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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip, in a Paris restaurant.
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On my recent trip, I managed to get in a lot of reading on my Kindle. On airplanes, waiting for airplanes, waiting for the bus to load, waiting in lobbies for everybody to show up to leave, and at night when I couldn’t sleep. A fun book was Mr. Mac and Me, by Esther Freud. It takes place in England in 1914. In a time and place where a 13-year old boy has a lot of freedom. Although the war is looming, this little village is relatively quiet and safe, as life used to be. Boys will be boys, and he enjoys sort-of spying on people, especially people he doesn’t know well. He imagines that a man who arrives in town to rent a house with his paints and easels, might be a spy. Thus begins a story that starts from that premise, but eventually takes you into a very special friendship that develops between the man, Mr. Mac, his wife, and this boy. The story is absolutely charming. War brings some brutal truths for everyone in the village, yet this friendship flourishes. Great book.

Occasionally I’ll latch onto a book about food or restaurants. This one, The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal, is a romance (not a sticky sweet one) about a youngish woman (and her dog) who take a big leap to Colorado when she’s offered a job as a chef. The restaurant is fraught with some issues, but the author weaves in a romance, her skills as a leader in the kitchen, throws in some recipes (that I have yet to extract from my Kindle pages, that I want to try) along with it, and you have a book that held my interest all the way through. Formulaic, I suppose, but it’s a cute story. Books about restaurants always divulge some new tangle of how a kitchen runs. I enjoyed the read.

If you haven’t already read it, you are missing a really good and insightful book, Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly. I was riveted from page one, all the way through to the end. O’Reilly has a very engaging way of re-telling history and making it ever-so readable and interesting. He weaves people’s stories, ones  you likely haven’t read or heard, into his narrative, to give you such a sense of place. You can just feel how these soldiers, pilots, prisoners and seamen made their mark, but likely all unsung heroes. It’s a must-read, it really is.

Having read some of Kent Haruf’s other books, I read Our Souls at Night. A lonely widow decides to invite a neighbor man, also a lonely widower, if he’d like to come to her home, at night, to spend the night. I simply can’t tell you anything else because it would give away the story. This isn’t a story about s-x, but about two lonely people who come together for friendship and companionship. It’s very sweet, not twee, but sweet. You really feel for both of these older people. Read it.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Travel, on October 25th, 2016.


Really? Who knew there were such gorgeous lakes and scenery in Croatia? People who have been there, yes! I certainly didn’t know. I didn’t read up on Croatia much before I went on this trip, knowing that we’d have a guide who would give us plenty of information.

Plitvice (plit-vee-cheh) Lakes is a National Park about 30 miles south of Zagreb (in central Croatia), and about 20-30 miles east of the Adriatic coast. To say it’s stunning is almost an understatement.

This photo at left is one of my other favorites from my whole trip. And yes, the water color is natural – I didn’t touch up that photo one little bit except to reduce its size to fit here on my blog. I was just amazed at the beautiful pictures I got from my iPhone.

plitvice_lake_2Plitvice Lakes National Park has a bunch of terraced lakes, all interconnected and separated by natural travertine dams. There is a long walking trail, a catwalk all along the lake edges, mostly over uneven wood slats elevated about a foot above the water. There are no hand rails, and people must pass one another along the narrow paths. A bit challenging.  Some in our group did the long walk – I did the short one which was mostly up high, above the lakes, on a very uneven dirt path with roots and rocks in lots of dangerous places. No safety features here. You’re on your own. All of us had to keep our eyes on the ground to not trip. But we paused numerous times to take pictures and to catch our breath. In the photo at right you can see the catwalk along one of the lakes.


There’s another view of the cascade of lakes with the catwalk path on the far side.

On the upper path we were about 300-400 feet up, I’d suppose. We’d get glimpses of the lakes down below every so often and eventually we met up with the lakes, since they were at a higher elevation the further we went.

I’d suppose this is similar to glacier water, with those colors in it, but no one ever mentioned that on our walks. We weren’t at a very high elevation. Maybe it’s just the mineral content of the water. It was crystal clear.



Here in this photo on the right you can see more of the cascading, but notice all the people on the catwalk. It was warm that day – I would think the folks down below would have been parched and hot. On the upper path we were in the shade mostly but we were hot too.


Here we were at the upper lake and on the “short” walk we went on part of the catwalk into/onto this lake. I found walking on the catwalk somewhat treacherous – I kept thinking I was going to trip . . . but these lakes were just gorgeous, don’t you agree?

Posted in Cookies, on October 22nd, 2016.


The cutest, tastiest little buggers. Easy peasy to make.

As I mentioned a few days ago, my friend Cherrie and on a quest to make some different cookies for our annual cookie marathon we usually do in early December. This was a recipe I’d cut out of the Los Angeles Times – I had an old, yellowed clipping. It did require a trip to the grocery store for vanilla wafers; not something I stock in my pantry! I learned something on the journey . . . the recipe called for 12 ounces (a box) of the cookies. Those boxes are now 11 ounces, not 12. Lots of foods are now packaged in smaller quantities – I suppose it’s to avoid having to raise prices. I haven’t altered the recipe because of the loss of one ounce – they seemed to turn out okay. I wasn’t going to buy another box, and I assumed the cookie would survive that minor change.

