler will do if you don’t have a water ban. And you can enjoy sipping cooling beverages and eating foods that are appropriate to the season. I’ll take all of the above, but am here to talk about the latter.

Farro had become one of my new best friends. I love its look and really enjoy its chewy texture, especially in a salad. Last summer, I posted a Fruited Farro Salad that you can see by clicking on the name. It’s a savory sweet salad, wonderful as a side dish or a light lunch. This summer I’m into quick one dish meals, particularly if they involve heating anything up other than an outdoor grill. This Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad really fits the bill and I never get tired of it.

First off, it features some of my favorite ingredients like meaty portobello mushrooms and fresh grape tomatoes, which are roasted in olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper to intensify and concentrate their flavors. Then I add lots of fresh herbs from my garden, the farro, some chopped Parmesan cheese and a lemon scented dressing. Served at room temperature or cold, this salad is very refreshing while still being hearty enough to eat on its own as a light meal. It also pairs well with grilled meats and other veggies. And best of all, it’s a deliciously cool way to enjoy the season.

Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad
Serves 6-8

For the salad:
2 cups uncooked farro
Pinch of kosher salt
6 oz. Portobello mushroom caps, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup of finely chopped Parmesan cheese

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the uncooked farro in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with water. Allow the farro to sit for 20 minutes, then drain off the water and add more water to cover it by an inch. Add a pinch of salt, bring the water and farro to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover, allowing to cook until the farro is just done but still has some chew to it, about 20 minutes. Drain the farro really well and transfer to a large bowl to cool.

While the farro is cooking and cooling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Make a second foil packet about half the length of the baking sheet and turn up the edges to make a square “tray” of foil. Toss the portobello mushrooms with a tablespoon of the olive oil and distribute them in one layer on one side of the baking sheet, then toss the grape tomatoes with the other tablespoon of olive oil and place them in the foil tray on the other side of the baking sheet. Season the mushrooms and the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Roast them in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked through and crispy on the edges and the tomatoes have softened. Remove from the oven when fully roasted and set aside to cool for at least 5 minutes.

Add the cooled roasted mushrooms and tomatoes, parsley, basil and thyme to the cooked farro and toss gently to combine. In a separate small bowl, combine the lemon juice, salt and pepper, then whisk in the 6 tablespoons of olive oil to emulsify. Pour the dressing over the farro mixture and toss gently, then add the parmesan and stir again gently to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Allow the flavors to blend for 30 minutes at room temperature and serve. Refrigerate any unused salad for up to 3 days.


An Anniversary and an Easy Fresh Fruit Tiramisu

PeachMelba7BHi Everyone! I hope that your last couple of months (yes, two months almost!) have been lovely. All is well here. My time has been spent helping family get through some surgery and recovery, traveling, work, hiking, birthdays…you know, life in general. But all is good, I’m back online and ready to share more trails leading to good food.

I’ll start off by mentioning that not only is this my 200th post, but today is the 4 year anniversary of this blog! That first post, Ode to Red Speckled Grits, was all about testing the waters of websites and blogging…and once I started, I was hooked. Thanks to all of you who found me, encouraged me and joined me in this adventure. And thanks for sharing your own blogs while giving me informative and fun dialog along the way. Please join me for the beginning of the next 4 years!

Celebrations require some dessert, and with all of the lovely fruits available in this almost summer season, I want to share a quick and easy celebratory recipe where fresh fruit is the star. I’ve always loved tiramisu…the little “pick me up” from Italy. The traditional recipe involves a rich and delicious combo of ladyfingers, cream, mascarpone, coffee, marsala wine, chocolate and sometimes egg yolks. Nothing wrong with that.

This version, however, is a little lighter take on the original and can be quite versatile in terms of changing out seasonal fruits and whatever booze strikes your fancy. Filled with juicy berries and peaches, creamy mascarpone cheese lightened with yogurt and a bit of fresh citrus zest for some zing—along with the traditional ladyfingers and liquor—this satisfying dessert keeps much of the texture and feel of the original tiramisu with about half the calories. It’s a “pick me up” that comes together quickly, resulting in a cool, light and elegant dessert, just perfect for the hot weather season or whenever you need a delicious finish to a meal. Try my two variations below and then have some fun experimenting on your own.


Easy Fresh Fruit Tiramisu for 2
(can be doubled or quadrupled as needed)

For Blueberry-Peach-Almond Tiramisu:
3/4 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried
1 cup fresh peaches, peeled and sliced, with their juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
3 generous tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 generous tablespoon plain greek yogurt (I use 2%)
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
3 teaspoons of amaretto, divided
4 hard italian ladyfingers (can use the soft kind if you prefer, but hard holds up better)
1 generous tablespoon of toasted, slivered almonds

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, mascarpone, yogurt, powdered sugar and one teaspoon of Amaretto, until smooth. Break two ladyfingers into four pieces each and place four pieces (one ladyfinger for each glass) into the bottom of two pretty glasses…low ball, brandy snifter or wine glasses work perfectly. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of Amaretto per glass over the ladyfingers. Spoon 1/4 of the peaches and some juice over the ladyfingers in each glass, then top with 1/4 of the blueberries per glass. Layer 1 generous Tablespoon of the mascarpone mixture on top of the fruit in each glass. Sprinkle 1/4 of the toasted almonds into each glass. Repeat the layers with the remaining ladyfingers broken into 4 pieces each, the Amaretto, peaches, blueberries and mascarpone mixture evenly divided, and finish with the remaining toasted almonds. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to blend. Serve and enjoy.

