Home Fries…

I love my cast iron skillet. It only cost me about $20 and it’s one of the best skillets I have. But there’s a reason for that. Cast iron produces even, sustained heat and that’s the best for cooking just about anything. The only drawback to cast iron is it’s so darn heavy. But I just think of it as an upper body workout and move on from there.

This recipe uses the features of a cast iron skillet to produce the tastiest home fries. And making home fries is not all that complicated. The flavor of homemade sure beats the taste of the frozen kind.

So without further adieu, let’s talk home fries…

Lesson Learned 1 – Make sure to cut the potatoes to the correct size: For the purposes of this recipe you need to keep the pieces close in size (approx. 3/4 inch pieces). Here’s a little trick to help you achieve that. Using your chef’s knife cut a thin slice off of one of the longer sides of a peeled potato. Set the potato on the cut side and slice crosswise into even planks. Stack several planks and cut crosswise. Then rotate and cut crosswise again. This will give you evenly sliced potatoes.

Lesson Learned 2 – You can cook the pieces of potatoes two different ways, on the stovetop or in the microwave: (I will include both methods in the recipe printout). I chose to cook them on the stove. The process is not much different than making mashed potatoes. The only difference is you want to monitor the potatoes as they boil to make sure they don’t get overly soft, otherwise they’ll break apart. You want them to hold their shape. I would boil them for about 7-10 minutes and check their consistency. If they are still hard, check every couple of minutes until they are just becoming fork tender.

Lesson Learned 3 – If you choose to boil your potatoes first, let them cool a little in the strainer so they are as dry as possible when you put them in the cast iron skillet: In order to get your potatoes nice and brown you want them to be as free from water as possible. I would boil the potatoes first, strain them and let them sit in the strainer while you saute the onions and garlic. That way most of the moisture will drain off before you put them in the skillet.

Lesson Learned 4 – Once you saute the onions and garlic remove them from the pan and set them aside. The first time I made this recipe I kept them in the cast iron pan while I was browning the potatoes. Big mistake! They didn’t stand up very well through the browning process and wound up getting burned. Once you saute the mixture remove it from the pan and add it back in at the last minute just to get it warmed through again. That way you won’t get browned potatoes and blackened onions and garlic. Lessons learned from the cook who never could…

Lesson Learned 5 – Don’t continuously move the potatoes once they are in the skillet: In order to get the potatoes nice and brown you have to let them sit for a while in the skillet. The whole browning process can take about 20 minutes and you don’t want to be flipping the potatoes continuously during that time. If you want to check to see if they are ready to flip, turn one of the pieces or look on the sides of the pieces to see if the bottoms have started to to turn color. You’ll get a much better result if you are patient during the browning process.

And that’s it, couldn’t be any easier. I like these so much better than the frozen kind. Try them and see if you agree!

Home Fries...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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2 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 3/4 inch cubes

2 – 3 Tbs. vegetable oil

1 small-medium size onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbs. fresh chives

Salt and pepper, to taste


In a high rimmed pot, boil the potatoes until they just fork tender. Drain the potatoes and set aside. (NOTE: you can also microwave the potatoes. Put 1 Tbs. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a covered microwave safe bowl along with the potatoes. Stir. Cook 7-10 minutes stirring occasionally. Drain the potatoes well).

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Start with 2 Tbs. of oil (you may or may not need to add more later) added to the skillet and heated until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until lightly browned. Salt and pepper the onions. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside.

If needed, add the remaining oil to the pan. Add the potatoes and gently pack them into the skillet using the back end of a spatula. Cook, without moving for 7-10 minutes or until they begin to brown.

Flip the potatoes and lightly repack them into the skillet. (check to see if you need to add oil during this process). Continue flipping process until the potatoes are browned on all sides. Add the onions and garlic back to the pan, mix with the potatoes and heat until warmed through.

Season with salt and pepper, garnish with chives and serve immediately.

Potatoes during the browning process




















Easy Tangy Cucumber Salad…

I don’t know about you but after the holidays I crave eating light. My body just wants to go back to a more reasonable routine and dictates that my diet consist of mostly feel good food. And after a few days I feel back on track. Does that happen to you?

Quite often that change in diet consists of revisiting what I call “free” foods. By free foods I mean those that technically have no calories. Don’t get me wrong, all food has calories, but free foods are the kind that take more calories to digest than what they have resulting in a negative balance of calories. And one of my all-time favorite free foods is cucumber.

There are many ways you can serve cucumber that ramps up the calories, but this particular recipe, even though it does contain some sugar (and only if you feel you need it), keeps it down to a dull roar. This recipe is so easy to make and if you like tangy foods like I do, it will easily become your go-to salad option.

So let’s talk easy, tangy cucumber salad…

Lesson Learned 1 – Yes the dressing has sugar in it, but you can regulate that: After pouring through several variations of this kind of recipe I found that the amount of sugar used to offset the tartness of the vinegar can vary. Personally I like tart. I can eat a lemon like a piece of fruit. So I do not find apple cider vinegar to be over the top in terms of tartness. So here is my suggestion. Start with a light teaspoon of sugar (or maybe even no sugar at all). If after you taste the mixture you think it is too tart, add a little more. I would not go any higher than two teaspoons. After all this recipe is designed to be tangy.

Dressing Mixture

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a mandolin slicer to get nice thin, even slices: Nothing replaces a mandolin slicer for consistency in slicing. The main drawback of the mandolin slicer is the potential for slicing your skin as well, especially if you aren’t paying attention. Always use a mandolin slicer with caution, but use it to get the best results in slicing.

Lesson Learned 3 – This dish is not meant to be eaten immediately: This recipe tastes much better after it has a little time to sit so the cucumbers and dressing can get well acquainted. I would let it sit a minimum of 1 hour before serving. It’s even better if you let it sit for about 4 hours.

Lesson Learned 4 – This recipe is best if eaten with 2 days: Make only enough so that you will either finish it at one meal or for have it only for a couple of days. After that the cucumbers get lose their freshness and get too limp.

Quick, easy and flavorful. That’s what this recipe is all about. Try serving this as a replacement for a side salad or use it as a bed for a nice piece of roasted salmon as pictured below. You will love it, I guarantee it!

Easy Tangy Cucumber Salad...

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


1-2 English Cucumbers (depending on size) sliced into 1/8 inch slices

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs. olive oil

1-2 tsp. sugar (start out with none or a light teaspoon, taste and go from there)

1 tsp. kosher salt (add more if needed)

1/2 tsp. freshly cracked pepper

2 Tbs. fresh chopped chives


In a medium bowl mix the vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix well. Slice the cucumbers and chop the chives. Add the cucumber and chives to the dressing mixture. Stir till well combined. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Serve as a salad or as an accompaniment to a meal (see roast salmon suggestion above).














Taters, Taters, Taters (Let’s Exchange Recipes)…

No matter what you call them, how you prepare them or how you serve them I love taters! Yes I know about carbs and yes there are some great alternatives but nothing in my mind compliments a meal like some delicious taters! Basically they are good for you, it’s all the stuff we put on them that causes the problems. But taters are one of my top guilty pleasures in life and that is not likely to change.

So I thought with this particular blog I’d try something a little different – basically suggest a tater exchange. I will give you a recipe that I’ve recently perfected and just love with the hopes that in the comments of my blog you share your favorite potato recipe. Then this blog can be a clearing house for a variety of great potato recipes – and what is better than that? Plus it will give me some new tater recipes to try.

So my recipe is for Greek Lemon Potatoes. These potatoes slow roast in the oven and the aroma of the garlic, oregano and lemon fill the air with a wonderful homey smell. So let’s talk Greek Lemon Potatoes

Lesson Learned 1 – How you cut the potatoes is important: I use Yukon Gold potatoes for this recipe and I actually peel them although it’s not necessary. Yukon Golds have a very thin skin and you can roast them either way. I try to pick out ones that are about the same size and thickness (not more than about 4 inches thick). I slice the potatoes in half and then I slice them down the middle lengthwise and into about six equal sized pieces widthwise. The picture below shows how I cut them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Be careful how much oil you use: When I originally tried this recipe I used 1/2 cup of olive oil. I found the potatoes came out too greasy. I’ve cut the amount down to a little over 1/4 cup but I found the amount of oil you use depends on the pan you roast the potatoes in. In a smaller high sided pan you will need less oil. In a larger pan where the potatoes are more spread out you’ll need more. Just make sure you’ve got at least 1/8 in of oil on the bottom. You may have to play around with the amount of oil. If you think the potatoes are coming out too greasy, just put them on paper towels for a couple of seconds before you serve them and you should be just fine.

Lesson Learned 3 – Your roasting time may vary depending on your oven: Once again I live in high altitude so the roasting process always takes a little longer. This recipe works well for me at 400 degrees for 1 1/2 hours but you may find your roasting time will be a little shorter. Keep in mind you’re cutting your potatoes into somewhat larger chunks so you will need some time to roast them completely.

Lesson Learned 4 – Salt the warm potatoes before you serve them: I’ve found that sprinkling a little bit of kosher salt on these potatoes right before you serve them gives them a little touch that really boosts the flavor. The warmth of the potatoes seems to incorporate the salt more fully. Try it and see what you think. These are not difficult at all to prepare and require very little monitoring but the end result c’est manifique… (I know that’s French and not Greek). Try these and share your favorite potato recipe with me. I’m always on the look out for a new way to make taters!

Greek Lemon Potatoes

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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2 pounds of Yukon Gold Potatoes sliced in medium sized chunks

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

4 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice, (about 1 medium sized lemon)

2 Tbs. dijon mustard

1 Tbs. dried oregano

1/4 cup olive oil (may need to adjust according to the size you use)

Kosher salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice potatoes into medium sized chunks and place in a bowl. In a separate bowl combine all of the other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour this mixture over the potatoes and thoroughly combine.

Spray a medium sized casserole dish (2 quarts or larger) with cooking spray. Put the potato mixture into the prepared pan, using a spatula to get all of the olive oil mixture out of the bowl. Cover with foil and roast for an hour, stirring the potatoes at the half hour mark.

Uncover the potatoes, stir them once again and roast for another half hour. Sprinkle with kosher salt and serve immediately.


And since I am suggesting the tater recipe exchange, I will start the process – here is a great cheesy potato recipe that I know you will just love Cheesy Potato and Green Onion Casserole

Cheesy Potato and Green Onion Casserole

Lithuanian Kugelis (Potato Pudding)…

Let me say right up front that this recipe is an artery clogger. That is why I make it once or maybe twice a year tops. The recipe has its roots in my family history. I am of both Lithuanian and Polish decent, and this recipe comes directly from my Lithuanian heritage.

My grandmother (my mother’s mother) was a great cook. She was one of those cooks who could never give you a recipe since everything she made was by look and taste. So it was with this kugelis recipe. I’ve played around with it and have gotten it to just about the way my grandmother made it. But lets face it, no one ever made it like Grandma or ever will.

Before I go into my lessons learned I think it only fair to share some memories of my grandmother. She came on a boat from Lithuania when she was only 16. Her passage was paid for by the man she was to marry. It was an arranged marriage. I can’t even begin to imagine how, at that young age, she had to courage to travel by herself to meet a man she had never met and marry him. But she felt it was her way out of abject poverty.

She got to the United States and immediately knew she did not want to marry this man. She was fortunate enough to meet another man she liked and convinced him to “buy-out” her marriage contract. He did and she wound up marrying him. They lived in Chicago which, at the time, had the largest Lithuanian population outside of Lithuania itself.

My Grandmother and Grandfather on their wedding day

My Grandmother and Grandfather on their wedding day

They were not rich by any stretch of the imagination and they had four children to feed. My mother told me there were times when my Grandmother went without food so the kids could eat. But they worked hard, watched their pennies and were finally able to make ends meet. They were the embodiment of the American dream but for a long time it was not easy.

Because they were so poor, my grandmother had to find ways to fill up the bellies of her kids while not spending a lot of money. A recipe like kugelis fit the bill. She could make good use out of a few potatoes, eggs, bacon and butter and turn them into a stick to your ribs kind of dish that would feed the whole family. In the end, she was noted for her kugelis and her home made bread, another inexpensive staple she made often during those times. I have not mastered her homemade bread and making bread from scratch is even trickier at high altitude, but I keep trying and someday I hope to post that recipe as well.

So let’s talk Lithuanian Kugelis…

Lesson Learned 1 – There is no one way to make kugelis: Just about every person of Lithuanian decent I’ve spoken to has their own family recipe for kugelis. And the ingredients can vary. Many recipes include onions (my grandmother did not use them), some recipes use condensed milk, (again, this recipe does not) and some do not use cream of rice or wheat (this recipe does). My point is there is not one full proof way of making kugelis. I am sharing the way my grandmother and mother made it.

Cream of RiceLesson Learned 2 – Use a little cream of rice or wheat: My grandmother used “farina” in her recipe. Farina used to be very popular when I was growing up but not so much now. As a substitute you can use either cream of rice or wheat. They are both a very creamy type of hot cereal and the little bit you use gives extra creaminess to the kugelis.

Lesson Learned 3 – Beat the eggs into submission: This is one of the tricks my mother taught me. You want your kugelis to be light and fluffy so you want a lot of air in your beaten eggs. You need to beat them for about 5-7 minutes with a hand mixer. I advise you not to guess when 5 minutes is up but to actually set a timer. You will not believe how long 5 minutes feels when you are beating those eggs. But you want a very airy consistency to the eggs as seen in the picture below.

Beaten eggs

Lesson Learned 3 – Keep the potatoes soaking in water until you are ready to grate them: You use quite a bit of potatoes in this recipe and it takes time to grate them. potatoes in waterThe last thing you want to have happen is for the potatoes to oxidize and turn brown while waiting to be grated. Once you peel them put them in a bowl of cold water until you are ready to grate them. That way they will not turn brown on you.

Lesson Learned 4 – Grate the potatoes by hand: My mother maintained that the only way to get the potatoes to a perfect consistency for kugelis is to grate them by hand. Let me tell you, that is quite an arduous task. Many people now use food processors to grate their potatoes, but my mother felt a food processor rendered the potatoes too watery. So, I do what my mother and my grandmother before always did and grate the potatoes by hand. You can really build up your upper body strength by grating the potatoes by hand, but the end result is so worth it. The pictures below show the gadget I use to grate the potatoes and the desired consistency of the grated potatoes.

Hand Grater

The desired consistency of the grated potatoes

The desired consistency of the grated potatoes

Lesson Learned 5 – Cut the bacon into lardons and cook until brown but not crisp: You want the bacon to have good color but you don’t want it so crispy that it won’t hold its shape when you mix it with the potatoes. So cut your bacon into lardons, as shown below, and cook them until they have a nice deep rich color.

bacon lardons

The desired color of the bacon

The desired color of the bacon

Lesson Learned 6 – Mix well and taste for enough salt: My mother used to say over and over again that you need to mix these ingredients really well. She usually mixed them for about 3-4 minutes and now so do I. This is not like other recipes that tell you not to over mix as the it will make the end result tough. So take your time and mix the ingredients thoroughly. You won’t be disappointed. My mother was also very specific about tasting the uncooked mixture for enough salt. Now keep in mind there is a lot of salt in the bacon so you don’t want the kugelis too salty. I always take a little taste before putting it in the baking dish just to make sure there is enough salt. I start out with one teaspoon at the beginning and add more after I’ve done my mixing if I think the kugelis needs it.

