Category Archives: recipes

Dinner with Eric Ripert and Fabio Viviani!

A couple of years ago, I finally convinced J to take me to Le Bernardin.  I have been a fan of Eric Ripert for many years, and longed to try his food.  It did not disappoint.  I don’t remember what everyone else at our table had, but the tuna carpaccio and dover sole that I ate are forever in my memory.  Never in a million years did I think I could make that tuna in my own kitchen, but I was reading the Le Bernardin Cookbook and the recipe for Tuna Carpaccio with Chives actually looked doable.  I had also just made a big batch of Fabio Viviani’s Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Oil, and had planned on making his Tuna with Tomatoes and Capers last night (from his new cookbook, Fabio’s Italian Kitchen), so I decided to use some of the sushi quality tuna I had to attempt the carpaccio as well.

When H was still at home, I always had to worry about preparing something for her that had protein, but was vegetarian, so I probably wouldn’t have attempted such a fish-heavy meal, but that’s one of the benefits of having an empty nest-I’m just cooking for me and J.  We just arrived in Lake Toxaway, for the first three months of summer, and I had just re-stocked the kitchen.  I got the extra large cart at Ingles, and it looked like I was buying for a family of ten! 

This cart doesn’t look too healthy, but I promise the bottom is filled with produce!

I went to the local organic food market, Food Matters, and picked up some nice tuna.  I’m still learning what types to avoid in an attempt to buy sustainable, but it’s very confusing.  For now, I trust this market, because they’re committed to sell organic food grown in the region to protect and preserve natural resources.  And I won’t ever eat or buy bluefin, orange roughy, shark and shark fin, or chilean sea bass.  All I needed for the carpaccio, in addition to the tuna, was fresh chives, scallion, extra virgin olive oil, and good sea salt and ground white pepper, which I already had. 

I took one of the two pieces of tuna I was planning on using for the entree, and cut it in half.  (I’m only cooking for two people, and I always make way too much).  Then I took the half and sliced it horizontally, to make two 1/2″ thick pieces.  Put a little olive oil on the cutting board then a slice of plastic wrap on top.  Then covered the tuna with another slice of plastic. Next, I carefully pounded the piece of tuna, starting in the middle and sliding the pounder outward, until it was very thin but still intact.  Since my piece of tuna was small, I had to make smaller circles than the recipe called for, so I found a round plastic top from a container from the deli to use as a guide (about 4 1/2″ diameter).  If you’re using a larger, 4 oz. tuna steak, you will need a guide about 9″ in diameter.  I placed it on top of the plastic covered tuna and carefully cut around it, plastic, tuna and all.  Did the same thing for the second piece of tuna.  Then, the coolest thing…I had all those little pieces that were cut away from the circles, combined them to make a little ball, put between two plastic sheets, and carefully pounded it out and I had a third circle, which after chilling remained completely intact. No waste! 
Leaving the tuna in the plastic, I stacked them together and put back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  When I was ready to serve I just took them out, carefully peeled back the plastic and gently placed on large dinner plate, overlapping in a circular shape.  Then, brushed olive oil generously over all three, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then the shallots and chives.  Squeeze lemon juice all over, cleaned up the plates and served with the toasts.   

It was surprisingly easy, I made it at the same time I was working on the entree, and it was delicious!  Download the full recipe here.

I started Fabio’s Tuna with Tomatoes and Capers while the tuna was chilling.  It was done in basically 30 minutes, since I had already made a huge batch of Fabio’s tomato sauce that morning, a really easy recipe. (saved 2 cups for dinner and froze the rest in ziploc bags).  Both recipes are here.
The only things I changed on the recipe were that I seared the tuna really quickly in a really hot pan with grapeseed oil to get a little sear on the outside, and I served it over pasta.  

There are many more recipes that I want to try in both cookbooks…they really are user friendly for home cooks!  I seriously recommend you pick up a copy of both books.  Next up, I’m going to attempt homemade pasta…

Cruising with Top Chef!

I am a Top Chef fan.  I’m talking, big, HUGE, annoyingly fanatical.  I own all 10 seasons of Top Chef, 4 seasons of Top Chef Masters, and 2 seasons of Top Chef Just Desserts (eh, not nearly as good, but when there are no new regular shows, I watch it).  I watch them over and over again.  I listen to them when I’m jogging.  I can’t explain it.  I just love the show.  I love the personalities in the kitchen.  I learn something new every time I re-watch an episode.   But unfortunately, none of my close friends watch it with me.   I’ve had to turn to bloggers and recaps for my after-show discussions.

So last fall, when I saw there was going to be a cruise, not just any cruise, but  TOP CHEF THE CRUISE!, I started working on J to go with me.  After multiple discussions (begging), he finally cracked.  He had no desire to a) cruise, or b) cruise with me dragging him to Top Chef events.  So in order to get me to shut up, he offered to pay for me to take a friend for my birthday/anniversary present.

