March 21, 2019

Marshmallow Lovers Rice Krispie Treats

6 cup crisped rice cereal (aka Rice Krispies)
1 cup plain or multicolored mini dehydrated vanilla marshmallows*
6 tablespoons butter
2 10-oz bags mini marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla


Butter a 9x13 inch pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together the cereal and dehydrated marshmallows. Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter. Stir in 1 1/2 bags marshmallows and vanilla. Stir until they are fully melted. Turn the heat to the lowest setting. Stir in the cereal mixture. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining half bag of mini marshmallows. Immediately scrape into the prepared baking dish. Very gently, smooth it out so it is an even layer without pressing down and compressing the mixture. Allow to cool at room temperature until firm enough to cut into squares. Turn out the dish and cut into squares. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

*I bought these in bulk at a farm stand/old fashioned candy store while on a road trip but they are also available on Amazon.

My thoughts:
Rice Krispie Treats, 1980s commercial aside, are one of the easiest desserts you can make yet still I find myself tweaking the recipe. The back of the box recipe is fine but they can be a little dense. A bakery near us makes huge, thick squares of Rice Krispies Treats that are very good, soft and marshmallow-y but cost roughly the same as a whole box of cereal for one treat. It was worth it to try once but I can't bring myself to keep buying them when they make a whole slew of delights I can't or won't make at home.

Thus began my quest to make an extra-marshmallow-y, extra soft treat. Not surprisingly, the trick is to add way more marshmallows than you'd think. Not only did I up the amount I melted by half, I also stirred in some more marshmallows at the very end so they don't fully melt and leave marshmallow pockets. This is twice as many marshmallows as the official recipe! Then I added even more marshmallows in the form of dehydrated marshmallows (don't worry, they soften up). The dehydrated marshmallows added a bit more flavor and texture to the bars. The whole thing came together to make one super marshmallow-y, very vanilla Rice Krispie Treat.

Note: I did use generic marshmallows and "crisped rice" cereal I purchased at Aldi for this recipe. I don't like Jet-Puffed marshmallows and I can't tell the difference when it comes to the cereal. The marshmallows are only 88¢ a bag and the box of cereal (I only used half!) was $ 1.29. You can't beat that.

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March 15, 2019

Dilled Roasted Vegetable Orzo Salad with Gorgonzola


3/4 cup (dry) orzo
1 zucchini, cubed
1 Spanish black radish, cubed
6 oz crimini mushrooms, quartered
1/4 lb asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
olive oil
a sprinkle of jalapeno garlic seasoning (I use this but you can sub in ground jalapenos and granulated garlic)
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 (loose) cup chopped dill
2 oz gorgonzola, crumbled


Preheat oven to 350.

Cook orzo according to package instructions. Drain and allow to cool.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Arrange the zucchini and radish in a single layer, drizzle with olive oil and seasonings. Roast for 20 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and asparagus to the pan, toss to mix. Roast for 15 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Allow to cool.

Place the orzo, red onion, and roasted vegetables in a bowl. Toss with fresh lemon juice and olive oil to taste. Stir in fresh dill and gorgonzola. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 24 hours.

My thoughts:
This is another recipe that helps bridge the seasons. Spicy Spanish black radishes are in season, asparagus is starting to make an appearance and mushrooms and zucchini are pretty delicious year round. The gorgonzola is almost gilding the lily but it adds so much flavor for such little effort, it's worth it. It's strong enough to stand up to the pungent black radish but doesn't overpower the more delicate flavors. The salad is a little on the hardy side but I think that is fitting when it still getting down near freezing at night. Excellent for a side dish or light vegetarian main dish.

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March 12, 2019

The Italian Club

1 lb thinly sliced good quality  roasted turkey deli meat
1 lb thinly sliced lean capicola
1/3 lb imported smoked provolone
iceberg lettuce, sliced
3/4 lb crisp bacon strips
1/4 lb jarred roasted red peppers, drained
12 pieces white toast


Arrange 4 slices of toast on a platter or cutting board. Spread a thin layer of mayo if desired. Top with cheese, then turkey, capicola, bacon, lettuce then red pepper. Top with the second slice of toast and repeat. You may have leftover deli meat, don't feel like you have to overfill the sandwich. Top with a final slice of toast and cut each into 4 triangles, securing with long picks. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 sandwiches

My thoughts:
We actually made this way back in January when we had our numbers themed NYE. Double decker sandwiches were an obvious choice for New Year's Day lunch. I took the picture and then it languished until today. 