I guarantee you this recipe is over the top. A great recipe with a treasured heritage – nothing can beat that! Enjoy!

Lithuanian Kugelis...

  • Servings: 16 squares
  • Difficulty: Medium
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8 Large russet potatoes

1/2 pound of bacon, cut into lardons

1/2 stick of butter

3 Tbs. cream of rice or wheat

1-2 tsp. salt

8 large eggs

Sour cream, for topping


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sauté the bacon and butter together. Set aside. Peel the potatoes and place into a large bowl of water until ready to use.

Beat the eggs with a hand mixer for 5-7 minutes or until extremely frothy. Set aside. Grate the potatoes. Add the eggs, bacon and melted butter, cream of rice and salt. Mix very well.

Pour the mixture unto a 13 x 9 x2 pan (no need to prepare the pan in any way).

Bake for 90 minutes or until the center is done. Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream.

Ready to go into the oven

Ready to go into the oven

Out of the oven

Out of the oven



Serving suggestion

Serving suggestion


Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops With Roasted Italian Potatoes…

I know I have been remiss in posting recipes. As I’ve stated many times, my goal is one new recipe a week. Well, there is a very good reason that I’ve not been able to keep up. My husband and I downsized and moved from a house to a condo in July. It didn’t take us long to figure out that the look and functionality of the kitchen were not what we wanted. And so it began… shopping for granite, replacing appliances (stove top, microwave, oven and dishwasher – the refrigerator is ok so it may get a reprieve for a while). And now we are in the midst of taking it all apart and putting it back together again. You’ll feel my pain when you look at the picture below.

my torn apart kitchen

The good news is that I’ve lived through these types of remodels before and my husband always does a fabulous job. It was hard for us to move away from the home we lived in for over 15 years but it was a smart move. And once we tried to settle in we knew there were some things  preventing us from feeling like this was home. By making these changes our condo will definitely become our home with the kinds of conveniences and appliances we like.

One last thing about the remodel. The condo had quartz on the island and countertops. Although quartz is nice, we are granite people. We loved the granite that we had in our previous home. It was called Crema Bordeaux. When we went granite shopping we decided to be open to new possibilities. We walked through aisles and aisles of various types of granite. Wouldn’t you know it, we kept coming back to the slab of Crema Bordeaux. We decided not to fight it and went with what we’ve loved for a long time. The slab (which weighs 2 1/2 tons by the way) is pictured below.  The templates for the granite will be drawn at the end of this week with installation to occur right after Thanksgiving. Thank goodness we are going out to dinner on Thanksgiving! We should be up and running for Christmas. After all, there are cookies to be made!

Crema Bordeaux

So, this has been a very long winded way of saying that I’ve had to rely on my grill, built in oven (that will be removed when my gas stove is installed) and microwave to do the heavy lifting for meals.

My preferred way of cooking lamb chops is on the grill so this was a no brainer. With a hot grill you get a great sear and the chops take less time to cook. The potatoes are made in the oven and are so easy to prepare and they taste divine!  So here are a few lessons learned making the lamb chops and potatoes…

Lesson Learned 1 – The longer you can marinate the lamb chops the better. I always use loin chops and I find them meatier and juicier, but you can also use rib chops. I found that I can get between 6 – 8 one inch thick chops at a really great price at either Sam’s Club or Costco.

When buying lamp chops, try to pick ones that have a substantive tenderloin. Obviously, that is the most tender part of the chop. Marinating them overnight is optimum, but you can marinate them for as little as an hour as well.

Marinated Lamb Chops

Lesson Learned 2 – Don’t forget to let the lamb chops rest after you cook them: Lamb like beef needs to rest when your done grilling so that the juices can redistribute. Although they will look divine resist the temptation to cut into them right away. Cover them with foil and let them rest for 5 minutes and you will have tender, juicy chops.

Mint JellyLesson Learned 3 – If you’ve never had it, try some mint jelly with your lamb chops: I was introduced to lamb chops with mint jelly when I was a kid. I was at a friend’s house for dinner and this is what was served. I never had lamb before and didn’t know what to think. At the time I was not all that enamored with the flavor but was afraid to say anything to my friend’s mom so I just said it was fabulous. Because of that, she made lamb with mint jelly every time I came over for dinner. I learned to love it, and now it is one of my all time favorites. Just use a little jelly with a piece of lamb. The flavor combination is to die for!

Lesson Learned 4 – Not all types of potatoes cook at the same rate: I’ve found that if I am roasting yukon gold or red potatoes they take less time to cook than russets. In this recipe I used small yukon gold potatoes and halved them. At 425, these potatoes were fully cooked and beautifully crisped in one hour. They were heavenly.

Roast Italian Potatoes

So, if you want a quick, easy meal without using your stovetop this one’s for you. I roasted some cauliflower florets in the oven with the potatoes (I only roasted them for 1/2 hour) and had a fabulous meal. So try this one and let me know what you think.

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


8 one inch thick loin lamb chops

4-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped

Zest of one small lemon

1/4 cup garlic infused olive oil (you can also use plain EVOO)

Salt and Pepper


Salt and pepper both sides of the chops. In a small bowl, combine garlic, rosemary, lemon zest and olive oil. Put the chops in a bag and pour the marinade over them. Seal the bag and turn it over several times to make sure the chops are coated on both sides. Marinate for at least one hour up to overnight, turning the bag at regular intervals to make sure both sides of the chops are evenly marinated.

Heat your grill to medium high heat (I have a Webber gas grill). Remove the chops from the marinade and sear them for 2 minutes on each side. Lower the temperature of the grill to medium heat and continue to cook for 5 minutes total. This cooking time will give you medium rare chops. Let the chops rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Roasted Italian Potatoes...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


15 small yukon gold potatoes, halved but not peeled

6 whole cloves of garlic

2 Tbs. dried oregano

1/4 cup basil infused olive oil (you can also use plain EVOO)

Flat leaf parsley for garnish, optional

Salt and pepper


Cover a large baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine the halved potatoes, whole garlic cloves, oregano and olive oil. Spread the potatoes and garlic cloves on the baking sheet making sure not to crowd the potatoes (they won’t crisp if they’re crowded). Salt and pepper the potatoes.

Roast at 425 for one hour turning the potatoes half way through the roasting time. Serve immediately.

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops With Roasted Italian Potatoes

Easy Potato Casserole…

Are you a rice or potato person? In my experience you are either one or the other. There is no doubt when it comes to me. I am definitely a potato person. Born and raised on potatoes, I barely had rice until I was an adult. And although I like rice and find it very adaptable in recipes, my starch of choice is and always will be potatoes!

And that it why I am always thinking about new ways of making those spuds. I think this recipe fits the bill of not only being incredibly easy but also incredibly delicious. When I get a, “these potatoes are good” from my husband, I know I’ve hit the jackpot.

Easy Potato CasseroleNow I will admit I made this recipe twice. The first time I tried it I felt the potatoes were not done as well as I would have liked. The first time I used my mandolin slicer and cut the potatoes to 3/16 of an inch. The second time I cut them to 1/8 inch and there was a world of difference in the result.

As I’ve share before, I live in high altitude so recipes often take longer to cook. I cooked this potatoes casserole for 2 hours, 1 hour and 40 minutes covered with foil and the last 20 minutes uncovered. If you’re not at high altitude it will probably only take one and a half hours total.

So let’s talk easy potato casserole…

Lesson Learned 1 – The thickness of the potato slices is very important: As I just mentioned, the potato slices should be even in thickness and not overly thick. I used 1/8 inch slices and the casserole turned out perfectly. The thicker the slice the longer the cooking time. And it’s very important that all slices have a consistent thickness. Otherwise some parts will cook while others won’t. The best way to ensure even slices is to use a mandolin slicer. But be careful when using one. The blades are very sharp and you can easily slice your finger if you are not careful.

Easy Potato CasseroleAlso, remember to slice your potatoes as the very last bit of prep. Potatoes will oxidize (turn brown) when they are left in the open air too long. And in this case you don’t want to soak the potatoes to prevent them from oxidizing. You want the potatoes as dry as they can be. After slicing my potatoes I dried them off with a paper towel to get out as much moisture as I could. You don’t want a soggy potato casserole. So make sure your very last bit of prep is slicing the potatoes. From there you want to begin assembling your casserole layers right away.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a good smokey thick cut bacon for depth of flavor: If you have a Trader Joe’s near your home, go to meat section and get a package of uncured bacon pieces. These pieces have been a tremendous find for me. Quite often they are from thick cuts and I found their flavor to be much better than the bacon you find in stores in half pound packages. They’re great and convenient when you want to add some bacon pieces to a recipe, much better than the jarred fake kind. If you can’t find them, then I would recommend any thick cut bacon cooked and crumbled into small pieces. The flavor really permeates the potatoes when the bacon is a thicker cut.

This recipe is pretty straightforward so not many lessons learned to share with this one. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of making the potato slices thin. Other than that this recipe is not only delicious, it’s full proof! Enjoy!


  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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2-3 russet potatoes, peeled (if the potatoes are large you will only need 2)

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Easy Potato Casserole1 cup monterey jack or havarti cheese, shredded

4 slices thick cut bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 cup milk

1 large egg, room temperature

2 green onions, diced (include some of the green parts)

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh flat leaf parsley for garnish


Preheat oven 375 degrees. Butter or spray a 9 inch pie pan.

Layer potato slices in the pie pan, slightly overlapping the slices. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle half the cheeses over the potatoes and add half of the crumbled bacon and green onions. Repeat the entire process ending with the top layer being the cheeses.

In a small bowl whisk together the milk and egg. Pour the mixture over the potatoes.

Cover with foil and cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Remove the foil during the last 20 minutes of baking.

Allow the dish to rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Easy Potato Casserole

 Easy Potato Casserole

Easy Potato Casserole

Easy Potato Casserole

Homemade Baked Beans…

Labor Day is around the corner. Time for some of those last of the season summer parties. And what’s a summer party without baked beans?

I have to admit, I never made baked beans from scratch before. It was so easy just to open a can and warm it up. But like anything else, when you make something from scratch you control the ingredients, especially the important ones like sugars and salt. Next time you’re in the grocery store pick up a can of baked beans and read the ingredients. You’ll see things like water, sugar, some sort of thickener, salt, acetic acid, citric acid, natural flavors… (what the heck are natural flavors anyway)? And if you look carefully, chances are the salt content is simply off the charts. So anytime you can make something homemade it’s just so much better.

I have to admit I was surprised at how easy these were to make and I controlled what went in them.

Baked Beans

So let’s talk about homemade baked beans…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use thick cut bacon in this recipe: Since the bacon gets cooked a lot in this recipe (once on the stove and then again in the oven) I recommend a thick cut bacon especially if you want it to be clearly visible in the beans. I found a package of bacon pieces at Trader Joes and it was perfect for this recipe. The pieces were all from thick cuts and slabs and there were some pieces that were almost all pork and no fat. I used probably the equivalent of 3-4 slices of bacon in this recipe and it turned out great.

Lesson Learned 2 – Drain and wash one of the cans of beans: Beans in a can are packed in a lot of salt and your baked beans will wind up too salty if you put the liquid in from both cans. It’s best to drain one of the cans of beans and rinse them with water before you add them to everything else.

Lesson Learned 3 – You can choose from a wide variety of beans: I used navy beans in my recipe but you can use Great Northern, cannelloni or white beans as well. Just remember to drain and rinse one can of them.

Lesson Learned 4 – Don’t be afraid to experiment with ingredients: These days when I make something I study several recipes and more often than not concoct a version of my own that I will like. For example, most recipes I found suggested using dark brown sugar, which is really just light brown sugar with added molasses. I didn’t have dark brown sugar but I had light brown sugar and I had molasses. I used that and I think the flavor was richer because of the purity of the ingredients. I also added some liquid smoke to give the beans that bar-b-que smell and flavor. It worked out beautifully.

After I made this recipe I thought I would probably not post it on this site as I wondered who would get excited about something as mundane as baked beans. Well, I posted a picture of them on Facebook and got so much feedback that I felt an obligation to post the recipe. And that’s so me. Sometimes the recipes I think will get the least attention get the most. I hope you enjoy this one!


  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Homemade Baked Beans4 slices thick cut bacon in large chunks

1 medium onion, chopped

2 15 ounce cans of navy beans

1/3 cup ketchup

1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

2 Tbs. dark molasses

1 Tbs. dijon mustard

1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce (can add more to taste)

A couple of dashes of liquid smoke (be careful it is potent)

Salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the bacon pieces in a large high edged skillet and cook until the bacon is slightly crisped. Add the onions and cooked until slightly caramelized. Add one can of beans with the liquid. Drain and rinse the other can of beans and add to the mixture.

Add the ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, mustard, vinegar, worcesterhsire sauce and liquid smoke. Stir until completely combined and simmer for a couple of minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the mixture to a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Bake uncovered until thick and bubbly, approximately 50 -60 minutes. Serve warm.

Homemade Baked Beans

Homemade Baked Beans

Spud Pockets…

A friend of mine, who is a professional chef, once said that when it comes to great recipes the simpler the better. Ain’t that the truth.  Over the course of the past six weeks my husband and I have been in the midst of a sell/buy process, selling our home of 15 years and downsizing to a condo. With downsizing comes a myriad of emotions but in the end it is quite cathartic as well as hugely stressful.

Spud Pocket IngredientsDuring this time I’ve not had the opportunity to uphold my goal of one new recipe a week, but I am back in the swing and will definitely try to post regularly, although I still cannot guarantee once a week. I do promise to get back to my routine, I just can’t determine when as of yet.

So, getting back to simpler is better, as you can imagine during a process like this you resort to very basic and quick meals. Often meals consisted of “eating out” but that gets to be a bit much after a while as well. So my challenge was to try to figure out how to make something fast but not just the same old thing. So I did a little experimentation with this recipe and my husband loved it. So let’s talk spud pockets…

Lesson Learned 1 – Simple is always the best: This recipe couldn’t be any simpler – potatoes, green onion, heavy cream, butter, fresh chopped parsley – that’s it! You could add some smoked paprika for additional color and flavor, but I haven’t unpacked my herbs and spices yet so I had to forgo the paprika. You would not believe how tender and flavorful the potatoes turn out.

spud pocketsLesson Learned 2 – Use whatever kind of potatoes you have on hand: When I went to the grocery store the red potatoes looked fantastic. So instead of using a russet potato I used red potatoes. I liked the fact that the skin added some nice color to the dish as well.

Lesson Learned 3 – Keep the potatoes in the oven longer if you want crispy bottoms: I made these potatoes two days in the row. The first day I kept the potatoes in the oven for 50 minutes, the second day for 65. Keeping them in for 65 minutes gave them a nice crispy bottom. Make sure you spray your foil with cooking spray to help get them out of the foil pocket. Even with the spray you may have to scrape a few out, but that nice crunch on the bottom of the potato is well worth it.

spud pocketsLesson Learned 4 – Use two sheets of foil so the pocket is reinforced: – I took two sheets of foil and placed one sheet on top of the other. Then I put the potato mixture in the center, crimped the two longer ends together and rolled the smaller sides upward. There was no leaking in the oven this way. And the smells that came out of the oven were divine!

