Steamy in My Kitchen Today

It is steamy in my kitchen today.  Not because of the weather, but because of the bevy of activity on the stove.  Today is a day of preserving and I’m up to my elbows in blackberries and cucumbers.


Yesterday, in the torrential downpour, Jeff picked a boat-load (yes, that’s an official measurement) of blackberries.  So today I had to honor his commitment to his garden by making something wonderful from the harvest.  I was going to make blackberry jam, but why do that when you can mix it up?  Jeff and I both had similar trains of thought for the blackberries. The thought  processes went something like this……

“Jam…..ok……but better……add herbs…..ok……..what kind…….basil? No……..thyme? Maybe…….rosemary?  Definitely…..but better……add a
dash of balsamic? Ahhhhhhhh.”

Having taken a ride on that thought train, today’s jam is Blackberry Balsamic Jam with Rosemary and it sure smells good in my kitchen!!!! The jam is made and has been passed through the food mill.  The jars are sterilizing on the stove top as I write.  All that is left is to fill them and give them private time to relax in a water bath.

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Just in case you’re wondering about jam vs. jelly vs. marmalade……..

What else is going on in the kitchen?  Bread and butter pickles.

I am not a lover of cucumbers.  In fact, I would almost rather starve than eat one; however I love cucumber spa water and I love bread and butter pickles.  So when my mother-in-law asked if I wanted some fresh cucumbers from her garden, I accepted with the intention of turning them into pickles.

[OK, I must confess – I took a quick break from writing to get the jam into the jars and the jars into the canner.  Now I can get back to writing about the pickles.]

Having never made bread and butter pickles, Jeff’s mom generously shared her recipe with me via Jeff’s phone.  However, I forgot to get the recipe from him and he is currently unreachable by phone so I did a google search for ‘bread and butter pickles.’  The search pointed me to Pinterest (darn), which yielded a recipe from the Brown Eyed Baker that sounded good to me.

The Brown Eyed Baker’s recipe for bread and butter pickles is currently in process in my kitchen.  I waffle cut the cucumbers using my mandoline (Q: Have I ever mentioned how much I love my mandoline? A: Only about a million times!) (Q: Have I ever mentioned the importance of safety when using a mandoline? A: Mentioned is too subtle a word for what I’ve done – ranted is more like it. If you want to read about it, click See John Cook: A Public Safety Message & Rant).

Now the cucumbers, having been salted according to the recipe, are chillin’ in the fridge.  As soon as the jam comes out of the canner, I will be on to the next step of the recipe. Stay tuned…..


[Insert your favorite elevator music here!!!]

Ok, I’m back…..While I waited for the jam to finish, I:  Pickling Solution


  • soaked my plastic cutting boards in a bleach and water solution,
  • emptied and reloaded the dishwasher,
  • listened to my belly growl,
  • started a pot of cold brew coffee
  • rinsed the cucumbers according to the recipe instructions
  • thinly sliced the onions
  • prepared the pickling solution


Cucumbers & Onions in Pickling SolutionThen, while the cucumbers sat in the hot pickling solution, I:


  • made a quick trip to the grocery store
  • watered my plants
  • dusted the living room
  • swept the kitchen floor
  • baked some sweet potatoes for lunches this week
  • returned some phone calls
  • fed my growling belly


Finally, I packed the jars and put them in the canner for 10 minutes.

It was certainly a productive day, not just in my steamy kitchen; but at my house in general.  I’ll be happy in the months to come when I open a jar of jam or a jar of pickles.  And I’ll have some healthy lunches this week too.  So here’s to steamy!

All in a Days Work






Two for One – Restaurant & Recipe Review: Tania’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantaloupe-Ginger Agua Fresca

Over the last several years I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Mexican food.  I love the complex, but fresh flavors.  I welcome the contrasts in textures between smooth and creamy (like mole or guacamole) and crisp and salty (like a crisped tortilla, flaky from a little oil and heat). Oh how this comforting food makes me almost sigh, ‘mmm mmm mmm,’ while I’m eating it!

This past Saturday Jeff and I took one of our weekend afternoon rides for produce.  We pick a direction and roam back roads in search of small produce stands with deliciously fresh offerings.  Sometimes we go with no plan in mind and see where the wind takes us; but Saturday Jeff had a little nugget in his hip pocket – Tania’s Mexican Restaurant & Store at 2180 Carlisle Road in Aspers.

In the midst of shopping for fresh corn, green beans, tomatoes (to tide us over until the ones in our garden ripen), cantaloupe, etc. we stopped for a late lunch – that turned into linner or dunch.

Although neither Jeff nor I speaks much Spanish and none of the staff we encountered spoke much English, we managed to order everything we wanted and then some.  Having never had horchata (a traditional Mexican drink made with rice, vanilla and cinnamon) before, Jeff suggested ordering one to share.  It was a good call!  The horchata was like the best rice pudding in liquid form.  And it reminded me a little of chai, which I love.  Being on the sweeter side, we saved it for “dessert” and drank it in the car after we left Tania’s.

While we decided what to order, a basket of warm chips and a dish of thin, tomato-ey, flavorful salsa was delivered to our table.  We nibbled on the chips dipped in yummy goodness as we perused the menu.  Jeff ordered 1 green chicken tamale, beef tacos and a side of guacamole.  I ordered the spicy pork & pineapple tacos and a side of Mexican rice.  Of course, we shared it all and were in heaven as we ate.

I like tamales, but Jeff LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS tamales so I only had a small bite.  It was comfort food in a perfect little package.  Each order of tacos included three 4 1/2″ tacos so I took one of Jeff’s tacos and he took one of mine.  I put some of the spicy red sauce that came with the tacos on the beef taco and it was delicious.  The sauce gave it a nice heat and although there wasn’t a lot of complexity to the beef/onion mixture it was really good.  The flavors were strong and clean and homey.  My spicy pork & pineapple tacos were much more complex in flavor.  The spicy (but not too spicy) rub on the pork was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple.  It was like a taste explosion in my mouth and I really appreciated that the meat in both the beef and pork tacos was cut small enough that you didn’t have the awkward slide of filling onto your chin or down the front of your shirt when you bite into them!

The sides were just as good as the main event.  The guacamole was simple, fresh and creamy, yet it had just the right amount of chunky avocado pieces to make it texturally interesting.  And the rice – oh, the rice!!!!!  You may remember that Jeff isn’t the hugest rice fan – having tasted his attempts at making rice, I understand why!  While he is an excellent cook in so many areas, rice is not his forte.  However, rice making is the forte of whoever makes the Mexican rice at Tania’s!!!!  When you first look at it you may be tempted to think it is going to be dry and boring – but do not rely on this deceptive first impression or you will miss something wonderful.  So wonderful, in fact, that I know in the coming weeks I will wake up in the middle of the night craving the rice.  The grains were moist but not soggy, perfectly separate from one another.  Clearly the grains were not simply cooked in water – there was a great flavor of something lovingly toasted and cooked with chicken broth and/or tomatoes.  And dotting – but not overpowering – the perfectly done rice were garlic, onions, peas and carrots.

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It was an exceptional meal followed by a trip through the aisles of the attached store.  We made our purchases and were shocked at how low the prices of our lunch and grocery items were.  It was a phenomenal value and I would highly recommend it.

Now for the recipe.  On Thursday Jeff and I went to the library for a rare trip where we could spend time between the shelves picking out books and DVD’s without rushing.  Normally we stop at the library on the way to or from somewhere else and just run in for what we need or drop our books in the outdoor book return.  But, I was able to look at books in a leisurely manner and checked out three cookbooks (I know, it’s an addiction – “Hi, my  name is Janice and I’m a cookbookaholic!”).