The sandwiches were so good, I thought it was worth sharing. Everyone knows the typical club sandwich. A place near us makes excellent club sandwiches so there is no need to make one at home. The Italian club, on the other hand, is a different thing altogether. Okay, I admit I made it up but it's very good and worth a trip to the local Italian deli to pick up some capicola to make it yourself. Imported smoked provolone is so much more flavorful than the domestic stuff, it adds a lot of depth to the sandwich. Tomato season is months away so using roasted red tomatoes, another flavor found in Italian dishes, instead worked really well. Make sure you drain them carefully so they aren't too wet or they will make your sandwich soggy. 

The whole sandwich is just a delight to eat. a great mix of flavors and a fun twist on a classic.

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March 08, 2019

It's Almost Spring Minestrone


2-3 stalks celery (with leaves), sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2-3 carrots, sliced into coins
1 medium purple-top turnip, cubed
2 zucchini, cubed
1 large Russet potato, cubed
1 cup diced green beans (about 1/3 lb)
15 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
15 oz can cannellini beans, drained
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons pesto (homemade or jarred)
1 cup cooked ditalini pasta*
parmesan for sprinkling


In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the celery, garlic, onions, carrots, turnip, zucchini and potato until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, green beans, beans, and stock. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add salt and pepper. Stir in pesto. Divide into bowls, stir in a few tablespoons of noodles and top with a sprinkle of parmesan.

*I cook the pasta separately and store any leftovers in separate containers. If stored together, the pasta absorbs all the broth overnight and makes for a soggy mess. If you are planning to eat all of the soup at once, add the noodles to the pot, not each bowl.

My thoughts:

I've always liked minestrone soup. We ate a lot of Progresso minestrone for lunch when I was a kid and it's still one of my go-tos for when I need a quick lunch and don't have leftovers to heat up. I recreated that soup eight years ago and haven't thought of making minestrone myself since.

Then I was reading an Italian cookbook and they had a recipe for a vegetable soup with pesto swirled in. It seemed a lot lighter and less tomato heavy so I thought I'd try to make my own spin on minestrone using what's in season and available now.

It's that time in winter when there isn't much in season but you feel like something lighter and more vegetable packed. Turnips are always great this time of year, as are carrots and celery. Zucchini is one of those vegetables that I feel like are fine to eat in the winter even though they aren't in season. Unless it is some heirloom variety, the winter supermarket conventional zukes taste about the same as the homegrown. Tomatoes aren't in season but fire roasted canned ones add a ton of flavor. The pesto was an amazing shortcut to a ton of flavor in the soup. Why have I never done that before? What else can I put pesto in? I had this soup for three days in a row happily!

Serving idea: I had some leftover pesto so we mashed into 1/4 cup softened butter and ton of chopped garlic and some parmesan and spread it on crusty Italian bread to make pesto garlic bread. It only took about 10 minutes.

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March 05, 2019

Hot Cocoa Cookies


2 cups flour
3/4 cup instant hot chocolate (cocoa) mix (I used this)
1 cup (unsalted) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup vanilla dehydrated mini marshmallows*
pinch salt


Preheat the oven to 350. Line 2-3 cookie sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment. In a large bowl, cream the butter, vanilla, and sugars for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, beat 5 minutes. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until a very thick dough forms. Fold in the chips and marshmallows. Refrigerate, covered, 30 minutes.

Form cookies by dropping 1 heaping tablespoon of dough two inches apart. I used this scoop. sprinkle with additional marshmallows if desired.

Flatten slightly then bake until light brown, about 14-16 minutes. They may look slightly shiny in the middle but the bottoms and edges should be solid. Slide them out on the baking mat on to a cooling rack and allow them to cool 5 minutes on the baking mat/parchment on the wire rack before removing them to cool directly on the wire rack. Cool completely before serving.

*I bought a bulk bag of these at a large "old fashioned" candy store/produce market. I've oddly seen them a lot at Amish markets.

Yield: about 2 1/2-3 dozen cookies

My thoughts:
It may be March but it is still quite cold! Our house has a tendency to be cool (even at times, cold) on the first floor where we spend most of our time and then positively boiling in the second floor at night when the weather is cold but sunny. I've found the best way to avoid this is to bake something.

