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Just finished Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.


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 Desserts, on January 13th, 2018.


Oh, mouth watering going on here. As I write, I have 2 pieces left over in my refrigerator. They won’t last long . . . what you see is a kind of cheese layer on the bottom, a chocolate cake in the middle, plus a “frosting” that starts with an instant chocolate pudding mix.

Now that my bible study group is back to normal weekly meetings again (after a break for Christmas), we met at my house, and that meant DESSERT. Sara (daughter) had mentioned making this cake and that her family had loved it. So I looked up the recipe, and read all kinds of different reviews of it (not everyone was successful at baking it correctly) but nearly everyone raved about how GOOD it was, plus the unusualness of it. Sure enough!

Most likely you’ll need to make a trip to the grocery store for 28 ounces of whole-milk ricotta cheese and about 14 ounces of mascarpone cheese. And perhaps a chocolate cake mix box AND a package of chocolate instant pudding.

What happens here: first you mix up a chocolate cake mix according to the box directions (eggs, oil or butter, water) and it’s poured into a 9×13 pan. Then you mix up a batch of the kind-of cheese layer consisting of mascarpone cheese, eggs, ricotta cheese, sugar and salt. Once it’s smooth and sort-of light, that gets poured all over the top of the raw cake batter in the 9×13 pan. Into the oven it goes and bakes for nearly an hour. In that time, the heavier cheese layer sinks to the bottom and the lighter chocolate cake rises to the top. Here is where the directions online (recipe comes from Valerie Bertinelli) are incorrect and so far no one at the Food Network has seen fit to correct the recipe info. The cake must bake nearly an hour to get all of it done in the middle. Mine took 60 minutes.

sicilian_love_cake_panThen the cake has to be allowed to cool completely – and I’m just telling you – it takes longer than you think. Because of the denseness of the cheese layer (the most likely reason) it took at least 1 1/2 hours for mine to cool to a bit warmer than room temp. THEN, you mix up the frosting. Which consists of a small box of chocolate instant pudding, 10 ounces of mascarpone cheese and a cup of milk. It makes a lovely spreadable consistency which you put on the top of the cake. And serve it right away. Everyone who had it that night raved about it. Me included.

It does keep – but it must be refrigerated because you’re dealing with milk and cheese products that could easily make not-nice bacteria.

VARIATIONS: So I read, this cake can be made in many flavors – you’re only limited by the types of cake-mix flavors and instant pudding flavors. So, lemon-lemon, spice-butterscotch (maybe), vanilla-vanilla. Use your imagination. But since I’m a choco-holic, this may be the only flavor combo I’ll try.

What’s GOOD: well, the flavor and texture of this cake is just so different. Good-different. Delicious! The cheesy (kind of like cheesecake) layer is smooth and tasty, the chocolate cake layer is well, like a chocolate cake, and then the frosting, which isn’t very sweet, has a lushness about it too. Altogether wonderful. Don’t let the more savory frosting lull you into thinking this is a lower calorie dessert. Nope. Very high, likely from the mascarpone and ricotta cheese. But worth it – yes, indeed. I’ll definitely make this again!

What’s NOT: only that you do have to make 3 layers of stuff, so a bit more work than just mixing up a boxed cake mix and a frosting. But I’m just sayin’ . . . it’s worth it, in my opinion.

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

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Sicilian Love Cake (Chocolate)

Recipe By: Valerie Bertinelli
Serving Size: 12

1 Chocolate cake mix
4 ounces mascarpone cheese — 1/2 cup
28 ounces ricotta cheese — 3 1/2 cups (whole milk)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese — (10 ounces)
4 ounces chocolate pudding mix — INSTANT type
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup milk

1. Preheat the oven to according to package instructions for a 9×13” pan. Coat baking dish with canola oil or cooking spray.
2. CAKE BATTER: Prepare the batter according to box instructions. Pour the batter into the prepared dish and set aside.
3. CHEESE FILLING: Combine the mascarpone, ricotta, eggs, sugar, and salt in a bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until smooth. Gently pour the filling onto the cake batter so the top is completely white.
4. Bake cake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and the chocolate layer has risen to the top, about 55-60 minutes. Let the cake cool before frosting it, which may take up to 2 hours.
5. FROSTING: Just before serving, make the frosting: In a stand mixer, blend together the mascarpone, instant chocolate pudding mix, sugar and milk in a small bowl until smooth and thickened. Using an offset spatula, spread the frosting evenly all over the cake and serve. If you have leftovers, cover and refrigerate. It will keep just fine for several days.
Per Serving (doesn’t include cake mix additions): 456 Calories; 25g Fat (48.4% calories from fat); 13g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 119mg Cholesterol; 395mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, on January 12th, 2018.