In preparation for an upcoming Mexican meal, I borrowed the book “tacolicious” by Sara Deseran.  Although my menu is set, I thought I’d get some inspiration from this book and I was not wrong.  One thing caught my attention immediately – Cantaloupe-Ginger Agua Fresca.  While on our produce mission on Saturday we found some perfectly ripe cantaloupes so on Sunday I made the agua fresca.

It was scrumptious!  And it was super simple to make. I had ginger in the freezer (as I always do), sugar in the baking cabinet and a lemon in the fridge.  The hardest parts (which were not at all hard) were cutting the cantaloupe and defrosting the ginger.  Once that was done it all came together in a matter of minutes.  The only change I made to the recipe was to cut the amount of sugar so that the agua fresca would taste more like the perfectly ripe cantaloupe and less like sugar.


It was a home run! Bright and fresh and a beautiful color. And I am so glad I didn’t put the full amount of sugar in it or it would have been too sweet for my taste.  I will definitely make it again, perhaps trying a little more ginger in it the next time.

I’d give both the restaurant and the recipe (revised to include less sugar) 5 m’s out of 5.

mexican mmm


My Own Kind of Kind

American writer Henry James once wrote:

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

While I agree, I also think he forgot one…..the fourth is to make kind.  Or at least to make a knock-off of you favorite Kind Bars!

That’s just what I did yesterday – thanks to Jeff and the folks at “the kitchn.”  Not only did Jeff find a recipe for me to use to replicate my favorite smoked almond kind bars on “the kitchn’s” site, but he also picked up some bulk nuts and seeds for me when he was in Lancaster on Thursday.

Where can you find the recipe for Smoked Almond Snack Bars!  Right here!

So, how’d it go?  The recipe was sooooo easy!  The only thing I think was missing from the instructions was to say that peeling the parchment paper off the bars has to happen at just the right moment.  If you try to take it off too soon, you may feel like throwing the whole mess in the trash.  But if you let them sit a bit longer, it will peel right off.

I made a triple batch in a half-sheet tray (approximately 12″ x 18″) and was able to get 30 bars that are approximately 1 3/4″ x 4″ – a great snack size! I used 1/3 smoked and salted almonds and 2/3 plain almonds.  I used a bit less salt than was called for because the smoked almonds were salted.  And I used a bit less than 1 tsp. of Liquid Smoke for a triple batch.

Because I had to run Macy to the spa, my bars cooled for about 35 minutes after they came out of the oven.  I did have to put them back into the oven for about 2 minutes to get them out of the pan – but fortunately the recipe told me how to handle such a situation! After I cut the bars and let them cool for several hours, I wrapped them in waxed paper and am storing them in the freezer per the recipe instructions.

So how does the recipe rate?

4 and 1_2 ms

I’d give it 4 1/2 M’s out of 5….the taste is great, it yielded the promised amount and the instructions were informative. The only thing missing was the information about removing the parchment paper – of course, the recipe writer may not have had trouble with that step.  But there’s always room for improvement, right?

Let me know how it goes if you make them!!!!

Jam On It

….yes, as a matter of fact I am reliving 1984 tonight as I bop around the kitchen singing the lyrics to the Newcleus song “Jam On It.”  “Why?,” you ask.  Because we’re making jam of course!

Today was one of those steamy days where the humidity reached beyond ridiculous and I HHHHHAAAAATTTTTEEEEE the heat of summer.  Even more than I hate the heat of summer, I hate the humidity of summer.  But in spite of the weather, I’m still doing my “I love summer” dance. I just can’t hate summer on a day when the raspberries are so fresh and ripe and juicy that I’m inspired to make jam.

IMG_2429 (2)

So even though it’s still hot and humid, I have my enormous enamelware canner heating up the kitchen.  It’s great to be able to stumble out to the garden to pick berries fresh off the vine and make them immediately into jam.

Semi Seedless Red & Black Raspberry Jam

I use the raspberry jam recipe from Domino Sugar’s website; but instead of using lemon juice I use orange juice.  I experimented with this substitution the last time I made jam – I read somewhere that oranges have more pectin in them and, since the recipe calls for such a small amount of juice, I figured I should give the substitution a try.  It turned out to be delicious and the jam thickened beautifully.

When all is said and done, I call the resulting jam “Semi Seedless Red & Black Raspberry Jam” because (1) our food mill does not have a disk/screen fine enough to get all the seeds out of the cooked fruit – but it gets quite a few of them out and (2) we are lucky enough to grow two kinds of raspberries in our little garden.

Tonight we’re experimenting with running the jam through the food mill AFTER we add the pectin and orange juice.  This is a good time to remind you to read your recipes all the way through to the end before jumping in with both feet! We’ll see if the jam has any thickening issues…..I’m not experienced enough with jam-making to know if this little snafu will have any effect on the finished product.

Despite not reading the recipe, it sure is smelling good in here.  AND, thanks to the marvels of air conditioning, we’re still comfortable even though it’s steamy outside and it’s steamy in the kitchen.   In fact, it’s comfortable enough to shake our “groove thangs” while we sing:

“On time, in your mind you see
You gotta boogie to your best ability
You gotta funk it up until it knocks you down
And when you’re funkin’ up, be sure to pass it around
Come on, let’s go to work
We got what’ll make your body jerk
Make you throw your hands up in the air
Shake your booty and scream, “Oh, yeah”
?Cause we are the Jam On Crew
And jammin’ on it is how we do the do
We’ll funk you up until you boogie down
So come people check out the sound”


Recipe Review: Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts on CounterOur family is growing – a new baby and new or newish significant others for my nieces, including an impending wedding – and that means readjusting holiday schedules.  I’m sure you’ve been through it in your family and hope that you make it as easy as possible on those being pulled in multiple directions. Trying to make everyone happy can be exhausting and is difficult at best.

This year, our family Thanksgiving celebration was rescheduled for Black Friday, and then again for Sunday, 11/30. Rather than stress about it, I looked at it as a way to have an extremely low-key Thanksgiving day (which we sure did) and as extra time to decide what to make for our celebration!

My assignment was to bring a vegetable. And that is where the quandary began. First, the age-old question….”Does corn count as a vegetable?” Second, “Not even if it’s a holiday?”  Then the question of tradition presented itself….”Can we really have Thanksgiving dinner without Corn Pie?” And…”If not corn pie, then can we live another year without Diane Phillips’ Gulliver’s Corn?”  I’m not sure why there are dishes we only make on the holidays, but I know my family is not alone in this.  Finally…”If not a traditional dish, then what?”

The answer presented itself in the form of a cooking show.  I turned on a recent episode of Giada DiLaurentiis’ ‘giada at home‘ and the first thing she mentioned was Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts.  Not only did the recipe sound fantastic, I knew Jeff had harvested a boat-load of Brussels sprouts just a few days earlier.  With the decision made, we purchased the bourbon (ok, technically we used Whiskey because Jack Daniel’s isn’t made in Kentucky, but you get the idea) and the slab bacon and waited for the 30th to arrive!

After church on Sunday morning, we set about following Giada’s recipe.  Jeff worked making the glaze while I worked on preparing the bacon and the Brussels sprouts to skewer.

Making the glaze:

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I cut the slab bacon into 3/4″ cubes and slid them into a 375 degree F oven for about 8 minutes so the fat would begin to render.  I blanched the Brussels sprouts for about 4 minutes, submerged them in an ice bath to stop the cooking, dried them with a kitchen towel, and tossed them with olive oil and kosher salt.