My husband bought me an industrial sized tub of Galaxy last year which was tasty but then he found a fancy super dark hot chocolate that I like more for straight drinking leaving me with a seriously overwhelming amount of hot chocolate mix in the house. I also had a bag of dehydrated marshmallows I picked up on a road trip so it seemed fated to make something hot chocolate inspired.

I strayed a bit from my usual chocolate chip cookie technique: I really beat the butter and eggs until they were smooth and quite soft and then I refrigerated the dough for half an hour. Since the marshmallows were dehydrated, I wanted to give them time and liquid to help them soften so it wouldn't be like eating crunchy bits of styrofoam.

The final cookie really does taste like hot chocolate (or cocoa!) in cookie form! There is a very creamy chocolate taste in the cookie, punctuated by the dark chocolate chips and the texture is slightly chewy from the marshmallows.

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February 26, 2019

Polish-style Sour Soup with Sausage and Root Vegetables


1 kielbasa* (about 1 lb), sliced into halfmoons
2 carrots, sliced into coins
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small celeriac (celery root, diced)
2 parsnips, diced
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 quart stock (chicken, pork or vegetable)
2 bay leaves
żurek or zakwas starter**
freshly ground black pepper
big pinch marjoram (dried or fresh)
4-6 hard-boiled eggs, quartered


In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the sausage until lightly browned. Add the vegetables and saute until the onion is softened. Add the broth, bay leaves and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in spices. Remove the bay leaves. Stir in the starter and heat through, about 5-10 minutes. 

Ladle into bowls and top with quartered hard-boiled eggs.

*I used kiełbasa wiejska because it's my favorite and has garlic and marjoram in it.

**You can find this bottled at most Polish markets. The one I find most easily is made with white flour, called żurek. I've seen both refrigerated (preferred) and shelf-stable versions. I used a 32 oz bottle of fresh starter. Zakwas is basically the same thing but made with rye flour. You can also make it home using these instructions (in Polish, the Google translation is good enough). There is a lot of debate (even in Poland, apparently) about what the differences between soup made with one or the other should be but they are very similar--sausage, vegetables, eggs. You can read a bit about it here.

My thoughts:
I've wanted to make this soup for quite a while now. My usual Polish market has been closed for a few months while they renovate the Broadway Market so I didn't have access to my usual sausage. Then last week, I was driving down Eastern Ave and saw another Polish market that I had heard of but had never been to before. They had not only the sausage I liked but the żurek (starter) in the refrigerator. Score!

I'm going to be honest here and say I really can't speak to how strictly authentic this is. I had it years ago at a festival and while my aunt made several Polish dishes, soup was not one of them. 

I've read dozens of recipes in both English and Polish (my Polish is mostly food and color words so it was a slog and Google translate is not always the best) for zurek (the soup, not żurek, the starter which is nearly identical in spelling but is not the same--that is not a speck on your screen, it is an overdot) and biały barszcz ("white borscht") which are two very similar soups but biały barszcz seems to be a bit lighter and is made with fresh, kielbasa biały (white sausage) and is popular at Easter. I came across so many articles saying conflicting information (in Polish!) and that there are regional differences. 

I ended up going a little rogue and using the white flour-based żurek but with a more veggie-heavy soup with smoked sausage instead of tracking down the rye starter or making my own. It's still winter. The rye starter is a bit heavier and would be in good use here too. This is only my experience but it seems like it is easier to source żurek (especially fresh, refrigerated) here than zakwas.

Several of the Polish-language recipes called for parsley root which we don't really get here readily, so I subbed in celeriac (celery root) because I love celery and celery flavored things. Other recipes just called generically for mixed root vegetables or even just carrots. I think with homey soups like this, it really comes down to you and your family's personal preference and tastes. 

Additionally, many of the Polish language recipes for both dishes had you make vegetable (or pork) stock first, then adding more vegetables, and some of the vegetables from the stock back in to make the soup but since I have access to good quality homemade and store-bought stock, I skipped this step and went right to soup making. This speed up the process to being quick enough to make on a weeknight. 