Beef stew, yes. A little different? Yes. Delicious? Yes.

A dear sweet gal, Susan, volunteers her home when a group of us gather for a cooking class each month. Last time as we were collecting our stuff to go, leaving her behind with a mound of dirty dishes and detritus on the floor from the cooking demonstration with Tarla, she mentioned that she had dinner ready to go into the oven. Oh, what was it, we asked? Parker’s Beef Stew, from Ina Garten. She went on to explain that she’s been making it for years, and that it’s hers and her husband’s favorite stew. No other will do.

I promptly came home and looked it up. It appeared in 2008 in her book, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients. Ina mentions her chef at the Barefoot Contessa store, Parker Hodges, who wasn’t a trained chef, but he had an innate skill with food. This is his recipe.

The unique thing about this stew is that the beef stew meat is marinated for about 20 hours or so in an entire bottle of red wine (along with some bay leaves and garlic). The marinade is reserved (minus the bay and garlic) and added back in later. The meat is dried off and dredged in a flour/salt/pepper mixture and browned. I made mine with just one pot, my big Le Creuset pot. I browned the meat, removed it, then browned the veggies (carrots, onions, mushrooms and a few potatoes), removed that, then started the layering of the meat on the bottom, then the veggies added on top. The wine is poured in, along with some seasonings, more fresh garlic, a jot of Worcestershire, a few sun-dried tomatoes (which add a good umami taste to the stew), some fresh rosemary AND some chicken broth. Chicken broth, you ask? In a beef stew? Yep. The article in Ina’s cookbook doesn’t explain, but I followed the recipe.

I veered off just a little bit – because my cousin was coming to visit, and he eats GF, I didn’t dredge the meat in flour, choosing to thicken the gravy at the end, just before serving, with cornstarch instead. And, I didn’t put in hardly any potatoes (because I prefer it that way) but doubled the mushrooms. Otherwise, I stuck to the recipe more or less. I didn’t happen to have any sun-dried tomatoes, but I did have a sun-dried tomato tapenade in the pantry, so I used that instead. AND, because I had a little packet of dried mushrooms on hand, I rehydrated them, and added them into the stew also (minus the water from it).

The stew is baked in a slow oven for 2 hours. Knowing that my oven runs hot, I turned down the temp to 275°F, so the stew would not bubble-simmer (it wants to be below that). And once removed from the oven, the beef was fork tender and the juice/sauce was just delicious. Also knowing that stew is better when reheated, I cooled it down and heated it up the next day, adding in the frozen peas at the very last minute. They add a lovely texture and bright color.

What’s GOOD: altogether delicious rendition of stew. The broth/gravy part is really flavorful since it’s mostly red wine. If there’s anything that’s really unusual about this, it’s the marinating of the beef in a bottle of red wine. It almost gives the resulting broth a French beef bourguignon flavor. Loved that part. When I served this to guests I cooked more onion and carrots in a little bit of butter and water and added them into the stew to give the mixture some additional vibrant color. And I sprinkled the top with some chopped Italian parsley too.

What’s NOT: only that you have to start this at least 24 hours ahead.

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

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Parkers Beef Stew

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Ina Garten’s recipe, 2008
Serving Size: 6

2 1/2 pounds beef chuck — good quality, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bottle red wine — (750 ml) like a Zinfandel or Cabernet
2 whole garlic cloves — smashed
3 whole bay leaves
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil — as needed
2 large yellow onions — cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound carrots — peeled and cut diagonally in 1-inch chunks
1 pound white mushrooms — stems discarded and cut in half
1/2 pound potatoes — small, halved
1 tablespoon minced garlic
14 1/2 ounces chicken stock
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes — chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
More salt and pepper as needed to season
10 ounces frozen peas