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I cut all the Brussels sprouts in half so that the glaze could seep in between the many layers of the veggies.  I’m pretty sure Giada did this on the show; although the recipe says to cut the Brussels sprouts in half ‘if needed.’

While I assembled the skewers, Jeff preheated the Big Green Egg (BGE).  Because we don’t have a stove top grill pan, we decided to use the BGE – and we weren’t even a bit sorry….not only did the Brussels sprouts end up with great smokey flavor; Jeff and I spent the rest of the day smelling of a camp fire, which is a scent I’m never sorry to inhale!

Skewered But Not Grilled

On the BGE

Hot Off the BGE

I’d give this recipe 4 1/2 M’s out of 5.  The flavor was wonderful, the ingredients were easy to obtain (particularly because I had a fridge full of Brussels sprouts), the instructions were straightforward (but I’m glad I had seen the episode of ‘giada at home’ because I knew to cut the Brussels sprouts in half), and there weren’t too many steps.  But I wonder if skewering is necessary.  Yes, the skewers looked nice; but they did take quite a bit of time to assemble.  This dish would certainly have been just as delicious if grilled in a grill basket and served in a plain, white bowl. And there’d be no flying Brussels sprouts at the table while trying to gracefully remove the veggies from the skewers!

4 and one half ms for bacon bourbon brussels sprouts

Overall, this recipe is a winner.  Judging by the reaction of everyone around the Thanksgiving table, I believe the Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts will be a new traditional Thanksgiving dish!

What are the dishes your family only makes on Thanksgiving?

Hillbilly Cherry Pitter and Delicious Cupcakes

Last Saturday my sister hosted a baby shower to celebrate the impending birth of my great-niece, Kendall (I can’t wait to meet her).  In preparation for the shower, my sister (Laura), my mom (Mimi), my niece (Vanessa) and I gathered together to make tons of cupcakes for the shower.

In the days leading up to our cupcake-fest, we all scoured recipe books, websites, blogs, and, of course, Pinterest for cupcake ideas.  We compared our top picks and decided on two recipes: Lemon Cupcakes with Raspberry Icing (inspired by Lemon Cupcakes with Blackberry Buttercream from Tide & Thyme) and Double Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes (inspired by Double Chocolate Cupcakes with Cherry Mascarpone Frosting from American Heritage Cooking).

In both cases, we used the cake recipe “as is;” however we had to adapt the icing recipes because the weather was predicted to be hot and humid – two enemies of buttercream frosting!!!!!  So for the icing, we used Wilton’s High Humidity Buttercream recipe as the base.

Because we wanted the icing for the lemon cupcakes to be less purple and more pink, we added puree’d and sieved raspberries and additional 10x sugar to the Wilton recipe.  For the chocolate cherry cupcakes we added half the cherry compote (that is included with the cupcake recipe) to the Wilton recipe. In both instances, we used Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste rather than clear vanilla extract.  I love the pure vanilla flavor and the specks of vanilla seeds you can see in your baked goods that result from using the vanilla bean paste.  However, if you want your icing (or other baked goods) to be pure white; then clear vanilla extract is the way to go.

So where does the Hillbilly Cherry Pitter come in?

The day before we assembled to bake, I grocery shopped for ingredients.  The list included fresh cherries and I was able to find some gorgeous specimens.  My challenge was that I don’t own a cherry pitter.  364 days a year not owning a cherry pitter does not even register a blip on my radar.  In fact, most years I don’t even buy cherries.  It’s not that I don’t like them…..but I digress.

You’d think working in a beautiful kitchen store that sells over 10,000 kitchen items (at least 6 of them being cherry pitters) would mean I got in the car and drove to work to make a purchase…..but I knew I wouldn’t use it very often and remembered my rule of thumb – “don’t buy a tool or gadget if you can’t think of more than one use for it.”  So I went with the old “necessity is the mother of invention” theory and made my own cherry pitter.

Now, it took a little modifying and a suggestion from Jeff – but I got it “up and running” in short order.  What did I use?  An empty beer bottle and the cover to my instant read thermometer!!!!

I set the beer bottle in the sink (I found this gave me better leverage), took the stem off the cherry, set the cherry on top of the bottle, cupped it with my fingers and thumb, and lightly pressed on the top of the cherry with the cover to the instant read thermometer.  With just the right amount of pressure, the pit went into the bottle and I repeated the process with all the cherries until they were done.  Every now and then I ran the cover to the instant read thermometer under running water to dislodge any cherry flesh that was stuck.  In case you have an inquiring mind, the beer bottle held the pits for approximately 5 – 6 lbs. of cherries.

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The cupcakes turned out beautifully.  The lemon cupcakes were so light and fluffy, which can be attributed to the long beating time.  And the double chocolate cupcakes were dense and richly chocolate – they were the smoothest cupcakes I’ve ever seen pulled from the oven.

Once decorated, fit perfectly into the pink and gray theme of the shower.  And when they were displayed on the pink and “gray” tiers of our home-made cupcake stand with the custom-made picks, they were gorgeous.  Of course, as with any recipe, the final test is the taste.  The speed with which the cupcakes vanished was a hint; but when we finally sat down to enjoy the cupcakes at the shower we found that they were quite delightful.

A few snaps of the cupcake making and the shower:

It was fun to listen to different comments that were made throughout the shower – one person “absolutely loved” the raspberry icing, another liked the surprise inside the chocolate cupcakes, someone thought there was too much icing on the lemon cupcakes (but I’m sure my icing-loving sister would argue that point to the death), another person’s only complaint was that they ate too many, etc.

For me, even better than the physical cupcake outcome, was the opportunity to (1) spend a day baking with my family (which, of course, included lots of laughs, a few mishaps, a nice lunch, and uninterrupted time together) and (2) celebrate the upcoming addition to our family….we couldn’t be more excited to meet Kendall and to watch Ashley and Jason embark on their journey into parenthood!!!

Dukka of Earl & Recipe Review: Roasted Tomatoes and Lentils w/Dukka-Crumbled Eggs

“Yeah, I
Oh, I’m gonna love you
Nothing can stop me, now “

That’s exactly how I feel about a dukka. And until Saturday I didn’t know what a dukka was.  But oh, now that I do, nothing can stop me from loving it!

A dukka (also spelled duqqa or dakka) is an Egyptian mixture of herbs, nuts and spices.  The word ‘dukka’ comes from the Arabic for “to pound” because the herbs, nuts and spices are dry roasted and then pounded together.  There are many different variations of dukka – using different combinations of herbs, nuts and spices.

Since Saturday night, when Jeff and I made a wonderful recipe from Serious Eats, I’ve been dreaming about the many ways to incorporate a dukka into my recipes….look out world!

The recipe is entitled “Roasted Tomatoes and Lentils with Dukka-Crumbled Eggs” and it produced a wonderfully satisfying dinner that was packed with flavors and offered many textures.

The dish is divided into four components – the lentils, the roasted tomatoes, the soft cooked eggs, and the dukka.  Then the components are layered one upon another with a delicious result.

