Sunday, November 30, 2008

Green Beans with Bacon, Shallots & Mushrooms

I made these for my own Thanksgiving dinner this year -- very very good. Healthy? Not so much... but definitely delicious! The cooking time might seem like a lot, but for fresh green beans it works. If you can only get frozen, cut the cooking time to about 7 minutes after adding the green beans.

  • 11/2 pounds fresh green beans
  • 8 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 8 ounces fresh white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 Knorr ham or chicken boullion cubes
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
Trim green beans to remove ends. Rinse in cold water. While trimming the beans, cook bacon in a large pot until crisp. Add mushrooms and shallots and cook for two minutes. Add sherry and let cook down for two minutes, stirring frequently.

Add water and stock cubes. Let come to a boil and add green beans. Cook 30 minutes and add butter. Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twice Cooked Not-Sweet Sweet Potatoes

I made 10 pounds of sweet potatoes into my Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Pepper and Thyme for other people; for my own dinner, because one person reflected that the mashed version was too mushy for his tastes, I did them a little differently while keeping the same flavors.

Sliced thinly, sweet potatoes cook tender in almost no time in boiling water; I spread the cooked slices in a baking pan and topped them with a savory shallot-laced butter and baked for about 20 minutes. Wow. (and yes, I do have a serious affinity for shallots. Looking into a support group soon.)

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
Scrub sweet potato very well and slice 1/4 inch thick. Cover with cold water and add 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt. Bring to a boil and cook five minutes.

Drain and rinse in ice water to stop cooking. Remove any peels that come off easily; don't worry about the rest.

Melt butter in a small pan and add shallots, thyme, pepper and remaining salt. Cook five minutes over medium heat or until shallots are tender. Place sweet potato slices in a single layer in a buttered baking dish. Drizzle with the butter and shallot mixture. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Savory Corn Pudding with Herbs & Shallots

I made several Thanksgiving dishes for my friend Margie and her family this year. Margie's daughter loves corn, and Margie asked me to find a corn dish for her similar to the corn souffle that Margie used to make before a bad back inhibited her ability to spend hours on her feet in the kitchen. Of course, souffle's can't be made ahead, so that was out of the question.

Anyway.... I searched a LOT and found Sagaponack corn pudding by Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, and I liked the technique in it, but not the combination of flavors. The pudding is incredibly easy to assemble despite the list of ingredients, so I recreated it with flavors I thought worked better than those in the original.

So,apologies to the Contessa, but here's my version:
  • 5 cups frozen corn
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Melt butter in a large skillet. Add corn, onion, garlic, shallot, thyme, dill and pepper. Saute about 8 minutes and let cool.

Step 2:
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups half & half plus 1/2 cup milk OR
  • 1 cup half & half plus 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar or Gruyere or Swiss cheese, divided
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan-Romano cheese blend
Whisk eggs in a large bowl. Add half & half and milk and whisk together. Whisk in ricotta (it will dissolve). Whisk in cornmeal, a tablespoon at a time. Add seasonings and salt, then corn and vegetables. Add 3/4 cup cheddar, Swiss or Grueyere and 2 tablespoons Parmesan blend. Pour into a buttered large casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining cheeses over the top.

Heat oven to 375 while making pudding. Place a large roasting pan in the oven and fill halfway with very hot water. Place casserole dish in roasting pan so the pudding will cook with more gentle heat and some steam. Bake about 45 minutes or until the center is set and tester inserted into the middle is clean.

Let stand 15 minutes before serving. With a green salad, this is a great unexpected lunch and also the perfect side to roasted chicken or roast beef.

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

I created this particular version of this several years ago for an Italian food company I was working for (they needed something with nutmeg). That year for Thanksgiving, I made this as individual portions in a muffin tin and it was a huge hit. With the small ones, you get more flavorful crust if that's what you're into. This year, I made two, a 10" and an 8" for customers. I forgot to take pics before delivery unfortunately, but trust me that's it really pretty when baked.

For an 8 inch cheesecake:

First the crust:

  • 1/2 bag gingersnaps, crushed into fine crumbs (FOOD PROCESSOR!)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

Combine all and press on the bottom only of an 8 inch springform pan. Bake 8-10 minutes at 350. Let cool.
  • 3 pkgs cream cheese, softened
  • 3 eggs, room temp (take them out when you take the cream cheese out to soften)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue beating until sugar is absorbed. Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each one is added. Add vanilla with one of the eggs. Sprinkle cornstarch over the batter and stir by hand, then beat one more minute with the mixer.

Divide batter in half. Set one half aside. To the other half, add the following:
  • 1 cup solid pack pumpkin
  • 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar

Whisk gently until combined.

Spray the sides of the springform pan with cooking spray. To fill the pan, place half of plain batter onto crust. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat with both batters and then swirl with a knife, working across and back and forth over the batter.

Place a big roasting pan in the oven and fill with boiling water. Place cheesecake on rack above the roasting pan. Bake 50 minutes at 350 -- resist the temptation to peek! -- and then turn the oven off and open the door a little bit. Let the cheesecake cool in the oven for an hour, remove and finish cooling before refrigerating it. Refrigerate at least 8 hours before serving.

Cheesecakes crack -- it's a fact of life. This recipe is written with the tips and tricks that help stop that from happening: greasing the sides of the pan, adding cornstarch to stabilize the batter, not over-beating the eggs and adding a pan of water to the oven. If it still cracks, and it may, that's what whipped cream is for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Loaded Potato Salad

This seems an odd time of year for potato salad, but I live in south Florida where it's picnic time year round, and I made this for a friend's barbecue a few weeks ago!