Anyway, the ingredients are all whizzed up in the food processor – the cookies, Dutch processed cocoa (I used King Arthur’s Double Dutch Dark Cocoa) pecans, dark corn syrup, and the Port wine. The powdered sugar is used to coat the balls after you make them. I think Cherrie counted them – we got 47 balls. THAT would account for lack of the extra ounce of cookies. The balls are small – they’re rich – and when you taste them it takes just a few seconds to feel the warmth from the wine.

The original recipe called for Zinfandel Port. I’m sure at one time I had a bottle of that, but it’s been drunk in the past. I wasn’t about to make a trip to the wine store for that, so I substituted an aged Port instead. Do NOT use California Port – it’s a far cry and a poor substitute for a real, Portuguese Port. Many years ago I visited Portugal and learned to savor the many types of Port. If you visit Porto, the northern Portuguese port, you’ll likely visit the port lodges that sit right on the wharves on the south side of the Duoro River as it moseys out into the Atlantic Ocean. You’re in for a treat if you ever go there. On the same trip I also visited Madeira (it belongs to Portugal, but it’s located off the northwestern coast of Africa) and came to REALLY appreciate Madeira. I prefer it to Port any day, but Port was what was called for here, so I used some Taylor Fladgate aged Port for it.

Cherrie rolled these little guys into balls, dipped them in the powdered sugar and set them on a rack to “dry” and then we packaged them up. We both really liked them. I’d definitely make these again. An adult cookie, I suppose, but there’s not much Port in them, so even if a teenager or younger child ate one, I doubt they’d notice anything except the warmth in the tummy.

What’s GOOD: the overall flavor is very nice. The Port is subtle; so is the chocolate, actually. Maybe as they sit and “age” the flavors will be more pronounced. They won’t last that long, I don’t believe! They shouldn’t be frozen as the powdered sugar would disappear – though I suppose you could re-sugar them if you did.

What’s NOT: well, I suppose it’s not a very good family cookie. I’m not certain children would really like it anyway. I don’t know . . .

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Chocolate Port Balls (Cookies)

Recipe By: Los Angeles Times, from many years ago
Serving Size: 48

11 ounces vanilla wafer cookies
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder — unsweetened
1 cup pecans
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup port wine — use good quality
1/2 cup powdered sugar

NOTES: Original recipe called for Zinfandel Port. That may be hard to find, so use any other good quality, but heavy-duty port wine. Do not use California Port. Original recipe also called for 12 ounces of vanilla wafers, but current boxes contain 11 ounces. Recipe seems fine with that quantity.
1. In a food processor, whirl vanilla wafers until they are fine crumbs, then add cocoa powder and pecans until the mixture is uniformly fine. Add corn syrup and port and whirl until blended.
2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in powdered sugar. Set on a rack to dry. Transfer to an airtight container. Will keep for a couple of weeks. Do not freeze.
Per Serving: 62 Calories; 3g Fat (42.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 23mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on October 19th, 2016.


A street sign, nicely done with some English. I think this was in Zagreb. We actually took the funicular (3rd arrow down) from the lower town to the upper town. Took all of about a minute.

Zagreb was a very pretty city – they have a big public park right smack in the middle of town – I thought I’d taken some photos there, but I guess not. Over the 2 nights and a day we visited numerous places and I haven’t been able to exactly pinpoint which pictures goes with which town. There were so many. Notice on the sign above, there’s a museum of broken relationships. We didn’t visit, but our guide told us that people from all over the world sent little mementos of various types, some bizarre, some poignant, some funny, of the detritus that is left from a marriage or a relationship. It might have been interesting to see.

verazdin castle

This is the castle at Verazdin (this photo above shows it so much better than my own photo, with scaffolding stari_grad2all over – came from a Croatian travel website). We visited a museum there. Picture at left is the inner courtyard of the castle. Others below are from the museum, including the ornate dishes (I love transferware) from one of the stari_grad_dishesformer monarchs. Nothing was in English there, so we had to guess at some of the artifacts. Somebody needs to polish the silver in these glass display cases!

We walked the town with a guide. We had a Croatian guide who was with us from our arrival at the airport in Zagreb, until we went into the airport terminal at Dubrovnik 13 days later. He was charming, Danilo, a lovely man, who really knew his history. He would regale us with history lessons sometimes during our long bus journeys. But in each city we also hooked up with a city guide – most places do that – can’t let the country guide do all the guiding, must keep the city guides in business, so in most of the places we visited we had a city guide to tell us all about that place.stari_grad_fan

I thought this ornate fan was just stunning. Oyster shell struts (or abalone?) and very intricate lace and tatting. It was quite beautiful.


This might have been in Verazdin – it was unique because in the old town they still have gas lights, and they’re still lit by a real-live gas lighter fellow every evening, and snuffed out every morning. Kind of charming. We didn’t see it at night, but I can imagine it was very pretty.


Our hotel, in Zagreb, the Imperial. It was a beautiful hotel, old world charm but with all the nice amenities of a first class hotel. We enjoyed our stay there.

Posted in Cookies, on October 17th, 2016.


Planning ahead for Christmas cookies . . .