Lesson Learned 5 – This is a very economical recipe: One large red potato is more than enough for two people. I happened to have some heavy cream in the refrigerator so I used that. You could use milk or half and half, but the heavy cream really gives more depth of flavor.  One bundle of green onions made four pockets and you only need a small dollop of butter on top of each. I had a small bundle of fresh parsley and I used only about a quarter of it for four servings. A little goes a long way.

I’m telling you this recipe could not be any easier. You just chop the potatoes into half inch cubes, dice the green onions (use the green parts too) and parsley. Combine them all together, put the potatoes on a piece of reinforced foil (I used two sheets of foil), add a dollop of butter, a splash of heavy cream, some salt and pepper and that’s it! If you want a quick recipe that is sure to please, this is the one for you. You can also serve these rustic style right in the foil. Either way this is an easy go-to recipe. Enjoy!

Spud Pockets


  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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2 large potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 bundle of green onions, chopped

4 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley

8 Tbs. heavy cream, 1-2 per pocket

2 Tbs. butter, 1/2 Tbs. per pocket

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Light sprinkle of smokey paprika per pocket, optional

Olive oil cooking spray


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl combine the cubed potatoes, onions and parsley. Evenly distribute the mixture onto reinforced aluminum foil (two sheets, one on top of the other, per pocket- make sure to spray the foil with cooking spray first). Pull the sides up on the foil. Splash heavy cream over the potatoes. Put a pat of butter over each bundle. Close the foil by taking the large ends together and turning them over on each other to crimp them. Then pull up each smaller side and crimp the foil upward and toward the center of the bundle.

Bake for 45-65 minutes (you will get nice crispy bottoms if you cook them for 65 minutes). Remove the potatoes from the foil packet and serve immediately.

spud pockets

Serving suggestion: Filet of beef with steamed vegetables and spud pockets.

Serving suggestion: Filet of beef with steamed vegetables and spud pockets.

Garlic Roasted Summer Squash And Tomatoes…

Get ready for the onslaught of summer squash. If your garden has been anything like mine in recent years you will soon be inundated with more summer squash than you can handle. It often gets to the point where you can’t even give the squash away. So think about different ways you can use of all of that squash.

Over the years I’ve posted a wide variety of recipes using summer squash and you can find those recipes in my recipe index. Today’s recipe is very basic. It is quick and easy and a great way to use your squash to accompany just about any meal.

So let’s talk about garlic roasted summer squash and tomatoes…

garlic roasted summer squash and tomatoesLesson Learned 1 – For the best results, let the olive oil, garlic and seasoning rest: A great way to infuse your olive oil with the flavors of the garlic and Italian seasoning is to combine them all together and let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes before coating the squash and tomatoes. That way you will get a great infused olive and those flavors will permeate the squash and tomatoes during the roasting process.

Lesson Learned 2 – once again it is important to cut the squash rounds into evenly thick pieces: I cannot sing the praises of a mandolin slicer enough. It is truly the best way to cut veggies into rounds that are uniformly thick in size. The reason you do this is so the squash cooks evenly and you don’t wind up with some pieces overcooked, some undercooked and some just right. Eliminate what I call the Goldilocks And The Three Bears dilemma and use a mandolin slicer. And once again, I cannot stress enough to use the finger guard whenever using the mandolin slicer. Accidents can happen very easily if you don’t.

Roasted summer squash and tomatoes

Lesson Learned 3 – Use firm tomatoes in this recipe: I would not use overly ripe soft tomatoes in this recipe. A firmer, slightly less juicy tomato holds up best during the 30 minute roasting time. I used firm cherry tomatoes in this recipe but you can also cut up roma tomatoes or use firm campari tomatoes.

The prep on this recipe is quick and the result is fabulous. And with squash season upon us, this is a great recipe to have in your hip pocket. Try it and let me know what you think…


  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


1 large or 2 small zucchini squash

1 large or 2 small yellow squash

1/2 cup firm cherry tomatoes, halved

3 Tbs. olive oil

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Salt and Pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a lipped baking sheet with foil. Spray the foil lightly with cooking spray.

Mix together the olive oil, garlic and Italian seasoning. If you can, let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes to infuse the olive oil with the garlic and seasoning.

Slice the squash into 1/8 slices (using a mandolin slicer is preferred). Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Put the squash and tomatoes in a large bowl. Pour the olive oil mixture over the vegetables and stir to evenly combine.

Spread the vegetables out evenly onto the prepared baking sheet. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top of the vegetables. Roast for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the parmesan is golden brown. Serve immediately.

Garlic Roasted Summer Squash And Tomatoes

Garlic Roasted Summer Squash and Tomatoes

Garlic Roasted Summer Squash And Tomatoes

Grilled Three Cheese, Bacon and Chive Potatoes…

Summer time is grilling time. And I love to grill though I have to admit I’m not a purist. I grill on a gas grill. Some people like fooling around with coals and all that stuff. Not me. I like a grill that heats up on its own and can tell me the grilling temperature I am working with. That’s about how hard I want to work at grilling.

Things just taste better on a grill, don’t you think so? From chicken, to steak, to brats and burgers there’s nothing like it. So the other day I had it in my mind to grill a filet I’d had in my freezer for a while and I also decided to try grilling some potatoes in a foil packet. A few years ago I posted a recipe for a blue cheese, onion, garlic and basil potato packet. This time I tried for something that mimicked a steak house baked potato.

Now let it be known I love grilled steak, but this time I found the grilled potatoes to be the star of the meal. This recipe is so easy and so flavorful I bet it will become your go-to grilled potato recipe.

So let’s talk grilled three cheese and bacon potatoes…

coxo-v-blade-mandolineLesson Learned 1 – For uniformity in cooking, use a mandolin slicer to slice your potatoes: The mandolin slicer I use is pictured at the left. I like this particular one for a couple of reasons. First, it was reasonably priced. I just can’t see spending close to one hundred dollars on a mandolin slicer. This one is about half that amount. Second, it has a variety of blades and cutting options (slicing, julienne, french fries). It is a powerful tool that can cut your prep time significantly.

For me, the best part about a mandolin slicer is that you get uniform cuts. That’s important in this recipe. Having various thicknesses in your potatoe slices will skew the cooking time. You want all of the potatoes to be cooked through at the same time. I’ve found no better way to do that than with a mandolin slicer.

One other tip: You see that little round thing next to the slicing unit? That is a hand/finger guard. You should ALWAYS use that when cutting with a mandolin. The mandolin blade does’t distinguish between vegetable and human flesh. It will cut both easily and with equal proficiency. So be very careful when using a mandolin slicer if you cherish your fingers and hands.

Lesson Learned 2 – Keep the potatoes on a little longer for great crispiness on the bottom: This is the first time I tried these. When I checked the potatoes at 40 minutes at 400 degrees, they were done. But I still had more time left for finishing my filet. I left the packet on an additional 10 minutes and much to my surprise that created a wonderful crispy crust on the bottom of the pile of potatoes. It was almost like having a bottom layer of potato chips with the wonderfully soft and flavorful potatoes on top. I think I’m always going to do them this way. I loved the distinction between the crunchy bottom and the soft top. It was delightful!

Lesson Learned 3 – Bacon bits work really well with this recipe: Although you can fry and chop up your own bacon, I found that bacon bits work equally as well with this recipe and help save you some time. So don’t be afraid to use prepackaged bacon bits. Just remember to refrigerate what you don’t use

Lesson Learned 4 – The layering process is very simple: Here it is in pictures.

Place the potatoes and onion on a piece of foil sprayed with olive oil cooking spray

Place the potatoes and onions on a piece of foil sprayed with olive oil cooking spray

Top the potatoes and onions with the cheeses: cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan

Top the potatoes and onions with the cheeses: cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan

Top with bacon and chives

Top with bacon and chives

Crimp the top and sides of the foil and place on the grill

Crimp the top and sides of the foil and place the packet on the grill

Doesn’t the uncooked version look simply divine as well. I love the contrast of the colors. And this dish looks phenomenal both uncooked and cooked. And it’s really easy to put together. One potato serves two people so the dish is pretty economical as well. I loved this one so much I made it two nights in a row. I hope you love this too!


  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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2 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced to 1/8 inch thickness

1 medium onion, sliced

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

3/4 cup shredded cheddar

3/4 cup shredded mozzarella (I had unshredded mozzarella that I tore into small pieces)

1/3 cup bacon bits

2 Tbs. chopped chives

2 Tbs. of butter, cubed

Seasoned salt and black pepper


Light your grill to high heat. Divide the potatoes and onions up on two large sheets of foil sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.

Combine the cheeses and top the potatoes and onion with the cheese mixture. Top with bacon bit and chives. Dot the tops with butter. Season with seasoned salt and pepper.

Fold the foil over the top and crimp the edges. Fold the sides up and crimp the edges securely. Grill for 40 minutes (add an additional 10 minutes for a delightful crispy bottom).

Open the foil carefully and serve immediately.

Grilled Three Cheese and Bacon Potatoes

Grilled Three Cheese And Bacon Potatoes

Garlic Butter Roasted Carrots…

This recipe could not be any more basic but it produces a side dish rich in flavor. Whenever you caramelize something it produces a sweetness that is awesomely delicious. And because this blog is dedicated to those beginning to feel their way around the kitchen, this recipe is perfect because it produces spectacular results with very little effort. If you’re looking for something to boost your confidence in the kitchen, this one’s is for you!

So let’s talk garlic butter roasted carrots…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use lots of garlic: I used 4 big cloves of garlic in this recipe and you can even add more if you want. Just be aware that the garlic will turn dark in the oven but that’s ok. It will still infuse the carrots with great garlic flavor.

Saute the cloves in the butter for a good 3-4 minutes and just when you start to see some slight browning on the edges, remove the mixture from the heat and pour it over the carrots. Make sure the carrots are evenly coated with the butter/garlic mixture. Use your hands if you have to to make sure they’re coated all over.


Lesson Learned 2 – Cut the carrots in one inch chunks on the diagonal: One inch chunks work well for this roasting time. Cutting them on the diagonal makes them look prettier.

Lesson Learned 3 – Make sure you flip the carrots during the roasting process: You want to make sure the carrots caramelize on all sides so check them after 15-20 minutes and flip them over so the other side can caramelize as well.

When I first took these carrots out of the oven I thought perhaps I had browned them too much. I was wrong. These carrots had such a wonderful sweet flavor and the darkened areas were rich and sweet. The main thing to remember is to flip them so they caramelize on both sides.


I have to say I could not believe how sweet and delicious these carrots were. This is a great recipe for when you want to impress but also want something insanely easy. Enjoy!

Garlic Butter Roasted Carrots

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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4-6 large carrots, cut in 1 inch lengths on the diagonal

5 Tbs. butter

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a saucepan melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for 3 – 4 minutes being careful not to burn the garlic.

Put the carrots in a large bowl and add the butter/garlic mixture. Toss until all the carrots are completely covered.

Spread the carrots out on a prepared baking sheet (I covered my sheet with aluminum foil and sprayed it lightly with olive oil cooking spray), making sure they are not crowded and that all the butter/garlic mixture is poured onto the sheet.

Roast for 30 – 40 minutes making sure to flip them half way through the roasting process. Remove the carrots from oven and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with flat leaf parsley and serve. Enjoy!

Garlic Butter Carrots

Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread…

The other night I just wanted to try something different. I know I can always whip up an artisan bread loaf but I wanted to try a more savory type of bread and decided to make this one. I will admit I made it twice because the first time something just did not seem right and I’ll explain why in my lessons learned. The second time, with the adjustments I made, I nailed it!

I love this bread for a variety of reasons. It is not designed to be a sandwich bread that’s for sure. This bread is a great accompaniment to almost any dinner you serve and it is fabulous reheated. So let’s talk savory scallion and cheese bread and I’ll share what I learned making it…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be very picky about the olive oil you use: The first time I made this bread with off-the-shelf Bertoli extra virgin olive oil. Big mistake! Now I’ve got nothing against Bertoli’s olive oil and I use it on a regular basis for my basic cooking needs. But the olive oil used here is designed to help enhance the flavor of the bread and so a basic cooking olive oil does little for that. As a matter of fact I felt it gave an unusual, almost borderline bitter flavor to the bread.

The second time I used garlic infused olive oil that a I got from a specialty shop – what a difference! This oil enhanced the bread and made a big difference in the flavor. So make sure you are using a good flavorful olive oil when making this bread.

Pepper Jack Cheese

Pepper Jack Cheese Cubes

Lesson Learned 2 – Choose good melting cheese: The first time I made this I used gruyere. I like gruyere but I didn’t think it did much for the bread. The second time I made the bread I used emmenthaler cheese. Now what’s emmenthaler you ask. Same here, I had no idea what emmenthaler was before I made this bread. Emmenthaler is actually swiss cheese. It is savory but not overpowering and it melts divinely. It is quite often used in fondues.

I actually used a combination of cheeses – I used shredded emmenthaler and cubed pepper jack. The pepper jack and cayenne pepper give the bread a nice but not overpowering bite. So those are the cheeses I recommend when making this recipe.

Emmenthaler Cheese

Emmenthaler Cheese

chopped scallionsLesson Learned 3 – Learn how to adapt: The recipe I adapted this from called for 1/3 cup of whole milk. I did not have any whole milk in the house but I had heavy cream and 2% milk. I filled the measuring cup three quarters of the way up with heavy cream and then filled the rest in with the 2% milk. I loved the way it turned out and I think the heavy cream did a lot to enhance the flavor of the bread.

You could also use chives or other herbs to enhance the flavor of the bread. I had scallions in the refrigerator so I chose to use them and that added great depth of flavor!

Lesson Learned 4 – This bread is divine reheated: When I was getting ready to make dinner the other night I cut a few pieces of the bread and put them in aluminum foil. I set my toaster oven to 350 and put the bread in for 20 minutes. It was fabulous!

I don’t often make savory breads so I’m very pleased with how this one turned out. The only changes I would recommend when making this at sea level is to increase the amount of baking powder from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon and to perhaps shorten the cooking time by about five minutes or so.  Other than that, everything else remains the same. Enjoy this one!

Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread…

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
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1 3/4 cups of flour, sifted

1 tsp. baking powder (use 1 Tbs. for sea level baking)

1 1/2 tsp. of salt

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

3 large eggs, room temperature

1/3 cup whole milk (I used a combination of heavy cream and 2%)

1/3 cup garlic infused olive oil (or your olive oil of choice – good flavorful olive oil)

1 1/4 cup grated emmenthaler cheese (swiss cheese)

2 ounces pepper jack cheese, diced in small pieces

1/2 cup minced scallions

1/3 cup chopped walnuts


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. In another bowl whisk the eggs until they are frothy. Combine the milk and olive oil with the eggs and whisk together.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients until just combined – do not over mix. Stir in the cheeses, scallions and walnuts and mix until combined.

Prepare an 8 x 4 loaf pan by either using butter or cooking spray. Put the batter into the pan and smooth out to the edges. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes (I baked to 45 minutes but I am at high altitude – I began checking the bread at 35 minutes) or until the bread is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Put the pan on a cooling rack and immediately run a knife along the edges to loosen the bread from the pan. After cooling in the pan for 5 minutes, remove the bread and let it cool on a wire rack (or once it has cooled slightly you can serve it warm).

Bread Ingredients

Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread

Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread

 Savory Scallion And Cheese Bread

Simple Oven Roasted Tomatoes…

As I have chronicled in my past couple of blogs, this year has been the year of the tomatoes in my garden. Every day I seem to pick about 5-6 large tomatoes and at least a cupful of yellow grape tomatoes. And because of that I have been on a quest to let no tomato go to waste.