My mom and grandma made the best potato salad in the world when I was a kid. Potatoes, hard cooked eggs, celery, onion, mayo and mustard. About seven years ago, I decided to play with the recipe and sort of update the ingredients - giving it a French twist in the process.

I used red potatoes instead of white, red onion rather than plain yellow and swapped out the regular yellow mustard for Dijon. After that, I added some grated Parmesan cheese, freshly ground black pepper and tarragon or dill to the dressing, and finished the whole thing off with crumbled cooked bacon. Make sure to use good mayonnaise; cheap stuff will ruin the whole dish. I only use Hellman's, Best Foods or Kraft. One of those dishes that actually tastes better the second day, this is perfect to make ahead and take on a picnic.

To make enough for a crowd (at least 10 people):
  • 4 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and diced into bite sized pieces
  • 8 Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 8 slices bacon (turkey bacon is fine!)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2-2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill or tarragon, or 1 Tablespoon fresh (or to taste)
  • Few tablespoons milk for thinning dressing
Dice bacon and cook until crisp. Drain well.

Cover diced potatoes with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until just tender enough to pierce with a fork, about 10 minutes. Do not overcook! (The goal is NOT mashed potato salad!) Drain and let cool.

In a food processor or small bowl, combined mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, pepper and herbs. Blend until smooth. Add Parmesan cheese and a few tablespoons milk and blend so that you have a smooth dressing that can be poured easily - sort of the consistency of a thin milkshake.

In a large mixing bowl, gently toss cooked potatoes, celery, onion and diced hard cooked eggs until combined evenly. Pour dressing over, and combine gently until coated.

Cover and chill for two hours; taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Notice there is no salt in the dressing -- potatoes absorb salt during cooking, and since both Dijon mustard and Parmesan cheese are fairly salty tasting, so I didn't add any to the recipe. Plus there's the bacon -- toss it into the salad just before serving and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Spinach Artichoke Dip

This steakhouse favorite has plenty of variations but I think it's worth making at home. It's easy and relatively inexpensive for enough to feed a crowd and can be made ahead and reheated in the oven closer to serving time. Shallots and chicken broth add an extra flavor punch! Serve with tortilla chips, pita or bagel chips or just toasted French bread.

  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach
  • 10 ounces frozen artichoke hearts (Bird's Eye makes them)
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
  • 1 Knorr chicken bullion cube
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 3 cups half and half -- fat free or non dairy is fine (but why??)
  • 2 cups shredded four cheese Italian blend
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Freshly grated pepper to taste

Thaw spinach and drain well. Thaw artichokes and chop coarsely.

In a large deep skillet, heat butter or margarine. When foamy and bubbling, add garlic and shallots. Saute until shallots soften, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add chicken stock cube, crumbling it over the skillet. Stir well to combine. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper.

Add spinach and artichokes. Over high heat, cook until almost completely dry, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add half & half. Mix well. Return to medium heat and heat until small bubbles just form around the edges.

Stir in four cheese blend. Pour into a buttered baking dish.

At this point, the dip can be cooled to room temperature and chilled until about 45 minutes before serving time. To serve right away, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and a little more black pepper and bake in a 400 degree oven until top is browned and bubbly.

To serve later, if at room temp, the dip will need to be reheated about 15 minutes in a 375 oven after sprinkling with grated Parm. If chilled, dip for 30 minutes at 350, then raise heat to 400 and bake for 20 minutes after sprinkling with grated Parm. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fresh Cranberry Relish

Holidays bring out my Grandma's and Mom's recipes. I had to call my mom a couple of times on this one since I haven't made it in several years. It has fresh vibrant flavor and is a nice alternative to canned cranberry sauce (not that there is anything wrong with that!). When I make this at Thanksgiving, I always end up with enough for Christmas too -- luckily, it freezes very well! I also keep some out to use on English muffins or to top a plain bagel and cream cheese.

Grandma (and sometimes Mom) made this using an old hand-cranked food grinder that clamped to the side of the kitchen table. Thanks to the food processor, I get to make this with far less time and effort than it took Grandma, but I still get the same great results!

To make a bunch (seriously, a lot):
  • 1 bag fresh cranberries
  • 3 navel oranges
  • 6 tart apples - Granny Smith, Gala or MacIntosh - don't use Delicious apples
  • 3/4 cup sugar or more to taste
  • splash red food coloring, optional

Rinse cranberries and pick through them for any that are soft; discard those. Place the rest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Put into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Wash the apples and cut into quarters. Do not peel. Pare the seeds and core out of the apples; put into the bowl of the food processor, and again, pulse until coarsely chopped. Add to cranberries.

Wash the oranges and quarter. Once again, put quarters in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, peels and all. Remove any really large pieces of peel. Add to cranberries and apples. Stir to combine.

Sprinkle with sugar, mix again and let set several hours or overnight. Taste for sweetness before serving. If desired, add red food coloring. For the picture here, I didn't add the coloring for two reasons: 1. you can better see how the fruits combine, and 2. Publix was out of red food coloring!

Great with turkey, roast pork, roasted chicken and more.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Green Beans & Mushrooms in Olive Oil & Garlic Sauce

We've all had countless servings of the "classic" French fried onion, green bean and mushroom soup casserole at the holidays. Personally, I'm good if I never have it again. I came up with this dish, an easy hybrid of several other recipes, to have green beans and mushrooms at the table but healthier and with more flavor.