NOTES: Use a very hearty type red wine, like Zinfandel or Cabernet – the more full bodied the wine, the more full bodied the sauce/stew will be. I also added a 1-ounce packet of dried mushrooms to the stew, after rehydrating in hot water for about 20 minutes, chopped up, fluid discarded. I also used double the fresh mushrooms and half the amount of potatoes, so you can adjust to suit your family’s preferences. The calorie count assumes you consume all of the flour, salt and pepper, which you won’t.
1. Place the beef in a heavy duty ziploc bag with red wine, garlic, and bay leaves and refrigerate overnight.
2. About 4 hours before you are ready to eat, remove bag from refrigerator and preheat the oven to 300°F. [I did mine at 275°F – see notes below under #11]
3. Combine the flour, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper.
4. Lift the beef out of the marinade with a slotted spoon and discard the bay leaves and garlic, saving the marinade. Blot the beef dry with paper towels.
5. In batches, dredge the cubes of beef in the flour mixture and then shake off the excess.
6. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and brown half the beef over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Place the beef in a large oven-proof Dutch oven and continue to brown the remaining beef, adding oil as necessary. (If the beef is very lean, you’ll need more oil.) Place all the beef in the Dutch oven.
7. Heat another 2 tablespoons of oil to the large pot and add the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
8. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Place all the vegetables in the Dutch oven over the beef.
9. Add 2 1/2 cups of the reserved marinade to the empty pot and cook over high heat to deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the brown bits with a wooden spoon.
10. Add the chicken stock, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables in the Dutch oven and bring to a simmer over medium heat on top of the stove.
11. Cover the pot and place it in the oven to bake it for about 2 hours, until the meat and vegetables are all tender, stirring once during cooking. If the stew is boiling rather than simmering, lower the heat to 250° or 275° F.
12. Before serving, stir in the frozen peas, season to taste, and serve hot. May sprinkle chopped Italian parlsey on top if desired.
Per Serving (assumes you consume all the flour and the S & P in it, which you won’t): 784 Calories; 40g Fat (46.1% calories from fat); 41g Protein; 64g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 109mg Cholesterol; 1862mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on January 8th, 2018.


So wonderfully rich with chocolate and textured with hazelnuts. Altogether a great dessert for chocolate lovers everywhere.

My mouth is watering. That happens sometimes as I’m writing up a blog post. The picture is added into my writing/editing window first (after I’ve already sized it and added text to the photographs) and I get to stare at it while I write. I’m a sucker for chocolate and try so very hard not to have much. That recommendation that we not have more than an ounce a day . . . hmmm. I haven’t ever measured – my chocolate sin of choice is Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips. I have a container in my pantry and when I’m craving, I go grab a small handful – hopefully no more than about 8-10 of them. If I’m being good, I don’t go back to the container later in the day to have more. Right now – I’m writing this up about a week before Christmas – I’ve got Christmas cookies on hand, plus a plate full of new Christmas cookies given to me by friends, and I’ve got my favorite Bishop’s Bread that I made over Thanksgiving weekend. I’ve had a slice today, in lieu of a little mound of chocolate chips. As I write this, I’ve just made myself a second coffee latte and enjoyed the slice with it.

hazelnut_choc_torte_nuts_sidesSo, this cake. Oh my. I wish it was a purely flourless cake so I could make it for my cousin Gary, who must eat gluten-free. I suppose I could use a different cake batter to accommodate that. He loves-loves chocolate, so maybe I’ll do that for him. The cake is very light and fluffy, mostly because you separate the eggs and beat the whites and fold them into the cocoa-laden batter. The batter also has a lot of finely ground toasted hazelnut “flour” in it to give it a boost of hazelnut flavor. It’s baked in a higher-sided 8” cake pan (that you’ve buttered and dusted with cocoa powder). Once baked you allow it to cool before upending it and right side upping it again, then pouring a chocolate ganache over the top and down the sides. Meanwhile, you have slightly more chunky hazelnuts at-the-ready to gently pat onto the sides of the cake. Let it set for awhile so the ganache firms up, then slice and serve with sweetened whipped cream.

The recipe came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter. You may not want to read the calorie count on this one – just know it’s a treat, and you’ll hopefully have only one slice. Make it to share with others. Then you’ll feel virtuous. Maybe.

What’s GOOD: the chocolate flavor is intense in this cake. Not for the faint of heart when it comes to the cocoa bean, for sure! It’s rich. Very filling, but oh-so-good.

What’s NOT: just the calorie and fat content, I’m afraid!

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

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Hazelnut Chocolate Torte (Cake)

Recipe By: from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, 2017
Serving Size: 8

2 3/4 cups hazelnuts — toasted, skins removed (divided use)
3/4 cup unsalted butter — melted and cooled
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder — plus more for dusting the pan
1/3 cup all purpose flour
6 large eggs — separated
1/2 cup light brown sugar — packed
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup sugar
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate — chopped
3 ounces heavy cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

