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June 2015
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Adding Kale To A Thai Green Curry

For the longest time I stayed away from making green curries at home.  For one, I was worried that green curry meant that it was crazy hot, so the kids wouldn’t eat it.  Secondly, it relies on coconut milk a lot, and while I do use coconut milk from time to time, I worried that the flavor would take over the dish, and we are not all huge coconut fans.  But one day last summer I decided to try a really easy Thai Green Curry recipe that I had found and discovered it was so much better than I’d expected.

I do not recall where I got this recipe from, to be honest. What I especially love is how easy it is to put together.  You can use any combination of vegetables that you like, so this time I took advantage of that (and my family’s affection for the green curry) to try and sneak in some more of that kale I was trying to use up.

Braising the chicken in the liquid here makes the chicken so velvety and tender.   Normally I would think to brown the chicken first, but here we slide raw chicken right into our heavily flavored broth, and it just works SO well.  One thing that I was shy on this last time I made it was fresh herbs.  My herb plants are not too big yet, so I was sparing when harvesting a few leaves.  As a result, we all agreed that it was “missing something” and it was definitely the burst of a handful of fresh herbs at the table.

Don’t be a afraid of the fish sauce in the recipe.  I always keep a bottle in the fridge and find it adds the most spectacular layer of flavor to a lot of Asian dishes.  When you smell fish sauce for the first time, it’s like something so awful and funky, and you’re afraid to actually use it.  All it takes is a splash or two, and you’ve taken a stir fry from tasty to delicious.  Combined with the sweetness from the brown sugar, it makes magic in this pot of green curry.

As mentioned, I added two large handfuls of kale to the curry, and no one noticed.  This was a great way to sneak in the nutrients of the kale without serving KALE for dinner, if you know what I mean.  I definitely recommend adding the kale or other green of your choice as a great nutritional boost.


Thai Green Curry

1 tablespoon green curry paste or 1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk (light works fine)
1/4 cup fresh basil (or 1/8 c. dried)
1 can bamboo shoot, drained
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chicken broth or 1 cup chicken stock
1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch strips
3 to 4 cups fresh broccoli florets
2 cups kale or other green, coarsely chopped
fresh herbs of choice for garnish- basil and cilantro together are delicious!!  A squirt of lime juice is also nice.


In a medium saucepan combine curry paste and coconut milk and heat.

Just before it reaches the boiling point, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Serve over freshly cooked rice.

Replay: Fall Off The Bone Baby Back Ribs

Perfect for your summer entertaining, these baby back ribs really DO fall off the bone, and they are incredibly delicious.

Even better?  They are way easier to make than you would think.  Over the years I have watched so many cooking shows that feature ribs, and so many of them make it a really complicated endeavor.  The best ones always seem to be the ones that cook for hours and hours in a smoker.  While I’m sure they are absolutely wonderful, they are hardly practical for the home cook.  These fall-off-the-bone ribs cook for a few hours, but they are inattentive hours.  I pop them in the oven in a roasting pan and let the oven do the magic.  When they come out of the oven, all they need is a quick trip through the grill to sear on the barbecue sauce of your choice.  Andy usually gives them a few extra minutes with some wood added to the fire for smoke, but that is a step not totally necessary.

You can also use spare ribs instead of baby back, but the ribs will not be quite as tender- nor are they as meaty as the baby back ribs.  I haven’t cooked them quite enough to figure out the timing to get the spare ribs falling off the bone, but I’m leaning towards an extra half hour in the oven.

The beer is also optional, but the liquid component is not.  Whatever you do, though, do not use plain old water.  I’ve used apple cider with great success for the non-beer crowd, and I’ve also used chicken broth and ginger ale.  All of them worked, though I prefer using a bottle of beer.  Which is in itself an odd thing, because I really, really dislike the taste of beer.  However, it works with the ribs, so I try to use it when I can.


Fall Off The Bone Baby Back Ribs

2 slabs baby back ribs (about 3 1/2 pounds)
1 large onion, sliced
1 12-ounce bottle of beer
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups barbecue sauce

1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.

2. To remove the membrane from the back of the ribs, rake a small dull knife, like an oyster or table knife, and pry the tip of the knife between the membrane and bone at the edge of the ribs in the center of the slab. Lift to separate the membrane from the bone, then grab the membrane with your fingers and pull it off and discard.

3. Spread the onion slices evenly on a baking sheet with sides and place the ribs, bone side down, on top. Pour the beer over the ribs, season with salt and pepper, and cover tightly with foil. Bake undisturbed for 2 hours.

4. Prepare a fire in a charcoal grill and let the coals burn to a gray ash with a faint red glow, or until you can hold your hand 3 to 4 inches above the fire for no more than 6 seconds.