  • 1 pound whole fresh green beans, trimmed of tough ends
  • 2 cups chicken broth - I like College Inn and Progresso
  • 1 cup sliced white or cremini mushrooms
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and chopped
  • 2 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

 Bring chicken broth to a boil. Add green beans and steam for 5-7 minutes. Drain.

Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet or wok until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and shallots and, when fragrant, add mushrooms. Cook five minutes, stirring constantly. While cooking, add salt, pepper and thyme. Add green beans and stir fry until hot and well combined.

If desired, sprinkle with grated Parmesan or French fried onions before serving.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs

Ever had a hard-boiled egg that had a yucky green tinge to the yolk? That's because the egg was overcooked by boiling. Julia Child refers to hard-boiled eggs as hard-cooked, and hers are never boiled. I tried her technique several years ago and they turn out perfectly. The trick is to not actually boil the eggs!

I've read so many of Julia's wonderful books that I can't remember which one this comes from; I think she repeats it in several of them.

For 8:
GENTLY place 8 raw eggs into a pan and cover with cold water.

Bring to a boil over medium heat. AS SOON AS the water starts boiling, turn the heat off and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Let sit, covered for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Let sit until cool enough to handle.

To peel eggs, roll them on the counter top and gently remove shell. Don't worry if eggs don't peel easily; you didn't do anything wrong! Eggshells are easier to remove when the egg is a little older. Hard to remove shells mean the egg is really fresh.

If planning to make deviled eggs, when the eggs have to look good as well as taste good, I look through the egg cartons to find one a little older and buy them a few days ahead of when I need them. No guarantee, but it's worth the shot -- eggs can vary by age even within the same carton. To make sure I have enough that look good, I always make extras. (The ugly ones get used for egg salad!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Thyme & Pepper

I HATE sweet potatoes -- at least I hate sweet potatoes as most of us were introduced to them: sickly sugary, mixed or coated with some combination of brown sugar, maple syrup, pineapple or, God forbid, marshmallows!! Ack. Tooth-achingly sweet and bearing so little resemblance to the actual flavor of a sweet potato, I was repulsed by these even as a kid. Thankfully, so was my mom, so I was only subjected to them at the homes of relatives and well-meaning church family members.

However, I cooked all the food for my boss's Yom Kippur dinner last month, and at her request, found a recipe for non-sweet mashed sweet potatoes. Took some serious digging, but I found one that had no added sweet ingredients and then took it up a step by adding in dried thyme (which goes so well with ALL root veggies and tubers!) and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Because sweet potatoes retain more water than some regular varieties of potatoes when boiled, I used half & half instead of milk to make them, as well as REAL butter.

Please, please do not use margarine when making these. They need the creamy texture that only real butter can give, and besides, if you don't have cholesterol problems, butter is better for you than margarine. It contains the same fat, no trans fats and has the added nutritional value of protein and calcium! Can't get those from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil!

Anyway, here's the recipe:

  • 4-5 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup or more half & half
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves o 2 tablespoons fresh leaves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt for cooking potatoes

Scrub sweet potatoes and cut into large chunks. Place in a pot of cold, salted water and boil until tender; depending on potatoes, this could take 30 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Potatoes are done when they pierce easily with a fork. Drain and let cool. When cool to the touch, remove peels and place potatoes in a large mixing bowl.

With a mixer, mash potatoes until smooth. Add butter (cut in small chunks), thyme and pepper. Add in just enough cream to make smooth. Depending on your potatoes, this could be as little as 2 tablespoons! Mix by hand until combined. Taste, and adjust for salt and other seasonings. Garnish with an additional sprinkle of pepper and thyme leaves.

Serve immediately, OR refrigerate up to two days and reheat at 325 for about 60 minutes before serving.

Note: making these this weekend and will update with a photo!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Loaded Barbecue Chicken

I had this for the first time years ago at a restaurant in Cooper City, Florida; today versions of it are on tons of menus including Longhorn Steakhouse.

This is too easy to make at home to spend the money on it at a restaurant. For the cost of one serving at a restaurant, you can feed four at home. The chicken can be seasoned ahead, and "pre-cooked" microwaveable bacon can make the preparation easier. If you use the microwaveable bacon, don't microwave it; cut it into little pieces and saute in a tablespoon of olive oil so there are flavorful drippings for sauteing the onions and chicken.

To feed four:
  • Four 4-6 ounce boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 teaspoon EACH onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4-6 ounces bacon, preferably center cut, diced into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup sliced onions
  • 1/3 cup favorite bottled barbecue sauce
  • 1 cup shredded colby-jack/cheddar cheese blend

Coat chicken with olive oil and seasonings. Let marinate, refrigerated, at least one hour and preferably at least 12.

Preheat oven to 400. Fry bacon in a large skillet until very crispy. Drain on paper towels. Saute onions in bacon drippings until softened. Remove from pan and spread in the bottom of a baking dish.

Brown seasoned chicken in the same skillet. Cook three minutes on each side. Remove from pan and place on top of the onions. Bake for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, coat chicken pieces with half of barbecue sauce. Bake another 10 minutes. Coat with remaining sauce. Top with bacon and cheese. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly. Let stand five minutes before serving.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tangy Herb Chicken

I feed some very picky eaters, so I am always on the lookout for tasty recipes that use boneless chicken and are easy to make after work. I found a recipe called Bistro Chicken on Kraft Foods website, and since I always consider recipes to be just a starting point, I added some extra herbs and Dijon mustard to it and fooled with the preparation method a bit. Warning: this contains Miracle Whip! I too was a little hesitant, but since it was already in the fridge, I figured "why not give it a try?"