Honestly, all this made my head spin a bit. However, it was worth it because the soup was extremely delicious! It wasn't as sour as say, sauerkraut, but it had a tang similar to sour cream or mild yogurt without being tart. The smoked sausage perfectly offset it and the root vegetables added a lot of depth. It was hearty without being heavy. I look forward to making more soups using this starter! Maybe I will track down some fresh sausage and make biały barszcz in the spring.

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February 22, 2019

Mushroom, Spinach & Swiss Hot Dogs


1/2 onion, chopped
8 oz crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
8 oz baby spinach
freshly ground black pepper
4 hot dogs
4 brioche hot dog buns
1-2 tablespoons Dijon
3-4 oz Emmenthaler cheese


In a medium pan, saute the onion and mushrooms until the onions are translucent. Add the spinach and saute until wilted. Pour off any excess water.

Meanwhile, broil the hot dogs until heated through and lightly browned. (or grill on an outside grill) Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Spread the mustard on each bun. Top with a hot dog a portion of the spinach mixture. Top with cheese. Bake 2-3 minutes or until the cheese melts and buns are toasty. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:
As anyone who has been reading this blog for the last 15 years knows, I love hot dogs. For my birthday last year, we went to the beach so I could play skee ball and seafood and hot dogs. We went to what is now one of my favorite state-side hot dog places, Twilley's Willys in Fenwick Island, DE. There we discovered our new favorite brand of hot dog, Berks, and my husband had a hot dog very similar to the one I recreated here. It's cold out so I used the broiler but feel free to use a real grill. You can even cook the vegetables in a skillet on the grill for an extra smoky flavor and I bet that would be really good! The broiler does well in a pinch and the toppings pack so much flavor, you don't miss the smoke. 

I used Emmenthaler cheese which is a little trickier to find (I buy mine at Aldi when it's for sale) but any stronger tasting, imported Swiss would be fine. You need a strong cheese to stand up to the hot dog and one that melts well. The spinach is a bit unexpected on a hot dog but it totally works- just take care that it isn't too wet or it will make the roll soggy--and makes the whole dish seem a lot more healthy.

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February 20, 2019

Upside-down Cottage Pie

3/4 cup caramelized onions *
1 tablespoon butter
2 carrots, diced
2 parsnips diced
1 bulb fennel, chopped
6 oz crimini mushrooms, chopped
1 3/4 lb cubed sirloin
1/4 cup dry red wine, optional
1 sprig's worth of rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 bay leaf
fine flour (like Wondra)
freshly ground black pepper
beef stock

to serve:
2 lbs warm mashed potatoes


In a medium, Dutch or French oven saute the onions, herbs, spices, carrots, fennel, mushrooms, and parsnips in butter until the vegetables begin to soften.

Toss meat with the flour. Add meat to the vegetables. Stir until the meat is lightly browned. Add the liquids to just cover the mixture.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 45 minutes or until the beef is tender, stirring occasionally.

Serve over mashed potatoes.

*I used leftover caramelized onions I made using this method and froze. I defrosted them in the pan in a bit of butter before adding the vegetables. Or caramelize 2 onions and use them instead.

My thoughts:
This year and I guess the end of the last has been my year to experiment with various types of beef stew dishes. I discovered that the stew meat at Aldi (where I am nearly every week anyway) is particularly good--not too fatty, not to lean and gets very tender equally well in the slow cooker or stove top.

I was going to make a traditional cottage pie (a shepherd's pie made with beef instead of lamb) with it this time but I had the idea to invert it and serve the filling on top of the mashed potatoes and skip the baking part. The downside is that you don't get the crispy corners of potato that you normally get with cottage pie but the upside it that it shaves like 30 minutes off the cooking time, making it possible to make this for a weeknight dinner (if you have 45 minutes to let it simmer virtually unattended on the stove) or a less time-consuming weekend meal. It also means less dishes and makes great leftovers.

I truly loved the results, the fennel and parsnips added a touch of sweetness and a ton of depth to the flavors and eliminated the need for any side dishes.

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February 15, 2019

Homemade New Jersey Style Sloppy Joes



14 oz bagged coleslaw mix (cabbage and shredded cabbage mix)
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
white pepper

Russian dressing:

3 tablespoons dill pickle relish
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chili sauce (like Heinz)
1/2 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
white pepper

1/3-1/2 lb good quality roasted turkey breast deli meat (I like Boar's Head*)
1/3/-1/2 lb turkey pastrami
1/4 lb imported (if possible) Swiss cheese
6 slices seeded rye or marble rye**
3-4 tablespoons room temperature, unsalted butter


The night before you want to make the sandwiches:

Make the coleslaw: In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, vinegar, and spices. In a large bowl, toss together slaw mix and carrot. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, toss to evenly distribute. Cover and refrigerate

Make the dressing: whisk together the dressing ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.