5. Brush both sides of the ribs with the barbecue sauce and place them, meat side down, over the coals. Grill the ribs for 10 to 15 minutes, or until slightly charred, basting several times. Turn the ribs and baste the cooked side liberally. Close the lid of the grill and cook the ribs 10 to 15 minutes longer, basting often. Cut the slabs into individual ribs, pile them onto a large platter and serve warm


Pasta Puttanesca with Kale

I have long been a fan of kale- well before it became in vogue to be a fan of kale.  The reason I have been a fan of kale really has little to do with the nutritional properties, rather, it’s because of the fact that I can grow it easily!  Kale grows pretty effortlessly in my gardens, and is one of those vegetables that you can cut off one plant all season long, and it keeps growing.  When frost comes in the fall, there is no need to cover the kale, as it is hearty and actually tastes sweeter and more delicious after being kissed by a frost.  In addition, because it’s such a sturdy green, it freezes nicely, to be added to soups and stews and pasta dishes all winter long.   My preferred variety of kale is lacinato kale, or dinosaur kale.  It is less attractive to cabbage moths, and I think it has a less bitter flavor when cooked.

My husband, on the other hand, has been quick to tell me that he is not a fan of kale after an experience with it that he’d rather not divulge details about.  However, after our success with the collard greens the other day, I just had to dive into the kale- especially after I was given a bunch of it from someone going on vacation.  I wanted to use up the bunch of kale I was given, AND hopefully come up with some ideas to use it that I could use in the future with the many plants growing in my garden. (Yes, I have a few too many kale plants this year.)

Pasta is always a winner here, and while I’ve eaten it out, I’ve never made a puttanesca here at home.  This was going to be a gamble, because the flavors and the ingredients in a puttanesca are SO pronounced that you kind of either love it or hate it.  As I was cooking it up, both kids were intrigued.  They really found the capers interesting, and when I said they tasted like a little pickle, they were both game to try them.  I was corrected and told they taste like dilly beans- which are a win for my son, so I remained hopeful.  Then Zander tasted the kalamata olives.  Abigail does not like olives, but I assured her I would only cut them in half and she could pick the olives out of her dish.  Zander thought they were good, but he didn’t come back for a second one.  The little tin of anchovies frightened both children immediately.  I assured them they would never know they were in the dish, and I was correct.  I chopped up the anchovies finely and they melted right into the sauce.  They added a ton of flavor, and I know would be missed if they were not used, but no one got a bite of anchovy that they could identify.


Overall, Andy and I were completely thrilled with this recipe.  It was SO good.  It was salty and briny  and full of all these different flavors that came together beautifully when tossed with spaghetti and topped with Asiago cheese.  The kids however… sadly, there will be no more puttanesca for them.  My pasta kid (Zander) barely picked at it and filled up on garlic bread that day.  Even Abigail left half of her pasta on her plate, and she’s developed into the type of person that will eat what is on her plate (usually) even if it isn’t her favorite.   Both kids told me it just tasted too strongly of the olives.

This really was delicious, and the strong flavors really were perfect for adding the kale, as they completely took over and the kale blended right in.   I failed to get a picture of the dish completely put together, but I did get one of the sauce.


Pasta Puttanesca with Kale

1/2 (16 ounce) package dried spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 (2 ounce) can anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine
3 cups coarsely chopped kale
1 small jar pitted kalamata olives, drained and cut in half
Grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese to finish


Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the onion starts to soften.  Add the garlic red pepper flakes. Cook and stir until the onion just begun to turn golden brown, about 3 more minutes, but don’t brown the garlic. Stir in capers, anchovy fillets, diced tomatoes, and red wine, and bring to a simmer. Stir in kale, and simmer over medium-low heat until wilted and tender, about 10 minutes.

Once the pasta has cooked and been drained, stir into the puttanesca along with the olives. Toss and sprinkle with grated Asiago/Parmesan cheese before serving.

A Delicious Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberries

I really wanted to do something for dinner that incorporated strawberries into a main dish salad the other day.  I swear I have seen a grilled chicken recipe topped with avocado and strawberries somewhere very recently, but of course I now can’t find it anywhere.  Since I couldn’t find the avocado recipe, I turned to a recent issue of Cooking Light magazine and opted to make this Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Feta.

Feta cheese has pretty much become a staple at our house.  I buy it by the large bucket or block at Sam’s Club, and then use it as many ways as we can for a few weeks.  We just love it.  It adds flavor and salt to any salad we sprinkle on, but where I’ve found it really is dynamic is in dishes that get baked.  I love adding feta to pasta or scalloped potatoes, or anything that has a cream sauce.  As you’re eating it you come upon these little nuggets of warm, melty feta, and they just make me very, very happy.  I thought sweet strawberries and salty feta sounded like a perfect match, so this salad was just the thing to try that idea out.