Although it was viewed with a little suspicion, the reviews were raves! I served the chicken with green beans simmered in chicken broth, and my own version of Boston Market's Garlic Dill Red Potatoes. The potatoes cooked in the same time as the chicken, and it was a very nice and easy meal.

To make four servings:
  • 4 boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/3 cup Miracle Whip Light
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon each dried dill, thyme, rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Dried or fresh parsley to sprinkle on chicken

Combine all ingredients except chicken and parsley. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and coat with Miracle Whip mixture. Marinate, refrigerated, up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375. Shake excess marinade from chicken. Do not discard marinade. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray or line it with foil.

Bake chicken 25 minutes or until internal temperature is 165 degrees. After 25 minutes, remove from oven. Switch oven to broiler on high. Pat remaining marinade over top of chicken pieces. Sprinkle with a little parsley and some freshly ground pepper. Pop under the broiler and WATCH carefully. When chicken coating is browned and bubbly, remove and let stand five minutes before serving.

Note: the picture above is for Kraft's version of this dish. Mine tastes different, but looks exactly the same! It all got eaten before I could take a picture!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Garlic Dill Red Potatoes

This is my version of Boston Market's famous side dish. Since the potatoes do not need to peeled, preparation time is short and cooking them is incredibly easy. Boston Market claims they use new potatoes, but regular red potatoes are just fine and much easier to come by, all year round.

I use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic in this dish because the garlic does not cook and some people are intolerant of (or just don't like!) fresh raw garlic.

  • 3 pounds red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill weed, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt for cooking potatoes

Wash potatoes and cut away any bad spots on them. Slice into wedges or cut into large cubes. Rinse well after cutting.

Cover potatoes with cold water and add salt. Bring to a boil and cook for about 12 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. I like my red potatoes cooked a little more than most Boston Markets do -- I've had some that were frankly underdone, but that is a matter of taste.

While potatoes are cooking, melt butter or margarine in the microwave and add seasonings. Mix well, let sit for a few minutes and taste. Adjust seasonings as desired. I don't add any salt until after I mix the butter with the potatoes and taste. The potatoes will absorb salt while cooking, so keep that in mind!

When potatoes are done, drain and set back over the turned off burner for a minute. That will let them dry out as remaining water cooks off. Add butter mixture, mix gently, taste and adjust as needed. There is no going wrong with this dish -- add more butter if you want it, add more pepper. Serve immediately!

Leftovers, if there are any, are wonderful browned and scrambled with eggs.

General Cooking Hint: Because potatoes do absorb salt, throwing a quartered potato into a soup or stew or even spaghetti sauce will quickly absorb extra salt! Let cook and discard.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Guacamole, Three Ways

I love avocados. On anything and everything. Sandwiches, salads, just sprinkled with salt. LOVE THEM! There is nothing else in the world like a perfectly ripe avocado.

Of course the most common way people eat avocados in the US is in guacamole. I love it, and I have three VERY easy recipes to make it. I can't pick a fave among them because they all suit different moods and tastes.

No matter which guacamole style you like, it can and will turn brown if exposed to air. To make guac ahead of time and keep it fresh and bright looking, you need two things: acid (from the lime juice) and plastic wrap, pressed TIGHTLY onto the surface of the guacamole. Putting the pit from the avocado into the dish is a useless old wives tale. Never make guacamole in a metal bowl.

Do not, under any circumstances, use "Slimcados" or Florida avocados for guacamole. They have a higher water content, which makes them lower in fat and fine for sandwiches and salads, but also makes watery guacamole rather than creamy. NOT GOOD!

How to tell if your avocado is ripe? First of all, a Hass avocado will be black when it is ripe, but it can be black without being ripe. Press your thumb into it. If it leaves a SLIGHT depression, it's perfect. If it feels soft and mushy or lightweight for its size (which means it's close to rotten!), skip it. Over-ripe avocados are as bad as under-ripe ones. If all you can get are under-ripe ones but you have a couple of days, put them in a paper bag on the counter and they will ripen in about two days.

Simple Perfect Guacamole:
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Blend all three ingredients until smooth or just mash with a fork for a chunkier guac. THAT'S IT! I first had this simple guacamole at a Mexican restaurant in Clarksburg, WV (yes, WV) in 1999 and fell in love with it. It's amazing - don't let the simplicity fool you. Of course, you can multiply this as much as you like. Two avocados and one lime makes enough for an accompaniment for a fajita dinner for six.

Easy Spicy Guacamole
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun/Creole Seasoning (try Tony Chachere's, Emeril's Essence or Zatarains)
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves, optional

Again, blend until smooth or mash with a fork. Taste and adjust as needed.

Loaded Guacamole
  • 2 ripe avocados, mashed well with a fork
  • 1 plum tomato, with seeds removed, diced
  • 1 green onion, sliced thinly, white and light green parts only
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced, or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning (for spicer flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt or Kosher salt (if NOT using Creole seasoning!)
After mashing avocado well, blend in lime juice, Creole seasoning or salt and garlic. Gently mix in diced tomato, onion, jalapeno pepper and cilantro leaves.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tzatasiki Sauce

No matter how you choose to spell it, tzatsiki sauce is a food of the gods. Most Americans experience tzatsiki sauce as topping on a gyro or with souvalki; it is also amazing on its own as an appetizer dip with pita chips or as a sauce for other kinds of grilled chicken.