It’s only October, and my friend Cherrie and I are wanting to make some different cookies this year when we do our annual Christmas cookie baking, usually in early December. We’ve been stuck in a rut for some years, making the same ones year after year. With all of the recipe sorting I’ve done in the last couple of months, I came across a bunch – really a lot – of old time cookie recipes that sounded good. We started with a list of 9 cookies, and narrowed it down to four. So, one day, when it was still hot, summery and sticky outside, I cranked down the A/C and we dug in to try these new recipes.

gingerbread_madeleinesWe made some gingerbread madeleines. Well, they were a complete bust, pictured there at left. They: (1) were too sweet; (2) stuck to my supposedly nonstick madeleine pan; the batter was so firm after being refrigerated, per the directions, that I had to leave it out for an hour so I could even scoop it; and lastly (4) because they stuck to the pan, I couldn’t frost the correct (ridged) side as they were all pock-marked. Toss out that recipe for sure.

lemon_walnut_barsWe also made a batch of lemon walnut bars. It sounded so good – Cherrie and I both like walnuts and I still have lemons on my tree. BUT, they were also a bust. Pictured at right, they (1) were too gooey and even after baking longer and longer, the filling never really firmed up; so (2) were almost impossible to cut; and (3) because the filling was too wet/damp, the shortbread part on the bottom got soggy, which made them unstable to be a bar. They were also sweeter than I like for a cookie, too. Threw that recipe out too.

Cherrie and I decided that there are so many cookie recipes out there, it’s simply not worth our time to try to figure out how to fix these.

But these Amaretto bars with chocolate were great. After baking them, though, I almost thought they were going to be a bust too because we couldn’t cut them very well. I refrigerated them overnight and was able to cut them properly then, so I fixed the below recipe to make sure that problem doesn’t happen to you. The taste, though, is wonderful, but they’re RICH. Just so you know . . .

choc amaretto bars unbakedThe bars are layered. First there’s a shortbread layer on the bottom that’s baked; a filling contains eggs, chocolate chips, Amaretto, sliced almonds, sugar and corn syrup, butter and cornstarch. That’s poured over the hot bottom crust (see photo at left of the filling poured in and ready to be baked) and baked for 25 minutes.

The pan is cooled on a rack, then you drop 1/3 cup of chocolate chips into a heavy-duty (freezer) plastic bag, microwave it until it’s very warm and melted, then you snip off a corner of the bag and drizzle that all over the bars.

choc_amaretto_bars_bakedHere, on the right you can see the finished pan full out of the oven. The top is golden brown. It took a good long while for this pan to cool off – at least two hours. Do more-or-less cut the bars while the pan is warm (but not when they’re hot). The bars are ooey-gooey, but you’ll be glad to have an idea about cutting them the next morning when you can cut them completely. When chilled, the bottom shortbread is very firm, so I was glad that most of the bars were already mostly cut.

What’s GOOD: did I mention that they’re very rich? Yes, indeed, so do cut them into small squares. I’m not sure how many I got from the pan, so I guessed at 36. You might get more than that. Being so rich, you won’t want to eat more than one, most likely. If you’re a chocoholic, you’ll be a happy camper. If you prefer milk chocolate, just substitute for the dark listed in the recipe below. Great recipe.

What’s NOT: nothing about them is hard to do, and it makes a lot of cookies/bars, but it’s a bit fussy trying to get them cut properly. I thought it was worth the effort, but for some, you might find it a bit difficult. I advise using a glass 9×13 pan so when you use a sharp knife to cut, you won’t be damaging the knife on the metal pan. I used my nonstick pan, and won’t do THAT again. I’m surprised I didn’t make some permanent grooves in the nonstick coating.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Amaretto Bars

Recipe By: a Nestle’s Baking Book, from the 1980’s probably
Serving Size: 36

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter or margarine — (1 1/2 sticks) cut into pieces, softened
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine — melted
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup amaretto — or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sliced almonds
1 2/3 cups chocolate chips — [I used dark chocolate]
1/3 cup chocolate chips — [I used dark chocolate]

1. PREHEAT oven to 350º F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch glass baking pan.
2. FOR CRUST: Beat flour, butter and brown sugar in large mixer bowl until crumbly. Press into prepared baking pan.
3. BAKE for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
4. FILLING: Beat eggs, corn syrup, granulated sugar, butter, cornstarch and liqueur in medium bowl with wire whisk. Stir in almonds and 1 2/3 cups morsels. Pour over hot crust; spread evenly.
5. BAKE for 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.
6. DRIZZLE: Place remaining 1/3 cup morsels in heavy-duty plastic bag. Microwave on HIGH (100%) power for 30 to 45 seconds; knead. Microwave at 10- to 15-second intervals, kneading until smooth (this may take 90 seconds or so to reach the melting point, but not hot enough to melt the plastic. Cut tiny corner from bag; squeeze to drizzle over bars. Using a knife, and with a tall mug of boiling water nearby, cut the bars into 1 to 1 1/2″ squares, dipping the knife back into the hot water if the filling sticks. Try using a sharp spatula to cut through the crust part. Refrigerate for several hours. Using a spatula or a kitchen knife or both, re-cut the scored part and carefully lift out the squares. If storing for awhile, put waxed paper between layers and seal in a plastic box for up to a week. Keep bars in refrigerator.
Per Serving: 228 Calories; 13g Fat (49.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium.