I made two changes to the recipe.  One was that I ditched the red onions.  Oh, I could totally taste them in the final salad, they would have been great.  However, I try to avoid raw onions in salads for our family, as some don’t care for them, and some have lingering digestive effects after eating raw onions.   We still have them occasionally, but in this case, I thought there was enough flavor going on that I could skip the onions and all would be well.  My second major change was not using the arugula.  I cannot stand arugula!  So much so, that when I looked at the mesclun mix I’d planted in my garden and saw that most of the leaves in the mix were arugula, I simply pulled the whole patch out and planted cantaloupe instead.  I really don’t like peppery greens.  Instead, I used a mix of fresh spinach and mizuna from my garden.  The fresh spinach was spectacular- I think it was way better than arugula could have been.  So I’m altering the recipe to call for baby spinach instead.

The only change I would make to this salad is with regards to the marinating time for the chicken.  My chicken marinated for ten minutes, and it wasn’t near long enough.   Balsamic is such a strong flavor, and yet the 15 minutes I gave the chicken in the marinade wasn’t enough.  The next time I will put the chicken in the marinade and pop it in the fridge for an hour, provided I have the time.  Andy cooked the chicken for me on the grill outside, but you could certainly use a grill pan inside if that’s what you’d like to do.

Now that I’m looking at this picture again, I remember thinking that this would also be delicious with some kind of toasted nut or seed tossed in it.  Pumpkin seeds would be great, as would toasted walnuts or pecans.


Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Feta

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, divided
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
Cooking spray
1/8 teaspoon sugar
2 cups halved strawberries
4 cups baby spinach
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1.5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/3 cup)
Combine 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons vinegar in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken to bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; grill 5 minutes on each side or until done. Cut into slices.
Combine remaining 1 tablespoon oil, remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and sugar in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add strawberries; toss to coat. Add spinach and onion to strawberry mixture; toss gently to combine. Sprinkle feta over salad. Divide salad among 4 plates; top evenly with sliced chicken.

Nice And Easy Chocolate Cake

Because it wasn’t enough to have strawberries with shortcake.  I also decided that I needed to have strawberries with chocolate cake, because what could be better with strawberries than chocolate?  We’d already made a quick ganache to dunk some berries, but I wanted my favorite food group to be represented.  What?  Chocolate cake is not a food group?  It should be.  :)

This super easy one-bowl chocolate cake comes together in a snap.  In my case, I made a half-batch and used my 9-inch square pan to bake this cake in the toaster oven.  I love the toaster oven this time of year because I can bake without heating the whole house up, though it might be worth a little sweltering for chocolate cake.


Easy One Bowl Chocolate Cake

1 cups white sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a nine inch round (or square) pan.

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer.

Stir in the boiling water last. Batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Shortcakes From Pioneer Woman

It’s been a lovely couple of days enjoying our strawberry bounty here.  I love the day or two after we go fruit picking, because the kids (Zander, really) never need to ask “what can I have to eat?”  They already know what the answer will be.  The fresh fruit seasons are fleeting, and the standard house rule is to eat as many as you want while you can, because they will only be here for a short time.

As we sat there enjoying our fresh berries out of hand, Zander very innocently looked at me and asked which night we were having Strawberry Shortcake for dinner.  Not for dessert.  For dinner.  I confess that we have done that before, but I wasn’t totally feeling it this week.  However, it seemed like a great accompaniment to the Israeli Couscous Salad- just in case the kids weren’t digging the salad.

Every year at this time I make strawberry shortcake, and every year I find myself looking for the perfect recipe for shortcakes.  I thought about the shortcakes from Dorie Greenspan.  Oh, those are very good and flavorful, but for some reason I had it in my head that those particular shortcakes were time consuming.  Only now, two days later I’m reading my old blog post and see that they were of the quick and easy variety. At the time, though, I glanced at my shelf of cookbooks and tried to conjur up which chef would have the best shortcakes.  As I looked at my books, nothing jumped off the shelf, and instead I turned to the blogosphere, and honed in on THE perfect person to give me a shortcake recipe.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Pioneer Woman’s shortcakes are very similar to a biscuit, only much sweeter.  There were two things, however, that really made them stand out to me.  One was the extract in the dough.  She recommends almond extract, I used vanilla.  I really liked that punch of flavor in the biscuit itself.  The other thing that worked really well was an increased amount of baking powder.  The shortcakes rose up nice and fluffy, and didn’t feel dense in any way, shape or form.

They were so good, and one I would make again in a heartbeat.  Provided that I remember that I made them, of course.



3 cups All-purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Baking Powder
3 Tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1-1/2 stick (3/4 Cup) Cold Butter, Cut Into Pieces
1-1/4 cup Buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon Almond or Vanilla Extract (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Add flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor (or a large bowl.) Add butter pieces and pulse until butter is completely cut into the flour mixture (or use a pastry cutter if using a bowl.) Add almond extract to buttermilk. While pulsing (or stirring) drizzle in the buttermilk until dough just comes together and is no longer crumbly.

