It’s Easier Than It Seems


After eating a lot of soup and a very unhappy stomach for the last few weeks, I wanted to make something filling, tasty and comforting. So what better dish than lasagna.

Lasagna is one of those dishes that is way easier than it appears. I do “cheat” and use the no bake noodles, but the rest is homemade. I use a nice combination of ground beef and pork with some onion and seasonings. I like a videlia onion tomato sauce. So layer noodles, the meat sauce and the cheese (ricotta and mozzarella) and bake. That’s it. Really, nothing more too it. And I get leftovers for the next few days. (Even with Mom and Dad over for dinner we still have half a tray.)


For dessert (you have to have dessert) I did my very first attempt at panna cotta. Turns out, this is a stupidly simple dessert to make. I dissolved some gelatin in water, heated cream and sugar, added a little vanilla and combined the two. Chill and done. I got the basic recipe from David Lebovitz. I did cut it in half since there were only four of us, but this took about fifteen minutes to make. I topped it with macerated blueberries and mango from my veggie basket and came out with a panna cotta Dad said was better than a restaurant’s and Mom actually liked. (Turns out she is not a panna cotta fan -who knew?) Bob said it was a definite do again. I’ll take all of those as high praise.

Erin, I did find a vegan version that I am dying to try, so come visit so I have an excuse to make it!

This is January?

As someone who grew up in Jersey, January is cold, snow, ice and hot chocolate. It isn’t gardening and open the windows and air out the house. It just isn’t. And since my very green thumb of Jersey is a little pale yellow turning brown, I am sticking to things that are harder to kill.

But today was beautiful out and I decided I wanted to plant some pretty flowers. I picked up some pansy and another flower I forget the name of and redid the front garden. It isn’t the tulips I had u north, but I think they are pretty and cheery and a nice splash of color.


In addition, I added a few more herbs to the back garden. I decided to forgo the veggies and just get them from my veggie basket and the farmer’s market. But herbs go a long way when cooking so I picked up some purple basil (hoping to get some sweet basil from mom), rosemary, sage, and parsley (let’s hope Leia can’t get to it and eat it this time). This means we have the every growing scallions and thyme with a few leeks and now some new fresh herbs.


It’s a cute little garden and it makes me happy.

On the food front … Food still does not like me. I’m eating a little more, but nothing is sitting well in my stomach these days. I think it’s stress, but who knows. Maybe the residuals of the cold/virus/whatever this is. But … I did make some ribs this weekend that came out rather well.

I slow cooked them in the crockpot with beer and apple juice. Oddly. It worked. I finished them on the grill with the BBQ sauce. And that is not potatoes on the plate! My veggie basket had celery root in it. I’ve never had or made celery root before. So … I roasted them kind of like potatoes with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme (from the garden of course) and then added some carrots. Pretty darn good. Not something I would seek out and buy, but I did like it enough to make again the next time I have it in the basket.

The chicken was a jerk

My intention today was to get over this cold, but it is just lingering. And since nothing sounds good, I decided to go with a flavorful dish for dinner in hopes of getting my appetite back. So … Jerk chicken it was.

My recipe for this called for cider vinegar and nutmeg, neither of which I have. I should have both, but somehow when I go shopping, I always forget to put them on the list. So, I decided to improvise. The marinade – white balsamic vinegar, two scallions chopped, three cloves of chopped garlic, olive oil, thyme, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, salt and a little brown sugar. I debated using honey and molasses, but wasn’t quite up for that much of an experiment. Chicken marinated for a few hours then hit the grill.

While the chicken was grilling, I took the bok choy from my veggie basket and braised it in veggie broth with some carrots and garlic (also from the veggie basket this week). The results were surprisingly good. And oddly, the Jamaican and slightly Asian flavors worked well together. I almost called is my “wanderlust dinner” post.


I will say, a lot of times there is nothing prettier on the plate than a colorful pile of veggies. It is almost enough to get my appetite back. Almost.

Dangerously Delicious Chocolate Chip Cake

I haven’t done a ton of cooking this week as the nasty cold/virus thing just will not go away. But last night I was feeling a little better and decided, after dinner, to make a cake. And the one I wanted was the chocolate chip cake. Think big, moist, soft, chewy chocolate chip cookie in cake form.

So the basics of this are a lot like chocolate chip cookies – brown sugar, white sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour. It is the adding of milk to make a cake batter instead of cookies that is the real difference. And the best part is that you put everything together and mix – no add this then that to this recipe.


I made this as a bunt cake as, for some reason, I do not have any round cake pans. Weird. But, the bunt cake came out well and I drizzled some caramel over it when it was still warm. Bob really liked is one, and his description is the title of the post!