I can’t say it enough, the tomatoes in my garden have been nothing short of phenomenal (for a quick read on the heirloom tomatoes I am growing in my garden this year go to my tri-tomato salsa recipe). You just don’t get tomatoes like this in the grocery stores. When the inside of the tomato looks like the picture below, you know you’ve got a juicy, flavorful tomato. The inside of the tie-dyed tomato

I’m surprised my skin isn’t turning red from all of the tomatoes I’ve been eating lately. They are just so darn good and this recipe is a great way to enjoy them. It’s so simple to make and once it’s cooked you feel like you’re eating a decadently thick marinara sauce topped with gooey cheese.

Lesson Learned 1 – You can use different herbs to flavor the tomatoes: The first time I made this recipe I used some lemony thyme. I have a big pot of it growing on my deck. The second time I used fresh basil (also growing in a pot on my deck) and cut it into lardons before sprinkling it on the tomatoes.

Either the way the process couldn’t be simpler. Cut the tomato into half inch slices, sprinkle with herbs and top with mozzarella and shaved parmesan. You can sprinkle a little italian seasoning on the top or leave it plain, then bake and finish it off with a drizzle of good olive oil before you serve (I used white truffle olive oil).

Lesson Learned 2 – Cut the bottom of each end of the tomato to create a flat surface: Since the tomatoes are round, your end pieces will not lie flat on the baking sheet. That’s really no big deal except that if the tomato is too wobbly the melted cheese can fall right off of it onto the baking sheet. All you need to do is cut off a small portion of the round end and the tomato will lie flat.

I would also recommend spraying your baking sheet with a cooking spray so the tomatoes won’t stick to the pan. I actually line my pan with foil and then spray the foil.

Simple Oven Roasted Tomatoes...

  • Servings: 3 Slices Per Each Medium/Large Tomato
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Fresh tomatoes (1 tomato per person)

Fresh Herbs (I used lemony time or basil, chopped – 1 Tbs. per tomato)

Shredded Mozzarella

Shaved Parmesan (I think it melts better than grated parmesan)

Italian Seasoning, if desired

Good olive oil for finishing (I used white truffle olive oil)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the tomatoes and cut them into half inch slices. Cut a small portion off the bottom of the end slices so they lie flat on a baking sheet. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Place the tomato slices on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the herbs on top of each slice. Top each slice with mozzarella and shaved parmesan. Put the mozzarella on first and top with parmesan. The mozzarella will help the parmesan stick on top of the tomato. Sprinkle with italian seasoning, if desired.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese starts to turn golden brown. Plate the tomatoes and drizzle with some good olive oil. Serve immediately.

Top Each Slice With Herbs

Top Each Slice With Herbs

Top With Mozzarella And Shaved Parmesan - Sprinkle With Italian Seasong

Top With Mozzarella And Shaved Parmesan – Sprinkle With Italian Seasoning

Simple Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Tri-Tomato Salsa…

It seems like every growing season one of my vegetable plants decides that it’s on steroids. Last year I had the zucchini plant that took over a greater portion of the garden and produced 2-3 zucchinis each day. This year my zucchini plant produced about 7-8 zucchinis total. But never fear, this time the garden decided it would be the year of the tomatoes!

This year I did something different with my tomato plants. I bought them from a co-worker who, with her son, raised several strains from seeds and then sold them (at a very reasonable price) to anyone who wanted to buy them. It was a way for her son to earn money to buy a dirt bike.

Salsa IngredientsThe tomatoes were strains designed specifically to thrive in this region of the country (I live in Colorado right outside of Boulder) and they were hardened off when she delivered them. I’ve lived here since 2001 and have had very little luck growing tomatoes. This year was totally different. All my tomato plants thrived and are producing like gang busters. That left me with the delightful dilemma of figuring out how I would use them and not waste a single one.

So obviously, some have been given to friends and neighbors. But I also want to be a little more creative and try to keep as many as I can here on the home front. So If you see a few more tomato recipes in the coming weeks you’ll know why.

This recipe was inspired by the three types of tomatoes I’m growing in my garden this year. Well, actually two are grown in my garden, one is growing on the deck. That particular plant I call the tomato plant that ate New York because it is as tall as me and is producing yellow grape tomatoes prolifically. Judge for yourself by the picture below…

The Tomato Plant That Ate New York

The first type of tomato I used in this recipe is a purple tomato called an Indigo Rose. A relatively new strain of heirloom tomato, it’s color comes from a high concentration of a compound called anthocyanin. In several studies anthocyanin was found to be preventative and therapeutic in a wide variety of human diseases such as coronary heart disease. It also was found to support visual acuity and circulatory health. Similar to studies done in France on people who regularly drink red wine and the proven effect the wine had on reducing heart disease, this particular strain of tomato has similar qualities and benefits.

What’s also interesting about this tomato is that only the parts of the tomato that are kissed by the sun get the purple color. When you turn the tomato over where it has been shaded, the bottom is red just like a regular tomato. The Indigo Rose tomato has fewer seeds and more flesh. It is a rich, flavorful tomato.

The Purple Tomato

Indigo Rose

The second type of tomato I used in this recipe is a strain called a tie-dyed tomato. Beautiful to look at with it’s mixture of green and red coloring, the tie-dyed tomato is very disease resistant and highly non-acidic. This tomato has a dark, rich flavor. The other day I roasted one with some mozzarella and parmesan cheese mixed with dried italian seasoning and it was a delight.

Tie-Dyed Tomatoes

Tie-Dye Tomatoes

The third type of tomato I used in the salsa was yellow grape tomatoes. These tomatoes actually get their color from a recessive gene in the tomatoes genetic makeup. They also have a very mild sweet flavor and are low in acidity.

Yellow Grape Tomatoes

Yellow Grape Tomatoes

The last thing I pulled from my garden to include in the salsa was jalapeño peppers. This plant I actually have growing on a pot on my deck as I’ve had very little luck growing peppers in my garden. Like the tomato plants, the jalapeño pepper plant is producing prolifically and I am being very creative about how to use them.

My Jalapeño Plant

Jalapeño Peppers

Chances are you will not be growing exactly the same types of tomatoes like these to make your salsa. The beauty is you can make salsa from just about any tomato you’re growing. The only challenge I had with these tomatoes is they hold a lot of water and initially my salsa had a lot of liquid in it. I like a chunky salsa and so once I processed everything, I put the mixture in a strainer to remove a good deal of the liquid. The result was a nice, chunky, flavorful salsa.

This is the first time I ever made salsa. Try it – it’s easy and oh so tasty!

Tri-Tomato Salsa

  • Servings: 20
  • Difficulty: Easy
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4 pounds of tomatoes (for more color use different varieties)

1 small red onion

2 jalapeño peppers

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 handful of cilantro (err on the side of more versus less)

1 – 1 1/2 tsp. of red wine vinegar

1/2 of a lemon, juiced

Salt and pepper to taste


Roughly chop the tomatoes, onion and jalapeños and put into the food processor. Add all the other ingredients. Pulse until you get the desired consistency. If the salsa is too watery, put it in a strainer and strain some of the moisture out.  Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator.

Tri-Tomato Salsa

Tri-Tomato Salsa

Today's Harvest

Herb Roasted New Potatoes…

As you can imagine, I check out a lot of food blogs to see what others are making. I am impressed by the skill and creativity I see in a lot of them. And I say to myself, why can’t I be like that? But I am who I am, and what I make is based on my upbringing, my tastes, and sometimes even an adventurous spirit. But by and large, I am a pretty simple cook who likes to make simple things and be very successful at doing so.

Don’t get me wrong, my palate has matured over the years and I now enjoy many things I never would have dreamed of eating when I was younger. But when push comes to shove I’m basically a meat and potatoes girl (as is reflected by my recipes). So this recipe will come as no surprise.

Herb Roasted New PotatoesI like this recipe both for it’s simplicity and its flavor. Plus during the summer months I grow a lot of herbs and am always looking for ways use my fresh herbs in recipes. So this one fits the bill. I used my flat leaf parsley and lemon thyme as well as garlic to provide the aromatics. I love the added boost of the lemon thyme, but if you don’t have it or can’t find it, you can achieve the same affect by adding some lemon wedges to the roasting process. All in all, the hardest part of this recipe was making sure I didn’t slice the potatoes all the way through but just deep enough so they would fan out slightly. The rest was a breeze.

Lesson Learned 1 – Know your oven: I researched similar recipes to mine and many of them suggested baking the potatoes for an hour at 350. That would never work for me. At high altitude you often have to set your oven temperature higher and cook things longer. I set my oven temperature at 375 and for the last ten minutes cranked it up to 400. Next time I make this recipe I will start at 400 degrees and check the potatoes after 45 minutes. For me, I am thinking that 400 degrees for an hour will be optimum. At sea level, I would suggest starting at 375 and checking the potatoes for doneness at 45 minutes. If they are not done, make a decision from there whether to cook them longer at the same temperature or to crank up the oven.  Keep in mind the size of the potatoes matter. New potatoes are small but can still vary in size and that will affect the roasting time. The larger the new potatoes the longer the roasting time. Check your potatoes at 45 minutes and plan for at least an hour. That way you won’t go wrong.

Sliced New PotatoesLesson Learned 2 – Don’t throw out the garlic: I recommend using a full head of garlic when roasting the potatoes (you can even use more if you like). You don’t need to peel it, just cut off a small portion of the top. It will not only provide a delightful aromatic during the roasting process, but will also give you sweet soft garlic cloves that you can either spread directly on bread or use with butter to make a garlic herb butter that’s great for making garlic bread. You get that extra added benefit with this recipe.

If you  like rich, creamy potatoes infused with an herb and garlic flavor, this recipe is for you. Let me know what you think about the recipe after you make it.

Herb Roasted New Potatoes…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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2 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed

1/4 cup olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil)

2 Tbs. melted butter

1 Large head of garlic, top trimmed

1 – 2 Tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley

4 – 6 sprigs lemon thyme (if using regular thyme cut up half a lemon into wedges and add)

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper


Preheat oven to 375 (for high altitude 400 degrees). Melt the butter and add the olive oil to it. Cut slits into the potatoes being careful not to slice them all the way through. Place the potatoes in a roasting pan (I lined my with foil, but that is discretionary). Put the garlic head in the middle of the potatoes. Baste the potatoes and garlic with half of the butter/olive oil mixture. Sprinkle the potatoes with the chopped parsley and place the thyme sprigs in between the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Half way through the roasting process baste the potatoes with the remaining butter/olive oil mixture. Check the potatoes for doneness at 45 minutes. If they do not appear to be almost fork tender raise the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees and roast at least an additional 15 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. Serve immediately.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Herb Roasted New Potatoes

Herb Roasted New Potatoes

Sweet Potato Casserole…

For the longest time I associated sweet potato dishes with the holidays. Turns out I was missing something wonderful and nutritious all year long. That being said, I’d like to share with you a recipe that certainly can be made over the holidays but is wonderful with any meal any time of year.

I like this recipe because it’s designed to serve four (or two very large appetites) so you can either finish it off at one meal or have one serving of leftovers. It reheats beautifully. It’s simple to prepare, a colorful addition to any plate, flavorful and good for you. So throw away your preconceived notions of sweet potato casseroles being something only relegated to the holidays and enjoy them all year round!

IMG_4412Lesson Learned 1 – Cut the sweet potato into evenly sized chunks: This is very important for the cooking time. You don’t want some pieces to be mushy while other pieces are hard. I cut mine into one inch chunks. Also keep in mind sweet potatoes cook faster than russet or red potatoes. So be aware of that and start checking them for doneness at about 10 minutes. You want them to be fork tender, not mushy.

Lesson Learned 2 – To mash or not to mash in the same pot you cook them in: I am a student of the game and so I do a lot of research into cooking methods. There is a train of though out there that suggests once you’ve drained the sweet potatoes it’s best to mash them in the same pot you boiled them in. That way any excess water left on the potatoes will evaporate from the heat of the pan. That’s all well and good, but I find if I do that my potato masher scratches the heck out of the bottom of my pan, and I have some really high quality pans. IMG_4415So I’ll leave this up to you. You can certainly mash them in the same pan, but I wanted to warn you about what might happen if you did. This is what I do. Once I’ve drained the sweet potatoes, I prefer to mash them in a bowl. After I do that (and they mash quite quickly) I put them back in the pot they were boiled in and just stir them around for about a half of a minute or so (you can even use some low heat while you’re doing this). That way I get the same effect without playing havoc with the finish on my pans.

Lesson Learned 3 – You can make this recipe in individual serving sizes: Another way to prepare this dish is to divide it up equally into four ramekins and bake it off. That way your guests can have their own individual portions. This recipe adapts well in that regard and the individual ramekins are pretty cute. You can also use ramekins even when there are only two of you. Just cook two of them off for one meal and refrigerate the other two for another meal. Just make sure if you refrigerate some ramekins, or if you have leftovers in a one quart casserole, that you take the dishes out of the refrigerator and let them sit on your counter for about an hour before reheating them. That way you’ll take the chill off and the cooking time will be shorter. Also if just reheating, cover the casserole in foil. Since it’s already been cooked once you can burn the pecans if you don’t cover them.

My husband just loves this recipe. He asks me to make it all the time. Try it. I’m sure it could easily become on of your go-to potato recipes!

Sweet Potato Casserole…

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

3 Tbs. butter, divided (2 Tbs. cut into cubes)

1 Tbs. maple syrup

2 Tbsp. orange juice

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 cup pastry flour

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 Tbs. vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. shortening, to grease the casserole dish


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 1 quart casserole dish. (I use an enameled cast iron dish for this recipe). Set the dish aside.

Place cubed sweet potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water by about an inch. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and continue to cook until the sweet potatoes are fork tender (10-15 minutes). Drain the sweet potatoes and put them in a bowl (or back in the saucepan if you prefer – see lessons learned above). Add 1 Tbs. butter, the maple syrup, orange juice, salt and cinnamon. Mash until you reach your desired consistency. (At this point, if you mash in a bowl, you can put the potatoes back in the pot the cooked in, turn on a low heat and stir for about a minute to remove any excess water). Put the mashed sweet potatoes into the greased casserole dish.

In a small bowl whisk together the flour, pecans and brown sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles course sand. Add the vegetable oil and mix until well combined. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the mashed sweet potatoes.

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until the potatoes are hot and the top is golden brown.

Ready To Go Into The Oven...

Ready To Go Into The Oven…

Makes Enough For 2-4 People...

Makes Enough For 2-4 People…


Mashed Potato Cakes…

Give me my druthers and my carb of choice for any meal will always be mashed potatoes. I love potatoes any which way you can make them but when it comes to deciding how to prepare them, mashed potatoes is on the top of the list.

That being said, I obviously make a lot of mashed potatoes and because of that I normally have a fair amount left over. Leftover reheated mashed potatoes are fine, but I wanted to make something with a little more flair. So the other evening I ventured into making mashed potato cakes.

Lesson Learned 1 – Determining the correct consistency can be tricky. Everyone likes their mashed potatoes prepared a certain way. I like mine with a little more body, stiffer and less runny. Some people like their’s softer and “wetter”.  The key to creating a mashed potato cake you can work with is to make sure the consistency of the cake is not overly soft. So you may have to play with the amount of the ingredients a little until you get it right. For me, I beat one egg but only added a little bit at a time. I wound up using about 1/2 of a beaten egg to the potatoes. The same thing with flour. I probably used between 1/6 and 1/8 cup of flour. I added it gradually to make sure I got a good consistency but I also wanted to make sure the flour would not overpower the flavor.