Drop in clumps on two baking sheets, then bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

Canning Season Declared Open

So this happened the other day.


We totally lucked out and caught the opening day at our local strawberry patch.  We lucked out even further and motivated ourselves to head over early enough in the day to get our picking done before the rain started falling and eventually close the picking for the day.   My tweenage boy has discovered how much he loves sleeping, so he stayed home while I took my Strawberry Girl to the patch for some mother-daughter bonding.

Last year we missed summer.  Pretty completely and thoroughly.  The unexpected move coupled with vehicle trouble after vehicle trouble literally meant that we were home-bound most of the time. So much time wasted packing and unpacking, or waiting for the shop to call that our van was done AGAIN.  Our camping trip at the end of July was literally a blur- we packed what we could find after moving a week prior, and I sat in the woods with a book and simply rested after months of stress and anxiety.  Last year we went swimming exactly once- and it was on the very last day the lake was open for the season.  This year, we are reclaiming our summer.   We already went to our favorite swimming hole this week, and yesterday we got to experience the joy of strawberry picking.  We’re in summer bliss.

Many years ago I had an issue with my homemade strawberry jam not setting properly after making it.  Another mom who I really looked up to casually mentioned that she had heard once upon a time that you never make jam with the first picking of the season- that there’s not enough pectin in those first, sweet berries to help your jam along.  So yesterday as I we drove home with our first flats of strawberries, Abigail and I were discussing what to do with our bounty.  I want to save the jam making for next week sometime when we get to pick again, but with all these strawberries, I was determined to try something new.  I flipped through my canning books, and found a recipe for Strawberry Sauce.   This sounded like the perfect contender.

One of the things I really like doing with my homemade jam is stir it into a bit of plain yogurt.  It adds enough sweetness and flavor for me, but at the same time, the jam isn’t really smooth when I do that.  It leaves little clumps of jam throughout and doesn’t really blend all that well.  This sauce has a smooth, creamy texture that will stir right into that cup of yogurt.  It will also drizzle effortlessly right over a scoop of ice cream, or drip over the edges of a stack of pancakes perfectly… It’s the perfect thing for all those alternative uses for jam.

This recipe does call for corn syrup.  I used Karo brand light corn syrup, as it does not contain any high fructose corn syrup.  As always, when canning, I also only use C&H brand sugar, as it comes only from sugar cane, so there is no chance of GMO beet sugar being used.  One navel orange will give you the tablespoon of zest, though it didn’t quite give me enough fresh orange juice- I had to top it off with a tiny bit from the juice in the fridge, but overall, we are quite pleased with the flavors in this strawberry sauce.  It will be delightful to have on the shelves in the pantry, and would make a really great addition to a gift basket. Of course, that’s if it still IS in the pantry.  We went through a jar and a half yesterday between French toast sticks and ice cream after dinner.  It’s very good, and the perfect sauce texture.


Strawberry Sauce

9 cups halved hulled strawberries
2/3 cup unsweetened apple juice
1 Tablespoon grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup orange juice


Prepare canner, jars and lids.

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine strawberries, apple juice and orange zest.  Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, crushing berries with a potato masher.  While maintaining a constant but gentle boil, gradually add sugar, stirring until completely dissolved.  Continue boiling gently while gradually stirring in corn syrup and orange juice. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat stirring constantly.  Boil hard for 15 minutes.

Ladle hot sauce into prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Remove air bubbles and adjust head space, if necessary, but adding hot sauce.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar, screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

Makes about 6 8-ounce jars.  (I had 7 jars when I was done.)



Cooking With Israeli Couscous

Waaay back last month, our family spent Memorial Day weekend in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, visiting with family.  Every time we go there we always have a list of things we’d like to do, or restaurants we want to visit, but sometimes those things just don’t happen.  Sometimes before we know it, the weekend is over, and all we’ve done is managed to head out to the backyard to watch the kids play.  It’s always a great time, with the inevitable discussions of what we should do the next time we visit.  We’re very low maintenance guests.

Anyway, after spending our early Saturday morning at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market, sampling donuts and buying the largest rosemary plant they had, we decided to do something completely new for all of us.  We pulled ourselves together early to beat the lunch rush, and headed over to Surly Brewing Company and their brand new restaurant.  The boys would be thrilled with the beer, us ladies would be thrilled with the food, and we hoped the kids would all find something to enjoy as well.