NOTE: the hazelnuts are used in the batter and also to press onto the sides, so note there are 2 quantities needed.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch cake pan (with 2″ sides), dust with cocoa powder and tap out the excess.
2. Grind 1-3/4 cups of the hazelnuts in a food processor with the flour. Pour out into a bowl and set aside. Process remaining hazelnuts to a medium texture and set aside (for patting onto the sides of the cake).
3. Mix together cocoa powder and hazelnut/flour mixture. Beat egg yolks and brown sugar until very thick.
4. In another bowl whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt added until it reaches soft peaks. Add the white sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff.
5. Fold egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture in THREE additions. Pour the reserved cocoa mixture over the egg mixture; gently fold in with rubber spatula until just combined (some streaks may show). Fold in the melted and cooled butter.
6. Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth the top. Bake until the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Transfer cake to a wire rack to cool completely. Run a knife around the outside edge and invert cake onto the wire rack, then turn over, right side up. Allow cake to cool 15-20 minutes at least.
7. Place a piece of plastic wrap or parchment underneath the wire rack (to catch drips).
8. GANACHE: Place chocolate in a small bowl. Bring cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate pieces and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir until all the chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside until thickened to the consistency of thick cake batter, about 10-15 minutes.
9. Pour chocolate ganache over the top of the cake and use an offset spatula to gently coax the ganache barely over the edges, using spatula to spread on the sides as much as possible. If there is enough ganache make a second coat of frosting on the cake. Press the reserved hazelnuts on the sides of the cake, pressing in so the nuts will hold. Dust top of cake with a bit of cocoa powder. Serve with whipped cream.
10. WHIPPED CREAM: In a bowl combine heavy cream and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and serve on top or alongside the cake slice.
Per Serving: 1002 Calories; 91g Fat (74.9% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 261mg Cholesterol; 103mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on January 4th, 2018.


Who would think that just regular rich buttery biscuits could be so much better with the addition of pepper?

A few weeks ago a group of us got together for a breakfast at my friend Cherrie’s house. Some in the group have been meeting for about 35 years, others a shorter time. Usually, in December, one of us hosts the group for breakfast and we share Christmas gifts with one another. Cherrie made a lovely breakfast for us (a potato casserole, sausage and gravy – along with the biscuits I made – fresh fruit, OJ or Prosecco and OJ, and a cranberry coffeecake and coffee, of course). It was all sumptuous.


There we are in Cherrie’s living room about to open our presents. She’s doing an Olde English Christmas this year (see one of the Queen’s adapted mottos at the left – it says “Keep Calm and Feast On” – and the London 2-decker bus back behind the table – it’s mounted on the mirrored wall, but looks like it’s in the frame). She has Scottish charger plates and runners and she’s been collecting Nutcrackers for years, though you can’t see any of them in the picture. Cherrie does a theme every Christmas – last year it was Hawaiian. And just as an aside. Kathy’s grandson, Zach, has just been accepted at the University of Hawaii with a FULL football scholarship. Their family is floating on Cloud 9. Zach was offered scholarships at 9 colleges or universities. Obviously he’s a star player!

Back to the biscuits: since we meet early, I cheated and made the biscuits the night before and stuck them (raw) in the freezer, then popped them in Cherrie’s oven once I got there. The tops of the biscuits had been slathered with buttermilk, then black pepper sprinkled on top. Black pepper biscuits are definitely a southern tradition, but I’d never had them (nor made them) before. The recipe is a fairly traditional rich (butter) biscuit but it has a bunch of fresh ground black pepper in the mixture, and then on top too. Photo below is before I baked them.

black_pepper_biscuits_ready2bakeIF I were to make these again, I wouldn’t freeze them – only because they didn’t brown evenly (see photo), but that was really not a problem with the taste, just the appearance. Or, the option would be to freeze them, but not slather the buttermilk and pepper on top until just before you bake them. The buttermilk had been absorbed by the biscuit dough, although the pepper certainly did stick well enough.

There were raves around the table, mine included. You know, we here in the U.S. and Canada, and likely England as well, use black pepper as our tableside condiment. In many other countries, they use other things like spicy paprika in Hungary and other countries in that region. And in some South American countries they use a spicy dried pepper (not peppercorns). But for us, black pepper became the standard. And I certainly use a lot of it – did you also know that as we age, our taste buds lose their ability to taste as well, so it’s not uncommon for people to use more salt or pepper?

I thought these biscuits were superlative! With the sausage gravy on top – oh my goodness was that ever good. Loved it. And yes, I’ll be making them again.

What’s GOOD: the addition of black pepper does make the biscuit spicy/hot – use less if you’re sensitive to heat. It made a very different tasting biscuit, and it was well liked by everyone at the breakfast. Cherrie kept most of the leftover ones and is going to make sausage gravy again and serve it over those biscuits.

What’s NOT: only if you don’t like black pepper . . . I thought these were scrumptious.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Black Pepper Biscuits

Recipe By: Bobby Flay
Serving Size: 8-12

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder — plus 1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper — plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter — cubed and chilled
2 cups cold buttermilk — plus more for brushing

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of pepper and baking soda. Scatter the cubed butter over the dry ingredients and, using your fingers, pinch the butter into the flour to form small sheets of butter, with some of the butter about the size of peas. Stir in the 2 cups of buttermilk just until a dry, shaggy dough forms.
2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface sprinkled lightly with flour and knead gently, folding the dough over itself 2 or 3 times to form a layered dough. Pat the dough out to a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Using a large, sharp knife, cut out as many 3-inch-square biscuits as you can. Gently press the scraps together and cut out more biscuits. [I used a 2 1/2″ square cutter, so this recipe made about 13 biscuits.] Biscuits may be frozen at this point, then sealed into a plastic bag. Use within 2 weeks.
3. Arrange the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with coarsely ground black pepper. Bake for about 15-16 minutes, until golden brown. If baking them from a frozen state, still do the buttermilk brushing and added pepper just before baking, but the biscuits may take 2-3 more minutes to reach that golden brown.
Per Serving: 432 Calories; 21g Fat (44.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 51g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 56mg Cholesterol; 879mg Sodium.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Miscellaneous sides, on December 31st, 2017.