Posted in Travel, on October 15th, 2016.


I’ve just returned from a 2-week trip to Croatia, Bosnia (and Herzegovina) and Montenegro. Wow. That’s it in a nutshell. If you haven’t been, you need to plan a trip there.

The picture above is one of the best photos I took on the trip, I think. There are a few more, but that one just takes me to that place in an instant, in my head. Since Yugoslavia was divided up, there are 5 different countries: Croatia (along the coast south of Venice, Italy and inland), Bosnia (further south on the coast and way inland too, past Sarajevo), Montenegro, which is a small pie wedge of a country along the most southern coast and some inland mountains; and Slovenia (eastern strip, didn’t go there) and Serbia (also didn’t go there). The division of the old Yugoslavia is quite complex, so don’t quote me on all the borders.

These countries are struggling a bit – Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia managed to get into the EU (probably because tourism is prospering) but the other countries are not. Their unemployment rate is extremely high, except Montenegro. All the countries are trying to find their niche (industry and corresponding infrastructures) and promote tourism because it may be their only future. That’s the sad part. The good part is that each of these countries does has a lot going for them in the tourism arena. All 3 countries I visited were very beautiful. Croatia and Montenegro have some gorgeous scenery. You’ll be seeing lots of pictures of these places in the next couple of weeks as I go through my photos and write up a few stories.

And the next question is, from most people – is it a safe place to visit? Absolutely. I felt safe everywhere I went, even the few occasions when I was alone. The countries have very low crime, and there hasn’t been any terrorism activity there. The Croat people are fiercely proud of their respective countries. And because they represent a variety of cultural differences, religions and ethnic backgrounds, they tend to identify themselves as their country’s people, not prefacing it with a Muslim designation or Roman Catholic, for instance. All the people speak the same language (Croatian) which was impossible for us to understand, and I hardly tried!

I took all the photos with my cell phone (iPhone 6s), and I think they’re nearly as good as my really good Canon DSLR. Sure made it easy to carry around my cell phone everywhere we went.

We started in Zagreb (the capital of Croatia), then went down to the coast to Zadar, Split, back inland to Mostar and Sarajevo, then southeast to Mt. Durmitor (a Montenegran national park) and nearby Biogradsko Lake, then to the Bay of Kotor (absolutely breathtaking). And lastly to Dubrovnik. We flew to London after that and stayed overnight after a visit to Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home during the latter part of his life, then home. I was gone for 2 weeks and a day. I’m very happy to be home, as I always am after a trip. This trip was rather rigorous, requiring the 14 of us to get up early nearly every morning by 6ish, and rarely got to our nightly destination until 6pm. Long days in the bus. Very few free hours. We were perpetually behind in our daily schedule and sometimes in the evenings, we couldn’t even finish our meals because our bus driver (a really nice guy) was required to finish his 12-hour shift and his pay would be dinged if he failed to meet the nighttime arrival. That happened at least twice on the trip. We didn’t think that was very nice, but, of course, the policy wasn’t ours to make!

The food across the board, was very good. We enjoyed LOTS of specialty cheeses, lots of organically raised beef, lots of fish and not much pork. Usually there was a vegetarian option too. One night lamb was offered, and we had it at an interesting mountain aerie one noontime too. Mostly we had a breakfast buffet with plenty of options for anything from cereal to eggs to breads (great breads of all variety), bacon and sausage and lots of lovely fruit. Hotel coffee wasn’t always great, but I had coffee in individual little coffee places several times and it was delicious. Mostly they don’t offer anything but partly skimmed milk to put in coffee. Yuk. So I didn’t drink a whole lot of it. I asked for cream many times, to be met with a blank face of non-understanding and someone pointing to the skimmed milk pitcher. Oh well, it was just 2 weeks! We stayed in one Muslim-owned hotel (Sarajevo) and some in our group grumbled because no alcohol was served. I think those folks went out after dinner to a nearby bar or club. We were served white wine, red wine, beer and soft drinks everywhere (except Sarajevo) and across the board, the wine was good. The Zinfandel grape originates from that part of the world.

So, bear with me as I sort and catalog my pictures.

Posted in Miscellaneous, on October 11th, 2016.


What rich color! Perfect side for some grilled steak, chicken, or pork. Or as a little condiment on a sandwich. Or, spread some on top of cream cheese for a nice appetizer with crackers.

Awhile back we had a family get-together and daughter Sara brought this chutney. She left some of it with me and I’ve enjoyed it with grilled chicken and some grilled pork chops.

Back decades ago I first read about Major Grey’s mango chutney. I was in the stage of my early experimental cooking and tried making chicken curry, as I recall, and with no recipe for chutney (or even a thought of making it myself) I bought a jar of it. My recollection is that it was very expensive! Too bad I didn’t try to make it. Presumably the Joy of Cooking contains a recipe for it (I haven’t looked). Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

Major Grey’s Chutney is a type of chutney, reputedly created by a 19th-century British Army officer of the same name who, though likely apocryphal, presumably lived in British India. Its characteristic ingredients are mango, raisins, vinegar, lime juice, onion, tamarind extract (occasionally), sweetening and spices.