Here are some pics of the finished product:

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The recipe for the dukka we made is as follows:

1/2 cup hazelnuts (skins on)
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. peppercorns
1 1/2 Tbsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. ground paprika
1/2 Tbsp. sea salt flakes

  1. Put the hazelnuts in a dry skillet and toast over high heat until they smell roasted – be careful not to burn, which can happen very quickly.  Transfer them to a plate to cool.
  2. Put the sesame seeds into the dry skillet and toast until golden.  Transfer to the plate to cool.
  3. Put the sunflower seeds into the dry skillet and toast until golden.  Transfer to the plate to cool.
  4. Crush the hazelnuts in a mortar until coarsely ground (you do not want this to turn into a paste). Transfer to a bowl.
  5. Roughly crush the sesame seeds and sunflower seeds and add them to the hazelnuts.
  6. Toast the coriander seeds until they smell toasted and crush them roughly.
  7. Repeat with the peppercorns.
  8. Repeat with the cumin seeds.
  9. To the bowl with the nuts, add the seeds, toasted spices, paprika and salt.
  10. Mix well.
  11. Store in an airtight container until needed.

To get the recipe for the Roasted Tomatoes and Lentils with Dukka-Crumbled Eggs visit Serious Eats.

I’d give this recipe 4 1/2 M’s out of 5!

4 and one half ms

The instructions were easy to follow, the outcome was fantastic and it’s a great option for a Meatless Monday.  The only thing that would make me reluctant to recommend this recipe to others is that I think having four components could be intimidating. But I want you to know, the recipe was not difficult and it was well worth the time spent!

Before we made dinner on Saturday, Jeff and I took a drive in the country to get some local produce, to take in the sights and to spend some uninterrupted time together.  I took some photos along the way.  I hope you enjoy them!

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Recipe Review: Cinnamon Sugar Radish Chips

Yes, you read that right……the recipe IS for Cinnamon Sugar Radish Chips.

I was surfing Pinterest this morning and came across a Pin from “pinch of yum” for these treats and could not resist giving them a try.  It’s not often that you can say or write, “I just happened to have a big bag of radishes in the fridge,” [or maybe YOU can say that often, but I most assuredly cannot] so it seemed like it was meant to be.

I’m not really a huge fan of radishes – I can take or leave them; so I’m not sure what it was that really intrigued me about this recipe – perhaps the odd juxtaposition of sweet against bitter….oh well, in truth it doesn’t really matter why…..

The following are some pics of my cinnamony sweet radish journey:

Rinsed RadishesI started by washing the radishes and draining them in a colander.

Setting Mandoline

Getting the Setting RightThen I got out my OXO mandoline slicer and set it to 1/4″ thick to cut the radishes.

Let me just digress for a moment and tell you why I love my OXO mandoline slicer.  First, it is affordable.  For years I wanted to purchase a mandoline, but the prices were offputting.  This one is affordable for many budgets.  Next, it is EASY to use.  With the exception of the cutting blade and the hand guard, everything is housed in one structure.  That means it only takes a quick turn of a dial to change the thickness of the slice and to switch to julienne cutting.  Also, the legs fold down, which means the unit stores flat – great for small kitchens. And it is easy to clean IF you clean it immediately after use.  And please, please, please remember to take the blade out and clean it separately or there’s no telling what kind of germs you will breed!  Finally, it comes with a hand guard for holding food as you slice it, which I highly recommend if you want to keep your fingers!  Many people express fear with respect to using a mandoline because they’ve heard about someone cutting himself or herself while using it.  I would venture a guess (there is no science behind this opinion) that in 99% of the cases where someone gets cut using a mandoline, it is because he/she did not use the hand guard. THIS IS A SHARP PIECE OF EQUIPMENT!  If it weren’t sharp, it wouldn’t work.  And the manufacturer includes the hand guard for a reason.  You are NOT too cool to use it.  You are NOT too smart to use it.  To paraphrase Nike, JUST USE IT!  Rant over.

One Quarter Inch Thick

Although I was (and still am as the chips are STILL in the oven past the time the recipe called for) skeptical about cutting the radishes so thick, I sliced them to 1/4″ thickness.

Radishes in Microwave Safe Bowl

Next I microwaved them for 30 seconds as the recipe instructs.  The 30 seconds truly didn’t seem to do anything, so I added another 30 seconds.  The recipe says to microwave the radishes to soften them, but I’m not sure even 1 minute did much toward softening them, but I continued as the recipe instructs

Tossing with Olive Oil & Honey

….I drained the radishes and put them in a larger bowl where I tossed them with olive oil, honey and cinnamon sugar.

Lined Up on Sheet Tray

Lined Up on Sheet Tray

In the Oven

Then I lined them in a single layer on a sheet tray and put them into a 350 degree F oven for 15 minutes.  I took them out of the oven, flipped them over, reduced the temperature to 225 degrees F and put them back in for 20 minutes.

As I write I am into my FOURTH round of 20 minutes at 225 degrees F and they look like they’re going to need significantly more time.

If I had to guess, I’d say the recipe writer estimated that the radishes were cut to 1/4″ thick, but they were actually more like 1/8″ thick….which makes A LOT of difference.  But I will press on and let you know how long it takes until I finally get chips.

Crisped ChipsAfter 3 hours and 10 minutes I took the “chips” out of the oven because I didn’t want them to burn.  After cooling they are somewhat crisp, but some are still chewy on the inside.

I really appreciate other bloggers and all the work that goes into photographing and testing recipes, and I know how frustrating it can be to go from simply cooking something to getting it all on paper in a way that makes sense to others.  But I would beg bloggers (myself included) to please work through that frustration and try to be as accurate as you can when writing your recipes.  I’d even recommend having someone else test your recipes before you publish them so that your readers aren’t frustrated when trying to replicate your results at home!  I know oven temperatures vary and readers can make mistakes, but when you present a recipe online readers expect to be able to make it as instructed with a little variation – as if they were using a cookbook.  I don’t know about you, but if I make a handful of recipes from a cookbook and they don’t turn out as expected based upon the recipe, then I rarely reach for that cookbook again.  I’d hate for blog readers to stop reaching for your blog when a little clarity or testing/re-testing on your part could have saved the reader from frustration!

That being said – if you ever make one of my recipes and have trouble; please, please, please let me know!!!!  I will either take the recipe down and retest it or (depending on the issue) I will append it with your notes!

All things considered, I would give the Cinnamon Sugar Radish Chips recipe from ‘pinch of yum’ 2 M’s out of 5:

The results were OK, but the timing was WWWWWAAAAAYYYYY off.  I do like the balance of sweet and slightly bitter, but I think they would have turned out much better if they had been sliced 1/8″ thick rather than 1/4″ thick.  If you make the Cinnamon Sugar Radish Chips, let me know if your experience was like mine!

TBTIAAW: The Best Thing I Ate All Week – Tammy’s Cornmeal Cheddar Scones

I’ve decided that periodically I will write about the best thing I ate during a given week.  This week it was hands down my friend Tammy’s Cornmeal Cheddar Scones.

Before I tell you about the scones, I should let you know I ate some pretty great things this week – at least I tasted some really great things.  Lest you think I eat like a queen – which some weeks I admittedly do compared to what other people eat – I should be honest and tell you that like everyone else, sometimes I drive-thru, sometimes Jeff and I order pizza, sometimes we eat leftovers, and sometimes we have cereal for dinner!

But working at a cooking school dramatically increases the probability of me tasting really amazing foods!  This week, for example, I sampled beef tenderloin with a red wine reduction, stuffed mushrooms, pork tenderloin stuffed with butternut squash and blue cheese, and Bananas Foster, among other things.  So to say the BEST thing I ate all week was Tammy’s Cornmeal Cheddar Scones is to say that they were, in my opinion, marvelous!