It was wonderful.  Their menu is so fun. We want to go back and try one of everything, because what we had was so incredibly good.  When Zander thinks of his Surly Burger he gets a wistful look on his face, and his eyes half close as we remembers that burger with a side of seasoned fries.   When Abigail thinks of her Salted Caramel Kettle Corn Ice Cream Sunday, loaded with potato chips and kettle corn, she stops what she’s doing and wishes we could recreate that here at home.  When Andy thinks about the beers he sampled, you can tell he’s had the best he’s ever had and would move in next door if it was an option.   It was a pricey adventure, and it seems the menu is exactly the same for lunch or dinner, so there were no cost savings to be had by going at lunch.  But in addition to the amazing food we had, the service was wonderful.  We sat there for two hours enjoying our food, beverages and desserts, and not once did we feel pressured to get up and leave to make room for more people.

For my meal at Surly, I opted to try the Merguez Lamb Sausage.  It came with a salad of fregola sarda, cumin-mint yogurt and feta-salsa verde.  It was out of this world.  It was like Greece on a plate.  So vibrant and flavorful, and every bite made me wish I had double the portion so I could take some home and try to recreate the dish.   The fregola sarda is very similar to Israeli couscous, I’m honestly not sure what makes it different from Israeli Couscous, but it’s tiny balls of pasta that cook up quickly and absorb flavor.   It’s been a few weeks since I ate this dish and I am still thinking about it.  While the sausage was tasty, it really was the salad that was so spectacular and memorable.  So yesterday I thought I’d attempt to sort of create my own version.  My version doesn’t even come close- I completely missed a few things, and I was more light-handed with the herbs- but overall this Israeli Couscous Salad with Cucumber and Feta turned out pretty good for a first attempt.

I’ve never cooked with Israeli Couscous before.  I had the kids at the grocery store with me when I bought it and we looked at the options available.  There was a whole wheat version, a plain version, and a tri-colored version.  I made a brief comment to the kids that if I was going to make this for them for dinner, I’d better use the plain version.  Zander then asked what exactly IS Israeli couscous.  When I told him it was pasta, the caution in his eyes abated a bit.  He loves pasta, and was suddenly game to try something new.


I cooked the couscous according to the package directions.  I used 1 1/2 cups of the couscous, and added it to 2 1/4 cups of boiling water.  It only took 8 minutes for the pasta to absorb all the water.  It cooks like rice, though I did stir it 2 or 3 times while it cooked up.  Once there was no liquid left in the pan, and the pearls tasted al dente to me, I took it off the heat.  Because I wanted my pasta to not clump together, I drizzled it with a bit of olive oil, as well as salt and pepper.  I went light on the salt, as I was planning on using a hefty bit of feta cheese in the salad.  I spread the couscous in a shallow dish and popped it in the fridge to cool completely.  While it cooled, I would pull it out and stir it around to keep the grains separate and to help it cool more quickly.


The rest of the salad was quite simple. One cucumber, a handful of parsley, a squeeze of lemon, feta cheese, and a ranch-dill salad dressing.   I also added just 4 mint leaves, finely chopped, as well as some leftover pork from Greek pork kabobs the other night.  The dressing I used I found in the refrigerator section in the produce department at my grocery store.  It’s a very delicious ranch with dill and feta made with Greek yogurt- the brand is OPA, and it is very, very tasty.  I’m sure you could use any ranch dressing you like, or you could make one up with a half cup of Greek yogurt and half a packet of dressing mix.  Use what you prefer.  We all enjoyed this one earlier this week drizzled on our pork kabobs, so I thought this was also a great use for it.

Anyway, it was quick assembly once the couscous was cooled.  You’ll note in my recipe below that I have red onion in the ingredients, which I didn’t use yesterday, but it sure would have been a perfect addition, so I put it in the recipe.  If your family likes mint, you can certainly use more than just 4 leaves, but I was worried about going overboard, so went with just a small bit.  If you sat and thought about it, you could pick the mint out, but for the most part it just blended in and contributed to the dish as a whole.

This was a great use for a small bit of leftover grilled pork that wasn’t enough to do anything else with.  The salad itself would be great without the meat- if you wanted to make it a meal, you could add a can of chickpeas instead, or any other leftovery bits of something you have lying around.  It was very good, and 3 of 4 of us practically licked our bowls clean.  Zander had issues with the couscous.  He ate most of it, but he kept saying that he really wasn’t sure about it.  It may take a few tries to get him to come around.


Israeli Couscous Salad with Cucumber and Feta

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 large English cucumber
2 Tablespoons finely diced red onion
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2/3 cup feta cheese crumbles
4 mint leaves
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup prepared ranch/dill salad dressing
1 cup cooked and chopped pork, chicken or sausage (optional)
Extra ranch dressing for serving.
  1. Cook the Israeli couscous according to package directions. When the couscous is cooked, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Toss with a fork and set aside to allow to cool completely. Stir it every once in a while to keep the grains separate.
  2. While the couscous cools, assemble the rest of the salad. Dice the cucumber and put it in a bowl with the red onion Add the chopped parsley. Take the 4 mint leaves, roll them up and chop them very finely. Add to the bowl. Next, add the salad dressing, lemon juice and feta cheese. Toss to combine it all.
  3. Once the couscous is cooled, add to the rest of the salad, along with the meat, if using. Serve with extra dressing drizzled on top.