When you want to make the sandwiches:

Squeeze out any extra liquid from the cole slaw. (This recipe makes a ton of slaw so feel free to only squeeze out half of it and use the rest in something else; we had it on hot dogs the night I made it) Set aside.

Butter one side of two slices of bread; set aside.

Top two slices of bread with an even layer of turkey pastrami. Evenly cover with coleslaw, then spoon on the dressing and smooth it out. Top with 1-2 slices Swiss to cover. Top each with a slice of bread.

On the second layer, place an even layer of roasted turkey, then coleslaw, then dressing, then Swiss. Top with the buttered bread (butter side down). Cut a triangle shape out of the middle  (leaving two half-moon shaped ends) and serve.

Yield: 2 sandwiches, can be doubled. You will probably have some dressing leftover. Use it to make a Cloak and Dagger or a Reuben along with the rest of your rye and Swiss. Or make the most of your leftovers and make a Rachel with turkey or pastrami, coleslaw, rye, and Russian dressing.

*If you are in Baltimore, somehow the turkey at Mastellone's tastes better than the Boar's Head turkey anywhere else. My secret theory is that it is from being stored in the deli case with all those yummy Italian meats but I have no scientific research to back this up.

**Traditionally this is made with a Pullman loaf of rye sliced horizontally into long slices. Good luck finding that. You can make your own but that's a lot. Other delis sell it on regular sliced rye cut in the distinctive triangle middle, half-moon sides way I did here. I like marble rye best. Just use the middle slices so they are large if using bread from a round loaf.

My thoughts:
I have always wanted to make a New Jersey style Sloppy Joe ever since I first saw one which, oddly was in a Shop Rite ad for party sandwiches. Now I do love the other kind of Sloppy Joe but this is no saucy, ground beef laden sandwich. This is it's equally messy deli long lost cousin. The origin is a bit murky (the same bar, Sloppy Joe's, may have inspired both sandwiches?) and outlined a bit here in this article but unlike with superheros, its origin story doesn't really matter.

Originally made with tongue (which can be tricky to find and I was unable to figure out if it was fresh tongue or corned) most versions use corned beef or pastrami and roasted turkey. To make it a little lighter, I used turkey pastrami but feel free to use the real thing. I thought the turkey pastrami worked really well here because there are so many other flavors going on. I made the coleslaw and dressing from scratch but took a few shortcuts--I used dill pickle relish instead of chopping up pickles and used bagged coleslaw mix instead of chopping up the vegetables myself--to speed up the process. I find that it is really important flavorwise to make your own dressing and coleslaw for the best flavor but it doesn't need to take all day.

The end result is a super tasty, not quite as messy as expected thanks to careful assembly, sandwich. Super flavorful and a lot more fun to eat than a basic deli sandwich. The coleslaw adds some crunch, the dressing somehow helps hold it all together and it just really melds together with the rye and the meat. A little more work than the average sandwich but not difficult at all.

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February 12, 2019

Rainbow Chard, Meyer Lemon and Dill Orzo


1 cup orzo
15 oz (canned) cannellini beans, drained
1 large bunch of rainbow chard or Swiss chard, stems and leaves chopped (separate the stems and leaves)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, cut into half-moon sliced
1/4 cup chopped dill
3/4 (loose) cup Italian or curly parsley*, chopped
juice and zest of 2 Meyer lemons
freshly ground black pepper


Prepare orzo according to package instructions. Drain and set aside, covered to keep warm.

In a large pan, saute the chard stems, onion, and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add in the leaves, dill, and parsley and saute until the greens start to wilt. Add the lemon juice, beans, salt and pepper. Saute until the greens are tender. Stir in orzo, cook 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Note: I made this as a side dish, then served the leftovers I reheated in a skillet as lunch the next day topped with a fried egg. It was quite good as a vegetarian main.

*I prefer Italian (flat-leaf) parsley but this was a grocery delivery order and was subbed curly instead. It was fine.