So good. Not quite as tart as regular cranberry sauce, but more mellow. Milder, I guess I’d say.Very easy to make and would keep for awhile. Serve alongside any kind of meat.

I have a package of cranberries in my refrigerator right now, and I’m going to make this in the next few days. It’s really easy to do – start to finish in about 20 minutes, I’d say. The hardest thing you do is peel and chop the apples. There’s just enough sweetness to this to make it easily edible, but just enough tartness from the cranberries, to make it a good side for meat.

Tarla Fallgatter made this at a recent cooking class and served it alongside a whole host of holiday side dishes. And my fork dipped into it with the dressing she made, and with the potato/parsnip mash she made. I wished I’d had more on my plate! It will be used several times over the holidays as I serve chicken, or turkey, or even beef or pork. As I mentioned above, I don’t think this would go with fish – although salmon might work. Try it and see!

Tarla recommended Braeburn apples as her first choice, but Gala works too. Do not use a tart cooking apple like Pippin or Granny Smith. It gets peeled and finely chopped. In a pan you combine apple cider (or juice), sugar, the apple, cinnamon and cloves. Once brought to a boil you add the fresh cranberries and simmer it for 10-12 minutes or until the berries burst and the sauce begins to thicken. See? Easy. Then you add in a teaspoon or apple cider vinegar. Let it cool and it’s ready to serve. Put it in an airtight jar and it will keep for a week or so. For longer storage, freeze it.

What’s GOOD: the lovely fruity flavor, mellow with the addition of apples. So pretty. You could eat it straight, I’m telling you!

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

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Cranberry Apple Sauce

Recipe By: from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, 2017
Serving Size: 10

1 cup apple juice — or apple cider
1/2 cup sugar
1 Braeburn apple — or Gala, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1. Place cider (apple juice), sugar, apple, cinnamon and cloves in a pan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
2. Bring to a boil. Add cranberries and simmer 10-12 minutes, or until berries burst and sauce thickens. Stir in vinegar. Let cool to room temp.
Per Serving: 76 Calories; trace Fat (1.7% calories from fat); trace Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Soups, on December 27th, 2017.


Oh – My – Goodness! This soup is just off the charts. When I tell you you need to make this, do you trust me on that?

My friend Cherrie made this soup and brought it to our Christmas cookie baking day a few weeks ago. She said she’d really wanted to try this recipe, and so she brought a big tub of it. She wouldn’t tell Jackie or me what was in it. Of course, we could see shrimp – big, honkin’ ones, most of them bigger than the soup spoon. We cold see onion, potato, and celery and some bell pepper too. Plus some little bacon pieces. And a really rich, creamy soup to go along with it. She said “there’s no cream in it.” We tried guessing – Half and Half? No. Coconut milk? No. Almond milk? No. Non-Dairy Creamer? No. Evaporated milk? No. Is there dairy in it, I asked? Yes, but not what you’d think. Cheese, I said? Nope.

I almost don’t want to tell you – – – but if I do, I think you’ll stop reading right this minute and never go on. And you’ll never make it because you’ll just say no-no, can’t do that. Too rich. Too fattening.

The soup is SO very easy to make – Cherrie found the recipe at, and made it mostly according to the recipe, although she added some dried thyme, and she DID thin down the soup part with regular milk because it was too thick, she thought.

So, are you ready to hear the “reveal?” It’s cream cheese. Who’d have ever thought to make soup with cream cheese? And yes, it’s rich. And yes, it’s decadent. And YES, it’s fabulous! Well, why wouldn’t it be with cream cheese in it??

I haven’t made this myself – so I’m giving you the recipe exactly as Cherrie made it – using 2 bricks of cream cheese. But that quantity feeds a lot of people. Probably 8 people as a dinner-sized portion. I had the leftovers twice. It’s very filling. I may make this myself . . . and if I do I’m going to use half the amount of cream cheese and use half and half to fill up the quantity of soup part.