A Spectacular Summery Muffin

I’ve had this muffin recipe floating around for quite a while.  I couldn’t even begin to tell you when I sought it out, but I know I’ve had it sitting here, waiting for the right opportunity to be made.  Basically, I needed to have a lemon and an abundance of raspberries on hand at the same time.  An abundance or raspberries is terribly difficult- when I bring them home, we eat them all, end of story.  Raspberries are Zander’s favorite fruit, and Abigail’s second favorite- sidling in just a touch behind a ripe, juicy mango.  Last week I bought a large carton of raspberries because they really looked like they’d been fresh picked.  Some of them were turning dark, but they were all intact, and I just knew they were going to be good.  Lucky for me, it was a big package, so the kids ate their fill, and the rest went into the fridge for the next day.

That next day was national doughnut day, and while everyone else still slept, I was looking through my recipes for a baked doughnut when I found this recipe for Raspberry-Lemon Muffins.  I scanned the recipe, saw that I had both raspberries and a lemon on hand, and I knew that I was not going to be making doughnuts.  I don’t think anyone minded.

Seriously, my friends, these muffins really are spectacular!  They are bright and lemony, and the pop of raspberry with the crunch of sugar on top makes these some of the best I’ve ever made.  They totally taste like they come from a really good bakery.  The original recipe called for frozen raspberries, I used fresh, and I really liked it that way.  The berries kind of mashed up into the batter, swirling it with raspberry, and then I popped a fresh, whole one right on top.  You could use frozen berries, but they will take longer to bake, and the raspberry flavor won’t be as nicely distributed throughout.

Make these.  If you find yourself out of lemon extract, you could always add a drop or two of lemon oil, or increase the lemon zest a bit.  But I thought the lemon extract really pushed the lemon flavor over the top in a very good, real-tasting way.  I honestly was surprised to find that I had lemon extract on hand, so that tells you how much I use it.  It would be worth buying just to have for this recipe.


Raspberry Lemon Muffins

1/2 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
1 cup fresh raspberries, plus 12 additional berries for topping
2 tablespoons demerara or turbinado sugar


Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners and/or grease the muffin tin.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the sour cream, oil, lemon juice, egg whites and the lemon extract.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until combined.  Gently stir in the cup of fresh raspberries.  Most of them will mash up a bit and kind of combine with the batter- this is okay, but don’t stir them in too many times.

Divide the batter among 12 muffin cups.  Press one raspberry into the top of each one, and then sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a tester inserted near the middle of a muffin comes out clean.  If you’ve used frozen berries it make take 20 minutes to bake.

Allow to cool completely before serving.  If you can.

In The Crockpot: Sausage and Peppers

We had our end of year dance recital last weekend.  And guess what?!  I actually took a picture of my babies, and since it’s been a while since I shared a picture of them, I thought I would share it.


One of my very favorite things about this year was that the school the recital was held at is literally 7 minutes up the road from home.  This meant that we had plenty of time to head home in-between recitals for a bite to eat and cup (or two or three) of coffee.  I went back and forth for weeks on what I wanted to have waiting for us at home in the crockpot while we attended the first recital.  I seriously considered the usual suspects of sloppy joe meat, BBQ pulled pork, shredded turkey, things like that.  I was leaning heavily towards the BBQ pork, because what I really wanted was something nice and protein heavy that could be good with or without serving it on a bun.

While it maybe wasn’t the optimum choice for a “clean” protein, I decided to play with the idea of sausage and peppers in the crockpot.  I actually had an abundance of locally-made, sweet Italian sausage in the freezer, so pulled those out to thaw in the fridge the day before I wanted them.   I really had planned on putting these sausage links on the grill for a good char before putting them in the crockpot, but mother nature quickly convinced me that I did not want to be grilling sausages and peppers and onions in the pouring rain while simultaneously getting two dancers ready for the day.  So I turned to the oven.

I drizzled my pan with olive oil and scattered the sausages, two onions and two bell peppers around before tucking them into a 375ºF oven for just 30 minutes.  I pulled them out and turned them at the 20 minute mark.  Once they came out of the oven, the whole pan (including the accumulated juices in the pan) was put into my crockpot, and a jar of marinara was added.  A quick toss to make sure everything was swimming in sauce, and I was done.  I set the cooker to low, and five hours later when we walked in the door it smelled like the sausage vendor from the fair had been in the house.  It was lovely.