I think one of my grandmothers used to make chutney, and I must not have had a great memory of it – it probably had sticky dates and/or some candied fruit in it (yuk in my book). My grandmothers made numerous types of pickles that appeared on the dinner table (I wasn’t much into pickles in those days), and both of my grandmothers made some kind of piccalilli (mixed veggies in a slightly sweet brine). I wasn’t much into cauliflower back then, either, which was a major component of that condiment.

mango_chutney_with_steakBut chutney is a wonderful side dish. See photo at left nestled next to a nice piece of grilled ribeye steak. It’s s omething you can make a week ahead of time, and if you’re so inclined, this recipe gives instructions for canning it. Sara doesn’t can, and we ate a ton of this chutney that night, so don’t know that she had a lot left over. The recipe came from Simply Recipes. It’s very straight forward. First, you bring sugar and vinegar to a boil. While that’s happening, cut and prep the fruit, onion, and measure out the other ingredients. They’re all added to the liquid and cooked down (simmered) for about an hour until it’s thickened. At that point, can it for 15 minutes, or put in clean, sealed containers or jars and store in the refrigerator for several weeks. Actually, I have nothing fewer than 10 chutneys or marmalade sides on my blog. Go HERE if you want to view them.

What’s GOOD: Love this stuff. It’s sweet and only slightly savory from the onion. It’s not like jam, exactly, but it’s a close cousin. The crystallized ginger adds a nice little touch to it, and the raisins too. Altogether good. Make it ahead. Serve it with grilled meat.

What’s NOT: can’t think of anything. Try it; you’ll like it.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Homemade Mango Chutney

Recipe By: From Simply Recipes (blog)
Serving Size: 12 (probably more than that)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
3 cups mangos — peeled and cut in 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup onion — chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/8 cup crystallized ginger — finely chopped
1/2 garlic clove — minced
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds — whole
1/8 teaspoon red chili flakes

1. Combine sugar and vinegar in a 6 quart pot; bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.
2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until syrupy and slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir occasionally during cooking. It will be thicker once it cools. If it gets too thick, thin with just a little bit of water.
3. Optional preparation: place in sealed jars in the refrigerator – it should keep for several weeks. Or, to can, pour into clean, hot jars leaving 1/2-inch head space; close jars. Process in a water bath 15 minutes.
Per Serving: 113 Calories; trace Fat (1.4% calories from fat); trace Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 3mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on October 7th, 2016.


Such a fun appetizer – artichoke hearts (frozen, defrosted) with garlic and a bit of fresh spinach, then pureed with lemon juice, Parmesan, Feta. THEN, the best part, served with a light sprinkle of lime salt (fresh lime zest mixed with flake salt). I absolutely loved it.

My assignment for the dinner group was an appetizer. Someone else was bringing gazpacho, so the hostess asked for something else, finger food of some kind. I scanned through my many recipes and found this, that I’d recently read from Valerie Bertinelli’s cookbook One Dish at a Time: Delicious Recipes and Stories from My Italian-American Childhood and Beyond. If you haven’t caught it, she has a show on the Food Network. Every dish I’ve prepared from the show, and now from the cookbook (at the library) has been gosh-darned good.

artichoke_puree1First, I defrosted a 12-ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts (Trader Joe’s), drained them, then lightly sautéed them in a little olive oil, then added the garlic and fresh spinach (just a few handfuls). That mixture got pureed in the food processor with a light amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, some Feta, fresh parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It is improved with a bit of sitting in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, I made the LIME SALT. Nothing but a zested lime (the juice is not used in the dish) and some good flake salt. Some fresh, tasty radishes were thinly sliced, a baguette was sliced and the pieces lightly toasted, and it’s all done.

lime_saltMy friend Sue was visiting and she helped me make this, then we assembled them at the host’s home just before serving. One side of each baguette slice is rubbed with a raw half of a garlic clove (the mixture is fairly heady with garlic – it took about 2-3 garlic cloves to rub all the bread slices), then you pile the artichoke mixture on top, and wedge a slice or two of radish on top and sprinkle with the lime salt. See photo at right of the lime salt .

What’s GOOD: For me, this dish was just fabulous, and the lime salt is what makes it. You definitely taste the lime and the salt, but it enhances the subtle artichoke and garlic flavors. The crunch of the fresh radishes is also a big boost of flavor and good mouth-feel. I’d definitely make this again. Do note, if you’re interested, this is very low fat but high on flavor. If I’d had sufficient left overs, I was going to add a bit of olive oil and add it to some hot pasta. But no, didn’t have any left overs!