This would make a great New Year’s Eve Dinner. My parents, for over 30 years, got together with another couple to play pinochle on that night of the year (other nights too, but almost always on Dec. 31st), and my Mom would make oyster stew. It was their tradition. The score card for their years and years of playing the game was taped to the bottom of the card table and they’d reminisce about previous games and scores. I’m not a fan of oysters, so I wouldn’t be making that, but this would be a great stand-in.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of this soup is a 10 and or a 100, whatever scale you want to use. Is it rich? Yes. But I’d definitely make this myself, though as I mentioned I’d try using half the cream cheese and adding half and half. Do not boil the soup or it will separate. Am sure this would freeze just fine. Don’t over-cook it, either, because you don’t want to dry out the shrimp.

What’s NOT: well, the fat content is about the only thing! Other than that, it’s so worth making.

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Shrimp Chowder

Recipe By: Adapted from
Serving Size: 8

6 slices lean bacon — chopped
1 cup celery — sliced
1/2 cup yellow onion — finely chopped
1/2 bell pepper — chopped
4 tablespoons butter — any color
1 teaspoon dried thyme
16 ounces cream cheese — diced
3 1/2 cups milk — or more as needed
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 large Russet potato — unpeeled, cubed
1 pound shrimp — thawed and drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped Italian parsley for garnish

1. In a large stock pot saute bacon until lightly browned and crispy. Remove to a paper towel and pour off most of the bacon grease. Add to the pot the celery, onions and butter. Saute for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables are translucent. Crush the dried thyme between your palms and add to the mixture.
2. Meanwhile, in another pot simmer the cubed potatoes in water until they are nearly tender. Drain and set aside.
3. To the vegetables add cream cheese and milk; stir over low heat until cream cheese is completely melted.
4. Add cooked potatoes, shrimp, reserved bacon, dry white wine and salt. Heat thoroughly (until shrimp have turned white), stirring occasionally. Add fresh pepper and taste for seasoning. Add more milk as needed to thin it to your desired consistency. Serve. May add chopped Italian parsley on top if desired.
Per Serving: 423 Calories; 32g Fat (69.5% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 167mg Cholesterol; 594mg Sodium.

Posted in Uncategorized, on December 24th, 2017.


A beautiful, ethereal looking angel on a Christmas card I received this year. It was so pretty, I thought I’d share it. I hope you’re enjoying a lovely Christmas today.

Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, on December 23rd, 2017.


The kind of salad you could make as  your dinner – it’s definitely filling enough and satisfying, though it doesn’t have any meat in it!

Do you buy Delicata squash very often? I don’t – although my local Trader Joe’s has them – they do have a season and now’s the time. It has a delicate (hence the name Delicata?) rind (meaning that it’s not tough and thick, like the skin on a butternut squash, which you have to remove). In this case, you get to eat the rind – where a lot of the nutrition lies.

Image result for delicata squash

The squashes are cut into rings and halved then roasted in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. It’s easier to remove the seeds then – after they’ve cooled for 10 minutes or so. Mix up the vinaigrette while you’re baking the squash, and get out the blue cheese.

This recipe came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, and she had purchased some German blue cheese – called Grand Blue (currently available at Trader Joe’s). This cheese is not the mouth-stinging, deep flavored type, but it’s mild, without any tannins. It’s not of the soft blue style (like Brie) either, as it’s the normal crumbly type, but I liked it a LOT. I can’t eat regular blue straight – it’s just too strong for me, which makes it perfect, to my way of thinking for a salad. I love blue cheese in a salad, though. I’m just not fond of the ultra-strong flavored type unless it’s “cut” with a toasted baguette slice or fruit or something else with it.

When Tarla served it, the squash was still slightly warm. She tossed the arugula salad with the salad dressing, added the dried cranberries and pecans, then plated each salad with 2-3 half-rings of the squash and a lovely wedge of the Grand Blue. If you wanted to take this to a gathering, I’d chop the squash into smaller pieces, as well as the cheese and toss it all together in a large bowl. The only difficulty with that is that some people won’t get a full portion of the squash or the cheese.

What’s GOOD: the mild flavor of the squash was perfect with the arugula salad. Loved the addition of dried cranberries and pecans. I particularly liked the mild blue cheese with it also. Very pretty to look at, would make a lovely holiday salad. It’s also quite filling, so would be (for me, anyway) a perfect dinner all by itself.

What’s NOT: nothing, other than having to roast the squash and mess with removing seeds and strings, etc.

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Delicata Squash Salad with Arugula, Blue Cheese and Pecans

Recipe By: from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter
Serving Size: 6

6 ounces arugula — wild, if possible
4 Delicata squash — cut in 1/2″ rings (skin on)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 ounces blue cheese — use a soft one like Castel or Grand Blue (use more if your desire)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup pecans — whole, toasted, or pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 teaspoons honey mustard
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Shake the vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss squash rings with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and roast them until tender, turning once, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.
3. Toss arugula with vinaigrette to coat the leaves, add dried cranberries and pecans. Divide the arugula between the plates. Add the roasted delicata squash rings to each serving and place a small wedge of the blue cheese on the side.
Per Serving: 347 Calories; 33g Fat (83.9% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 28mg Cholesterol; 556mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on December 19th, 2017.