Before baking they were brushed with butter (and to quote my friend, Barb, “Everything’s better with buttah!”) and sprinkled with sea salt; so they had a crispy, lightly browned exterior and a nice salty snap. Mmm mmm mmm!

Tammy is another one of the instructors at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School and a wonderful cook/baker.  Like me, she enjoys entertaining in her home.  So it is no wonder we have quickly formed a bond.  She and I spend a great deal of time together prepping ingredients for our classes and for classes given by guest chefs as well.  Some of Tammy’s upcoming classes include:

But back to the scones.  With Tammy’s permission, the recipe is below.  I made the scones at home today so that I could take some photos of the process for this post.  These scones would make a wonderful accompaniment to chili, a hearty soup, a main course salad or, let’s be honest, almost anything you make.  Being someone who prefers savory things to sweet things in the morning, I would have some scrambled eggs and fruit with one of these scones and be happy until dinner time!

Here’s how easy they are to make…

1. I started by preheating the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Next I measured the dry ingredients.

Dry Ingredients with Measurements

3. Then I measured the wet ingredients.

Wet Ingredients with Measurements

4. I placed the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, ancho chili powder and salt in the bowl of the food processor and gave it a whir to combine the ingredients.

5. I added the butter in chunks and pulsed the food processor until the mixture resembled coarse meal.

Butter in Dry Ingredients

6. Then I placed the mixture into a large bowl and stirred in the cheese.

7. I whisked together the egg and buttermilk until they were blended.

8. I made a well in the center of the dry ingredients, added the egg mixture and stirred just until the dry ingredients were moistened.

9. I turned the dough onto a well-floured surface and kneaded lightly a few times to make sure all the ingredients were well incorporated.

10. I patted the dough into a 10 x 7 inch rectangle.

The Dough

Cutting the Dough

11. With a floured pizza cutter, I cut the dough into triangles and diamond shapes (but you can cut them into any shape you desire with the pizza cutter or you can use cookie/biscuit cutters to cut shapes as well).

Cut Dough

12. I melted about 2 Tbsp of unsalted butter, which I used to brush on the tops of the scones after I moved them to a cookie sheet lined with a baking mat (you could use parchment paper).

Melting Butter for Brushing Scones

13. Finally I sprinkled the scones lightly with sea salt and popped them into the preheated oven where they baked for approximately 18 minutes (watch your scones carefully as the baking time will depend upon your oven).

The result?  Some of the best scones you’ve ever tasted!

The Finished Scones

Flaky Interior

A special thanks to Tammy for her permission to share this recipe, but more importantly for the friendship we have built over the last year.  I love working with you. I appreciate your guidance, support and wisdom.  And I look forward to many more years of talks, laughs and shared recipes!!!!

What is the best thing you ate all week?

Recipe Review: Roasted Mushroom Soup with Apple Cider Stock Part II

As I indicated in Recipe Review: Roasted Mushroom Soup with Apple Cider Stock Part I, this is a soup I’ve been wanting to make for years and haven’t taken the time to tackle.  The class I taught at The Kitchen Shop and Cooking School on Friday evening was entitled Apple Harvest and included apples in each recipe.  What better time to work with this recipe?

In Part I of my post, I explained how I made the cider stock….now for the soup.  In comparison with the making of the stock, the soup is a breeze!

First the mushrooms….for some quick peeks at my recent experience at the mushroom festival in Kennett Square, PA, click here and here…..the recipe called for yellow morel mushroom, oyster mushrooms, and button mushrooms.  Since I wasn’t able to locate morels in my area, I substituted Portobello each time I made the soup.

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I cleaned the mushrooms with a mushroom brush and a damp paper towel and then, although the recipe instructed me to saute the mushrooms whole, never one to follow directions I sliced the mushrooms and sautéed them in butter, stirring occasionally.  “Why?” you ask.  I thought the mushrooms would give up their liquids more quickly and would brown better if they were sliced rather than whole… thinking may be flawed (or not), but the outcome was some beautifully browned mushrooms!

After the mushrooms were browned and no liquid remained in the pan, I added some Madeira wine, fresh oregano, and salt/pepper.

In the last year I’ve learned a little something about Madeira wine.  I’m no expert, but I the following information fascinating and thought you might too.  Madeira (REAL Madeira) is made in Portugal – in the Madeira Islands – and is a wine fortified with brandy.  (Not too bad so far, right?)  There is a wide spectrum – from dry to sweet – of this very robust wine.  The wine undergoes a unique wine making process and a unique aging process.  During wine making, the wine is heated for an extended period of time and is exposed to a specific level of oxidation.  During the aging process, the wine is stored in sauna-like conditions.  These processes are meant to mimic the intense heat and constant movement of the ships on which Madeira was originally transported – these two factors had a transforming effect on the wine.

In my quest to learn about Madeira and try different brands, I have found that you can buy “knock-off” Madeiras from California – they are quite inexpensive, but you get what you pay for.  When I spent $10 more per bottle on Leacock’s Rainwater Madeira, I got a change in flavor that was immeasurable! I’m not sure for cooking I would spend much more per bottle, but for drinking I certainly might!

Anyway, back to the soup…while the mushrooms and Madeira mingled in the skillet, I heated the cider stock in a separate stock pot.  The mushrooms continued to cook until the Madeira evaporated.  Then I added all but 1/2 cup of the mushrooms into the heated stock and simmered it for 15 minutes.

Finally, I used my immersion blender to puree the soup until it was smooth (if you like a little texture in your soup, feel free to leave it chunky).  I added a whisper of heavy cream, simmered the soup for an additional minute and tasted it for seasoning adjustments.

Then, the moment of truth….taste testing.  The roasted mushroom soup with apple cider stock was magnificent.  It was smooth,, creamy (but not overly so), warm, and flavorful.  It had a hint of sweetness from the stock which balanced nicely with the mushrooms.  I will say the second time I made it the apple cider I purchased was sweeter than the first time and I liked the soup better with a less-sweet cider.

This past Friday evening I made this soup for the students in my Apple Harvest class and they LOVED it too!

I’d give this soup 5 M’s out of 5!

Even though it is very time-intensive, it is worth the work.  I would definitely recommend you giving this soup a try….perhaps for a holiday or other special occasion. You will not be sorry!

Roasted Mushroom Soup with Apple Cider Stock


  • 2 cups yello morel mushrooms (can substitute portobello mushrooms)
  • 2 cups oyster mushrooms
  • 2 cups button mushrooms
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves (divided)
  • 1/4 cup Madeira wine
  • 7 cups apple cider stock (see recipe below)
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)


Adapted from "In Praise of Apples: A Harvest of History, Horticulture & Recipes" by Mark Rosenstein, 1996.

This recipe will make more cider stock than you need for the Roasted Mushroom Soup with Apple Cider Stock.  YOu can freeze the rest for other uses.