My thoughts:
I had a weird craving for orzo recently. I don't think I've had orzo in years except maybe at the Greek Festival we go to each year. Now I feel like I've been missing out! It's still winter unfortunately and not much is in season. Leafy greens can be quite good this time of year so I try to incorporate them into our meals as much as I can. Rainbow chard is one of my favorites because it is so colorful, something I really need in February.

I originally made this dish as a side to some halibut but it makes a lot for two people and I had plenty of leftovers. As I said in the note, I heated it up in a skillet and topped it with a lacy egg and I might have liked that even more than it in its original incarnation. The orzo got slightly crispy and chewy in a pleasant way. I encourage you to make it as a main if you are so inclined, the beans add some heft and protein and there is a ton of flavor from the fresh dill and parsley. Without the egg topper, it is totally vegan!

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February 08, 2019

Pulled Pork Haluski


2 tablespoons butter

1 small cabbage, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced into half-moons
10 oz wide egg noodles
2 cups pulled pork (I suggest using a slightly sweet pulled pork like this apple pulled pork)
freshly ground black pepper


Heat the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions, cabbage, salt, pepper and saute until the onions and cabbage are quite soft and just starting to brown. Add the pulled pork and continue to saute until heated through.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and add to the pork mixture. Stir and saute 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:
Halušky is an Eastern European dumpling somewhat similar to spaetzle but in the US, haluski (or haluska) is a cabbage and buttered noodle dish that is sometimes made with kielbasa or bacon. I always like to get at the Polish festival but never made it at home. I had a bag of egg noodles I got for free with a coupon and a cabbage so I thought today is the day! I love cabbage so much it sounded like the perfect dish. I didn't have any bacon or sausage but I did have some leftover pulled pork so why not use that? I'm always looking for a way to repurpose leftovers! This was a fun way to use the pulled pork without making hash (which I do love) or just having another sandwich. It was filling enough to have as its own meal yet didn't seem like I was eating the same thing I did the night before. Totally worth moving into the rotation.

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February 05, 2019

Cheeseburger Sloppy Joes

1 1/4 lb 90% ground beef
6 oz chili sauce (like Heinz)
3/4 cup water or beef stock
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon dry mustard
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt

to serve:
hamburger dill pickle slices
rolls (I like mini sub rolls)
shredded cheddar

In a large saucepan, saute the garlic and onion in olive oil until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add beef and saute until brown, stirring to break up the meat. Add the remaining ingredients. Saute, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, until thickened. Serve on rolls with cheese and pickles.

My thoughts:
I can't help it! I really do enjoy a good sloppy joe. We didn't have them a ton growing up, my father was a super picky eater so we only had them when he wasn't there and we used a jar of "Not So Sloppy Joe" which was fine but when I was an adult I realized I would make them from scratch however I wanted. I've made several versions over the 15(!) years I've had this blog but this one is perhaps the most family friendly and crowd-pleasing. They really do taste like cheeseburgers! Super classic and I think even easier than making hamburgers because you are just cooking the ground meat thoroughly and not worrying about how well done it is or keeping an eye on it. Just simmer and serve.

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January 31, 2019

Ultimate Hot Baltimore Crab Dip with Soft Pretzel Sticks

for the dip:


1 cup blue crab claw meat
1 cup lump blue crab meat
1 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
3⁄4 cup sour cream
1⁄4 cup Frank’s® RedHot® Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
2 1⁄2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1⁄2 tablespoons Chesapeake Bay seasoning (Old Bay)
1⁄2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced
3⁄4 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese


Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, stir together both crab meat, cream cheese, sour cream, Frank’s® RedHot® Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce, mayonnaise, Chesapeake Bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, black pepper, and shallot until smooth.

Spread the mixture into an 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the cheese in an even layer. Bake uncovered until the cheese is melted and the dip is warmed through, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately with crackers, chips, bread, or Soft Pretzel Sticks.

Makes about 18 servings

for the pretzel sticks:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 1⁄2 teaspoons sugar
1 1⁄3 cups lukewarm water
4 1⁄3 cups flour
3⁄4 cup baking soda
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons pretzel salt (or sesame seeds)
canola oil for greasing bowl


In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and warm water; let stand 3 minutes. Add the flour; mix with a stand or electric mixer with a dough hook attachment until the dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. Grease a large bowl with canola oil; place the dough in a bowl. Place in a cold oven for 50 minutes or until doubled in size.