This might seem like an unlikely combination. Roasted grapes, you say? Yes, and garnished with toasted pine nuts and fresh thyme, then drizzled with some honey. Sublime.

Roasting every kind of food is certainly “in” these days, isn’t it? I’m most definitely on the bandwagon too – I particularly love roasted vegetables – they gain such incredible caramelization when roasted. So, why wouldn’t grapes be amped up with the same treatment. In fact, fruit of any kind is enhanced with roasting because the sugar in fruit makes for easy caramelization.

There is a bit of assembly required here, so it’s best to get everything ready before hand. Roast the grapes (tossed with vinegar, fresh thyme and olive oil). Cut and toast the baguette slices, toast the pine nuts too. Slightly warm the ricotta cheese to room temp too. Have the honey out (warm it just slightly in the microwave if it’s too thick) and some of the thyme leaves already chopped up.

Gather all the ingredients around you, grab a baguette slice and spread it with the ricotta cheese (do use full fat here – it has so much more flavor), then gently add 4-5 of the oh-so-cute wrinkled grapes on top, sprinkle with pine nuts and more fresh thyme, then drizzle the whole thing with just a tiny bit of honey. The grapes are the star of the show here, as they just burst in your mouth. The pine nuts add wonderful chewy texture, and then you get the honey on your tongue and the rounded-out flavor from the fresh thyme. If you have lemons, add a tiny sprinkle of zest on top too. This recipe came from a cooking class I took a couple of weeks ago with Tarla Fallgatter.

What’s GOOD: the flavor combo is just delicious. I wouldn’t be serving this to a cocktail party as they do require assembly at the last minute, but to a small group of friends or family, it’s do-able. Expect each person to eat at least two of them. You’ll love the squish in your mouth when you chomp down on the grapes. Yum. Then you get the flavors of the honey, the chewiness of the pine nuts then the hint of fresh thyme too. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: just that it requires last minute assembly. Don’t make it for a large crowd unless you have help in the kitchen. Assembly would be great for a teenager to do if you have one on hand!

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Ricotta and Roasted Grape Crostini

Recipe By: cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, 2017
Serving Size: 6

1 pound seedless grapes — mixed varieties, de-stemmed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup ricotta cheese — (use full fat)
3 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted
2 tablespoons thyme sprigs
12 baguette slices — lightly toasted
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lemon zest — finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet toss the grapes with vinegar, thyme and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until grapes are softened and skins have started to pop.
2. Spoon a tablespoon of ricotta onto each crostini slice, spoon 3-5 grapes on top and sprinkle with pine nuts. Arrange on a serving platter, then drizzle with honey and sprinkle each with more thyme leaves and fresh lemon zest. Add salt and pepper, if desired.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 12g Fat (33.9% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 336mg Sodium.

Posted in Cookies, on December 15th, 2017.


A bit labor intensive – no, scratch that – it’s moderately labor intensive – but worth the effort. A cream cheese dough surrounding the filling of dried sour cherries, apricot jam and lightly salted cashews.

If you’re a blogger, when you’ve prepared a recipe, and your fingers just ITCH to get at the keyboard to tell everyone all about it – well, you know you have something interesting. That’s me, this morning. I made these yesterday. And as I said above, I’m not telling you this is an easy cookie to make. There’s more work involved than in many. But if you were to do decorated cookies, then this probably isn’t all that different concerning time spent. The recipe came from Christopher Kimball’s new venture, Milk Street, and was in their magazine issue. They call them “Sour Cherry Rugelach.”

Rugelach (it has many different spellings) is of Jewish origins (Ashkenazic). Traditional rugelach are made in the form of a crescent by rolling a triangle of dough around a filling. This one’s just a bit different – a roll. And likely much easier than having to prepare each individual piece by hand.  I vote for that alternative (rolled) version! Rugelach dough is made of either a sour cream or cream cheese dough. The cream cheese variety is more of an American innovation. Some older versions used yeast as well.

rugelach_dough_foldedrugelach_preparing_rectangleThe cream cheese dough must be made a bit ahead as it has to be refrigerated for awhile. You can make the dough the day ahead (which I would do next time). The dough is made in a stand mixer (hand mixer would be probably work), gathered together into a ball and patted out into a relatively perfect rectangle. The dough is very pliable at this point, but you do rolling and folding 4 times and end up with the perfect rectangle again  (all the specific measurements are in the recipe below). The dough then is chilled awhile.

rugelach_preparing_logMeanwhile, make the filling (it could be done the day before too). I made one mistake – I mixed the chopped cashews into the filling – they were supposed to be sprinkled and patted down on top of the filling before rolling into the logs. But oh well, I don’t know that it really makes that much difference. The tart cherries (dried) I bought at Trader Joe’s – they’re called Dried Pitted Tart Montmorency Cherries.