Lesson Learned 2 – Once you get them in the pan leave them alone: You will need the help of a hardened crust on the bottom to help you flip the cakes over. I fried mine over medium high heat for four minutes before flipping them. That could vary for you depending upon your stove and heat source. The good thing is you will be able to see the browning occurring. Give it at least four minutes before you try to flip them over. Then flip them quickly as the top part will be much softer than the bottom.

I think there are basically two specific things to keep in mind when making this recipe. First is getting the correct consistency for the cakes. Second is making sure you have a good crust on the bottom and flipping them quickly. But even if they don’t come out picture perfect, I can attest to the fact they are damned delicious!

Mashed Potato Cakes…

  • Servings: 4 Cakes - 2 Servings
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print


3 cups leftover mashed potatoes

1 egg, beaten and added gradually (you may not need the entire amount)

3 Tbs. chopped chives (or more if you like)

1/8 cup flour added gradually (you may not need the entire amount)

4 Tbs. butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Flour for dredging


Combine mashed potatoes and chives. Slowly add some of the beaten egg, continually checking the consistency of the potatoes to make sure they do not become too runny. Add the flour gradually and mix until the potatoes have a somewhat firm consistency (they will be soft, but you don’t want them runny – they need to be firm enough to hold the shape of a rounded cake).

Form the potatoes into 4 equal sized cakes (about 2 inches in diameter). Put some flour on a plate and dredge the cakes in the flour. Shake off the excess. In a medium size skillet melt the butter over medium high heat. Place the cakes in the skillet and cook for approximately 4 minutes on each side. Serve immediately.



Loaded Baked Potato Casserole…

I LOVE potatoes. As a friend of mine once said, “I never met a carb I did’t like.” That’s so true, but these days we know you need to balance your carb intake in order to stay healthy. Not an easy task for someone who was raised on meat and potatoes. But I’m trying.

I wanted to try a recipe like this for a while, so I justified it by serving it with baked cod and oven roasted asparagus. It turned out great and I was careful not to over indulge. So for all of my carb lovin’ friends out there, here’s one that you can add to your arsenal of recipes.

IMG_3125Lesson Learned 1 – Give the potatoes a head start: I know this and I still didn’t do it. It’s always best when making a potato casserole to cook the potatoes for about five minutes in boiling water. That takes the edge off of them. Because you cook this casserole for an hour and three quarters I didn’t think I would need to do that. Wrong. The potatoes were done but not as tender as I would have liked. So remember, give your sliced potatoes a bath in boiling water just until they start to soften slightly (no more than 5 minutes). Then drain them, being careful not to break them, and then put together your casserole. You’ll get great results.

IMG_3116Lesson Learned 2 – There can never be too much cheese: Originally I though this recipe would need two cups of cheese (1 of each type). Once I began to put together the layers I added even more (1/2 cup each). Make sure you get a good melting cheese like gruyere, havarti or monterey jack and generously cover the potatoes. You can combine that with some sort of cheddar or better yet be your own chef and experiment. I used a white cheddar gruyere blend combined with a marbled cheddar. It was delish.  I am writing the recipe from what I used, but you can certainly make substitutions.

This recipe is so easy and so good. It’s a great way to get the flavors of a loaded backed potato in casserole form. The leftovers are great as well. Just heat them in the microwave and serve. Enjoy!

Loaded Baked Potato Casserole 2

Loaded Baked Potato Casserole…

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


All natural cooking spray for the dish

2 large russet potatoes, sliced

1 large clove of garlic minced

3 green onions sliced diagonally

1 1/2 cup gruyer/cheddar blend, shredded

1 1/2 cup marbled cheddar cheese, shredded

6 slices hickory smoked bacon – cooked, drained and crumbled

1 cup whole milk

1 large egg

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tsp. fresh parsley


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook, drain and crumble the bacon. Slice the potatoes to 1/4 inch thick (use a mandolin slicer for the best results). But potatoes in a pan with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for no longer than 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes immediately being careful not to break them.

Spray a stoneware tart pan with all natural cooking spray. Layer the potatoes in the dish, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle half the onions and garlic on top and season with salt and pepper. Cover the potatoes with half the cheese and sprinkle the top with half the bacon. Repeat with another layer.

In a separate bowl whisk the milk and egg. Add some salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the potatoes. Sprinkle with parsley.

Cover and back for 75- 90 minutes or until the custard is cooked. Uncover and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.

IMG_3172 2


The Best Holiday Stuffing…

I know both Christmas and New Years are over and it’s time to move on to non-holiday recipes. But I just have to blog this one, mainly because I want to make sure I chronicle the recipe for my future use. Most people are pretty fussy about stuffing. My mom made a stuffing that I just loved but did I ever write down the recipe – well of course not. And try as I may I could never replicate it. So for years I have tried various recipes without much success. I just wasn’t satisfied with what I made. This year it was different. I actually put together a stuffing recipe that I loved and although it is not my mom’s it will be the recipe that I use.

The stuffing is a delightful combination of “the trinity”, which is onions, celery and carrots along with sage breakfast sausage, egg bread and herbs. It was a hit at the dinner table and made great leftovers. The guests at my holiday dinner asked if they could have some to take home. Now that is the mark of a good stuffing recipe. I was so happy to finally create a stuffing that I actually enjoyed and will make again. And I learned a few lessons while making it…

Lesson Learned 1 – Make it the day before: I will share a secret with you. When I first made it and tasted it I thought, ugh… this one’s not going to thrill me. But I made it a day ahead of time and let it sit the refrigerator until the following day. When I tasted it the next day it was unbelievably good. I would not recommend making this stuffing the day of your holiday feast. The flavors in this recipe need time to get fully acquainted. It makes all the difference. And, if you are planning a holiday feast, how good is it to be able to make something in advance so that you are not scrambling around on the big day. With this recipe you put it all together, let it sit over night, and then take it out and let it get to room temperature before baking it in the oven.

I also like this recipe because it bakes at 350. I do not have a double oven and so I planned my holiday dinner with dishes that could all be made at the same temperature, including the turkey. This stuffing recipe made my meal preparation easier. I was able to make it a day ahead and bake it in the oven with the turkey. You can’t beat that!

IMG_2542Lesson Learned 2 – Use a good quality egg bread: Like anything else, the quality of what you put into a recipe will determine the quality of what comes out of it. Most recipes call for just plain white bread. I used a egg bread, called a shepherds bread, and it was divine. But if all you have is white bread, use it. I had some extra white bread that I also cubed and I didn’t think it toasted as well as the egg bread. As a matter of fact, the crust burned on many of the pieces. I wound up picking them out and discarding them.

But please, don’t use the prepackage stuffing cubes you find in bags at the grocery store. I’ve never had any luck with those, and who knows what they put in them to get them to last as long as they do. It takes no time to cut the bread into cubes and toast them in the oven.  And the result is so much better.

Lesson Learned 3 – Dice the trinity into equal size pieces: Make sure to finely dice your onions, celery and carrots. If you do, it should take about 8 minutes for them to start to soften and begin to brown. Otherwise it will take a lot longer and chances are by the time your carrots are done your celery and onions will be overcooked.

Lesson Learned 4 – Use fresh herbs in the recipe: I use dried herbs all the time but I think fresh herbs do more to enhance the flavor of this recipe. If you can’t get them, you can use dried. Just remember that with dried herbs you always use less as their flavor is much more concentrated. If you use dried herbs, press the herbs into the palm of your hand with your fingers or slightly crush them with a mortar and pestle to release some of the oil in the herbs before you add them to the recipe. That being said, I still would opt for fresh herbs if at all possible.

Lesson Learned 5 – Cover the stuffing with foil for the first half of the baking process: This is more a matter of taste. I’ve always preferred a softer stuffing while some people prefer a crispy stuffing. I found that by covering the stuffing for the first half hour of baking you get a moist stuffing with just the right amount of crispiness on top. But if you like crispy stuffing, bake it uncovered for the entire hour. Just be sure that if you make this the day before you let the stuffing get to room temperature before baking it off in the oven. I took the stuffing out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for 2 hours before I put it in the oven. The end result was perfect.

This recipe is not difficult to make and only tastes better the more time the ingredients meld. I’m so glad to have finally concocted a stuffing recipe that I like. Keep this one in your file for next year. You won’t be disappointed.

The trinity mixed with breakfast sausage...

The trinity mixed with breakfast sausage…

The Best Holiday Stuffing

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


1 stick of butter, plus a little extra to coat the baking dish

16 cups of good quality egg bread, cut into 1 inch cubes

4 celery stalks finely diced

2 large carrots, peeled and finely diced

1 medium size sweet onion, finely diced

1 pound sage breakfast sausage

2 Tbs. chopped fresh sage

2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme

2 – 3 cups unsalted stock (if you can find turkey stock use that. If not substitute chicken stock)

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 350. Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes and spread out on a baking sheet. Toast for 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally until lightly browned and crisp. Set aside to cool.

Finely dice the celery, carrots and onion. In a large deep skillet melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, pour half of it into a dish and set aside. Add the celery, carrots and onions to the pan and cook over medium high heat until they soften and begin to turn brown. Scrap the vegetables into a bowl and set aside. Add the sausage into the skillet, breaking it up into pieces. Cook until lightly browned and cooked through.

While the sausage is cooking, chop the sage and thyme and set aside. Grease a large 9 x 13 baking dish with butter and set aside. When the sausage is done cooking, add back the vegetables, sage and thyme. Cook for about 1 minute to incorporate the herbs. Add 1 cup of the broth and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Cook until the broth is nearly evaporated, approximately 5 minutes.

Scrape the sausage mixture into a large bowl. Add the toasted bread cubes and remaining stock. Stir until the bread is moistened. Season with salt and pepper. Spread into the prepared baking dish and brush the top with the reserved melted butter.

(Here is where you stop if you are making this ahead. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate. Take the pan out of the refrigerator at least two hours before baking it in the oven. Remove the foil and cover with plastic wrap while it is coming to room temperature).

Cover the stuffing with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the stuffing is heated through and browned. Let the stuffing stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Add fresh sage and thyme...

Add fresh sage and thyme…



Cheesy Potato and Green Onion Casserole…

For years I bought boxed potatoes to make potato casseroles to accompany a meal. The boxes contain a sleeve of freeze dried potatoes that look like petrified potato chips with a pouch of powdered cheese and flavorings, depending upon what kind you purchased (scalloped, au gratin, sour cream and onion, etc). To that you add some butter, water and milk, mix the conglomeration together and bake it in the oven. I never really thought about it, I just did it for the convenience of it all. NEVER AGAIN!

In previous blogs I’ve mentioned how over time I’ve begun to realize that there are many things you can easily make from scratch versus buying them pre-prepared at the grocery store. Things like applesauce, cranberry sauce, rouxs, pickles, soups, gravies, macaroni and cheese – the list can go on and on. The point is when you make something from scratch you control what goes into it. You control the sugars and sodium. You control the color naturally versus using dyes to achieve the desired affect. I’ve never made anything from scratch that included ingredients I could not pronounce much less spell, but I see them all the time on the packages at the grocery store.

I think we’ve come to believe that in the name of convenience it is ok to use prepackaged pre-prepared foods. And I am not one to point a finger at them, I’ve used them all my life. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that as I’ve become more adept in the kitchen I realize how easy it is to make things from scratch and in the end how much better that is for you. Don’t worry, I am not a purist. I’m sure in the name of convenience I will use a pre-prepared item myself from time to time. But more and more I’ve moved away from them and haven’t noticed a big difference in the time it takes to make certain things. Hence this recipe I am about to share.

oxo-hand-held-mandolineWhat makes this recipe so easy to make is a simple tool known as a mandolin slicer. There are tons of varieties out there, and the one in the picture to the right is what I use. When I publish something like this I always have to use the disclaimer that I work at Crate and Barrel. We carry a few varieties of mandolin slicers and this one is pretty affordable. I like it because it gives you a couple of different slicing widths, works well and it has the hand protector. But you can get a mandolin slicer just about anywhere and they can range in price from being extremely cheap to very expensive. If you invest in one, just make sure you at least get one that has some sort of hand protector.

One thing I have to stress here – if not used properly a mandolin slicer can be VERY DANGEROUS. You can slice a piece of your finger off just as easily as a piece of potato if you are not careful. Even with a hand guard you have to be very mindful when using one. The blades on these slicers are very sharp and before you know it, if you are not careful, you can really hurt yourself. So always use a mandolin slicer with the utmost care.

That being said, it is a great tool for quickly slicing things like potatoes, carrots, onions, etc. and getting even slices all the time. The key to success in this potato casserole recipe is the thin evenness of the potato slices. A mandolin slicer can give you that in no time flat (see the picture below). It would take much longer to do this by hand and the discs would not be nearly as precise in width.  So let’s talk a little bit about the lessons I learned developing this recipe.


Lesson Learned 1 – Always use the mandolin slicer with the utmost care: I can’t help it, this just bares repeating. You won’t believe how easy it is to hack off a chunk of skin with this device. Please be careful using it. But when you use it safely, you will be amazed at how quickly you can produce nice even sized pieces of whatever you are slicing.

Lesson Learned 2 – This recipe is adaptable to a wide variety of cheeses: Normally some sort of cheddar cheese is a staple for this recipe. But over the holidays I had a disc of brie that I’d bought to make a holiday appetizer and I just mixed some of the remaining brie with the cheddar. Divine is all I can say about that. Gruyere is also a good cheese to use as well. Any good melting cheese or combination of compatible melting cheeses will do.

And speaking of melting cheese, don’t use prepackaged grated cheese. Those cheeses have an ingredient in them that keeps the grated pieces from sticking together. That ingredient also makes those cheeses difficult to melt. Grate the cheese yourself. You’ll get a much better consistency and much better flavor

The consistency of a roux

The consistency of a roux

Lesson Learned 3 – The formula for making any roux: Making a roux is the key to almost any homemade sauce or gravy. And you won’t believe how easy it is. All you have to do is remember one simple formula: equal parts butter and flour. This particular recipe uses three tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of flour to create the roux. The amount you use can vary based on the size of the recipe. But remember it is always equal parts of each. The picture on the left shows what the consistency should look like, almost that of a thick, creamy paste.

I could not believe how simple this was to make and so much better than the boxed varieties. Play around with this one to see if you can create the flavor of cheese sauce you prefer the most. Right now I’m a cheddar and brie girl so that is how I am writing the recipe. But don’t be afraid to experiment with this one. I promise anything you do will be so much better than the boxed version of what you make. Enjoy!

Ready to pop into the oven...

Ready to pop into the oven…

Cheesy Potato and Green Onion Casserole…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print


2-3 large white russet potatoes, unpeeled

3 Tbs. butter

3 Tbs. flour

3-4 green onions, diced (use the green parts of the onion as well)

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp garlic powder

1 1/2 cups milk

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/2 cup brie cheese, cut into small pieces

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 375. Remove the skins from two cloves of garlic and drop them in a pot of cold water. Bring the pot of water to a boil on the stove, making sure the water is well salted. While the water is heating, cut the russet potatoes into 1/8 inch slices and put them in a bowl of cold water so they do not begin to brown. Slice the green onions and set aside. Grate the cheddar cheese and cut the brie into small pieces. Set both of them aside.