1. Wipe any dirt from the mushrooms and remove and discard any dried, hard parts of the stems.
2. Heat the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the whole mushrooms and sauté, tossing once or twice during the first few minutes. The mushrooms will begin to render their liquid.
3. After 5 minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low.
4. Pour 7 cups of cider stock into a stockpot (separate from the mushrooms) and bring to a simmer.
5. Continue to cook the mushrooms, browning them and allowing them to render all their liquid. You may need to add some additional butter to keep them from sticking to the pan or burning. Stir once every 3 minutes while they cook.
6. After the mushroom liquid has evaporated, add the salt, pepper, 2 Tbsp oregano, and the Madeira wine. Allow the wine to evaporate completely.
7. Add all but 6 Tbsp of the browned mushrooms to the simmering stock. Turn the heat up and bring the stock to a slow boil. Cook for 15 minutes.
8. Check seasonings and adjust if necessary.
9. Puree the finished soup with an immersion blender.
10. Add the cream and cook for about 1 additional minute to allow the cream to incorporate into the soup.
11. Divide among bowls and garnish with the remaining oregano and the whole mushrooms.
12. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Apple Cider Stock


  • 4 cooking apples (such as Fuji, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Cortland, or Nittany)
  • 6 medium carrots
  • 6 leeks (roots and 1/2 of greens leaves removed)
  • 4 cups Portobello mushroom stems
  • 3 tablespoons light cooking oil (such as safflower or peanut oil)
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 gallon fresh apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 12 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 bay leaf


Adapted from "In Praise of Apples: A Harvest of History, Horticulture & Recipes" by Mark Rosenstein, 1996.

This recipe will make more cider stock than you need for the Roasted Mushroom Soup with Apple Cider Stock.  YOu can freeze the rest for other uses.


1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Core and chop the unpeeled apples.
3. Cut the peeled carrots, leeks and mushroom stems into 2" pieces (discard any hard ends of the mushroom stems).
4. Place the chopped veggies and apples on sheet pans, toss with the cooking oil, and add the whole coriander seeds.
5. Roast until veggies and apples are golden brown, about 2 hours, turning the ingredients approximately every 30 minutes to ensure even browning.
6. Scrape the roasted vegetables into a stockpot. To loosen the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan, pour in 1/2 to 1 cup of cold water and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon (this process is known as deglazing).
7. Add the cider, the remaining stock ingredients, and just enough cold water to cover the vegetables. Place the lid on the stockpot, leaving it slightly ajar, and heat the stock over medium-low heat. It should reach a simmer in approximately 1 hour. Simmer for 8 hours, adjusting the heat if necessary.
8. Strain, cool and refrigerate.

Recipe Review: Roasted Mushroom Soup with Apple Cider Stock Part I

If you love mushrooms, this is a very interesting twist on mushroom soup.  If you love apple cider, this is a very unusual use for it.  Now what I write next is difficult for a blogger to pen; but if the thought of spending 10 to 12 hours on PART of a soup petrifies or perplexes you, you may want to stop reading.  Of course, you may just want to read for the entertainment value!!!

This is a soup I’ve been wanting to make for years and haven’t taken the time to tackle.  But the class I am teaching tomorrow evening at the Kitchen Shoppe – Apple Harvest – is all about apples and was the perfect reason to try this recipe.  As I do with all my class recipes, I made several iterations.  The last time I made it, I took pictures to share with you.

Since the soup is really a two-part recipe – the stock and then the soup – I thought I’d write the post that way as well.  So what I’m writing about here is just the apple cider stock, which could be used in other applications – I think an autumn risotto with this stock would be fantastic, perhaps with some roasted butternut squash to keep it veg or if you’re not concerned with meatless meals you might consider adding sausage…..mmm mmm mmm.


The following is a mostly pictorial representation of the stock-making process.  I should mention that I made a double batch, so don’t be alarmed if quantities of the ingredients in the recipe below do not match the quantities in the photos!

1. Preheat oven to 300 Degrees F

1. Preheat oven to 300 Degrees F


2. Washed Apples & Carrots

2. Washed Apples & Carrots

I cored the apples and cut them into wedges and then cut the wedges in half.  I peeled the carrots and cut them into 2″ lengths.

3. Leeks Before Cutting

3. Leeks Before Cutting

Leeks are VERY, VERY, VERY sandy, so they must be well cleaned.  I started by rinsing the outside.

4. Remove Root and Dark Green End

4. Remove Root and Dark Green End

Then I cut off the root end and the dark green tops.

5. Leeks Halved Lengthwise

5. Leeks Halved Lengthwise

I sliced each one in half lengthwise.

6. Leeks Cut into 2" Pieces

6. Leeks Cut into 2″ Pieces

And then I cut the halves into 2″ pieces.

7. Separated Layers in Water to Rinse Sand

7. Separated Layers in Water to Rinse Sand

I separated the cut layers and put them into a large bowl of cold water and “swished” them around – yes, “swish” is a technical cooking term!

8. Change Water Frequently - It Will Get Quite Dirty

8. Change Water Frequently – It Will Get Quite Dirty

Because I was cleaning quite a few leeks, I changed the water frequently.  As you can see, it gets quite dirty and it’s hard to clean anything with dirty water.

9. Leeks Draining

9. Leeks Draining

After swishing the leeks in the bowl of water, I removed them to a colander and rinsed them.

10. Leeks Drying

10. Leeks Drying

After all the leeks were “swished” and rinsed and drained in the colander, I moved them to a towel to dry.

11. Cut Portobello Mushrooms

11. Cut Portobello Mushrooms

I know the recipe calls for Portobello mushroom stems, but I wasn’t able to get stems only so I used the caps too!

12a. Veggies Roasting in Oven

12a. Veggies Roasting in Oven

After all the veggies were cleaned and cut, I put them on several half sheet pans, tossed them with peanut oil and sprinkled them with the coriander seeds.

12b. Veggies Roasting in Oven

12b. Veggies Roasting in Oven

Then I slid the trays into the oven to begin the 2-hour roast.  I turned the veggies and rotated the trays every 30 minutes.

13a.  Veggies After 1 Hour of Raosting

13a. Veggies After 1 Hour of Roasting

13b.  Veggies After 1 Hours of Raosting

13b. Veggies After 1 Hours of Roasting

The veggies and apples were beginning to caramelize after 1 hour.

14. Veggies After 2 Hours of Roasting

14. Veggies After 2 Hours of Roasting

After 2 hours, the veggies looked wonderful!  I scraped them into a stock pot and used some of the cider to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the roasting pans.

15. Roasted Veggies, Cider, Spices and Herbs

15. Roasted Veggies, Cider, Spices and Herbs

I added the apple cider, the peppercorns, some bay leaves and the fresh Italian parsley and put it on the stove to simmer….and simmer….and simmer.

16. Stock After Simmering for 8 Hours

16. Stock After Simmering for 8 Hours

After simmering for 8 hours, the stock looked rich and delicious.

17. Veggies to Discard After Straining

17. Veggies to Discard After Straining

I strained the stock and discarded the veggies and apples….

18. Spices to Discard After Straining

18. Spices to Discard After Straining

…and the herbs and spices.

19. The Finished Product

19. The Finished Product

20. The Finished Product

20. The Finished Product

Then I put the stock into the refrigerator and went to bed!!!!

I KNOW that I am asking you to devote a LOT of time to this recipe; but it’s a labor of love….perhaps it’s a recipe you would consider for a holiday.  I will suggest that although there are a lot of hours involved in making the stock – there is a lot of “down time” while the veggies are roasting and the stock is simmering.  You could make this on a fall Saturday while you’re watching football!  Your house will smell AMAZING!

You’ll have to stay tuned for my rating of this recipe…..


Apple Cider Stock


  • 4 cooking apples (such as Fuji, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Cortland, or Nittany)
  • 6 medium carrots
  • 6 leeks (roots and 1/2 of greens leaves removed)
  • 4 cups Portobello mushroom stems
  • 3 tablespoons light cooking oil (such as safflower or peanut oil)
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 gallon fresh apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 12 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 bay leaf


Adapted from "In Praise of Apples: A Harvest of History, Horticulture & Recipes" by Mark Rosenstein, 1996.