Back to the dough – after being chilled, it’s a bit hard to roll out – I left it sitting out for about 5-7 minutes and then started rolling. Perfect! You roll it out into that perfect rectangle again. It’s cut into long strips and each long third becomes a little jelly roll, sort of, with the filling spooned down the center, then it’s rolled, edge sealed, placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes (or overnight is okay too) and at that point you slice the log. The brilliant little trick is to just slice through the dough about 3/4 of the way through – that way when it’s baking, the filling doesn’t ooze out. Since I’d never made rugelach before, maybe that’s not a new trick at all, but just the way it’s done with all log-style rugelach.


Once baked, the rugelachs need to rest on the baking sheet until cooled – the pastry will tear if you try to rush it. I made a double recipe of the one below. I couldn’t wait to enjoy a piece with my coffee. The recipe suggests cutting them in 2” logs, but I decided to do shorter ones, about 1 1/2” each. Once cooled, all of them went into a plastic bag and into the freezer.

What’s GOOD: love the flavor – the filling is tart/sweet (I like that). The dough is tender and it’s a perfect combination of dough to filling – not too much of either. They’re very pretty.

What’s NOT: All the work involved – rolling, chilling, filling, making the logs, chilling again, etc. But if you’re going to be home anyway, it’s not all that difficult, just takes awhile to do all the steps.

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Sour Cherry, Apricot and Cashew Rugelach

Recipe By: Milk Street Magazine, 2017
Serving Size: 24 (or more)

16 tablespoons butter — (use salted butter) cut into 1 T pats
8 ounces cream cheese — cut into small squares
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
260 grams all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups dried sour cherries — finely chopped
1 cup apricot preserves
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons cashews — salted, roasted, finely chopped

3 teaspoons turbinado sugar — divided use
1 large egg — beaten

1. DOUGH: In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, cream cheese and white sugar on low until smooth, scraping bowl as needed, about 2 minutes. Add ground cardamom, salt and vanilla. Beat until combined. Add flour and beat on medium-low until the mixture comes together in a rough ball, about 30 seconds.
2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gather into a cohesive mass. Using your hands and a rolling pin, form it into an 8×10″ rectangle with a short end parallel to the edge of the counter. Starting from the short end, fold into thirds, as you would a letter. Using a metal bench scraper, square the edges, then rotate the rectangle one quarter turn. Repeat the process of rolling out, folding and turning the dough 2 more times, ending with a folded rectangle of dough. Press the seams firmly, wrap the dough with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
3. FILLING: In a medium bowl, stir together the dried cherries, preserves, cardamom, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed; the filling may appear runny but the cherries will absorb the liquid.
4. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator, unwrap and transfer to a lightly floured counter. Allow to rest for about 4-6 minutes, then using a rolling pin, roll into a 13×12″ rectangle, squaring the edges with a metal bench scraper, cutting off edges as needed. Cut the dough into three 13 x 4″ strips. If the dough pulls back after cutting, gently roll each strip to the correct dimensions.
5. Working with one strip at a time, with a long side parallel to the edge of the counter, lightly brush the surface with the beaten egg. Mound 6 tablespoons of filling in a line down the center of the strip, leaving a 1 1/2″ margin on each side. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of chopped cashews onto the filling, pressing them in. Starting with the side closest to you, lift the edge of the dough up and over the filling and roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Pinch the seam to seal, turn the cylinder seam side down and gently stretch it into a 16-inch log. Transfer, seam side down, to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, egg, filling and cashews, spacing the logs evenly on the baking sheet. You will have leftover egg. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. If refrigerating for longer than 30 minutes, cover with plastic wrap. Reserve the remaining beaten egg.
6. BAKING: Preheat oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle position. Brush each dough log with some of the remaining egg and sprinkle with a teaspoon of turbinado sugar. Using a knife, score each log at 2-inch intervals [I cut mine at 1 1/2″ or even shorter to make smaller cookies], cutting 3/4 of the way through. Do NOT cut all the way through the dough; the pieces should still hold together.
7. Bake until the logs are golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then use a knife to fully cut and separate the cookies. If desired, use a knife to neaten the cut edges of the rugelach, while they are still warm, turn each cookie onto its side and very gently press the cut side to flatten. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Per Serving (based on a 2-inch piece): 248 Calories; 13g Fat (46.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 176mg Sodium.

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