Once the water is boiling, put the potato slices in the water and cook them for about 5 minutes or until they just begin to soften.  When the potatoes begin to soften, gently remove them from the pan, drain them and pat them dry removing as much excess water as possible. Remove the discard the garlic cloves.

In a saucepan under medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir for about a minute until the mixture becomes a creamy paste (make sure to cook for about a minute so that there will be no flour taste). Add the milk and raise the heat to medium high. Once the milk begins to bubble you will notice it starting to thicken. Keep stirring the milk until it becomes thick. Once it thickens, add the garlic powder and cheeses. Stir until the cheeses are completely melted. Add the green onions and combine. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper as needed. Remove the mixture from the heat.

Place the potatoes in a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish that was sprayed with cooking spray. Pour the cheese mixture over the potatoes. Bake at 375 for 50-55 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. For a finishing touch, at the end place the casserole dish under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the cheese.



Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta…

I’ve never been a big fan of brussels sprouts. Cooked cabbage of any kind doesn’t do anything for me. The meal I dread the most is corned beef and cabbage (sorry to any of my readers that love CB&C) – I could just gag. But my husband loves brussels sprouts and has often asked me not only to eat them but also make them. I now can empathize a little more with my mother who was not a great cook. She had a limited palate and she refused to make anything she didn’t like. I get it now. It’s hard to get excited about making something you don’t like. But if you know me, you know I like a good challenge. Was there a brussels sprouts recipe out there that could actually get me to eat and enjoy them? I had my doubts.  And so my research began…

I looked at a wide variety of recipes and came across a couple of combinations that sounded interesting. One involved cranberries, feta cheese and nuts (and that will be a future blog) and one involved pancetta. Making brussels sprouts with pancetta is a little less involved so I thought I would try it. The results were quite interesting…

Image 2

Recipe Rating: A – I even had to admit that the results, for me, were very palatable and for my husband, who is a brussels sprouts lover, it was phenomenal. The combination of the pancetta, garlic and chicken stock infused the brussels sprouts with flavor. I actually made this recipe twice (as I had a lot of brussels sprouts and extra pancetta) and enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t kid myself into thinking that brussels sprouts will now become my vegetable of choice, but at least I know there is a way to prepare them that I can live with and that brussels sprouts lovers truly enjoy!

IMG_1491Lesson Learned 1 – The difference between pancetta and bacon: Both pancetta and bacon are made from pork bellies. The difference is how they are prepared. Bacon is brined and smoked. Pancetta is seasoned with a lot of salt and pepper then rolled and wrapped in a casing to keep its shape. Pancetta is cured but not smoked. You can easily substitute bacon for pancetta in any recipe. I cut the pancetta into lardons just like I would bacon and added the brussels sprouts once the pancetta began to crisp. What I learned in making this recipe is, if you use pancetta, wait until the very end to add any salt to the sprouts. The nice thing about brussels sprouts is they highly absorb the flavors they are cooked with, and in this case they absorb the salt and pepper from the pancetta. I found it best to use unsalted chicken stock as well and to taste the sprouts at the very end to see if they needed any additional salt or pepper. I found that I needed very little salt at the end, much less than I would have added originally. So be careful. You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it away. You don’t want the brussels sprouts to be too salty.

IMG_1617Lesson Learned 2 – Boiling the sprouts before putting them in the skillet: You need to do this otherwise the sprouts will not cook all the way through in the time allotted for the recipe. I found putting them in boiling water and letting them cook for 5-7 minutes is the best way to get the desired end result. The remaining time they cook (approx. 25 minutes) in the skillet will then be sufficient to produce tender sprouts.  Also it is important to try to make the sprouts of equal size. If some of them are too big, cut them in half or in quarters. That way they will all cook evenly.

This recipe is easy to prepare and if can be enjoyed by someone who is not the biggest fan of brussels sprouts, imagine how good it will be for someone who loves them. I can now say that I have eaten brussels sprouts and enjoyed them – something I thought would never have come out of my mouth!

Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta…

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
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1/2 pound fresh brussels sprouts, trimmed

2 Tbs. olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil)

2-3 ounces of very thinly sliced pancetta cut into lardons

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock


Start a pot of water boiling on the stove (do not add any salt to the water at this time). Once the water comes to a boil put in the brussels sprouts and cook for 5-7 minutes.  Drain the brussels sprouts and set aside.

Add olive oil to a hot pan. Add the pancetta and cook until the edges start to crisp. Add the garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the brussels sprouts to the pan and cook until they begin to brown. Turn them over and allow them to cook a little longer or until the second side begins to brown. Add the chicken stock, scrape any bits off the bottom of the pan and cook until the broth reduces to the point that it is just coating the sprouts. Serve immediately.





Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake…

I guess at this point you can probably tell that I’ve been a little fixated on zucchini recipes and with good reason. The zucchinis just keep coming and coming. Every day it seems I’m harvesting two to three new zucchinis. Last year my zucchini plant (I only have one as I have limited space in my garden) hardly produced anything. This year my plant is producing prolifically. Go figure. Mind you, I am not complaining. The challenge is to determine ways to use all this zucchini as I won’t let any go to waste. I know I can give them away if I need to, but most of my neighbors are looking to give their zucchini away as well. Some have even gone to the lengths of just leaving them on neighbor’s door steps. The whole neighborhood must be over run. So my challenge – how can I not only use my zucchini but also make it exciting when having it several times a week.

IMG_9540The latest recipe I tried was a side dish.  Those are probably the easiest recipes to find. This recipe came off of a website that featured 35 different zucchini recipes and I always like to one stop shop. This one seemed relatively easy and so I thought I’d try it. The original recipe called for paring zucchini with yellow squash and I think that would have been perfectly fine, but I had so much zucchini that I wanted to use and so I just skipped the yellow squash. I did add some mushrooms that I had and that worked very well (I always seem to have mushrooms in my refrigerator). My point is that this recipe is adaptable and I am all for adaptable. Bottom line, this is an easy recipe to prepare and it’s actually quite good. I had some issues with how the recipe was written and I will share those in my lessons learned.

Recipe rating: B+ – most of my issues came from how the recipe was written as I am a stickler for detail and how to achieve success the first time you make something. In my experience even the best of recipes are seldom tried again if they can’t be done well the very first time. These days everyone is so busy that recipe success the first time around is just about a given for making a recipe again. This one had one critical piece of information missing that, in my estimation, made the dish look great as well as taste great.

IMG_9550Lesson Learned 1 – prepping ahead: The beauty of this recipe is that it can be prepped ahead and put into the oven when needed. I prepped all of the ingredients about an hour ahead of time and simply covered them in plastic wrap and put them into the refrigerator. The only other thing I did was to take it out of the fridge about 15 minutes before putting it into the oven to take the chill off. Right before putting it in the oven I topped it with some additional cheese. I am thinking this is something that can be prepped in the morning and then finished off when you get home from work – a nice little advantage especially for a busy day.

Lesson Learned 2 – use fresh herbs whenever possible: The original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. I have thyme growing in my garden and I used that. You always need to add more of an herb if it is fresh, so I substituted 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme and I felt it gave the side dish a great flavor boost.

Ready to go into the oven

Ready to go into the oven

Lesson Learned 3 – you eat with your eyes first: How often have you heard someone say, “Oh that looks delicious!” When you think about it, it’s really a sort of oxymoron since something can only taste and not look delicious. But the truth of the matter is we eat with our eyes first. If something looks great, we automatically assume it will taste great. And this is probably my biggest bug-a-boo with the original recipe. That recipe called for baking the ingredients uncovered for 25-30 minutes then adding the remaining cheese and baking it for an additional 10-15 minutes. I would never have gotten the rich color on the cheese by doing that. What I wound up doing is putting the dish under the broiler for the last 5 minutes thereby getting those nice brown bits of color on the cheese. If I had not done that, the top would’ve just looked gooey white. Getting the browning from the broiler, in my estimation, makes the dish look much more inviting. Believe me, it did not look nearly as inviting when I followed the directions in the original version of the recipe. At 350 degrees you would have to cook the cheese much longer to get it to brown on top.

I realize that my rant about using the broiler may be very picky, and it probably is. Don’t let that deter you from trying this recipe. It’s a great way to use up some of that extra zucchini and I’m pretty sure it will be a family pleaser as well.

Right Out Of The Oven

Right Out Of The Oven

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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4 medium zucchini

4-6 ounces of baby portobella mushrooms sliced

3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil (this can be adjusted depending upon personal taste)

2 green onion spears thinly sliced (white and green parts)

1 tsp. fresh thyme chopped (1/2 tsp. dried thyme)

3/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 cup cheese, divided (I used a combination of mozzarella and pizza cheese – you can use more cheese if you like, I think I actually used 1 1/2 cups of these cheeses all total)

1/2 cup parmesan, divided

salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and cut the zucchini into half moons. Slice the mushrooms into thick slices. Finely chop the basil. Thinly slice the green onions. Chop the fresh thyme.

Combine the sliced squash, mushrooms, basil, onion, thyme garlic powder and half of each of the cheeses. Stir carefully to combine all of the ingredients making sure that the cheese and herbs are well distributed. Season with salt and pepper. Put the mixture in an 8 x 8 baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. (At this point I added a little more cheese on the top). Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.

Take the dish out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Let bake for an additional 5 – 10 minutes then place casserole under the broiler for the last 5 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes and serve.

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

Cheesy Zucchini Mushroom Bake

Serving Suggestion: With Grilled Chicken Breast and Oven Baked Potato Chips

Serving Suggestion: With Grilled Chicken Breast and Oven Baked Potato Chips

Zucchini Mushroom Gratin…

It’s that time of year again. I’ve already harvested five zucchinis from my one zucchini plant and by the looks of things there are plenty more to come. This is the time of year that I start scrambling to locate as many zucchini recipes as I can find so that I don’t waste one precious home-grown squash. And although I am always on the lookout for new recipes, I also have some tried and true ones that I look forward to making every year at this time as well.

A zucchini from my garden...

A zucchini from my garden…

One of my all time favorites is a version of a recipe from Ina Garten. I’ve mentioned Ina several times in this blog. She is a cook that inspired me not only to make new and different things but to believe that I can and be successful at it.

I’d never heard the term gratin before I made this recipe and it’s a term that I found is not in most fledgling cooks’ vocabularies. A gratin originated in French cuisine and it simply means a dish that is topped with a browned crust achieved either through a baking or broiling process. You can make a gratin out of just about anything, potatoes, artichokes, cauliflower – you name it. I especially like to make a zucchini gratin since it is not only delicious but also another recipe in my arsenal to deal with the onslaught of zucchini I get at this time of year.

My very happy zucchini plant...

My very happy zucchini plant…

I saw Ina make her recipe on a Food Network episode and I’ve been making it ever since. I have amended it to appeal to my personal tastes but the basis of the recipe is Ina’s (if you want to see her recipe it is on the Food Network site). So I will rate her recipe and then include my version of it for you to try.

Recipe Rating: A++++++++ This is definitely one of the best recipes ever. It is easy to make and a great accompaniment to any meal. A hint of nutmeg gives wonderful flavor to this recipe. I highly recommend trying this one!

Saute the zucchini and mushrooms gently...

Saute the zucchini and mushrooms gently…

Lesson Learned 1- Sautee the zucchini and mushrooms gently: Ina’s recipe calls for cooking the zucchini covered for about 10 minutes before making the white sauce. In my experience, cooking the zucchini for that amount of time made it limp before you even put it in the oven. I cook my zucchini and mushrooms for five minutes just to take the “edge” off of them and let the oven do the rest. That way when you serve the gratin the vegetables still have some body.

Lesson Learned 2- Making a white sauce: This recipe includes making a simple white sauce for the zucchini and mushrooms to simmer in. The first step is to add flour to the zucchini/mushroom mixture. Make sure you cook that flour for at least a minute before you add the milk. It will create a whitish looking goo on the vegetables but don’t worry about that. Just keep stirring until it’s time to add the milk. The reason you cook it for a minute is to get rid of any floury taste. You certainly don’t want your white sauce to taste like flour. Once you add the milk the whitish goo will begin to disappear right before your eyes and you will wind up with a rich, thick white sauce.

Cook until the sauce becomes rich and thick...

Cook until the sauce becomes rich and thick…

Lesson Learned 3 – Bread crumbs versus croutons: Last week I made a hash brown casserole that called for a crushed crouton topping. I loved it so much on that recipe that I tried it on this one and it turned out perfectly. The original recipe stipulates to cover the top with bread crumbs mixed with grated Gruyere cheese. Maybe if you made home made bread crumbs the end result would be similar to that of using croutons, but I thought the croutons added a greater crunch and more flavor. You can try topping it either way but at this point I prefer the crushed croutons.

Lesson Learned 4 – A little nutmeg goes a long way: I’d never cooked with nutmeg before I made this recipe and I can tell you it adds a great depth to the gratin but you need to be careful when you use it. A little bit of nutmeg goes a long way and it can easily overpower a dish if you use too much. My advice is to use exactly what the recipe recommends. Then in subsequent bakings try to vary the proportion. My guess is that if you choose to vary it, it will be for a lesser rather than a greater amount.

Lesson Learned 5 – Oven times vary: This seems to be a regular “lesson learned” in my recent posts but rarely does a dish come out of my oven the way it is supposed to in the time written in a recipe. I assume that part of the issue is living in high altitude and the other is how my oven is calibrated. The original recipe says to bake the gratin in the oven for 20 minutes. In order for me to get a nice bubbly casserole I have to bake mine for 40-45 minutes. This is where it can get somewhat frustrating for the fledgling cook. But never fear, in time you will learn the ins and outs of your oven and be able to plan accordingly.

Place the croutons in a bag and crush with a rolling pin...

Place the croutons in a bag and crush with a rolling pin…

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s not difficult to make but tastes like you slaved all day in the kitchen. Over time, because the directions are so true to form, I’ve not gleaned a lot of lessons learned making it and I view that as the beauty of the recipe. It is the kind where you can be successful making it the first time and every time. If you’re like me at this time of year, desperately searching for various ways to cook my zucchini crop, this recipe is a must. Try it – I know you’ll like it as much as I do.

Zucchini Mushroom Gratin

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Brown and bubbly out of the oven...

Brown and bubbly out of the oven…


3 Tbs. butter (plus some for on top of the crushed croutons)

1 medium size onion, diced

2-3 medium zucchini cut in to 1/4 inch rounds

4-6 ounces of portobella mushrooms cut in thick slices

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

2 Tbs. flour

1 cup warm milk

3/4 cup crushed croutons or bread crumbs

1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Flat leaf parsley for garnish


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the milk into a saucepan and warm under a very low heat (you don’t want the milk to boil, you just want to get the chill out of it). Grate the Gruyere, dice the onions and slice the zucchini and mushrooms and set aside. Put the croutons in a plastic bag, seal the bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Set the bag aside.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and cook under low to medium heat until translucent (about 5-7 minutes). Add the zucchini and mushrooms, cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes (you do not want the zucchini to be limp). Uncover, salt and pepper to taste and add the nutmeg.

Stir in the flour. Cook for at least one minute. Add the warm milk and 1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese and cook over a low heat until the sauce thickens. Pour the mixture into a 1 1/2 – 2 quart baking dish.