I didn’t really care which chefs were going to be on board, to be honest.  I just thought any kind of Top Chef related events would be really fun.  But I have to say, the chefs that participated couldn’t have been better.  Not sure if Bravo hand selected them, or if their schedules worked out to allow them to come, or they had new cookbooks they wanted to promote (it was probably a combination of the three), but hosts Tom and Gail, Masters Hubert Keller and Tim Love, and past winners and contestants Richard Blais, Chris Crary (Malibu Chris), Tiffany Derry (“I’m from Beaumont, Texas”), Mike Isabella, Kristen Kish, Spike Mendelson, Paul Qui, Hosea Rosenberg, Angelo Sosa, Casey Thompson, Fabio Viviani, Brooke Williamson, and Top Chef Just Desserts winners Yigit Pura and Chris Hanmer were on board with 2,000 other top chef fans...just like me!

Me and C 24 years ago and now

It’s hard to explain, but when my girlfriend, C (who I last cruised with as a single girl 24 YEARS ago) and I joined a dinner table with eight other Top Chef fans who became our new best friends for the duration of the cruise (well, 6 fans and 2 ‘drag-alongs’ like C who had never watched an episode), I felt like I had been dropped into heaven.  We spent the first night talking about the chefs, the seasons, the episodes, their restaurants, their drama…all while C and the other drag-alongs looked at us like we were speaking Greek.  I was surprised that the chefs were mingling with us, enjoying the cruise (some of them really enjoying the cocktails!), taking photos, signing books, dancing, etc.  I thought they’d stay in their VIP quarters, come out to do quickfires and other events, but stay away from all the fans.  But they were out there, lapping it up.  Someone pointed out to me that they were huge celebrities to us, but maybe not to most of America, so maybe they were enjoying the attention. I still think it must have been tiring, or annoying at times, but they were always very gracious. 

After dinner the first night we attended a Cocktail Party and DJ set led by Hubert Keller…and there’s no way to explain the pure joy on his face as he played Electronic and Top 40 songs until the wee hours.  It was so cool to see this master of cuisine (who hosted the first quickfire of the first season of Top Chef, by the way) relax and enjoy himself like that!

Thanks to the Hollywood Reporter for this pic

As we tired of dancing we made our way to the bar for a drink and snapped some photos with Fabio, Mike, and Angelo, who were also definitely enjoying themselves.


Something weird happened to my biological clock that weekend, because we didn’t make it to bed until 3 a.m….and that was the earliest we made it back for the rest of the cruise!   Thus began our pattern of going to bed late, getting up early to squeeze in a workout (a necessity because of the sheer amount of food we ate!), relaxing during the day, and starting our adventures at night.  Since we had late seating, we normally attended the Top Chef “entertainment” at 6, then whatever was going on after dinner…we were there.    The dinners were, for the most part, incredible.  We had our choice of selecting items from the regular cruise menu, or dishes that were designed by three of the chefs onboard.  As the cruise progressed, and we realized how good the Top Chef recipes were, we all started ordered two or three each of the appetizers, entrees and desserts…just to make sure we didn’t miss anything.  Thanks to Tim Love, whose lobster cake was my hands down favorite.  I could have eaten that every night!
The first night’s quickfire was with Casey, Richard, Hosea, Malibu Chris, Spike and Kristen for our group, and the next night we had the much rowdier group-Fabio, Angelo, Mike, Brooke, Tiffany, Paul and Chris H.  The second day our quickfire was AFTER dinner which, according to Fabio, “…having this quickfire at 11:30 after our captain’s dinner, was a BIG mistake.” 
Fabio at the late night quickfire

They had obviously enjoyed their captain’s dinner, but Fabio, Mike and Angelo had started their celebration around lunchtime surrounded by their closest fans all day at the pool.  I had decided my mission was to be selected to join one of them on stage (they chose audience members to “sous” with the chefs during the quickfires).  So thanks to C cheering me on, I made a fool of myself, jumped up and down in the aisle and Fabio pointed to me and said, “OK, sparkly dress, YOU.”  So me and my sparkly dress joined Mike at the quickfire table, where he gave me a giant can of dented artichokes and an old rusty can opener and I spent most of my time onstage opening a can.  So much for showing off my mad kitchen skills.

That evening was filled with so much heckling (the chefs who weren’t cooking were sitting in a box above the stage), f-bombs, and questionable actions that they never aired it on the in-cabin TVs, which they were doing 24 hours a day…just re-ran the calmer, less fun group’s challenges.  I laughed so hard I don’t even remember what Mike cooked.  I think I chopped a few things, but I honestly don’t remember.  I do know I’ll probably never forget that night!

  Angelo was having so much fun in the lounge, dancing to Salsa music.  I was standing at the bar, watching, kind of moving to the beat, when he came over, and grabbed my hand.  I proceeded to try to follow him, but since I have NO ability to salsa,  I looked pretty stupid.  Oh well.