I also tried a butternut squash pie for lunch yesterday. I roasted the butternut squash and caramelized onions. Once the squash was nice a soft, I scooped out the flesh and blended it with an egg and some cream. I folded in goat cheese and sheep cheese and added a little Parmesan with thyme, salt and pepper. I did make a crust – I figured I was sick and so I get the crust this week – but this one would be really good with no crust.

I am hoping that I can get a few more things made this week, but we will have to see if the virus will go away.


My coffee arrived this week. The coffee snob in me is super excited! And yes, that is a box with twelve pounds of coffee in it.

I am super picky about coffee. A number of years ago I found Peet’s on line. What I loved was the little bars that showed the body, light to full, and the brightness, smooth to bright. This makes picking out kinds of coffee so much easier. Initially I tried a lot of different kinds, from many, many regions. The scientist gene kicked in and I kept track of what each coffee tasted like to me, how bitter it was to my overly sensitive bitter receptors, how it impacted my stomach, etc. (Oh, I should say I put the coffees in unlabeled airtight bags, numbered the coffees and wrote my notes by number, not name, to prevent undo influence of the subconscious. Each coffee was in two to three different bags so I would use each at different times and not know which I was having. Yes, I am that much of a nerd.) After about a year, I took all my data and did some analysis. I found I did not like South American coffee’s for the most part. They were generally harder on my stomach and had more bitter in them. Arabian coffees faired well, but my favorites were Indonesian. Sumatra in particular with Java a close second, but Sumatran coffee had my most favorable notes consistently.


One coffee in particular, found after the original experiment, became my absolute favorite. Sumatra Batak or Sumatra Blue Batak. This coffee can only be found once per year and it has a full body and very smooth acidity. Even my ‘broccoli is bitter’ taste buds find no bitter notes in this coffee. It has, to me, the best flavor, and a creamy, velvety texture that just makes coffee enjoyable. It is the one coffee I love as much today as I did when I first started drinking it. So much so that, yes, I ordered twelve pounds of it. This won’t last the entire year, but interspersed with some others – Aged Sumatra and Sulawesi-Kalosi for the most part – I can make it through the year until the next offering.

Orange-Thyme Chicken and Ham/Barley Soup

This weekend I wanted something on the lighter side.  The weather was perfect – low 80s – so salads and summer-y dishes were an option.  But the evenings were cool and it is January with football on, so soup sounded really good.  So … I went with both.

The soup was all home-made.  I started with the ham bone from the ham we had at Thanksgiving (yes, I kept it) and used that with some carrots, onion and celery for a nice broth. I let that simmer for a few hours, strained it, added new chopped carrots, celery, a can of diced tomatoes, some ham and barley.  Let it simmer for a little while longer and you have soup.  Really, really good soup.  Light, a little smokey, and lots of flavor.  I know what I am having for lunch this week.


Lunch was a little more summer-y.  I had made a similar salad a few months ago with all the fall flavors. This time I didn’t have sage or apple juice (and I know now not to attempt juicing my own apples) so I went with a citrus/thyme marinade.  So … juice of one lemon, juice of one orange, thyme, chopped scallions and some crushed garlic with a little bit of olive oil.  Marinade overnight (because we decided to have it today instead of yesterday). Pan fried with no oil – just drain the marinade and whatever was left was enough.  The salad was just lettuce, craisons, pecans, roasted butternut squash and a dressing of juice of one orange, olive oil, thyme, scallions and garlic.  That was it.  Nice, light and probably pretty good for you.

IMG_0778 I would like to say Jessie was looking at me like this because she loves my cooking so much that she HAD to have some.  I would like to say that, but in all honesty, I had a vanilla Oreo in my hand when I took this.  Yes, the very terrible for you, no redeeming nutritional value Oreo.  And not even the chocolate ones.  But … well, …. no, no excuse.  I just wanted some.  And I did share.  But I loved the picture and it isn’t often we can get one where she is looking at you, so …

Happy eating – I have a few things on the menu this week.  Hopefully work will cooperate and I will get home in time to actually cook them this week.

Enchilada Experiment

There are times when I think my best food creations come with the first experiment. Sometimes it is the second or third version, but often the first time I make something it comes out really well and I never capture the same incredible flavors and texture of that first dish. I’m not sure why – it may be my expectations are increased, it might be a slight bit of ego going into the food or it might just be dumb luck. Whatever it is, I love experimenting in the kitchen.

This week I had prepped a few dishes over the weekend knowing it was going to be a busy week back at work. The chicken and onions was ok and we are having the beef stew tonight, but earlier this week I popped my fist ever chicken enchilada attempt into the oven … And it came out fantastic. Now if I can just remember what the heck I did when making the sauce, we will be in good shape.


The chicken part is pretty basic – cook a chicken breast in some water in a covered frying pan until it is cooked and you can pull it apart. Remove and pour out the water. Cook some chopped onion in a little oil with spices – coriander, cumin, pepper and … I think allspice -until soft and translucent. Reserve some of these for the sauce.