Combine the croutons (or bread crumbs) with the remaining Gruyere and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture. Dot with small amounts of butter and bake until bubbly and browned. (the original recipe called for the casserole to bake for 20 minutes, I had to bake mine for 40-45 minutes).

Let sit for 5 minutes, garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley and serve.


Ready to go into the oven...

Ready to go into the oven…


Brown and bubbly out of the oven...

Brown and bubbly out of the oven…

Serving Suggestion: garnish with flat leaf parsley...

Serving Suggestion: garnish with flat leaf parsley…

Hashbrown Casserole…

Pasta is ok, rice really does nothing for me but give me potatoes and I’m all over it. There is no way that you can cook a potato that I won’t like. Potatoes were a staple at just about every meal I had growing up and my so my love affair with this root (yes it is neither a fruit nor a vegetable but a root) has spanned my entire life. So when I find a potato recipe that intrigues me, I have to try it.

The original recipe from which I’ve based my version in this blog comes from a website called thefrugalgirls.com. I liked the recipe concept because it appeared easy to prepare and was a different way of making potatoes than the traditional ways of baking them, mashing them or grilling them. Coupled with the fact that I already had most of the ingredients plus I needed to fulfill my goal of one new recipe a week, this became no brainer – I had to make this casserole and blog about it. So without further adieu, here is my recipe rating, lessons learned and my version of the recipe.

Hash Brown Casserole Ingredients...

Hash Brown Casserole Ingredients…

Rating A+ – not only is this very easy to make but it smells heavenly when it’s baking in the oven. Anything that combines flavorful potatoes and good kitchen smells is always a hit with me. You really have to try this one.

Lesson Learned 1 – This recipe adapts easily: The original recipe filled a 13 x 9 baking dish. Cutting it in half allowed me to put it in an 8 inch square dish which was just enough for me and my husband with leftovers for an additional meal. But if you have a large family to feed just double everything in the recipe and use the larger pan.

Lesson Learned 2 – Topping a casserole with crushed croutons: Recipes like this are quite often topped with bread crumbs. This recipe called for topping the casserole with crushed croutons. I LOVED IT! The croutons gave a perfect crispiness to the top of the hash browns, just as if the potatoes had been browned in a frying pan. I found the crushed croutons had a much crispier texture than bread crumbs. I am definitely going to try topping other casseroles with crushed croutons instead of bread crumbs. I think it made a big difference.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use fresh garlic: The original recipe called for 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon of garlic salt. I didn’t like the idea of adding that much salt so I substituted one minced garlic clove for the garlic salt. It was fabulous. I figured if the potatoes needed more salt you can always salt them at the table while you’re eating versus adding a lot in the recipe itself.

Lesson Learned 4 – Shred the cheese by hand: The recipe called for shredded cheddar cheese. I’ve recently learned that the shredded cheese bags you buy at the grocery store have an additive in them that is designed to prevent the cheese from clumping together. But that additive also prevents the cheese from melting smoothly. Plus it is an additive and the more you can eliminate additives from your life the better. So take the few extra minutes buy a hunk of good cheddar cheese and use a grater to shred it yourself. The result is so much better in the recipe and better for you as well.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Lesson Learned 5 – Make caloric adjustments where you can: This is a very rich recipe so any places where you can make adjustments to lessen the fat or salt will still produce a great casserole that is full of flavor while also having less calories. I used light sour cream, fat free milk, low sodium soup and substituted fresh garlic for garlic salt. The recipe turned out perfectly.

Lesson Learned 6 – Use butter and not a butter substitute or margarine: I know this may seem to go against what I just said in the previous lesson learned, but just take a minute to look at the ingredients in butter and then compare them to the ingredients in margarine or any butter substitute. Tell me if you can pronounce some of the ingredients in the substitutes. It’s scary to think about what you might be eating. If you have to use a fat, use the one that has the purist of ingredients which in this case is none other than good old fashioned butter.

Lesson Learned 7 – Not all baking times are created equal: The original recipe called for baking the casserole at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. My long standing experience with high altitude made me leery of not only the timeframe but also the temperature. I will include in the recipe below the original cooking instructions but will tell you that I had to crank my oven up to 375 and cook this for an hour and it turned out perfectly. What I’m basically saying here is you may have to adjust your cooking time based on your oven and where you live. Just be aware of that.

Lesson Learned 8 – The leftovers are fabulous: The leftovers are equally as good if not better than when it was fresh out of the oven. Just reheat them covered in foil in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. The flavors have had some time to meld and the top and ends get even crispier. Can’t beat that!

Right Out Of The Oven

Right Out Of The Oven

Once again, the real work in this recipe is preparing it. Once you get the mixture together, all you have to do is pop it in the oven and let it do the rest of the work for you. This is a great accompaniment to almost any meal so try it. I know you’ll like it!

Hasbrown Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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1/2 pkg. frozen shredded hasbrowns (package size usually 1 lb. 14 oz.)

8 oz. light sour cream

1/2 can cream of mushroom soup (low sodium preferred)

4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese (freshly grated not packaged preferred)

1/8 cup milk (fat free or low fat preferred)

1/2 small onion, chopped

1/2 stick of butter, melted

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup seasoned croutons crushed


Preheat the oven to 375. (*The original recipe called for the oven to be set at 350 and to cook the casserole for 35-45 minutes. I live in high altitude so everything takes a little longer to cook and at a higher temperatures. Use what you think will fit your needs but I think keeping it in the oven a little longer gives it an even crispier crust). Thaw hashbrowns slightly for easier mixing. Crush the croutons (the easiest way to do this is to put them in a plastic bag and mash with a rolling pin or meat mallet). Set the croutons aside.

Combine the hashbrowns, soup, cheese, milk, onion, garlic, salt and half the melted butter. Grease a 8 x 8 pan with a very light coating of butter. Place the hashbrown mixture in the prepared dish. Spread croutons evenly over the top and drizzle them with the remaining butter.

Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour (*see notes at beginning of recipe). The casserole should be bubbly and the top should be golden and crisp. Let stand for a few minutes and serve.

Hashbrown Casserole

Hashbrown Casserole

Portabella Mushroom And Sweet Onion Risotto…

The first time I ever heard the term risotto or saw it being made was on an episode of 30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray on the Food Network. I remember distinctly her saying that many people think making risotto is difficult to master and labor intensive. I’d never tried making risotto and personally am not a big fan of rice to begin with, but it looked like a creamy style rice and I thought I could live with that. Plus my husband is a huge rice fan and I’m always looking for ways to satisfy his need for rice with something that I find palatable as well.

Sautee Onions In Butter And Olive Oil

Sautee Onions In Butter And Olive Oil

After watching several episodes where she made different variations of risotto I thought I might give it a go. And over the past year after having made it several times I think I have the process down pat. The base recipe that I use is my own and I’ve found with a little ingenuity (and a need to use up various types of vegetables in my refrigerator) you can make just about any kind of risotto you’d like.

At first, the thought of making risotto was daunting, especially for a non-intuitive cook like me. I found out quickly that although Rachel Ray could seemingly make it in 30 minutes it takes much longer than that for me. Maybe living in high altitude has an affect on the cooking time, but after several attempts I know that it takes me 1 hour to get creamy rice. So that’s what I plan for now and it always turns out perfectly.

Since the recipe is mine, I’m not going to take the time to rate it. What I will say is that it did take several attempts before I got the risotto to its desired consistency. So let me share with you my lessons learned regarding making basic risotto and my recipe for portabella and sweet onion mushroom risotto.


Lesson Learned 1 – USE CHICKEN STOCK: Some recipes call for chicken broth, some for chicken stock, you can also use a combination of broth or stock and some wine, but my advice is always use chicken stock instead of chicken broth. Chicken stock is richer and adds more depth of flavor. There is no contest here – always use chicken stock. I find it takes me one full box of stock to make my risotto. (You can also use vegetable stock if you want to make this as a vegetarian dish).

Lesson Learned 2 – MAKE SURE THE CHICKEN STOCK IS WARM: A warm liquid helps the arborio rice (and that’s what risotto is, arborio rice) release more of its starches. Those starches are what creates the creaminess. About 5 minutes or so before I begin the process I put the stock in a pot on the stove and warm it under a very, very low flame. No need to boil or even simmer. I put my gas stove on its lowest possible setting where you can barely see a flame and keep it there the during the entire cooking process. It keeps the stock warm to the touch and that is really all you need.

Stir Regularly

Stir Regularly

Lesson Learned 3 – COOK THE RISOTTO SLOWLY UNDER A LOW FLAME: Face it, risotto takes time and there is no getting around that. The more you nurture it during the cooking process the better the end result. At any given point in time the risotto should barely bubble.

Lessons Learned 4 – SYSTEMATICALLY ADD WARM STOCK AND STIR: I think this may be the part where most people say forget it, I don’t have time for this. But it really isn’t that bad. I’ve gotten to the point where I check my risotto about every 5 minutes and if the stock has mostly cooked away I add another soup ladle full of stock, stir the risotto and then leave it for another 5 minutes. Remember stirring also helps the rice release its starches.

Lesson Learned 5 – IT MAY TAKE A FEW TRIES TO TIME IT RIGHT: As I mentioned earlier, when watching Rachel Ray cook risotto, it supposedly only took her 30 minutes. I’ve never even come close to that time. It takes me a full hour to get the risotto to its desired creaminess. Now I am not sure that high altitude has an effect on it, but I know that if I want to have risotto with a meal I need to start it an hour ahead of time. Depending upon where you live, the time may very. Unfortunately, this is something that you will need to discover on your own.  But take my word for it – IT’S WORTH IT. I am not a big fan of rice but I love risotto.

Lesson Learned 6 – ADAPTABILITY: You can add just about anything you like to risotto and serve it either as a side dish or the main course. I like to add portabello mushrooms that have been sautéed in butter and garlic. But I’ve also added roasted butternut squash or asparagus. Just remember that whatever you add should be pre-cooked and added during the last 5 minute or so. Top it off with some chopped scallions or chives and you’ve got something very special.

Lesson Learned 7 – SIZE OF POT & THE AMOUNT OF RICE: My recipe calls for one cup of arborio rice. Don’t be fooled into thinking that is not enough. One cup of rice becomes three cups of risotto so depending on how many you will be serving this could well be enough for one meal and leftovers. And make sure to use a high sided pot when making risotto as it will grow right in front of your eyes. You’ll want to have a pot that can handle the end result.

Portabella Mushroom And Sweet Onion Risotto…

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Medium
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8 ounces of Portabella Mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup sweet onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 box (32 oz.) low sodium chicken stock

3 TBS. butter

3 TBS. olive oil

1 cup arborio rice


Pour stock into a pot and heat on the stove under the lowest possible flame (just enough to keep it warm). In a sauté pan, heat 1TBS. oil and butter. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute). Add mushrooms and sauté until slightly softened. Set aside.

In a high-sided pot under medium heat, heat 2 TBS. of butter and olive oil. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add arborio rice and cook with the onions for 1 minute. Turn heat to low and add a soup ladle full of chicken stock. Stir to combine. After approximately five minutes (or until you see the chicken stock has almost been completely incorporated) add another ladle full of stock and stir. Repeat this process until all of the chicken stock has been used and the rice is thick and creamy (for me, that was approximately 1 hour). DO NOT LET THE RICE MIXTURE DRY OUT DURING THE COOKING PROCESS. There should always be a little moisture left when adding the next ladle full of stock.

During the last five minutes of the cooking process, add the mushrooms to the mixture. Garnish with chives or scallions and serve.

Portabella Mushroom Risotto

Portabella Mushroom And Sweet Onion Risotto

Summer Pasta Salad

I like a good pasta salad any time of year, but especially during the summer when dishes that are cool and crisp seem to meld well with the hot summer weather. I used to just get the boxed pasta salad mixes but as I become pickier about what I put in my mouth I tend to shy away from prepackaged foods with ingredients that I cannot pronounce. Plus chopping and dicing is very therapeutic for me and the end result is always better than something that came out of a box.

The pasta salad recipe I’m sharing today came from, where else, Pinterest and a website called barefeetinthekitchen.com. A colleague of mine pinned it and when I saw the pin it intrigued me. I decided to make it with a couple of changes from the original recipe (mostly based on what I already had in the house) and I’ll share my adaptation below.



RECIPE RATING: A – simple to make, very flavorful and adaptable. The only thing preventing me from giving it an A+ is I didn’t think the proportion of broccoli to pasta was substantive enough. The original recipe called for 8 ounces of pasta and a cup of tiny broccoli florets. I added about a 1/2 cup more of broccoli florets because as I was eyeballing it I thought there wasn’t enough. I would have liked an even better ratio in the salad than that, so I am recommending adding two cups of tiny broccoli florets.

LESSON LEARNED 1 – ANY PASTA WILL DO:  The original recipe called for “salad macaroni”. The pasta pictured on the website looked like ditalini. I used a pasta called “radiatore” which, as you can see in the pictures, has wavy edges. I thought this pasta would hold the dressing better and it also creates an interesting look. So, knowing that we eat with our eyes even before we even put anything in our mouths, I opted for the radiatore. But in reality any small shaped pasta will do like small shells or even elbow macaroni.

LESSON LEARNED 2 – PARBOILING THE BROCCOLI FLORETS: This was a great tip in the recipe. You have to cook the florets slightly or else they will be too hard when in actuality you want them to be crisp tender. The original recipe called for putting the florets in with the pasta for the last 30 seconds of cooking time and then draining and rinsing both with cold water. I kept the florets in for 45 seconds and I think they came out perfectly. It is important to rinse them immediately in cold water to stop the cooking process. Let the cold water run for at least a minute and shake the colander every once in a while to make the cold water is reaching all of the pasta and the broccoli.


LESSON LEARNED 3 – USE WHAT YOU HAVE AT HOME: The original recipe called for black olives. I’m not a big fan of black olives but I love kalamata olives and I always have them on hand. I used them and that was just fine. The recipe also called for the mayo to be mixed with either 2 teaspoons of white wine or just plain vinegar. I split the difference and used 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar and again, it turned out just fine.

Rinse the pasta and broccoli immediately in cold water

Rinse the pasta and broccoli immediately in cold water

LESSON LEARNED 4 – SERVING TIPS: I decided not to add tomatoes to the mix because the pasta was already mixed with diced cucumber and I was afraid the pasta would get too watery. What I wound up doing is cutting up a couple of cherry tomatoes and adding them when I was serving the pasta. I also sprinkled the top of the pasta with bacon bits when I served it so the bacon would not get too mushy in the dressing. It was fabulous!

LESSON LEARNED 5: USING CUCUMBER IN PASTA SALAD: I’ve never used cucumber before in a pasta salad and I liked it. It’s not over powering and gives the salad a cool crispness that has you wondering what exactly that flavor is that is brightening up the salad. Before I diced up the cucumber I cut it in half lengthwise and removed the seeds. That way only the cucumber flesh was in the salad and the salad did not become soggy.

LESSON LEARNED 6 – SUGAR IN THE DRESSING: The dressing recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. I’d never put sugar into a dressing and so I had my concerns. I can tell you now, don’t worry about it and use the sugar. It balances out the tartness of the vinegar perfectly.

LESSON LEARNED 7 – MAKE THIS AHEAD OF TIME: What I’ve found over the years with making pasta salads and potato salads is that they even taste better if they’ve had time to sit and let the ingredients get well acquainted. If at all possible, make this early in the day and then let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. You’ll find that the flavors have become even more robust. But if you can’t, no worries, the pasta salad will still taste wonderful.