The third night was a deck party with Tom Collichio’s friend Milton and his band.  They were great, but it was even better when Tom came out and joined them wearing a Panama Hat and looking cool.  He strapped on a guitar and played and sang a few songs to the crowd of adoring fans, whose cheers rivaled those for any major rock star.  He was actually really good!

Our day at sea was spent recovering in a lounge chair by the pool while the chefs rotated all day long, doing cooking demos, and Q&A sessions.  Their banter with each other is really adorable.  They seem to all get along and respect each other, but it’s funny when they give each other s&*t!  I managed to oversleep and miss both autograph sessions, but lugged the six new cookbooks I bought on board with me all day (some of them not released yet) and snagged an autograph whenever I could grab someone.  On the last day I had all the signatures except Angelo’s.  I was walking down to shower after working out and spotted Angelo (a beautiful man, by the way) sitting in the jacuzzi, all by himself.  He looked at me, nodded, and said hello.  So I promptly pulled his book out of my bag to have him sign it.  I was struggling to act cool, because I don’t normally do well with celebrities.  I thought I did OK, though, until I walked into the cabin, glanced in the mirror and realized I had something hanging out of my nose.  So I’m sure I made a lovely impression on the lovely Angelo!

Of the cookbooks I purchased, Fabio’s Italian Kitchen, Mike’s Crazy Good Italian, and Tim Love’s Journal  were the ones I read from cover to cover.  Angelo’s Flavor Exposed is beautiful and his passion for food and flavors shines throughout, and the recipes are sophisticated and easy to follow.   The chefs were all very gracious and accommodating, and other than the ones who brought their small children with them, spent a large amount of time socializing and enjoying the cruise.  I’m not a huge cruise fan, but have done a few of them through the years.  I think being on board with so many like-minded people made all the difference in the world.  I would do it again in a heartbeat!


Tiffany…love her!

Malibu Chris


My beautiful friend who now might watch Top Chef with me!

Summer, Friends, and Breakfast Pizza

I’m still here!!!  Whew.  The last 3-4 months have been a blur.  I won’t bore you with details, but in short, H is now a high school graduate!  The last few months of school for her were a combination of frantic studying, finding out which colleges she was accepted to, deciding where to go (which involved a few repeat trips on both sides of the country), planning an Operation Smile fundraising concert without much help, and graduation.  Combine all that with the inevitable “senior slide” and it made for a pretty tense situation in our household.   All I can say now is that I feel like I have my sweet daughter back.  When she took her last AP exam a week before school was out, it was like a fresh breeze was flowing through our house.  She exempted out of all her final exams so the stress of picking out a college and maintaining her grades was gone.  I can’t tell you the feeling of relief we all felt.

Graduation…the white gowns were lovely

  J has been dreaming and planning for the day after H’s graduation for the last four years!  I still can’t believe we’re actually living the dream.  We’re not quite ready for the whole shebang, which is making North Carolina our home base and downsizing in Nashville, but we’re able to spend a lot more time in NC.  We finally moved into our new house.  J likes to say it’s the home he’s going to die in, but hopefully not for a very long time!  H was in a little town about half an hour down the mountain where she was doing lifeguard training and orientation for being a camp counselor at Keystone Camp where she spent many summers as a little girl.  She had not seen the new house in quite a long time.  She called up one night because they had the night off and wondered if she could bring a few friends up for dinner.  Of course, I was thrilled.   I didn’t think I’d get to see her at all for a couple of weeks.   She used to love Lake Toxaway.  But in the last few years, being an only child in a retirement community with lots of old people and no teenagers is not fun.  She didn’t have a lot of expectations for the house because she didn’t think she’d have much use for it since she’s going off to college in California.  But when she came in with her friends, she was so excited, which in turn, made us ecstatic!  She even says that she would come here when she’s got a break from college!

Keystone Camp Counselors

After her orientation she had about three weeks to spend with us.  She had one friend from Nashville come up for a couple of weeks and it was so great to have that time with her, and see her relaxed and happy.  She had 9 Adventure Treks friends (the backpacking, climbing, camping trips she experienced the last two summers) come to the house for a long weekend “reunion”.  I was a little nervous about cooking for 5 boys, much less 10 kids, but it worked out great.  The kids were great, the food was consumed and they even cleaned up before they left.  Great memories!

Yes, I fed these guys for four days!
AT kids enjoying the Brown Trout, our favorite

 But by far the best part of my summer so far was a week of just the three of us.  H even wanted to spend time with us, which was a rarity a few months ago.  In less than two months she will leave the nest for a new college life in California, so I am treasuring these moments.  She never looked at a single college in the vicinity of Tennessee or North Carolina, so I am used to the idea of her leaving, but I think when we actually drive away after orientation I will be a basket case.  In the meantime, I am enjoying every moment I can get.