The bright flavors of dill (fresh or dried), cucumber and garlic, accented with a little olive oil, vinegar and pepper, elevate plain yogurt or sour cream to amazing heights. If you can find good cucumbers, this dish has the flavors of summer any time of the year. The optional mint is used in other Mediterranean/Middle Eastern versions of this sauce and creates an ever-so-slightly-sweet note in the sauce.

  • 16 ounces sour cream (not fat free) or plain yogurt
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, depending on size and to taste
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill or 2 tablespoons fresh dill weed
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt for salting cucumber
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon dried mint leaves or 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves

Grate cucumber using either the coarse side of a box grater or the shredding blade of a food processor. Salt cucumber and place in a colander; let drain at least one hour, pressing occasionally to force liquid out.

When cucumber has drained well, pat with paper towels to blot away any excess liquid and some of the salt. Mix cucumber with remaining ingredients. Stir well and refrigerate, covered, at least one hour. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve with grilled chicken or lamb, with pita chips, or on top of grilled beefsteak tomato slices.

For a recipe for pita chips, see yesterday's post: Tomato Bruschetta. Simply use garlic power, dill and black pepper to season chips.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tomato Bruschetta

With the last of this year's tomatoes in stores and at farm stands now, I wanted to share this absolutely amazing way to enjoy them. This requires some chopping of the tomatoes, but the rest is just a waiting game for the flavors to blend.

Besides on garlic toasts, pita or bagel chips and bread, this tomato bruschetta makes a great cold pasta sauce -- toss with hot bowties or other short pasta for a quick and easy room temp pasta dish. Chill for pasta salad. Add slices of grilled chicken or pre-cooked chicken strips for a main dish. This is the perfect starter for that last barbecue for those of you up north and perfect all-year-round for those of lucky enough to live in the Sunshine State (except during hurricane season!).

Note: I like to make this with fresh herbs but they don't always look great and can cost a fortune, so dried are FINE. Just make sure to buy as small a quantity as possible so they get used before they lose their flavor. You might as well mow your yard and throw the clippings into your food at that point!
To make three cups or so bruschetta:
  • 10 Roma (plum) tomatoes. Use about 2 1/2 pounds other tomatoes if you can't get Romas or others look better.
  • 3 green onions, sliced -- dark green parts too!
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced, or 1 tablespoon jarred
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil leaves or 2 tablespoons fresh leaves, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • A pinch dried chile flakes (pepperoncini)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil - the best you can get

Rinse the tomatoes and chop them. Try to get as much of the seeds and glop (that's the technical term!) out of them as possible. Put tomatoes in a glass or plastic bowl - NO metal! -- with the rest of the ingredients. Toss to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes, covered, at room temperature. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. Let sit another 30 minutes at room temp if serving soon; if not refrigerate until serving time -- overnight is best!

  • Add five or six marinated artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
  • Add a roasted red pepper, diced
  • Omit garlic and add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
To make homemade pita chips:
Cut pita breads into 8 triangles with scissors. For thick chips, leave alone. For thin ones, separate each triangle into two pieces.

Spread chips in a single layer and spray with olive oil cooking spray. Sprinkle with garlic powder and other herbs as desired (Italian seasoning blend, basil, oregano and rosemary are all good!). Bake at 425 for about 5 minutes or until desired crispness. Let cool and store in gallon sized plastic bags.

FYI, in the north and central parts of Italy, ordering bruschetta will get you grilled bread rubbed with a clove of garlic. The tomato version we are familiar with is unknown there!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Easy Lemon Chicken "Risotto"

Risotto is creamy, slow-cooked Italian rice dish made from special types of rice (usually arborio) that are short grained and have a high starch content that releases as the rice cooks, making a wonderfully warm and comforting dish. However, the time that risotto takes to cook -- every ingredient must be pre-chopped so it can be thrown in without taking away from the constant stirring required to make risotto cook completely and evenly -- means that it is not on most home menus, or at least not often.

I came up with a cheater way to make an almost risotto dish that has a spark of lemon flavor contrasted with creamy butter and Parmesan cheese. What's the cheat? Rice A Roni! Yes, the San Francisco treat. Any other rice pilaf type dish will work too -- I really like Publix brand rice pilaf -- as long as it has the orzo pasta or vermicelli in it for a different texture than rice alone.

Chicken breast, marinated in lemon juice and black pepper, adds a real punch, with no additional salt or fat, to the rice mix. The small amount of parmesan cheese added at the end makes it really creamy and softens the sharp edge of the lemon.

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (bottled is fine!)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 packages Chicken Rice-A-Roni or other rice/pasta mix
  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
  • Water according to package directions for rice/pasta mix
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated (NOT shredded!) parmesan cheese

Marinate chicken in lemon juice and pepper for at least 20 minutes in plastic bag or dish or a glass dish.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter or margarine in a large skillet or spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray. When hot, add chicken to skillet. Use a slotted spoon to remove chicken from marinade and leave lemon juice behind. Brown chicken on all sides and remove from pan along with all juices.

Heat another two tablespoons butter or margarine in pan and brown rice and pasta mix according to package directions. Add water called for on the package directions as well as lemon juice reserved from marinating the chicken. Add chicken and juices back into the pan; bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 20 minutes, test rice for doneness. If needed, add a little more water and continue cooking. When rice is done but creamy, remove heat and add Parmesan cheese. Let stand five minutes, covered, and serve.