It was a perfect way to make sausage and peppers ahead of time!  The only thing that I would note is that it did affect the texture of the sausages a bit simmering in the sauce all those hours.  The flavors melded beautifully, but the sausages didn’t have that snappy texture anymore.  This didn’t bother any of us, but for someone who prefers their sausages to snap when they bite into them, you may want to avoid the crockpot.   We served our sausage and peppers on rolls and topped them with freshly grated Asiago cheese.  The only change I would make was that I really wanted to toast the rolls, but we had a time limit, and it was more important to me to get the food into my kids before they had to back and dance round two.

So, this isn’t really a recipe.  It’s really more like guidelines for assembly.  It worked great, and I won’t hesitate to do this one again.  It really was a nice change from the usual shredded/ground/pulled meat that I gravitate towards.


Crockpot Sausage & Peppers

10 Italian sausages 
2 onions
2 bell peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 jar marinara sauce
rolls and Asiago cheese for serving


Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Slice the onions and peppers into strips and spread onto a baking sheet that has been drizzled with the olive oil.  Place the sausages on top of the vegetables.

Bake for 20 minutes, then flip the sausages over.  Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Take the cooked sausages and vegetables and pour them (carefully, they’re hot) into your crockpot.  Make sure any juices from the pan make it into the cooker as well.  Add your jar of marinara sauce, and give a quick stir to make sure everything is mingled together.

Add the lid and cook on low for 3-4 hours.  Serve the sausages on toasted rolls, topped with freshly grated Asiago cheese.

Have You Ever Had A Collard Green?

Collard greens (among many greens) are not a food that is typically found or served here in the northern part of the country.  I’m not entirely sure why that is.  I assumed that it was likely because the greens themselves didn’t grow so well here in the north- not unlike okra, which is terribly difficult to get a good harvest from here. But I proved that theory wrong this year by growing a collard green plant in my garden.   It’s absolutely loved the cool weather and grew to a substantial size in a short amount of time. A relative of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, it seems to grow just as well as its brassica brethren.  I’ve been watching my plant grow, and this past Monday I noticed that my plant was really shading the scallions next to it, and I decided I better find out if I even like collard greens- or if I should pull that plant out and make more room.

I harvested just a few leaves and brought them inside for a quick saute.  They went in a hot pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of garlic, and cooked up very quickly.  I took just one bite, and could go no further.  Oh, they were so… unpleasant.  The texture was fine- and actually, they were more succulent than other greens, so that was appealing to me.  But they had a very strong funky sulfur taste to them that just made me unable to take another bite.  I was SO disappointed, and voiced my disappointment on one of my gardening forums.  Well, a fine southern friend encouraged me to not give up.  She said that a low-and-slow braise is the only way to eat collard greens, and on top of that, she also thought I might want to try and hang onto that plant until it could be kissed by a fall frost.

Well, I’m not one to give up.  So yesterday I went out and harvested the largest leaves from my plant- it turned out to be a full pound of collard green leaves.


And then I went searching for a recipe.   I found this recipe for Southern Style Collard Greens on and decided it would work with some adaptations.  The biggest adaptation I needed to make was that I did not have a smoked ham hock to work with.  I have four hocks in the freezer, but we got them un-smoked, thinking Andy would like to smoke them someday.  I did not think un-smoked pork would do what I was expecting to the greens, so instead I reached into the freezer and pulled out a ham bone that I was saving for ham and bean soup.

The first step to cooking collard green southern style is to make your “pot likker”.  This is where my ham bone comes in.  I chopped up one large white onion and 3 cloves of garlic and added them to a stock pot with my ham bone.  I also dumped in one quart of homemade chicken-n-veggie broth.  Then I added the lid to the pot and let that simmer away on low for two full hours.  Those simple ingredients smelled so amazing, and I was heartened and hopeful that this would turn out all right.  Once my broth was ready, I removed the ham bone and picked all the meat off it that I could and put that back into the pot.   That was also when I added the greens.  I removed the large, center ribs of the leaves and chopped them up into ribbons and dropped them in the broth, along with a bit of white vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

We had a few more hours of cooking to go!   Again, simmering on low, I let everything cook together for one full hour, and then I decided I didn’t have enough of a ham-to-green ratio, so I pulled out some ham that we’d just happened to have for dinner this past Monday and diced a bit of it up to add in.  It was maybe 1 cup of ham bits altogether.

Bare minimum, you want to cook your greens in your likker for two hours.  I gave it three, and then I went in for a very, very tentative taste.  I was literally blown away!  There was absolutely NO funk whatsoever, and the greens were tender and packed with flavor.  They were SO delicious!  If I have one complaint, it is that they were a touch salty, but I’m sure that was from all the ham I’d added on top of the salt.  For future reference, if using salty ham, I would omit the addition of extra salt with the other seasonings.