This recipe will make more cider stock than you need for the Roasted Mushroom Soup with Apple Cider Stock.  YOu can freeze the rest for other uses.


1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Core and chop the unpeeled apples.
3. Cut the peeled carrots, leeks and mushroom stems into 2" pieces (discard any hard ends of the mushroom stems).
4. Place the chopped veggies and apples on sheet pans, toss with the cooking oil, and add the whole coriander seeds.
5. Roast until veggies and apples are golden brown, about 2 hours, turning the ingredients approximately every 30 minutes to ensure even browning.
6. Scrape the roasted vegetables into a stockpot. To loosen the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan, pour in 1/2 to 1 cup of cold water and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon (this process is known as deglazing).
7. Add the cider, the remaining stock ingredients, and just enough cold water to cover the vegetables. Place the lid on the stockpot, leaving it slightly ajar, and heat the stock over medium-low heat. It should reach a simmer in approximately 1 hour. Simmer for 8 hours, adjusting the heat if necessary.
8. Strain, cool and refrigerate.

Monday Recipe Love MMM Your Review Leftovers

I know it sounds confusing……but it’s really not.  It’s a Monday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post all rolled into one!!! Except….oh, no….the holiday weekend has messed me up…..Jeff just reminded me, IT’S NOT MONDAY.  Ugh….Ok, so it’s a Tuesday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post!!!

Coming up with new and creative ideas for dinner can be just as difficult for someone with a passion for cooking, eating and entertaining as it is for the Average Jane or Average Joe.  Sometimes the creativity just isn’t there and/or sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking.  But when you’ve got leftovers on hand and you’ve just tried a RRREEEAAALLLYYY good recipe, it’s a bit easier.

On Sunday Jeff and I went the home of our friends Lu and Mark for a cookout.  A bunch of folks gathered for an impromptu celebration of Mark’s birthday. And of course, when friends get together you can count on two things – at least with our group of friends – lots of laughs and some darn good food.

Lu made an appetizer platter with a few new-to-her recipes including Pickled Deviled Eggs and Pickled Brussel Sprouts – both mmm mmm mmm.  I made an Ina Garten / Barefoot Contessa recipe that I recently wrote about when our friends Barb and Scott invited us to their lovely home for dinner.  The recipe is Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes…….I raved about it when Barb made it and my friends raved about it when I did too!

crostiniLu and Mark also grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, Maureen and Andy brought their yummy mac and cheese, Ev and Jeff brought peach cobbler, and Tim and Jack ran out for glazed donuts when everyone was talking about the Luther Burger craze.  Luther Burgers are allegedly named for Luther Vandross and are cheeseburgers served on sliced glazed donuts.

Well, my assessment of the Luther Burger – five M’s – MMMMM!

But I digress……

Tonight I was stumped about what to make for dinner, so I did what all self-respecting cooks do when they don’t know what to make….I stood in front of the open fridge hoping inspiration would jump out at me….and it did. I spied the container with the leftover whipped feta, a package of chicken, the leftover marinated tomatoes and a head of broccoli Jeff picked from the garden yesterday.

Here’s what I did:

1. I cut the chicken into cutlets – with my palm on top of the chicken piece and my knife parallel to the cutting board I cut on a very slightly downward angle (to avoid the knife going into my hand).  Then I pounded the cutlets, breaded them (first in seasoned flour, then in egg wash, and finally in seasoned bread crumbs), shallow fried them and set them on paper towels to drain.

2. I ran out to the garden to pick a few extra tomatoes and followed Ina’s recipe to make some extra marinated tomatoes.

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3. I made the pesto with some arugula, spinach, the broccoli, lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  I tasted it for seasoning and then set a pot of water on the stove to boil so I could cook the pasta.

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4. While the water boiled and the pasta cooked, I spread the remaining whipped feta onto the cooked chicken cutlets and placed them in a 250 degree F oven to stay warm and for the cheese to soften.

Chicken with Whipped Feta

Just after I drained the pasta and mixed in the pesto, I heard the garage door go up.  Jeff’s timing is exceptional – particularly when food is involved!  While he changed, I plated our food – the pesto pasta next to the feta smeared chicken, which I topped with the marinated tomatoes.  We both raved dinner and Jeff complimented me on taking Ina’s Crostini recipe and adapting it for a main course.

Chicken with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes

As far as the recipe goes, Barefoot Contessa’s Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes gets 5 M’s out of 5!

It is easy to make, takes only a few ingredients, yields incredible flavor, pleases a crowd, adapts well to other preparations and holds well for leftovers!!!  So, whether it’s Monday or Tuesday, I hope you love your leftovers, try a new recipe and end up with an MmmMmmMmm!!!!!


Dinner Mmm

Barefoot Contessa Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta


  • 6oz good feta cheese (crumbled)
  • 2oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 2/3 cups good olive oil (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed (I also used the zest of one whole lemon))
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shallots (minced (2 shallots))
  • 2 teaspoons garlic (minced (2 cloves))
  • 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
  • 2lb ripe heirloom or cherry tomatoes (1/2 inch dice)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves (julienned)
  • 20 - 25 diagonal baguette slices (toasted)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted)


1. For the whipped feta, place the feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the cheeses are mixed.
2. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and process until smooth.
3. For the tomatoes, up to an hour before you're serving, combine the shallots, garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes.
4. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
5. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and set aside for 10 minutes.
6. Stir in the basil and taste for seasonings.
7. To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of whipped feta. With a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes on top. Put the crostini on plates and scatter with the pine nuts. Sprinkle with extra basil and serve.

Recipe Review: Tomato Jam

Last week I was paging through my recipe notebook looking for possible dishes to make for a friend’s party and I came across a recipe that Jeff printed from the internet for Tomato Jam.  Because we have sooooooo many tomatoes in our garden right now, the recipe really caught my attention.  I set it aside to revisit, but somehow it ended up back in the recipe notebook when I put it away.

But, the recipe gods were not about to let me forget. Last Saturday morning, after taking a long walk, Jeff and I harvested about 30 pounds of tomatoes and various other veggies from our garden.  When we brought our haul into the kitchen, Jeff said, “You know, I printed a recipe for Tomato Jam that we should make.”  I giggled and knew it was meant to be!

I got the recipe back out of the notebook and decided to make a triple batch.  I would have made even more, but I was low on sugar so I made as much as I could with the sugar I had.

I carefully washed 4 1/2 pounds of Roma tomatoes and cut them into a large dice.  I added the sugar, lime zest, various spices, diced Hungarian peppers (the recipe called for jalapeno peppers, but I didn’t have any so I subbed from the garden) and set it on the stove to cook.  The recipe called for a cooking time of approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes; however mine took significantly longer – perhaps because I tripled the recipe or perhaps the fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes were juicier than the tomatoes used by the recipe author.  But it didn’t matter, I was working in the kitchen anyway, so I kept stirring and testing the jam on a plate to make sure it was the right consistency.

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There are different ways people test the consistency or setting point, but I learned the saucer or plate methods so that is what I used.  Some ways to test include:

  • The Saucer or Plate Method:  Spoon a small amount of jam onto a plate and let it cool – if it is ready, it will wrinkle and feel firm.  When you run your finger through the jam (be careful that it is cool), the track from your finger will stay.
  • The Spoon Method: Stir the jam with a wooden spoon, turn the spoon over so the “wrong side” is face up, allow the jam to cool slightly, and run your finger through the jam.  The track from your finger should stay and when you hold the spoon sideways with warm jam the jam will form a thick drop.
  • The Thermometer Method: Test the jam with a sugar thermometer.  When the temperature reaches 220 degrees F it has hit its setting point.