  • Halfway through cooking add 1 cup frozen green peas and 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, diced.
  • Add 2 cups frozen broccoli and 1/2 cup slivered almonds halfway through cooking time.
  • Add 1 cup sliced mushrooms with chicken; reduce cooking liquid by 2 tablespoons.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Shrimp Creole Pasta

I know it's been a couple of weeks since I posted; I had a bad bout of the flu that kicked my butt for a good while. It's hard to write when you are fuzzy in the head from cold meds!

I've made this shrimp Creole pasta many, many times, most recently Thursday night for dinner with my good friend Deirdre Steinfort, and I thought it was fitting with the weather hitting the Gulf! New Orleans is and always will be one of the most important food cities of the US, with a long history and tradition that far pre-dates Emeril Lagasse, no doubt one of its most famous residents.

Anyway, there's a bit of chopping involved but even that can be cut down if you can find pre-cut frozen onions and peppers in your supermarket. A couple of chicken tenderloins, diced and cooked with a sprinkle of Creole seasoning before the veggies, can add more heft to this dish if needed. PLEASE use good pasta -- Barilla isn't imported but it's the only American pasta I use (yes, it's actually made here, in Iowa); I love imported brands like DeCecco, Dellaverde and others. Because they are made with real durum wheat semolina, they are much easier to cook to a perfect al dente than mass-produced American brands such as Mueller's.

Serves four comfortably, especially with salad and bread.

8 ounces imported fettuccine (preferably the kind sold in a bag of nests)
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 medium sweet onion, cut in half and sliced thinly (1 cup frozen)
1 large red bell pepper, cut in half and sliced thinly (1 cup frozen)
1/2 large green bell pepper, sliced thinly (1/2 cup frozen)
1 head garlic, smashed and chopped coarsely (about 4 tablespoons jarred)
2 cups dry white wine
1 chicken or vegetable bouillon cube (I prefer Knorr)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 tablespoons real butter
2 tablespoons Tony Chachere's or Zatarain's Creole Seasoning

Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large deep skillet or wok. Add onions and peppers; cook five minutes or until they begin to soften. Add garlic and cook two minutes. Sprinkle with Creole seasoning. Stir well. Add wine and let cook down for five minutes.

Add tomatoes and their juices and bouillon cube. Let simmer over medium heat, stirring often, for 15 minutes. Add shrimp and cook five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cold butter. Taste for seasoning, and if you want it, add more Creole seasoning.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in at least 6 quarts boiling salted water until al dente. Follow package directions for time. Drain.

Add sauce to pasta, mix well to combine. Serve immediately.

If adding chicken, use an additional two tablespoons olive oil. Heat that olive oil, add diced chicken breast meat and cook until browned on all sides. Sprinkle with a little Creole seasoning while cooking. Remove chicken, and proceed from top of recipe. Add chicken back in to sauce with tomatoes to finish cooking.

If feeling adventurous or wanting a real indulgence, substitute the shrimp with cooked and peeled crawfish, lobster meat or langostinos!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Totally Addictive French Toast

There's no support group for it yet, but everyone I have made this French toast for is an addict. A few years ago, at Christmas time, I hit on the idea of using egg nog with an extra beaten egg for the batter. Turns out it worked better than using milk and eggs because the egg nog was already emulsified, so the cinnamon I added actually worked in to the batter instead of floating on top.

Now, I use fat free French vanilla coffee creamer with a beaten egg. Same effect -- the cinnamon beats in nicely, I don't need to add any sugar, and it's fat free. Other flavor options such as cinnamon hazelnut or dulche de leche are wonderful too.

For an extra cinnamon-y flavor, I use Pepperidge Farm cinnamon swirl bread or cinnamon raisin bread instead of plain white or sliced French or Italian. Of course, if you are not the cinnamon fanatic that I am, plain bread of your choice is fine; I used potato bread once at my sister's house and it was great! Remember that the thinner the bread, the less time it should be dipped in the batter. I always do that very quickly because I can't stand soggy French toast.

This French toast goes great with bacon, sausage, strawberries and whipped cream -- whatever. Just don't use cheap syrup!

For 12 slices French toast:

1/2 cup non-dairy French vanilla coffee creamer
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla, if desired
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
12 slices bread, no more than 1/2 inch thick

Beat eggs with a fork or whisk until well-blended. Whisk in creamer, vanilla (if using) and cinnamon until well-blended.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. Spray with butter-flavored cooking spray or grease lightly with margarine. Don't use butter; it may burn.

Working quickly, dip three or four slices bread into the batter and place in hot pan. Cook about two minutes and turn. Cook until golden on both sides. Remove slices from pan and keep warm. (I put them on a plate and stick it in the microwave or oven.) Repeat, using more cooking spray on the pan, until all bread is used. (I always keep the jar of cinnamon handy in case I need to sprinkle some directly on the pieces while they cook.) Serve warm with butter, syrup, fruit, whipped cream, jam -- whatever strikes your fancy!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Zatarain's New Orleans Mixes

I can make red beans and rice, jambalaya, dirty rice, etoufee, shrimp creole and other Cajun goodies from scratch... and when I have the time, I like to do just that. After working all day plus a couple of hours on the road, that is just not happening very often. This is where Zatarain's comes in.

Besides their Creole seasoning, which I use all the time, I love their mixes as quick and easy bases for dinners in a hurry that cost almost nothing. For those concerned about it, Zatarain's even makes reduced sodium versions of their most popular items. Most of the mixes are between $2 and $3 each and will feed a few people for dinner, especially when paired with salad and bread.