What’s NOT: There is a bit of prep to this, but it’s not excessive. It helped that I had a friend to help me with it and we got it done in less than 30 minutes. It takes very few minutes to assemble it if you have all the parts done ahead.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Pureed Artichoke Crostini with Lime Salt

Recipe By: Adapted from “One Dish at a Time by Valerie Bertinelli
Serving Size: 12

1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts — thawed and patted dry
2 cups baby spinach
2 cloves garlic — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice — plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
3 tablespoons feta cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sea salt flakes
1 lime — zested
1 baguette — sliced into thin rounds and toasted lightly
2 cloves garlic — halved
4 radishes — very thinly sliced, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the artichokes, spinach, chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice and saute until the spinach begins to wilt and the garlic becomes fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, feta, parsley and the remaining tablespoons lemon juice and pulse until smooth. Add the kosher salt and season to taste with pepper.
2. SALT: In a small bowl, combine the sea salt flakes and lime zest with your fingers. Set aside.
3. Cut the remaining garlic cloves in half and rub, cut side down, onto one side of each slice of toasted bread. Spread the artichoke mixture generously among the slices, place on a platter and serve with radishes standing up in the artichoke mixture and sprinkled with a tiny pinch of the lime salt (so you can see it on the radishes); or, spoon the artichoke mixture into a serving bowl and serve with the bread slices on the side. Garnish with the radishes and lime salt.
Per Serving: 139 Calories; 3g Fat (19.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1385mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, on October 3rd, 2016.


Yet another filled chicken breast. You pound out the breast so it’s thin, fill it with a couple of strips of Emmental cheese (similar to Gruyere) and stuff in some arugula. Fold over, sear, roast and serve with a nice white wine, shallot and butter sauce.

My Colorado friends were visiting me – this was awhile back; it’s just taken me awhile to get this posted. One night we had dinner here at home, so I made these chicken breasts with a white wine and shallot sauce. We had some watermelon with Feta and mint and also enjoyed a dessert, which I’ve posted already.

The recipe couldn’t have been much simpler. Chicken breasts are pounded out thin with a mallet or a stainless pounder, so they’re about 1/4 inch thick. Two narrow slices of Emmental cheese are chucked in chix_breasts_raw_emmental_arugulathe fold, along with a little handful of arugula. The breasts are seasoned with salt, pepper and some kind of mixed herbs, they’re seared in a bit of oil and hopefully the same pan can go straight into the 350° oven for just a few minutes (5-7) until the breasts are just cooked through and the cheese is amply melted. Whisk them to a plate and serve with the white wine sauce you made. Probably should start the sauce before you cook the chicken.

The sauce was easy enough, although it did take awhile to boil it down (reduce it) so that it thickened some. I actually sprinkled in a tiny bit of flour, but it probably wasn’t necessary. It contains shallot and garlic, white wine white_wine_sauce_shallots_honey_basiland chicken broth, lemon juice, honey, fresh basil and at the last, a couple of T. of butter. That was drizzled over the finished chicken breasts. I forgot to take a picture of it once it was served . . . sigh. With trying so hard to get dinner on the table, hot, I forgot photos! Do have everything else done before you start cooking the chicken, as it comes together very rapidly.

If you like arugula, make a little side salad for the plate. The recipe came from Tarla Fallgatter, from a long, long time ago, 2002, from a class I took from her.

What’s GOOD: overall, this is a very nice, tasty dish. I liked the cheese (there isn’t a lot of it, or it might be too rich), and I liked the bit of arugula too, but then, I’m an arugula fan. You can stuff the chicken ahead of time, so all you’d have to do it pan sear it and quick-like push the pan into the oven for a few minutes. A lovely guest-worthy dish.

What’s NOT: some people might say this is too fussy, with pounding and stuffing. It really doesn’t take long to do. The sauce might not be necessary, but I think it added much to the flavorfulness and moisture for a chicken breast, which can often be dry. This wasn’t. But, the sauce does take some extra steps and minutes to get it just right.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Breasts with Emmental & Arugula

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a Tarla Fallgatter recipe, 2002
Serving Size: 6

6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves — pounded to an even 1/4 inch thickness
2 cups baby arugula
8 ounces gruyere cheese — or Emmental, cut into 6 2-inch long strips
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Mediterranean herbs — or herb blend of your choice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup shallots — peeled and minced
2 tablespoons garlic — minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
3/4 cup dry white wine — or red wine
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup fresh basil — thinly sliced (divided use)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. SAUCE: In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the shallot, with the salt and pepper, for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking another 30 seconds, then add white wine, honey and broth and let bubble for another 5-8 minutes until reduced by half. Add red chile flakes. Lower heat to below a simmer and add the unsalted butter a tablespoon at a time without letting the sauce boil at all, then add half the basil. Use remaining basil to garnish the chicken.
3. CHICKEN: To prepare the chicken, place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound to 1/4 inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Discard plastic wrap. Top each chicken breast half with 1 slice cheese (or two small strips), and 1/4 cup arugula, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edges. Fold in half, pinching edges together to seal; sprinkle with salt and pepper. (The chicken can be prepared up to a day ahead, covered and refrigerated at this point.)
3. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet (one that’s heat-proof to 350° oven temp) over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes on each side. Place chicken in a shallow baking pan; bake for 5 minutes or until done and internal temperature reaches 160°F. Do not insert thermometer into the cheese. Keep warm.
4. To serve, place chicken on a cutting board and cut into 1-inch slices. then place chicken onto a heated platter or individual plates and drizzle with sauce and sprinkle basil on top. Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 457 Calories; 25g Fat (50.9% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 120mg Cholesterol; 214mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on September 29th, 2016.