Hiking together…just like old times!

Rosie and Sugar love the lake!

Here’s a recipe for the breakfast pizza I made one morning.  It’s easy, pretty, and healthy, and I used to make it whenever Halle had friends over.  Her AT friends inhaled it before they made scrambled eggs and bacon (and cleaned up after themselves…a miracle!)


One roll of refrigerated pizza dough
Lowfat cream cheese
Lite Cool Whip
Assorted fruit (Berries, Bananas, Kiwi all work great, but use your imagination)
Cinnamon Sugar (I make my own so I can adjust the amounts of cinnamon and sugar)

Roll out the dough onto an ungreased nonstick baking pan.  Sprinkle with Cinnamon Sugar.  Bake at recommended temperature until very lightly browned (don’t let it get too done or the pizza will be too tough and hard to cut).  Slide out of baking pan onto cutting board to cool.

  Mix about 1-1 1/2 cups of Cool Whip with a half cup of cream cheese until spreadable.  Spread onto cooled pizza crust to the edges.  Slice fruit as desired and layer over cream cheese mixture.  Sprinkle with Cinnamon Sugar.  I usually slice it into squares for serving.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Updated Veggie Meat Loaf…SOOOO Good!

Last year I posted a vegetarian meatloaf that I made for my vegetarian daughter that even my red-meat loving husband would eat.  Shortly afterwards, my husband and I gave up meat as well, so the vegetarian meatloaf has become a staple in our house.  Without the fat from ground beef, the soy crumbles just didn’t want to stick together.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was delicious.  I have tinkered with the recipe over the last few months to try to keep it from falling apart after slicing, and last night it came out PERFECTLY!  I’ve had several people ask for the recipe lately, so I’m posting the latest version.

Vegetarian Meat Loaf

*Click HERE for printable recipe

* 1/4 cup Bullseye Hickory Smoke Barbecue Sauce
* 3/4 cup Heinz Ketchup
* 1 (12 ounce) package vegetarian burger crumbles
* 1 red, yellow, or green bell pepper, chopped
* 1 minced red onion
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
* 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
* 1 egg, beaten (or 2 egg whites)
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme
* 1 teaspoon dried basil
* 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley)
* salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 5×9 inch loaf pan.
2. Heat saute pan over medium low heat, add 1 TBSP of olive oil and saute the onion, peppers, and garlic (seasoned with salt and pepper) until soft and translucent. 
3.  In a bowl, mix together the barbecue sauce and the ketchup. Mix 3/4 of the mixture with the vegetarian burger crumbles, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and egg.  Add the onion mixture.  Season with thyme, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper. Transfer to the loaf pan (sprayed with olive oil), and press down to make it as compact as possible.

3. Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven. Pour remaining barbecue sauce over the loaf, and continue baking 15 minutes, or until loaf is set and sauce is heated.

I buy these crumbles at Publix, in the produce section where the Tofu is…other stores carry different brands and they’re all pretty similar.

I also made Brussel Sprouts.  I think Brussel Sprouts are the new Sun-Dried Tomatoes.  They are EVERYWHERE!  Top Chef, Magazines, Restaurants…every menu I’ve looked at lately has them.  I think chefs have finally figured out how to cook them.  The boiling and steaming that we did 20 years ago just intensified the rubber shoe taste, so I was firmly in the ‘I DON’T LIKE BRUSSEL SPROUTS’ camp.  But a couple of years ago I tried some at ChaCha’s restaurant here in Nashville, and my eyes were opened to the yumminess that comes from letting them caramelize, and sweeten, thus eliminating the bitterness of the past.

My problem in cooking them is since we are meat-free in our house now, I had to find a way to cook them without the bacon drippings that made them so good.  I’ve tried roasting them a couple of times, but didn’t use enough oil (my go-to spray on Pam wasn’t sufficient), so they just dried up and didn’t taste like anything.  Last night I didn’t spray the oil on, I tossed them with 2-3 Tbsp. of olive oil.  (I had a pretty big bunch of sprouts…it doesn’t take a whole lot of oil, just enough to lightly coat them).  While they were roasting at 350 degrees (cut side up for 20 minutes, then cut side down for the rest of the time), I sauteed a large red onion with garlic, pine nuts and rosemary, then tossed them together and voila…they were amazing!  Almost as good as the huge bowl I ate at ABC Kitchen in NYC this week!  My husband and daughter, who have not jumped on the brussel sprouts bandwagon with me, even ate a couple, which was a success in my book.  They didn’t eat a lot, but that just meant…more for me!

I use small brussel sprouts, pull off the outer edges, trim the stem a little and cut in half.

Baked Kale Chips!