Once again, the greater amount of time spent making this recipe involves the chopping and dicing, which I love to do! This pasta salad has great flavor, is highly adaptable and I guarantee you that you can pronounce all of the ingredients used in the recipe. Try it and let me know what you think or how you adapted it.

Summer Pasta Salad…

  • Servings: 16-18
  • Difficulty: Easy
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8 ounces of a smaller type of pasta (I used radiatore)

2 cups tiny broccoli florets (use fresh if at all possible)

1/2 cup diced cucumber, peeled and seeded

1/2 cup finely diced red pepper

1/2 cup olives (I used kalamata olives, the original recipe called for black olives)

1/3 cup finely diced green onion


1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tsp. white wine or plain vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. sugar


Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, adding a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water before putting in the pasta. Just before the pasta is done cooking at the broccoli florets to the pot and boil for about 30-45 seconds. Drain the pot immediately into a colander and rinse well with cold water.

While the pasta is cooking, dice the cucumber, red pepper, olives and green onion and set aside. Mix together all of the dressing ingredients and set aside. In a large bowl pour in the dressing. Add the cooked pasta and broccoli to the bowl and stir well to coat. Add the remaining ingredients and stir again. Taste and adjust any seasonings as necessary (I found I need just a little more salt). Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Stir before serving. Garnish with cherry tomatoes and bacon bits if desired.


Tomato Potato Salad…

This recipe came about by accident – it was one of those things that my mother made for years but morphed into my mother-in-law’s recipe. Talk about inter-family competition. Not really. Both my husband and I came from modest backgrounds and our mothers were faced with learning how to really stretch a dollar while still keeping hungry children satisfied. That meant very simple meals consisting mostly of overcooked meat, canned vegetables (frozen veggies were not as prolific or as good as they are today) and recipes designed to stick to your ribs, high in fat and carbs. And guess what, we survived. Those recipes, for the most part, are what we now call comfort food and are the types of things we make sparingly, often when we feel we need a good hug.

tom and onionsThis is one of those recipes and yet it has an interesting twist, one that when I first heard about it I said yuck! My mom had a very basic potato salad recipe. My dad was not one for a lot of spices, he hated garlic (said it upset his stomach) and mostly enjoyed very bland-type meals. And considering this recipe does not have a lot of ingredients it is quite flavorful. The twist, thanks to my mother-in-law, was adding tomatoes to it. Yes, I said adding tomatoes. I’ve not seen many people, if any, add tomatoes to potato salad but if you’ve never tried it I think you might be in for a real treat. So here is my rating and lessons learned after many years of making Tomato Potato Salad.

Rating A – so easy to make, very colorful and flavorful. You will be amazed at how many people will be surprised by adding tomatoes but say it adds a wonderful flavor and consistency to potato salad.

psaladingredientsLesson Learned 1: Don’t be afraid to try it. I resisted doing it for many years and the idea of adding tomatoes was weird to me, but once I did I never looked back.

Lesson Learned 2: There is a trick to adding tomatoes. I always use roma tomatoes. I normally find that they are firmer with less seeds and more flesh and that is what you want. You need to scrape out the seeds and soft matter so that all you’re left with is the flesh. That way you get the tomato flavor but not the moisture. If you don’t do this you will wind up with watery potato salad, and you don’t want that.

Lesson Learned 3: Err on the side of more eggs than less. I usually use one large or extra large egg for every potato with 2 extra eggs to slice and add to the top. It depends on the size of the potatoes. Since there are so few ingredients in this recipe you need to make sure that you have enough eggs and green onions to provide the flavor.

Lesson Learned 4: Rinse the eggs for a long time under cold water after you boil them. I usually rinse them for 5 minutes and then I let them sit in an ice bath for about 5 minutes. If you do this the shells will easily come off. If you don’t you will struggle with removing the shells.

Proportion of Green Onions

Proportion of Green Onions

Lesson Leaned 5: Err on the side of more green onions than less, at least when you are chopping them. This is truly a recipe of sight versus exact amount. For this particular recipe I chopped 6 green onions. I did not use all of them but I used most of them. I eyeballed it. When you mix it, if the color looks proportional and not too little or too much green – then you’ve got it. I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes right now and saying this does little to help me understand the exact amount. Hopefully the pictures will give you and idea. Just remember you can always add more onions but you can’t take them away. And green onions have a much milder flavor so even if you add a little too much I don’t think it will hurt. Also chop and use the green as well as the white parts of the onion. Personally I think the green part has a better flavor.



Lesson Learned 6: Try to, if you can, boil potatoes that are the same size. Then the boiling time becomes more consistent. In the picture to the left you can see that two of my potatoes were much larger than the others. Because of that I had to watch to make sure I took the smaller potatoes out earlier. Otherwise I would have had mushy small potatoes and evenly cooked large ones. You don’t want that. It’s also important to let the potatoes cool to room temperature before you peel them. This is perhaps the most lengthy part of the process, but I found it is so much easier to remove the skin and cut them up if the potatoes are room temperature.

The recipe is deceptively simple but I guarantee you that, especially after you’ve eaten a lot of pre-prepared store bought potato salad, you will enjoy making this for its simplicity and you will definitely love its flavor. Enjoy!

Tomato Potato Salad

  • Servings: 10-12 people
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion


5 medium to large red or yukon gold potatoes (if using yukon gold you don’t need to peel them)

7-8 large or extra large eggs, depending on the size of the potatoes (2 eggs are for garnish)

1 bunch of green onions (you will probably use 80% of them)

2 firm roma tomatoes

1/2 cup mayonnaise (again to taste – start with 1/2 cup and use more if you feel it is necessary, err on the side of less; reduced calorie mayo also works well)

1 TB dijon mustard (optional – I do not use it often, but it does provide some depth of flavor)

Salt and pepper – to taste

Paprika for garnish (optional)


Hard boil the eggs. (this usually takes me 15 minutes on my stove). Once cooked rinse thoroughly under cold water. Put the potatoes in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. (I usually keep the pot covered throughout most of this process). Cook until you can pierce them with a fork (this can take anywhere from 20 to 30+ minutes depending on the size of the potatoes). Be careful not to overcook, you do not want the potatoes mushy but firmly cooked. Put them in a strainer and let them cool to room temperature.

Chop up 5-6 green onions and set aside. Peel and chop all but two of the eggs. Slice the remaining two eggs and leave for garnish.

Peel the potatoes and slice into 1/4 inch square pieces. Add the chopped eggs, green onion, mayonnaise, dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Carefully mix together so as not to mash the potatoes. Add the slice eggs on top. Chill at least for 2-3 hours.

Tomato Potato Salad

Tomato Potato Salad

Tomato Potato Salad With Egg Garnish

Tomato Potato Salad With Egg Garnish

I know this sounds deceptively simple but it is amazingly flavorful. Try it and let me know what you think.

Pesto Orzo With Roasted Red Peppers and Olives…

Pesto Orzo Roasted Red Pepper Ingredients

Pesto Orzo Roasted Red Pepper Ingredients

I admit, I am not one for making up recipes – creativity in the kitchen is not yet one of my culinary skills. But this recipe is an invention of mine – totally made up on the spot (and I’m sure there is a similar recipe for this out there somewhere) and has now become a side dish staple in our house.

It really evolved from two things, that being a cooking class in which I learned the art of roasting a red pepper (no more store bought jars for me) and a huge crop of basil that forced me to figure out how to make pesto. From there the recipe took shape.  So let’s talk a little bit about home-made roasted red peppers and pesto. Once you’ve made them yourself you will seldom, unless time dictates, go back to buying it pre-prepared at the grocery store.

Flame Roasting A Red Pepper

Flame Roasting A Red Pepper

I first became aware of using roasted red peppers in recipes from watching the Food Network. It seemed that every chef I liked used them in a variety of different recipes but they mostly just got them out of a jar. Don’t get me wrong, the jarred roasted red peppers are great and are a real time saver, but if you want to control the flavor and minimize waste there is nothing like making it yourself. It’s so easy and I have to say rather fun as well.

The trick is you will need fire of some sort to do this, so a gas stove or other source of flame is necessary. All you do is put it on the fire and let it turn black, and I do mean black. Just keep an eye on it and when one side turns black rotate it until the entire pepper is black. That’s it. Then you put it in a container, cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for at least 20 minutes. After that, you take a paring knife and scrape off the black matter and voila, you have a roasted red pepper! It can’t get simpler than that. I’ll put the complete recipe down below. Oil and herbs round out the flavor, but it is so easy and I like the fact that you control the amount you want to have versus buying a jar of peppers and having half of it sit in the refrigerator until you wind up throwing it out. This is easy and it has real cost savings as well.

The blackened pepper...

The blackened pepper…

The next part is the pesto. The prime ingredient in pesto is fresh basil. I like to grow mine in containers on my deck. Once you figure out how to grow basil you will get it prolifically, trust me. The first year I grew it I was not aware of cutting it back before it began to flower. That resulted in a very small basil crop. The second year I did a little research, did the appropriate trimming and I wound up with basil coming out of my ears. Using your basil to make pesto is a great way to have it year-round. I make mine and freeze it in batches and when I want some I just scoop what I need out of the container and let it thaw. I hear some people freeze it in ice cube trays and just pop cubes of pesto out when they want them. I had way too much basil to even try that. My freezer would’ve become nothing more than a haven for ice cube trays! Pesto freezes very well and every summer I wind up freezing a supply that takes me through to the following summer. I’ve included the pesto recipe below.

Homemade Pesto

Homemade Pesto

The rest is relatively simple, just a matter of cooking the pasta and combining the ingredients. My husband is a big rice fan and I’m not (being born and raised a potato girl) so I’m always looking for ways to either make a substitute for rice or jazzing up rice. Because of that I’ve become quite adept at risotto, my favorite form of rice, but that is for another blog. I found this recipe to be a great substitute for rice. As a matter of fact, my husband originally thought it was rice as orzo is a rice shaped pasta. Try this. I think you’ll really enjoy this one. Here is my recipe rating and lessons learned: Rating: A +++++ – now c’mon, you didn’t think I could rate a recipe made up by me any less than this, could you? But I bet if you try it you’ll agree. The combination of flavors is a perfect compliment to almost any dish. Lesson Learned 1: When I learned about roasting peppers on the stove I was told to let it sit covered for a minimum of 20 minutes before scraping off the burnt edges. I recommend waiting as long as you can. The longer you let it sit the easier it is to scrape it off. If you wait an hour or more it comes off in no time flat. Lesson Learned 2: When making the pesto recipe, initially add only half of the olive oil into the food processor. After that drizzle in the rest. You may find that adding all of the recommended amount may make the pesto too oily. I don’t like my pesto floating in oil, but some do. You can always add more olive oil but you can’t take it away once you’ve added it. Lesson Learned 3: The pesto recipe calls for a half of a clove of garlic. I like my garlicky and so I put in two cloves. Don’t throw them in whole. Just cut them in quarters – that way you will ensure they mix properly in the food processor. You don’t want to be chomping on raw garlic. Lesson Learned 4: The recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of cheese. You can add more to taste if you like. Lesson Learned 5: After you drain the pasta put it back in the pot you cooked it in and mix all the ingredients together under a very low flame. That way any residual liquid will evaporate so you won’t have a watery concoction.  

Pesto Orzo With Roasted Red Peppers and Olives

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS: 1 1/2 cups uncooked orzo pasta i large red bell pepper 1/4 cup of pesto olive oil (1-2 tsp.) 1/4 cup of kalamata olives chopped 1 TBS garlic and herb bread dipper seasoning DIRECTIONS: Place red pepper over open flame and blacken on all sides. Place in a heat resistant bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 20 minutes. Remove pepper from bowl and scrape off all of the black matter. Cut open, remove the seeds and yellowish veins and cut into lardons (lardons are simply small rectangular slices – see picture below). Add seasoning and desired amount of olive oil. Mix together and set aside. Chop the kalamata olives into small bite size pieces.

Lardons of red pepper mixed with olive oil and seasonings.

Lardons of red pepper mixed with olive oil and seasonings.

In a 3-4 quart saucepan cook pasta according to package directions. Once cooked, drain the pasta and put it back in the pot under a very low heat. Add the pesto (recipe below), roasted red pepper and olives. Stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Basic Basil Pesto

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS: 4 cups loosely packed basil leaves 2 cloves garlic 1 small shallot, cut into pieces 3 TBS. pine nuts 1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil 1/2 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese salt, if desired DIRECTIONS: Wash basil leaves and remove excess water. Place the basil, shallot, pine nuts, cheese and 1/4 cup oil in a food processor. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor at least once. Check the consistency of the pesto. If too thick, drizzle in more oil while processing until the pesto reaches the desired consistency. Use or freeze. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container in your refrigerator or freezer.

Mix all ingredients together under a low heat

Mix all ingredients together under a low heat

Orzo Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper and Olives

Orzo Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper and Olives

Grilled Blue Cheese Garlic Onion and Basil Potato Packets…

All my life I’ve been a potato girl, its just the way I was raised. We could probably go on for hours about the “carbs” factor, but when it comes down to it, at least in my estimation, when you say meat I say potatoes. And as I journey into augmenting my culinary skills I look for new and different ways to prepare  the old standby spuds. It becomes more of a challenge during grilling season, but I just happened upon a recipe that with some tweaking became an easy grilling hit.  I found a recipe for “Scalloped Potatoes for the BBQ” on Allrecipes.com and with a few little changes upped the wow factor substantially. It’s so easy, you just have to try it.

The Basics

The Basics

Grilled Potato Pockets

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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3–4 Red potatoes, thinly sliced

1 large onion

2 cloves of garlic (more if desired)

Chopped fresh basil (yum, and again to taste)

Butter cubed (again your desired amount)

Salt and pepper to taste

Crumbled blue cheese (the secret flavor factor)

As you can already see, most of this recipe is ingredients to taste. For me and my husband, I used three smaller sized red potatoes,  a medium sized onion, 6 big basil leaves, enough butter for flavor, no pepper, Lawry’s seasoned salt and about an eighth of a cup of crumbled blue cheese. The key is making sure the potatoes are thinly sliced otherwise they won’t cook. If you have a mandoline slicer that’s the best, otherwise use a good sharp knife and watch your fingers.

Thinly sliced potatoes

Thinly sliced potatoes

Now here comes the easy part, the directions:

1. Preheat your grill (mine was between 400 – 450 degrees).

2. Take a piece of foil and spray it with cooking spray (this way the potatoes won’t stick and you can use less butter).

3. Make a layer of potatoes and then layer the onion, garlic, basil and butter on top. I did not pepper my potatoes but used Lawry Seasoned Salt on top of these layers. Sprinkle with blue cheese and pat this layer down. Repeat with another layer. Once you’re done you should have something that looks like this:

Layered Ingredients

Layered Ingredients

4. Fold the foil around the layers to make a packet. I take an additional piece of foil and packet it one more time to prevent leaking. With just a single layer of packeting, I found the blue cheese leaked through the foil and onto the grill. You don’t want that to happen.

5. Place the potato packet on the grill and cook for 45 minutes turning the packet over halfway during the cooking time. The result is fabulous and if you try it, I’m sure it will become a new family favorite. Enjoy and feel free to share!

BBQ Blue Cheese, Onion and Basil Potatoes.

BBQ Blue Cheese, Onion and Basil Potatoes.