Of course, I don't leave the mixes alone! Even though I love spicy food, the jambalaya mix packs a bit of a punch for most people, so I add 1/2 cup extra parboiled rice and 1 1/2 cups more water to it. I use Eckrich skinless smoked sausage (which is also available in an all turkey variety) ($2), a can of stewed tomatoes, diced finely ($1), and a little dry white wine ($$ up to you!) to take a boxed dinner to a new level with very little effort.

Jambalaya for 4:
1 box Zatarain's Jambalaya mix, regular or reduced sodium
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced in 1/2 inch thick rounds
1 14 ounce can stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup parboiled rice

Drain the tomatoes well and measure their liquid to include as part of the liquid called for on the package directions. Mince drained tomatoes finely. (It's almost more mushing than mincing!)

Heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add sliced sausage and saute for a few minutes, until sausage is browned a bit. Add white wine to pan and let cook until wine is almost gone. Add liquid from tomatoes with enough water to make 2 cups required by package. Add an extra 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil.

Add in rice and seasonings from Zatarain's package, extra 1/2 cup rice and tomatoes. Stir well. Bring back to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium. Let simmer 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Stir occasionally while cooking. Rice should be moist with a little liquid still on it.

Serve immediately with hot French bread and a mixed green salad. Serve with extra Tabasco, Crystal or Frank's Red Hot Sauce on the side if desired.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Roasted Italian Sausage, Potatoes and Peppers

I made this a few days ago and took leftovers to work, where my co-workers inhaled it. It's one of those things that is better the second day. It's also actually very easy, especially if you use pre-chopped frozen onions and peppers and jarred garlic as short cuts. If you don't like pork or want a lower-fat version, try a turkey or chicken sausage instead.

1 pound mild Italian sausage
1 large sweet onion or 1 cup frozen chopped
1 large red bell pepper or 1 cup frozen chopped
4 potatoes – medium to large sized – I used 2 red and 2 white
Olive oil
1 bulb garlic (that’s the whole head) or about 8 cloves jarred or 2 tablespoons pre-chopped

Preheat oven to 425.

Peel skin from sausages and cut into chunks. Toss lightly with olive oil or cooking spray.

Peel and chop onion. Chop pepper. Peel and chop garlic. Large pieces are fine for all of that! Put together in a bowl and pour over about ¼ cup olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, oregano, parsley and paprika. Mix well and let sit.

Scrub potatoes and chop each into 6 or 8 pieces depending on size. Put in a glass bowl and cover with cold water; add 1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt. Microwave 20 minutes on high to partially cook.

While potatoes microwave, cook only sausage in oven. Shake the pan to turn pieces every few minutes so they brown evenly. When sausage is browned (it will not be cooked all the way), take pan out of oven. Add onions, peppers and garlic to pan.

Drain par-cooked potatoes, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season like the peppers and onions. Add a little cayenne pepper for spicier flavor if desired. (By a little, I mean shake the container 2 or 3 times and stop!) Mix well to coat the potatoes with oil. Add potatoes to sausage and veggies. Using a large pancake turner, mix well (but gently!).

Bake at 425 for about 40 minutes. Stir well after 20 minutes. When done, sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and let stand 5 minutes before serving. Great with a salad and a medium-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir.

Pepperoni Rolls

I am from West Virginia. (Make jokes at will!) It is one of the most beautiful places in the US, if not the world, even if life there is a little simple for my tastes. However, speaking of tastes, one of the most wonderful foods in the world was invented in Fairmont, West Virginia -- the pepperoni roll.

A humble hand-held loaf of good white bread dough with pepperoni baked right into it, the pepperoni roll is a lunch box standard, a fixture in every convenience store and frequently on the menu (baked with a little cheese and Oliverio's Peppers in sauce) of local non-chain pizza joints "back home." West Virginia kids practically cut their teeth on pepperoni rolls!

Although the origins of pepperoni rolls have never been confirmed, one of the many (and most common) theories is that one of the many Italian housewives in north-central West Virginia created the pepperoni roll as a self-contained, hand-held, no-refrigeration-needed way for her coal miner husband to have a decent lunch with no assembly on his part.

Although they are not commercially available outside West Virginia, and small parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky where they have migrated across the borders, authentic pepperoni rolls are easy to make. There are no Oliverio peppers available nationally, sadly, but Mancini makes a widely available version that is just as good.

Pepperoni rolls are baked with or without cheese; provolone, mozzarella and pepper Jack are the most commonly used. If you choose to bake cheese into your pepperoni rolls, add it SPARINGLY.

Too much cheese before baking will cause the dough to fail to rise properly, according to my good, good friend Donna DeCarlo, a Fairmont native and pepperoni roll authority who taught me how to make them. Her other tip for perfect rolls every time? Baking parchment. Essentially wax paper without the wax, baking parchment will make every roll golden without a single dark spot!

For 18 rolls:

1 pkg of 3 loaves Bridgford or Rhodes frozen bread dough
1 pound good pepperoni, peeled and sliced thin (the deli will peel it for you!)
4 ounces mozzarella, provolone or pepper Jack cheese, sliced thin (optional)

Take dough out of package; set on towels and keep covered with more towels. Let dough thaw. Slice each loaf into 6 pieces. Let come to room temperature, keeping covered all the time.

Stack pepperoni and slice into thin strips.

When dough is room temp, take each piece and pat into a circle, like a small pizza. Take a small handful of pepperoni strips and lay into the middle of the circle. If using cheese, add two small thin pieces, no longer or thicker than the pepperoni stack. Fold the sides in, and then tuck the ends over and pinch to seal.