My grandmother lost her eyesight early in life due to a combination of Macular Degeneration and Glaucoma. My mom has had Glaucoma for several years, and was just diagnosed with Macular Degeneration. So I’m on a mission to do whatever I can to prevent the same thing from happening to me. I did some research and found that other than not smoking, diet is one of the best ways to help prevent MD. I have a pretty good diet. I eat a lot of vegetables and greens, but the really healthy DARK leafy greens that have been recommended to prevent Macular Degeneration, like Kale, have been harder to fit in my diet. I don’t really like the bitter taste of raw Kale. But a couple of weeks ago, we ordered a flatbread at Table 3 restaurant. It was topped with “Kale Chips”, which were to DIE for, but of course, they were fried. I’m a southern girl, so I love fried vegetables, but I wanted to try to replicate them without all the fat.

I found a recipe for baked Kale chips, which involved tossing them with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. The problem with that method was that I ended up with half of the leaves covered with oil and the other half had little or no oil on it. I tried putting it in a ziploc bag and shaking it up, but it still didn’t come out even. So I pulled out my trusty can of PAM Olive oil spray. Voila! It was so easy to put a light coating on all the pieces on a baking sheet, then sprinkle with a little kosher salt and bake slowly for about 20 minutes or so. The only caveat is that, depending on your oven, you really have to watch them the last couple of minutes. If you cook them too long, they get a little bit burned, so the taste isn’t quite as good. If you don’t cook them long enough, they’re still limp, and not crispy.

This is how I did it. First, after rinsing the kale and COMPLETELY DRYING IT (I rinse and then lay out on layers of paper towels while I cook dinner), I take each piece of kale and fold it over so that I can easily cut off the stem.

I preheat the oven to 300 degrees, then tear the pieces into approximately equal size and lay out on a large baking sheet pan that I prepare by spraying with Olive Oil. I spray the tops of the leaves lightly but evenly with Olive Oil, then sprinkle with Kosher Salt.

You could use any kind of seasoning you like. The leaves will shrink, so be careful with the amount of salt, but in my opinion, the salty crunchiness makes it really good! For the first pan of chips, I set the timer for 18 minutes. Then I taste a chip to see if it’s crunchy.

Finished chips…this batch needed a lot of taste testing before they were done!

Usually I need to let them cook at least two more minutes, but I have learned that I need to watch very carefully during this time. Once they start to get crunchy they can very quickly burn. Some days they cook faster than others. I don’t know what that’s about…maybe some days I don’t get them as dry as I should. If, after 20-22 minutes they are still not crunchy, I turn off the oven and let me stay for a little while. But they can still burn so I have to continue to check on them.

After you make these a few times it becomes much easier…I usually cook them while I’m chopping other things, or piddling around in the kitchen, so it goes very quickly. I leave them uncovered in a bowl or platter for several days so I can grab a handful throughout the day. Don’t wrap them or put them in plastic, or they’ll lose their crunch.

The search for easy Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

Almost a year ago, my daughter decided to become a vegetarian. While I respected the motivation behind her decision, I was a little bit worried about how I was going to feed my family. We had finally gotten to a place where I could make ONE dinner and everyone would eat it. But my husband does not think it’s a meal unless some form of meat is present. Fortunately, H will eat fish, but unfortunately, Jeff only ate swordfish, shrimp and lobster. Oh, and fried catfish at Sportsman’s Grille. Fast forward a year, H is still a pesca-vegetarian (eating only fish), J has added Trout, Tuna, Scallops and Halibut to his list of edible seafood, and I’ve found the best places to buy seafood in Nashville (not an easy task since we’re 8 hours from the nearest ocean).

But I can’t serve fish every night. Sometimes I have to make vegetarian chili (added meat to J’s), vegetarian pasta, and I am learning how to prepare tofu. The only experience we have had eating Tofu was the vegetarian lettuce wraps at PF Changs. And to be honest, it’s hard to tell the difference between their tofu wraps and the chicken wraps. I found a recipe online for the PF Chang’s version, but both times I made them the tofu just tasted blah…and the texture wasn’t the same. Plus, after mixing together the marinade, the cooking sauce, and the dipping sauce, and chopping up the vegetables and tofu, my kitchen looked like Haiti probably looks this morning. (Small pause for a prayer for those victims).

So I have been experimenting with the recipe, and last night I made a much better, easier version of the above recipe. I think the key is how to prepare the tofu before stir-frying. I start with a block of firm tofu, drained, and put it on a stack of 5 or 6 paper towels. Then I top it with another few paper towels and put something heavy on top (a heavy pan, a plate with a teapot full of water, etc.) After about 20 minutes, I turn the tofu over, replace with a couple more paper towels (I know, bad for the environment), and repeat the process for another 10-15 minutes. Then I thinly dice it, put it on a roasting pan sprayed with cooking spray, and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, stirring halfway through. THEN, I marinate it. When tofu is warm, it supposedly takes the marinade flavors better. When I put the recipe together about 30 minutes before dinner, the tofu got really nice and chewy and very flavorful.