The recipe did not call for skinning and seeding the tomatoes so I didn’t; however once it reached the right consistency I wasn’t happy that the skins were in the jam so I pulled out the food mill.  I processed the jam through the mill, which was a big improvement; however, the jam seemed to get thin when I processed it so I put it back on the stove for a few minutes to thicken.

Reduced Jammm mmm mmm

OhMyGoodness!  The jam is incredible.  The first thing Jeff and I did with it was to put it on a pizza we were constructing for dinner.  We spread it on the freshly stretched dough, topped it with some shredded cheddar cheese, added oven-roasted tomatoes and some sharp provolone.  Finally we sprinkled on some fresh basil and slid it onto the pizza stone.  We pulled it off the stone when the cheese was bubbly and just beginning to turn golden brown.  Again, OhMyGoodness!  The pizza was terrific, due in part to the tomato jam.

Hot Out of the Oven

The next morning, Jeff made breakfast before church.  He sliced and toasted a parmesan pepper baguette, spread the crostini with tomato jam and topped them with scrambled eggs. Mmm mmm mmm!  Jeff proclaimed that not only was the jam great on a pizza and eggs, it also was great right off a spoon.

I will play with the recipe the next time I make it.  I want to try making it slightly less sweet, but I don’t think I’ll mess with the spices – the combination is divine!

Overall, I’d give the recipe 4 M’s out of 5…

The recipe could have been more specific for a first-timer about how to test to make sure the jam had reached its setting point and I think it should have addressed removing the skins from the tomatoes.  But overall – with a few tweaks – the end result is fantastic. Had the resulting jam not been so good, I would have only given the recipe 3 M’s out of 5.   I’d highly recommend giving this recipe a try – particularly if you find yourself with 30 pounds of tomatoes!!!

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Check out the addendum to this post!

Tomato Jam


  • 1 1/2lb good ripe tomatoes ((Romas are best) cored and coarsely chopped)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice ((mmm mmm mmm added lime zest as well))
  • 1 tablespoon freshley grated or minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalepeno or other pepper (seeded and minced or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste)


Recipe by Mark Bittman, The Minimalist / New York Times

Yields 1 pint.


1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.
3. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
4. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep in fridge at least a week.

Recipe Review: Balsamic Jelly

OK, we all have our weird habits, right?  One of mine is reading magazines while drying my hair upside down.  Since I am a VVVEEERRRYYY impatient person, I need to do something while I’m drying my hair or I will lose interest and spend the day with frizz head.  So to keep myself occupied, I read magazines.

The other day while drying my hair I came across a recipe that sounded really interesting.  I was re-reading the ‘R.S.V.P/ reader’s favorite restaurant recipes’ section of the August 2010 issue of Bon Appetit (I didn’t say I read current magazines) and found a request for the balsamic jelly recipe from BOKA Kitchen + Bar in Seattle and BA’s answer.

BA August 2010

Balsamic jelly? Wow – the many things I could do with balsamic jelly started spinning through my mind – put it on a turkey and brie sandwich, serve it on a cheese platter with a good smokey blue cheese, use it as a topping for a piping hot filet mignon with a slice of goat cheese, use it to thicken a vinaigrette…..and the ideas went on and on.

After I finished drying my hair, putting on my makeup and picking out clothes for the day, I headed for the kitchen and assembled the ingredients.  With just three ingredients this is a simple recipe.  However you do have to leave time (8 hours) for the jelly to chill in the refrigerator so that it sets properly; so plan ahead!

There was one part of the instructions that made me go “huh?” and that is when it instructed me to “stir over medium heat until gelatin dissolves and mixture is hot (do not bring to simmer).”  I had to think about the temperature at which liquids simmer.  So, of course, I went to Google….but I learned that liquids simmer just before they boil, which happens at 212 degrees F at sea level.  I decided to wing it and when the mixture of vinegar and gelatin reached 175 degrees F on my instant read thermometer I removed it from the heat and added the honey.

With the exception of the little research I had to do (which you may have known), it was a very easy recipe and it yielded INCREDIBLE results.  The consistency of the jelly is just what you’d want a jelly to be and there is a nice sharp tang when it hits the back of your tongue.  The balsamic jelly made an excellent condiment for the chicken cutlet sandwiches I prepared for our kayaking trip this past Saturday. And it is equally as nice on a fresh piece of Italian bread with a little butter.

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All in all I’d give this recipe 4 M’s out of 5. Mmmm.

I deducted one M because I thought the instructions could have been more specific to save the average reader the time of researching the temperature of “simmer” and I disagree with the recipe’s claim that it makes 6 servings.  For me the recipe yielded 8 half-pint canning jars of jelly and I seriously doubt you would use even 1/4 of what is in the jar as a serving.  So if you are going to make this recipe, know that – unless you are a giant – it will make significantly more than 6 servings!

What’s your favorite jelly flavor?

Balsamic Jelly from August 2010 Bon Appetit


  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 6 tablespoons honey


Bon Appetit's adaptation of balsamic jelly from BOKA Kitchen + Bar in Seattle.

Can be made 1 week ahead.  Cover and keep chilled.


1. Pour vinegar into a small saucepan; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir over medium heat until gelatin dissolves and mixture is hot (do not bring to a simmer).
3. Remove from heat.
4. Stir in honey.
5. Divide mixture among 6 small ramekins or bowls.
6. Chill until gelatin sets, about 8 hours.

Recipe Mishaps

I made a recipe for the first time today and it didn’t turn out well.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say the end result was awful.  But, ever one to make lemonade from lemons, it got me to thinking about how to recover from recipe mishaps!  It will be difficult to give you information about how to fix every possible mishap; however if I can get you thinking about different options, that will be a great start!

Let me start by giving you a piece of advice with which many seasoned cooks will agree.  Don’t try a new recipe for company, when you need to make a good impression, or when you are feeling particularly stressed.  I will apologize to families everywhere; but try out new recipes on your family first or on friends who are adventurous, willing and don’t mind eating pizza with you if the recipe flops!

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Chocolate Covered February

Last Saturday I spent part of the day at the Hotel Hershey with some fellow bloggers at one the MANY Chocolate Covered February events being offered in Hershey.  We met in the lobby and then wended our way through the hotel to one of the ballrooms for a cooking demonstration by Chef Garde Manger, Mario Oliverio.

Chefe Garde Manger Mario Oliverio

Chef Mario demonstrated several components for the group, including:

  • Chocolate Pecans
  • Dried Cherry & Chive Vinaigrette
  • Salad of Frisee and Arugula with Apple, Dried Cherry & Chive Vinaigrette, and Chocolate Pecans
  • Cocoa Spiced Braised Lamb with Pickled Red Onion on Fried Wonton

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You never know where you’ll get your inspiration!

I have read thousands of magazines over the years – probably  half of them cooking magazines.  In fact, in my very first post on the blog – Welcome! – I wrote about my love of cookbooks and magazines.  I wrote about how on my birthday Jeff brings me cooking magazines and a cup of coffee in bed and I am immersed for hours.

This week was NOT my birthday (I am not celebrating them more frequently than I absolutely have to), but I was thrilled to receive a magazine from our friends, Alicia and Jason, while I was “recovering” from some outpatient surgery.  Although we haven’t known each other for very long, they clearly know me quite well.  They made Jeff and I a wonderful dinner and sent along a copy of one of my favorite magazines, La Cucina Italiana.

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