Yoghurt & Spinach Dip, 'Borani Esfanaaj', in the Persian Manner

A really fabulous yogurt and spinach dip. Not hard to make. I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish, so am using the one from the original recipe. Photo: Food52

Every summer my family gets together to celebrate 4 birthdays within a 2-week period (used to be 5 birthdays in a 3-week span when my DH was alive). I offered to have it at my house providing everybody brought dishes to round out the menu. I dug into my freezer and brought out various chops, sausages and steaks to grill. Sara brought a mango chutney and a lovely salad which I’ll write up soon. Karen brought a farro salad and her home made tomato-cashew jam. I ordered a big, fancy decorated cake (lemon with strawberry filling). Barbara brought a kale and cabbage salad. I made this delicious spinach/yogurt dip and I made pineapple salsa to go with the various grilled meats.

Since I knew we were eating heartily, I wanted to make an appetizer that was somewhat healthy, and this recipe seemed to be the one. I’d read it over at Food52, as I mentioned above, and it won one of their contests as “Best Spinach Recipe.” So that gave this one a leg-up over any number of other spinach type appetizers I might have made. Commenters said it was just SO good.

persian_yogurt_spinach_dip_ungarnishedExpecting 10-12 people for dinner, I knew I needed to double the recipe, which meant 24 ounces of baby spinach (just that was $8.00; yikes), and it’s amazing once it wilted down how little there was of it! I chopped it up first (so I wouldn’t have to do it afterwards when it was wet). I suppose you could use frozen spinach – it would simplify this dish some, but I wanted to make it authentically.

It’s a Persian recipe called Borani Esfanaaj. I found similar recipes at other websites with other slight variations in ingredients and in name, but they’re all very similar. What makes this one different, I think, is the crushed walnuts on top AND the use of dried mint. According to the background on this recipe, Shayma, the recipe’s author, said:

“A borani is a cold yoghurt-based dish from Iran. But that is a bit of a boring piece of info, right? Well, apparently, it has been said that Poorandokht, the daughter of the Sassanian Persian King Khosrow Paravaiz, loved cold yoghurt-based dishes. When she was proclaimed Queen, the name Poorani was given to yoghurt-based dishes. Later on Poorani turned into Borani. I so do like to believe this story 🙂 I love spinach and how it melds so well with yoghurt.”

persian_dip_mixingShayma suggests in the recipe that the use of dried mint gives this a more earthy, woodsy taste – I like that aspect of it. I sprinkled some of the mint IN the mixture, then more on top with the walnuts. You can certainly use your own discretion. I added one ingredient – a bit of lemon juice.

There, at left, is the mixture before I mixed it up very much. I used very little oil to wilt the spinach, so I added in a couple of T. of oil into the dip itself and put just a tiny drizzle on top to serve it. I could just kick myself for not taking a photo of my finished dish, with the sangak bread I served with it.

Do try to make this a few hours ahead so the flavors can chill and get friendly before you pull it out to serve it.

What’s GOOD: this was SO tasty. Loved the spinach, and using Greek yogurt (thicker than regular) gave the dip a nice consistency. Although you can’t taste the garlic, there are some added flavors in this (lemon juice for sure, the walnuts and definitely the dried mint). Well worth making. Easy to mix up ahead too. My family devoured it. Definitely one to make again.

What’s NOT: really nothing. A bit of a nuisance to chop up and wilt all the spinach, but it doesn’t take all that long to do.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Persian Yogurt & Spinach Dip, ‘Borani Esfanaaj’

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a recipe at Food52
Serving Size: 6

12 ounces baby spinach
1 clove garlic — minced and divided into two separate batches.
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 ounces Greek yogurt, full-fat
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon dried mint — do NOT use fresh mint
1 handful walnuts — crushed
EVOO to drizzle on top
Flatbread, crackers, or Middle Eastern soft flatbread, like sangak, to serve

Notes: do use regular inexpensive olive oil for the cooking and to add into the dip; for the garnish, use EVOO, your best stuff, to drizzle on top. The spinach quantity seems like a lot – it’s not, as it wilts down to next to nothing! This dip must have dried mint – it imparts a woodsy kind of flavor to this, which makes it very authentic.
1. Chop the baby spinach finely.
2. Heat a very large saute pan, add a drizzle of olive oil, then add the small amount of garlic. Do not brown it. Add the chopped spinach and over low-medium heat toss until the spinach is completely wilted. Add a bit of salt. Drain well, then using your hands, squeeze out all the liquid.
3. In a bowl, add yogurt, the remaining minced garlic, a bit more olive oil, the squeeze-dried spinach and lemon juice; stir gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Transfer to the bowl you are serving it in (shallow, round bowl) and sprinkle with dried mint, crushed walnuts and a lazy trail of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours for the flavors to blend.
7. Serve with sangak bread, flatbread, pita chips or flat crackers.
Per Serving: 255 Calories; 22g Fat (75.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 68mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Pasta, on September 25th, 2016.


This post is more about the sauce than the meatball. I’m not even including a recipe for the meatball. It’s the quickest sauce you can imagine. If you have some meatballs (beef or turkey) on hand (or not – it can be served without), this dinner can be on the table in 30 minutes or less.