 Remove the bowl from the oven. Preheat oven to 425°F.

Gently push your fist into the dough to deflate; divide the dough into 12 pieces. Using your hands, on a floured surface, roll each piece of dough into 1-inch-thick, 10-inch-long ropes.

Pour baking soda into a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven or stockpot; fill it with water to within 3 inches of the top. Stir with a whisk until the baking soda is dissolved. Heat to boiling.

Line a large cookie sheet with cooking parchment paper. Using tongs, dip each rope into the boiling baking soda–water mixture for 30 seconds. Place on the cookie sheet. Brush the dough with egg; sprinkle with salt (or sesame seeds). Bake 12 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Yield: about 12 sticks.

Make It Even More Awesome

In Baltimore, there is a popular appetizer called the crab pretzel. It is a huge soft pretzel heaped with crab dip and tons of oozing cheese. To make it at home, make the Ultimate Hot Baltimore Crab Dip omitting the cheese topping. Then make the pretzel dough, but instead of making it into sticks, form it into one giant pretzel. Bake as called for, then remove from the oven and spread the crab dip liberally over the top of the pretzel. Sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese. Return to the oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Serve immediately. (I also have another version of crab pretzels here)

My thoughts:
I hear there is a big game this weekend and it reminded me that I never posted this version of crab dip here! It appears in my cookbook, Cooking with Frank's RedHot Cayenne Pepper Sauce: Delicious Recipes That Bring the Heat along with more recipes using hot sauce than you'd know what to do with! It's a spicy version of the classic Baltimore crab dip that you find at every party here. The pretzels are really good with it but you can also just serve it with crackers,  bread, crudités or sturdy chips if pretzels are more of a commitment you're interested in making.

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January 28, 2019

Lamb Merguez with Roasted Vegetable Couscous


2 cups golden couscous
2 eggplants, cubed
2 zucchini, cubed
2 tablespoons ras el hanout
1 12-oz jar piquillo peppers, drained and chopped
10 oz lamb merguez sausages (I used these)
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 375. Line a large baking sheet (or two if needed) with foil. Arrange the zucchini and eggplant in a single layer on the sheet(s). Drizzle with canola oil, the sprinkle with salt, pepper, and ras el hanout. Roast for 30 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, pan saute the sausages until fully cooked.

Prepare couscous according to package instructions (I used this couscous and 2 1/2 cups chicken stock). Place in a large bowl, toss with vegetables, thyme, and peppers. Divide into bowls, top with sausage.

My thoughts:
I almost didn't post this but it was so tasty and easy, I thought I would. I love merguez sausage but I never know what to do with them at home. Perhaps I'm not the only one?

Part of the beauty of sausage is that it is so quick to cook so I designed the rest of the meal to be done in 30 minutes or less too. The peppers are a little spicier than regular jarred peppers and add a ton of flavor. The ras el hanout ties the vegetables to the sausage flavor-wise and brings the whole dish together. Perfect for a weeknight when you are short on time.

The leftovers reheat well in a skillet as well.
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January 23, 2019

Steak and Smoked Oyster Pie


3/4 cup caramelized onions*
1 celery stalk, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 parsnips, diced
8 oz crimini mushrooms
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tins (3.75 oz, each) smoked oysters, drained
2 1/2 lb stew meat
superfine flour (like Wondra)
2 cups beef stock
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (defrosted according to package instructions)
1 egg, beaten
freshly ground black pepper

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat a small amount of oil. Saute the caramelized onions, celery, carrots and parsnips until the carrots and parsnips are softened.

Toss the meat in the flour. Add to the pan and saute to lightly brown on each side. Add the spices, thyme, and stock (the stock should totally or nearly completely cover the mixture). Bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer about 40 minutes (I defrosted my puff pastry at this point) or until the liquid has reduced, the meat is tender and it looks like a thick stew. Stir in the oysters.

Preheat oven to 375.

Pour into a deep dish pie plate.

Cover with a sheet of puff pastry. Brush with egg. Vent with the tip of a knife. It is okay if the pastry does not totally cover the top of the pie plate.

Bake 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the pie is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes prior to serving.