Place finished rolls back on towels and let rise for another hour. Preheat oven to 350. Bake rolls in hot oven, on pans lined with baking parchment, for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely before wrapping or packing in containers or bags.

Pepperoni rolls may be eaten as they are, but for the most sublime experience, split the roll down the middle and spoon in a little of the above mentioned peppers in sauce, a little marinara sauce on top of that, and then some shredded mozzarella. (Use just the marinara if you can't get/don't have/don't like the peppers!) Bake in a toaster oven (or regular oven) at 450 degrees for about 5 minutes or until crispy on the edges and the cheese is melted.

For more info and lore on pepperoni rolls, go here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Vegetarian Minestrone

I promised Tracy I'd post this since she's a vegetarian, but it is SO good, carnivores can't believe it doesn't have meat. If you really want the meat, a little diced ham is a nice addition. I've made a note as to where it would be added in. Truth be told, I made this up for a cooking class and didn't even test it until I was in front of the class. Luckily, it worked, and has every time I've made it since. This is pretty easy, especially if you use a lot of pre-cut frozen veggies. The list of ingredients seems long, but this is ready in less than 30 minutes once the vegetables are chopped, and almost all of them are available frozen or canned.


Minestrone and other soups are very popular in Tuscany, where the clever and thrifty cooks are legendary for exquisite soups made largely from leftovers. There are both winter and summer recipes for minestrone; classically, the soup is only made from vegetables in season. This recipe combines elements of both versions, but feel free to use whatever vegetables you like.

8 cups vegetable or chicken stock (dissolve Knorr stock base in water)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup each chopped onion, carrots and celery
1 leek, split lengthwise and rinsed well, white and light green parts only, sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons each dried rosemary and thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch hot red pepper flakes
1 zucchini, diced or 1 cup frozen
1 summer squash, diced or 1 cup frozen
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 14 ounce can Cannellini or white kidney beans
2 cups fresh or 1 cup frozen spinach or Swiss Chard leaves, chopped
1 cup small soup pasta like tiny shells or orzo or ditali
Jarred Pesto and grated Parmesan cheese to serve
4-6 slices bacon, diced or 2 cups diced cooked ham (optional)
Rind from a wedge of Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add garlic, onions, leeks, celery and carrots and sauté until softened. Add herbs and cook 3 minutes more. Add vegetable stock, rind of Parmesan cheese (if using) and remaining vegetables and beans. Simmer 20 minutes over medium low and then raise heat to bring to a boil.

Add 1 cup pasta and cook until pasta is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot and put a spoonful of pesto in each bowl and then garnish with Parmesan cheese. For a variation, add some chopped bacon to the olive oil and cook until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels; add back to the soup right before serving. Cooked ham can also be added with the vegetables and allowed to simmer into soup.

My Philosophy on Food and Eating

If it tastes good, enjoy it -- in moderation. There is no point in eating "health food" if you have to choke down and/or regret every bite. Better to have a really exquisite experience with a small amount of a wonderful food than to try to eat a plate of garbage you don't want.

Organic? I don't buy it. In this country, we do not do the extensive soil testing and oversight that the EU does, and truly organic food is impossible anyway with the lamentable state of our air and ground water. (Although we are apparently in far better shape than Beijing!) True, eliminating the chemical pesticides and fertilizers removed in so called organic produce is BETTER than not, but I don't think that the degree of improvement justifies the exorbitant amount added to the cost to the consumer.

Better to buy locally from farmer's markets and stands when possible than to worry about fancy organic supermarkets which overcharge; what proof do you have that the produce is really any safer anyway? In light of the recent salmonella epidemic, I have very, very little faith in the oversight powers of the FDA and certainly I don't have faith in the honesty of most corporations, including large corporate-run farms.

I believe it IS possible to eat well without spending a fortune, and like Rocco di Spirito (who I interviewed last year!) I see that grocery store prepared and partially prepared meals have come leaps and bounds in the last few years. This is a real boon for busy people who still want to eat well without eating out every night. These products can be the base of meals, and require very little to complete them. Cheaper cuts of meat, cooked correctly by braising or stewing, actually have more flavor sometimes; vegetables on the "not so perfect" rack often are exactly what is needed.

We can enjoy just about anything we want as long as we don't go overboard. Part of being healthy is being happy, and eating food we love is a big part of both!

About Cravings & Ravings

I love food, love feeding people even more, and I've been a food writer for several years now. I write a monthly column for The Nashua Telegraph about New Hampshire made foods, and used to write for many other publications and websites including, Merrimack Valley Magazine, 168, the Manchester Mirror, and more. Anyway.... I am now the editor of Welcome to Miami & The Beaches magazine, which is the #1 tourist guide in Miami, and while I love my job, I want to write about other stuff too.

I couldn't choose between writing about politics and news (which I love, and which my friend Tracy Krulik writes about so well on her blog) and writing about food, so I decided to do both.

Easy foods that taste great and won't break the bank are my specialty, and I want to share my experiences (both hits and misses) because I feel that one thing largely missing in today's world is an easy-to-enjoy food experience. With food prices on the rise, restaurants skyrocketing (or closing!) and gas out of control, learning simple and wonderful meals to cook is a great way to cut costs, and maybe tap into a brand new creative side.

So this blog is my place to share recipes and cooking info and tips, along with the occasional (okay, frequent) rant or rave about whatever had struck me that day. That's it; if you have any food topics you'd like covered, let me know!