Peachmelba1For Peach “Melba” Tiramisu:
Substitute 3/4 cup fresh raspberries for the blueberries, orange zest for the lemon and Grand Marnier for the Amaretto. Omit almonds and proceed the same as for Blueberry-Peach-Almond, garnishing the top with a raspberry and some fresh mint, if desired.


A few scenes from our latest adventures in North Carolina.

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Mini, Customizable Quiches. Maximum Flavor!

finishedcloseup-2Whether you make them for a brunch buffet, as a cocktail nibble or to take to a pot luck party, these mini quiches are fun to make and even better to eat!

The best thing about them (in addition to their taste, of course) is that they are so very customizable. Leave out the meat for a tasty vegetarian option, or add a meat of your choice for the carnivores and omnivores in your crowd. You can mix and match your add-in’s for endless combinations, taking advantage of what’s in season as well as making multiple flavors in one batch. And you don’t have to feel guilty about these little pleasures because they are truly two-bite sized, even though they are powerfully large in flavor.

I made these above (click each photo for more detail) to take to a pot luck and they were gone within minutes. Then I started thinking about how great it would be to make them as part of a brunch buffet…my next endeavor, or possibly bake and freeze them…haven’t tried it, but I will.

This batch features caramelized onion on both versions, then broccoli and cheddar cheese in one half of the batch and sautéed mushrooms with gruyere cheese in the other. Future combos will be Italian sausage or finely chopped chorizo, red bell pepper, onion and a little grated Manchego or mozzarella cheese, and another version will feature ham and/or asparagus and parmesan cheese. What fun! It’s truly like playing with your food.

finished-1Below is the recipe for these, a variation on one of my larger quiche recipes utilizing the same custard base. Enjoy playing with these and making them your own!

***Note, I will continue to be a bit erratic with my posting as I spend time with family on and off for the next few weeks. Bear with me. One of these days I’ll get back on a more regular schedule, I promise!

Caramelized Onion, Brocoli and Cheddar Mini Quiches and Caramelized Onion, Mushroom and Gruyere Mini Quiches
Makes about 32

1 uncooked refrigerated 9-inch pie crust
1 medium sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups fresh broccoli crowns, blanched in boiling water for 3 minutes, drained and dried
4 ounces button mushrooms, sliced, then halved
2-3 teaspoons olive oil
Generous 1/2 cup of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
Generous 1/2 cup of grated gruyere or swiss cheese
4 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup 1% milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place half of the olive oil into a large skillet heated to medium low heat, add the onions and sauté until they are caramelized, about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with a tiny pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the onions from the skillet when they a nice medium golden brown color and set aside. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet, then add the mushrooms, sprinkling with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper, and sauté them over medium low heat until they are done and tender, about another 5-8 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the skillet and set aside.

Roll your piecrust out on a floured surface as though you were planning to put it into a 9-inch pie plate, about a 14-inch round. Using a 1 1/2-inch biscuit cutter (or a water glass), cut out as many rounds as you can fit out of the rolled pie crust, saving the scraps. Roll each individual round a bit more to ensure that it will just fit into the muffin tin, then place into the tin, fully covering the bottom and sides of each depression. Gather the pie crust scraps and roll out the crust again, using the same cutting and rolling process to fill the remaining muffin tins until all of the crust is used. Layer the onions first into the bottom of each crust. Next add a tiny piece or two of broccoli floret on top of the onion to 1/2 of your total crusts. Add two to three pieces of mushroom on top of the onion to the remaining 1/2 of your total crusts. Sprinkle about a rounded teaspoon of grated cheddar cheese over each broccoli quiche and the same amount of gruyere over the mushroom quiches.

In a blender or food processor, combine the 4 eggs, the milk, the cream, the nutmeg and another small pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Blend until well mixed. Pour the egg mixture over the top of the layered ingredients on all of the mini-quiches, filling to just slightly below the rim of the depression and not above the edge of the crust. (Any leftover add-ins, cheese and custard can be placed into well greased ramekins and cooked alongside the mini-quiches to make small crustless quiches. These may need a little longer to cook than the minis!) Place the filled mini quiches into the oven on a center rack and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, until the custard is golden, puffed and just set. When the quiches are done, remove from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Pop each one out carefully with a knife and serve warm or at room temperature.

*For other add-ins, just cook or prepare your ingredients prior to the layering stage, then layer them adding the cheese last, then pour the custard.

Easy Curried Butternut Squash Soup

soup5RSoup prepared any time of the year is a welcome repast in our house. One of the things I love about soup is the infinite variety of tastes and textures that it can provide. Whether hot or cold, savory or sweet, thick, chunky or thin…all soups say “comfort” to me.

Spring is here, the trees are blooming and my hellebores are having a banner year. The daffodils and tulips have been in full glory this week and even the azaleas are showing a little color in their buds. Our temps have ranged up to 80 degrees F on and off for the past few weeks and we’ve enjoyed spending a few nights grilling out on our deck…when it hasn’t been raining. Today is another beautiful day—but cold, and it’s due to go back down to freezing tonight. Seems like a perfect time to make a warming pot of soup! Continue reading