So here’s the recipe:

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

4 Tbsp. Soy sauce (low sodium)
2 Tbsp. Rice Wine
1 TBsp. Rice Vinegar
2 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 Tbsp. lime juice

Mix above together and cover prepared tofu for 1-2 hours, or longer before stir frying.

1 block firm or extra firm tofu, or soy crumbles (see note)
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves chopped garlic
1 small can water chestnuts, finely chopped
1/2 bag broccoli slaw mixture
2 Tbsp. canola, sesame or peanut oil
1/4 cup of Iron Chef Honey Garlic stir fry and marinade sauce (or similar bottled sauce)
Iceberg, Boston Bibb or Butter Lettuce Leaves

Heat oil in wok over medium heat, add drained, marinated tofu and stir fry 15-20 minutes, stirring gently until browned. You can see below how the tofu “pops” as it browns.

Remove from pan, and add remaining ingredients. Stir fry for 5 minutes until veggies begin to soften. Add a little bit of reserved marinade to deglaze if needed. Stir fry for a few more minutes as veggies continue to soften, then add stir fry sauce. Stir until veggies are done and sauce is warm. Add tofu and stir. Serve with Iceberg, Boston Bibb or Butter Lettuce leaves.

Dipping Sauce:
Lettuce Wrap Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
2 tablespoons chopped green onions

Combine all ingredients and serve with lettuce wraps.

NOTE:  Sometimes I don’t feel like going to the trouble of draining the tofu, so I substitute Soy Crumbles.  There are many different brands, but they can be found in the produce department, where you buy tofu and other vegetarian meat-type products.  They have the consistency of ground beef and work very well in this recipe because they soak up the taste of the stir fry sauce.

A whole lotta love!

I’m a creature of habit.  Once something works for me, I pretty much stick with it.

I work out every day, so I can enjoy eating and having the occasional glass of wine.  So far, so good.

I do the crossword puzzle every morning.  Exercises my brain.

I wear a lot of black.  Makes it much easier to shop.  One pair of boots goes with almost everything.

I can’t go to bed without kissing my daughter and my husband good night.  It’s good luck.

And I eat the same exact breakfast almost every day of my life.  Two slices of whole wheat toast with jelly and a thin spread of almond butter (the kind you grind yourself at Whole Foods…it’s to DIE for!), and a cup of dry cereal (Mother’s Peanut Butter Bumpers).   I love the pear preserves I buy from the little farmer’s market at Hillsboro High School.  There’s something about homemade jams and jellies…I think they taste so much better because of the love that goes into a batch of seasonal fruit, sweetened and cooked in small batches, just like my Grandma used to make.  I always load up in October, the last month they’re there until the spring.

For some reason, I didn’t get my normal stash this year.  So when I saw a recipe in a magazine for homemade pear-vanilla preserves, it intrigued me.  Looked pretty easy.  So I tried some.  I didn’t have the fancy canning pot that is huge and deep so that you can put the jars in with enough water to cover, so I used my big soup pot.  It wasn’t too bad, except for the huge mess I had to clean up.  **Note:  don’t cook the fruit in a small saucepan…when it boils, it WILL boil over.  The final product was beautiful, but the consistency…more like syrup.  So I dumped it all back in the saucepan, added more pectin (extra, too, just in case), and it hardened so much over the next few days that I had to cut it out of the jars.

So I went back to the drawing board, and read everything I could get my hands on about jams and jellies.  My grandma “put up” everything…fruit, vegetables, pickles, sauces, juice, and never really even used a recipe, but there are so many different recipes, and philosophies about making jelly it makes my head spin.

So I went to Costco and bought three different kinds of pears, some jonagold apples  and four pints of blueberries (I know, not in season, but my husband only likes purple jelly).  Yesterday I spent the entire day in the kitchen, and after a couple of mishaps, I think I finally got it.  The recipes in the pectin box call for only boiling for one minute…recipes without pectin call for cooking for a longer time, to extract the natural pectin from the fruit.  I finally settled on a happy medium.  I use a little less pectin, and boil for about 5 minutes, until I put a spoonful on a cold plate from the freezer and it cools off into a soft jell.  I did use the full amount on the blueberries, since they don’t have much natural pectin in them at all, and they turned out perfectly.  It was actually much easier to do the blueberry, because I didn’t have to peel, core, and chop them, like I did with the pears and apples.

Anyway, for those of you who might want to give it a try, here’s my recipe for Apple Pear Jam.