I’d come home with a “doggie bag” of food from an Italian dinner at Filippi’s in Poway (I had their ricotta and mozzarella lasagna with vegetarian red sauce). I’d also ordered a dinner portion of lasagna to freeze at home (because I don’t have that restaurant chain in my neck of the woods). My dinner came with a side of a meatball, which I’d planned on bringing home anyway. This was a big, honkin’ meatball – enough for a dinner for me!

I had polished off the other half of my lasagna dinner (the other full order one is still in the freezer), and had the meatball. What to do with it?

Over the last several weeks I’ve been working on a project or two  . . . detour here . . .

First, I purchased the MasterCook software for my daughter Sara as a gift (her birthday) and my real gift to her was to input ALL of her collected recipes into the program. That took me about 20 hours of time, I’d guess. I drove to Poway (near San Diego, where she lives) and spent an afternoon there getting it all set up for her (I typed in all the recipes here at home, put the “cookbooks” divided by category onto a thumb drive and just uploaded them to her kitchen computer where the MasterCook program lives). Then I spent an hour or two teaching her how to use the software. She has many cookbook recipes that need to be input, so perhaps I’ll go down there sometime to help her with that too.

While I was at it, though, I looked at my own recipe collections . . . I have hundreds upon hundreds of recipes in my MasterCook software. And over the years I’d collected clippings and printed recipes that I had slipped into plastic sleeves and kept neatly in binders – recipes to try (but NOT input into the software). The binders are huge and because of some work I’m having done in my family room, the storage place for these disappeared. What to do? Well, input all those hundreds of recipes into the software, of course. While I’m at it, I’m looking at each and every recipe and wanting to determine will I REALLY make this? I’ve tossed out about 150 recipes, but I’ve input probably 250. Nearly all of them I’ve found online, which makes it pretty easy to grab them to insert into my software program (there’s a really neat online tool that grabs the recipe and a couple clicks of the mouse and it’s input into my software, including the photo if there is one, without hardly having to touch my fingers to the keyboard). I’m down to my last category, Veggies, and I’ll be done. THEN I have a rattan stand thing that holds hanging folders, and in it are several dozen pocket file folders filled with hundreds more clippings, 3×5 cards, notes – those are older recipes. All ones I’ve never made. I’ll do a bigger culling job on them – if I haven’t looked at these in 5 years, how likely will I be to even make any of those recipes? I mean, really? There are a few family recipes there, so I’ll have to go through each folder. I could probably toss it all out, except for those 3×5 cards that I’d probably want to keep, just for nostalgia’s sake.

SO, back to last night’s dinner . . . I ran across the recipe for the Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce that has been in my software (I double-checked) AND it’s here on my blog too. I had all the ingredients to make it – some cream cheese, canned tomatoes, garlic, red wine vinegar, fresh basil, fresh grated Parmigiana and some pasta. Usually the sauce sits some hours before using it – I made a smaller batch, just kind of threw together the ingredients and let it sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I boiled some penne pasta, warmed the meatball in the microwave (cut into slices) and combined it and out onto my plate it went. I had enough to serve to my D-I-L Karen and grandson Vaughan and me the following evening.

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted this sauce more than once here on my blog – it is such a winner of a recipe. It is also wonderful as a side dish for a summer barbecue – it’s served at room temp – although mine was slightly warm from the hot pasta. I devoured it. SO good. It’s a great thing to take to someone’s house too. Easy to make. It just needs fresh basil, really.

I’ve re-done the recipe below for a quick meal version. If you have some meatballs that need using, throw them in (heat them first, though).

What’s GOOD: this recipe is nothing short of genius. It’s already on my Favs list (see tab at top of my blog, under the photo, far right) which means it met my standard of an outstanding recipe, worthy of making over and over. This version just made it easier to do for a quick meal. I really don’t make pasta very often, but now and then I crave it, don’t you? Make this, okay? Even if you don’t have some left over meatballs.

What’s NOT: absolutely nothing.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Meatballs with Quick Pasta & Tomato Cream Sauce

Recipe By: Original from Mary Anne Quinn, a friend of a friend and I’ve adapted it here to serve with meatballs
Serving Size: 4 (average servings)

15 ounces diced tomatoes — canned, with juice
2 cloves garlic — smashed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup EVOO — or less if you’d prefer
4 ounces cream cheese — chopped up some
1/4 cup fresh basil — shredded or sliced
1/2 pound penne rigate
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated, for garnish
4 large meatballs (ready made, or make your own), optional

1. In a medium sized non-metalic bowl combine the canned tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, EVOO and cream cheese. Set aside to blend the flavors. (Can be made several hours ahead – just cover the bowl and allow it to sit at room temp for up to 3 hours.)
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt (about a tablespoon per gallon of water). Add pasta and cook to al dente (slightly resistant to the tooth, but without any crunch).
3. Have the cheese and basil ready. Drain the pasta and add to the bowl with the tomato sauce. Stir around until you don’t see any streaks of cream cheese.
4. If serving with meatballs, warm them in the microwave. Scoop pasta portions onto plates and top with a hot meatball and the grated cheese and basil. Serve. The pasta mixture (with sauce) can also cool to room temp. Serve portions with a heated meatball on top and garnish with cheese and basil.
Per Serving: 455 Calories; 25g Fat (48.3% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 31mg Cholesterol; 99mg Sodium.

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