Meanwhile, grill a few tomatillos on the grill until they are slightly charred. Cut in half and put in a food processor with some chili (I used the paste), cilantro, parsley, some of the cooked onion and pepper. Blend until it looks like a sauce. I’m pretty sure that was it. I don’t think I did anything else to it and I know I didn’t have lime in it because I remember commenting to Bob that I had forgotten it.

Shred the chicken and mix it with the onions and some rough chopped, skinned tomatoes. Roll a portion in a flour tortilla with some shredded cheese. Lay in a pan, cover with the sauce and then another layer of cheese. I did find that I had to cook them at 400 to 450 to get the cheese to really bubble and melt, and that some sort of sauce or cooking spray would help with the clean up on this one.

The taste was surprisingly bright and tangy without a lot of heat. It had a nice balance of flavors and something I have to keep in mind as a “quick” dinner. Not the prettiest dish I have ever made, but a very tasty one. Not a totally grainless meal, but not bad.

Chard and Feta Pie


Erin, this one was almost just for you.

As I was prepping meals for the week yesterday, it occurred to me that there are several kinds of cooks – those that cook because they need to eat, but get no real pleasure out of the process, those that enjoy the routine of cooking and coming up with something tasty to eat, and those that like experimentation with cooking – the trying different things and seeing what does and doesn’t work. When I mentioned to Bob that I like the experiment part of cooking best,he was not surprised. Apparently having a family with scientists in it means experimenting is in my genetic makeup. I would be offended by this, but really he is probably right.

That is a long set up for this week’s posts, but I spent a good portion of yesterday prepping meals for this week. (I know it is going to be a long week but I want to eat!). I liked making things I knew would work, but when I got to the experiments, the meals that were not direct from a recipe and I had not made before, I got really excited and happy. The same feeling I use to get when running or swimming (for the very brief time I swam as exercise). It just felt good.


Tonight’s meal was a meatless, grainless pie. A savory pie … A chard and feta pie. I got a beautiful bunch of rainbow chard in my veggie basket this week and wanted something different to do with it. I searched and searched and finally found a chard and feta tart recipe. Good start, but Bob is back on no grains (or as little as I can do) and I don’t have any more flour in the house after the holiday baking madness. So … I took the concept and changed it.


Erin, I know you are not a huge fan of ricotta, which forms the base of this, but if you had a crust I think you could substitute cottage cheese for the ricotta. So … One bunch of chard, chopped and wilted in a pan with olive oil. Add some onion and garlic (I didn’t measure here) and cook until the chard is wilted and the onions soft. Drain for about 3 minutes just to get all the liquid out.

In a separate bowl, combine one container of ricotta (or cottage cheese) and three eggs. I used two and it needed one more. Add the zest of one lemon, and mix. Fold feta cheese (about a third of a cup, maybe a little more) and the chard mix into the cheese. Pour into a pie plate (or tart pan with a crust) and bake at 350 for a half hour to forty minutes. Make sure the internal temperature is 160 or higher due to the eggs. Let rest for five minutes, slice and serve.

I liked this one. It did need salt after cooking as I didn’t add any to it prior because I was unsure of the saltiness of the feta. I thought an additional egg (hence the use three) and some seasoning would really improve the dish. But for an experiment, and a meatless, grainless one, it worked.


New Plates!!! (and homemade teriyaki sauce)

I got new plates and am soooooo happy. I love my current ones, but I have more chipped/cracked plates than intact ones at this point. Mom and I were out shopping today and we decided to try and find Dinnerware Depot. They are mainly an on-line store but they have a warehouse in Sarasota that is open to the public. After a little misstep we found it (thank you Google maps!) and just had a blast looking at everything. If you buy something in the store/warehouse (i.e. it doesn’t have to be ordered) there is an additional discount. And for those who remember when I got my china, you know how much this appeals to me.

So this set … I found it and just stopped. I loved it immediately. There are times when you see something and just know it is exactly what you have been looking for and is was it. I’m still not sure why I am so enamored with these, but I just love them. I did text Bob the above picture to make sure he was ok with it, and it turns out, he really, really likes them, which is good because I may have gotten a few place settings even without his ok. So I have new dishes and have begun the purge of the kitchen cabinets.

But on to dinner. I decided to do a simple dish tonight – pan fried steak with a homemade teriyaki glaze. It turns out teriyaki sauce is super simple to make -equal parts dark soy sauce, mirin and saki. Add it to the pan when you are just about finished cooking, let it boil for a minute, turn the contents (meat or veggies – I used it for both) over and boil for another minute. The sauce turns thick and syrup-y and coats the contents nicely.

This was so simple and had so much flavor without being salty like a lot of teriyaki sauces can be. A good success, and I think I liked it on the veggies as much or more than the steak we had tonight.