Apple Pear Jam

Apples (sweet varieties, not too tart…underripe is better)
(Total of 7-8 pounds, before peeling and coring…equalling about 5-6 cups prepped fruit)
Sugar  (some recipes call for one cup per cup of fruit, but if using pectin I use about 2/3 cup sugar per cup of fruit)
Lemon Juice
Cinnamon Stick

  •  Prepare jars.  I usually put in dishwasher on “sanitize” setting, before I start chopping.  That way they’re warm when you put the hot jelly into them.  Or you can boil them in a large soup pot or canning pot with something in the bottom to prevent them from touching the bottom of the pan.  Before I purchased an actual canning pot with bottle insert, I put a metal trivet in the bottom of my soup pot…it worked fine.  Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat, keep in water until needed.  Wash and dry screw bands.
  •  Put about 1/4 cup of lemon juice in bowl, more if needed.  Peel, core and finely dice fruit, tossing with lemon juice as you chop to prevent browning.  If you want smoother final product, you can put in food processor or food mill. 

  • Put small glass bowl or plate and spoon in freezer.
    • Measure exact amount of the fruit (with lemon juice) into a large, deep saucepan.  Don’t make a batch larger than 8 cups, or it will take too long to set. 
    • Measure exact amount of sugar in separate bowl, remove 1/4 cup of measured sugar and mix with a little less than one full box of Pectin in a small bowl.

    • Stir pectin-sugar mixture into the fruit , and bring to a full boil (one that doesn’t go away when you stir).  
    • You need to stir constantly to prevent sticking.  Quickly stir in remaining sugar, and return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Boil for a minute or two, until the liquid drips off the spoon a little more slowly.  IT WILL NOT SET WHILE IT IS BOILING.  Remove from heat, and drop a spoonful onto the cold plate using the cold spoon.  Put back in freezer for a few seconds, then remove.  If it is a jam-like consistency, it is ready.  If not, return to heat and boil for another minute, then try the test again.
    • *One important point.  The jam will continue to set while it cools.  It won’t completely finish until it’s completely cooled, which will take a day or two.  If it’s too hard, it will be difficult or impossible to spread.
    • When it’s ready to be jarred, ladle quickly into warm jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of the tops.

    • Wipe jar rims and threads, and cover with two piece lids.  Place on elevated rack in canner.  Water must cover jars by 1-2 inches; add boiling water if needed.  Cover, bring to gentle boil and process jam for 10 minutes.

    All I can say, is my kitchen still smells like apple pie and I have a whole lot of love to give my friends this holiday season!

    Our family is growing…plus Fresh Corn Potato Salad!

    Life at our house has taken a dramatic turn…after much thought, discussion, and debate, we decided to adopt a new baby.  So here we are, beginning our 50’s with a baby in the house.

    Our dog Rosie is now six, and is very active. Three years ago, she had a touch of arthritis and the vet told us she needed to lose weight, so we put her on a green bean diet. (Cut food in half and supplement with green beans). Now she’s 30 pounds lighter and loves to run and play and does so with no limping. We thought it would be a good idea to get a new puppy so she will have a buddy to run and play with. We were told it would keep her young. Although she gets a little annoyed with her right now,  they are already playing together and we can tell they are going to be great friends.

    She has the only child syndrome, though, and needs to learn to share her toys…

    I haven’t had much chance to write, with the housetraining and swim training and walking and cleaning up accidents around the house…

    But I just had to share a recipe that I kind of threw together today with stuff I needed to use up in the refrigerator before I went to the grocery. I’ve been trying to find good recipes that will go with J’s fish and H’s tempeh or tofu or whatever vegetarian protein I can find. I’m tired of the usual rice and veggies. I had a couple of ears of corn from the roadside farmer’s market, a bag of spinach, some cherry tomatoes and half a bag of baby potatoes. This recipe actually has about 10 grams of protein per serving, so it could be a vegetarian entree if you want. This recipe serves 4, but you can double it if you have a larger family.

    Corn and Potato Salad

    4-6 ounces small yellow potatoes
    Two ears of fresh corn kernels (about 1 1/2 cups)
    1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
    3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

    1/4 cup minced shallots
    1 1/2 TBSP white balsamic vinegar (or rice vinegar)
    1/2 TBSP Dijon Mustard
    1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    1/4 tsp. black pepper
    1 1/2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

    3 cups spinach, trimmed (or arugula)
    1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced

    feta or goat cheese to sprinkle on top

    Place potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 11 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water to chill. Cut potatoes in half. Combine potatoes, corn, tomatoes and bell pepper in a large bowl.

    Combine shallots, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir together and slowly pour oil into mixture while stirring constantly with a whisk. Drizzle over corn mixture, and toss. Add Spinach, toss. Sprinkle with basil and feta cheese (if desired).

    I made  pecan crusted trout for J, topped some marinated tempeh with the pecan/bread crumb topping and baked it with the trout, then added some sauteed green beans and it was a big hit with my family.   (**Big time saver for the trout…I found Progresso Italian Style Panko and combined that with some crushed pecans to top the fish and tempeh. )You should try it now, while we can still get some of the fresh veggies from local farmers. Yummy!

    Vegetarian Meat Loaf…it’s delicious, REALLY!