I think the family is on board also.  Andy sampled the greens, asked what they were, and when I told them, he took another bite and told me that he could totally eat more greens if they were cooked like this.  Abigail didn’t care for them straight up, but didn’t mind them when she mixed a few bites with some mashed potatoes.  Zander took one bite and questioned whether I was trying to poison him or not.   Honestly, I was just thrilled that he even tried the one bite!

So.  The plant stays. And now Andy has a mission to get those pork hocks smoked because I would like to try this with an actual hock, though the ham worked perfectly well with it.  Seriously, I am a collard green convert.  I cannot believe how that braise completely transformed the greens into something totally different.


Southern Style Collard Greens

1 large onion, diced
2-3 small cloves garlic, chopped
1 leftover ham bone
1 quart of chicken stock
1 pound of collard greens
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
salt and pepper to taste 
optional: extra 1 cup of diced ham


Add the diced onion, garlic, ham bone and broth to a soup pot and add the lid.  Bring to a boil, and then turn down the heat to the lowest it will go, while still barely boiling.  Simmer your broth for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, remove the ham bone.  If there are any meat bits on the bone, pick them off and add them back to your pot.

To prepare the greens, cut the heavy center rib out of the leaves, and then stack the leaves on a cutting board.  Roll them up tightly from the long side and cut the log of leaves into ribbons, and then give those ribbons one cut cross-wise to make them shorter.

Add the greens to the pot, along with the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.  If you are using a salty ham, omit the salt and add to taste later if you think it needs it.

Cook for at least two more hours- covered, and at that very low simmer.  If you are using the extra diced ham, add it in when there is one hour left of cooking.

1 pound of collard greens will make enough greens for a family of four.


Kicking Off Summer With A Vanilla Cupcake

It was a very exciting thing to wake up the morning of June 2nd and realize that all the busy-ness of the end of April and all of May was completely over.  Seriously, it was pure chaos for me, at times, as I found myself needing to be in two places at almost the same times.  But we made it through.  We now have several much lighter weeks ahead of us before the kids and I tackle the crazy business known as Dance Nationals.  In Florida.  In June.  That June beach vacation sure sounded lovely in the winter months, but now that it’s almost here, Florida in the summer months is suddenly sounding not so appealing…

Anyway, back to the morning of June 2nd.  We woke lazily that morning and feeling luxurious with no commitments other than evening dance practices for nationals, and I decided I was in the mood to bake.  I spoke that desire out loud and my son wasted no time asking for cupcakes.  Specifically, he wanted vanilla cupcakes.  That was easy enough, or so I thought.  A quick spin through some of my favorite baking books did not procure me a simple vanilla cupcake recipe.  I turned to a myriad of cooking sites and found the same affliction there.  Very few recipes for a simple vanilla cupcake- and most of those had less than favorable reviews from too many people for me to seriously consider it a contender.

I ended up at, which has changed so much over the years it’s hardly recognizable.  (And, to be completely honest, I really dislike the mobile-friendly format.  It’s very clunky for using on a computer.) And there at the top was a recipe for Amy Sedaris’s Vanilla Cupcakes.  I read the recipe over, and it was exactly what I was looking for.  A straightforward butter cake recipe with no strange ingredients, no vegan alternatives, and it would take me just a few minutes to pop them in the oven.  I did decide to change up the method a bit, and I increased the vanilla, but overall, this one was a winner.  The cupcakes were ready late morning, and as soon as they were cool we were diving in.  After lunch we had to have another for good measure, and later in the day, we were wondering if those cupcakes were really as good as we remembered.

They are delicious.  The 24 cupcakes did not last long with my hungry dancers, but when I ate the last one just three days later, they were as delicious as the day I made them.   I almost forgot to snap a picture again, but caught myself just before diving into that very last cupcake, which my son very generously decided I needed to have.

I did not make the frosting that came with the cupcake recipe, as it called for just powdered sugar, half-and-half, and vanilla.  That sounded not-quite-right to me.  Instead I made a buttercream using half a stick of butter, several cups of powdered sugar, a drizzle of vanilla, and a glug or two of half-and-half.  I have to say, I’ve never used half-and-half in my frosting before, and this will not be the last time.  It came out nice and extra creamy- I really liked it, and I can’t wait to try it again in another frosting application.

The best part?  This recipe makes 24 cupcakes.  They won’t last long, so I suggest making all 24 of them.


Easy Vanilla Cupcakes

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk


Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Line two muffin tins with papers and spray the bottoms lightly with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with each one.  Add the vanilla.

In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Pour half of the flour mixture into the egg/butter/sugar mixture and beat well until combined.  Add all the milk, again, mixing until combined- scraping the edges of the bowl as you mix.  Finally, add the second half of the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated.

Divide the batter among the 24 muffin cups, and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a tester inserted in a cupcake comes out clean.