    Last month I downloaded the movie, “Food, Inc.” to my computer, thinking I’d watch it during spring break, but never got around to it and completely forgot I had it, until last weekend. I plugged in my earphones, and watched it on the balcony in North Carolina, mostly through my fingers as I had to cover my eyes for a large portion of it. I must admit, it has completely changed the way I feel about the food I eat, and the food I serve my family. I see my daughter’s point…she has been a pesca-vegetarian for almost a year (she eats no meat but does eat fish), basically because of the way they treat the animals they grow for our food supply. Even my carnivorous husband is coming around. He hasn’t even seen the entire movie, but after seeing the first hour and listening to my recaps, he hasn’t had meat, pork or chicken in over a week. That is monumental for him.

    H really never liked meat very much, so it wasn’t such a difficult thing for her to give up. But the other day she mentioned that even though she never really liked it when she ate meat, she was craving meatloaf. I used to make a really good turkey meatloaf, but it had been years since I’d made it. I looked up recipes for vegetarian meatloaf and they were all over the board…made with lentils, black beans, or vegetarian ground beef. I decided to try the soy crumbles instead of beans, because I wanted to try to duplicate the flavor and texture of ground beef. I just tinkered with my old meatloaf recipe, and it smelled delicious while it was cooking. H loved it and even J said he liked it, and didn’t make me throw the leftovers away…so I would call it a success!

    Vegetarian Meat Loaf

    Click HERE for printable recipe

    * 1/4 cup Bullseye Hickory Smoke Barbecue Sauce
    * 3/4 cup Heinz Ketchup
    * 1 (12 ounce) package vegetarian burger crumbles
    * 1 red, yellow, or green bell pepper, chopped
    * 1 minced red onion
    * 2 cloves garlic, minced
    * 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
    * 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
    * 1 egg, beaten (or 2 egg whites)
    * 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    * 1 teaspoon dried basil
    * 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley)
    * salt and pepper to taste


    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 5×9 inch loaf pan.
    2. Heat saute pan over medium low heat, add 1 TBSP of olive oil and saute the onion, peppers, and garlic (seasoned with salt and pepper) until soft and translucent. 
    3.  In a bowl, mix together the barbecue sauce and the ketchup. Mix 3/4 of the mixture with the vegetarian burger crumbles, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and egg.  Add the onion mixture.  Season with thyme, basil, parsley, salt, and pepper. Transfer to the loaf pan (sprayed with olive oil), and press down to make it as compact as possible.

    3. Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven. Pour remaining barbecue sauce over the loaf, and continue baking 15 minutes, or until loaf is set and sauce is heated.

    I buy these crumbles at Publix, in the produce section where the Tofu is…other stores carry different brands and they’re all pretty similar.

    Easy Homemade Meatballs and Spaghetti!

    I love cookbooks. I read them like novels. Even the recipes that I would never make…too complicated, or with ingredients that no one in my family eats. It’s like a treasure hunt….every once in awhile I find a great recipe. But I must admit, having my laptop in the kitchen has reduced the time I used to spend perusing the books. I can do a search and find an infinite number of interesting recipes. Some I make once, and although they were good, I don’t make them again. Usually because it wrecks the kitchen, takes too many pots and pans, or exotic ingredients that I don’t keep on hand.

    But today I needed to make something to take to a couple from church who just had a baby. When I cook for people from church I usually try to make something that can be reheated or frozen, and also that I can make extra for my family. I found a recipe that I think will be a keeper. Homemade meatballs are usually so messy…you have to mix them, shape them, bake them, and then you also have to make a sauce. These were so easy, and because they simmer in the same pan as the sauce, they make jarred sauce taste homemade. You could use homemade sauce if you wanted, but I put these together in about 15 minutes before lunch, and let them simmer for a couple of hours while I cleaned up the kitchen. Boil up some spaghetti, and voila, delicious spaghetti and meatballs with almost no mess! This recipe made enough for my family, the family from church, and I had enough left over to freeze for another day. You could halve the recipe if you don’t need as much.


    2 28 oz. jars spaghetti sauce
    2 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes with basil and garlic
    2 lbs. extra lean ground beef (I used 97% lean)
    2 eggs
    3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
    1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    1 clove minced garlic
    1/2-1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup parmesan cheese

    2 boxes of spaghetti, cooked al dente

    1. Place sauce and tomatoes in large saucepan and simmer over medium heat.
    2. In large bowl mix beef, eggs, crumbs, parsley, garlic, salt and parmesan.
    3. Mix together with hands, and shape into meatballs. (I made about 1.5 ” thick meatballs and it made about 36).
    4. Place meatballs in simmering sauce.

    5. When sauce returns to a simmer, cover and cook 45 minutes to an hour until cooked through. I simmered the sauce and meatballs for about 2 1/2 hours to make sure they were completely cooked.
    6. Serve sauce and meatballs over warm spaghetti.

    They were a huge hit with J, and the kitchen still smells incredible after the sauce simmered all afternoon!