*I made another batch of slow cooker caramelized onions for this. Alternately, you can caramelize 2 medium onions in the pan prior to adding the rest of the ingredients.

My thoughts:
I had come across a reference to steak and smoked oyster pie in a book I read last year. It was too warm for meat pies then but now that we are in the dead of winter, I thought I'd revisit the idea. I looked at a ton of recipes and they were all a little different. some called for puff pastry, some for jam(?), some for shortcrust pastry, some for dark beer, some for mushrooms,  some for no vegetables at all. The only thing that most could agree on was that the pie was popular in pubs and that the oysters were probably added (either smoked or fresh) to stretch the meat because they were so plentiful.

I finally decided to just come up with my own recipe using my favorite stew and meat pie ingredients with the addition of the smoked oysters. I don't think I had ever had smoked oysters (I found them near tuna in the supermarket) before but they were quite good! Very savory. I added them at the end of the filling cooking time to make sure they didn't get tough like regular oysters would have been after an hour plus of cooking.

I loved the result. It had a light smoky flavor from the oysters, was rich and hearty from the caramelized onions, mushrooms, vegetables and meat and the pastry top made it seem festive and special.

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January 17, 2019

Carbonade Flamande au Spéculoos (Flemish Beef Stew with Speculoos)

3/4 cup caramelized onions *
1 tablespoon butter
1 3/4 lb cubed sirloin
1-pint dark beer (preferably Belgian)
1 small slice country white bread spread with strong mustard (like Dijon or Ghent)
2 spéculoos cookies**
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon brown sugar
freshly ground black pepper
(beef stock if needed)

to serve:
fries or boiled carrots and potatoes
extra cookies for garnish (optional)


In a medium, Dutch or French oven saute the onions and meat in butter until the meat is browned. Add the cookies, bay leaf, spices, sugar and slice of bread.

Pour in the beer. The meat should be covered, if not, add some beef stock to make up the difference. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered 45 minutes or until the beef is tender, stirring occasionally.

Serve with fries, or boiled carrots and potatoes. Garnish with an extra cookie.

*about 2 onion's worth
**Two Lotus brand cookies or other brand speculoos/speculaas cookies or homemade.
My thoughts:

When we were in Lille, France a couple of years ago we, of course, tried all of the local dishes. Since Lille is very close to Belgium, a lot of the food is very similar. One dish was on nearly every menu, Carbonade flamande, which is a thick beef stew that is traditionally made with dark beer and a few slices of pain d’épices, a spiced loaf cake often referred to in at least the US as French "gingerbread". In looking at menus in Lille, however, I saw a variation made with not cake but cookies! Spéculoos (speculaas) cookies to be exact. When we were in Brussels nearly 10 years ago the cookies were everywhere (as were the molds to make them at home) and we brought back some speculoos spread which over five years later became very popular here as "cookie butter". If you are not familiar, it is a spice cookie somewhat similar to a gingersnap. I made a homemade version of the cookie after our trip but they can be found in stores. In the US, Lotus markets them as Biscoff cookies and Aldi sells various flavors of speculoos during the winter. You'll want the classic speculoos for this recipe, not a butter or almond version.

The idea of putting cookies in stew didn't seem odd to me at all because Baltimore is already home to Sour Beef and Dumplings which uses gingersnaps to make the gravy. Plus, the cookies are relatively easy to find here whereas I'd have to make pain d’épices myself to make the stew (which I plan to do but not today!).

To make this dish even quicker, I gave myself a head start and caramelized the onions in my slow cooker and heated them up vs starting with raw onions. That cut down the cooking time to well under an hour (and there was virtually zero hands-on time) so I was able to make this on a random Thursday evening vs waiting for the weekend.

Making a stew with a slice of mustard-coated bread and some cookies seems odd but it totally works! The cookie and bread completely disintegrate and magically create the thick sauce you see above.

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January 15, 2019

Cara Cara Orange and Roasted Beet Couscous


6 oz dried couscous
3 medium beets, roasted and diced (I used golden beets)
1/4 red onion, cut into half moons
1 small green chile, minced
1 Cara Cara orange, supremed
1 large carrot, sliced into half moons
juice and zest of 1 Meyer lemon
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish


Cook couscous according to package instructions*. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.,
Place the beets, chile, carrot, onion and orange segments into a bowl. Add couscous. Stir. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil, sprinkle with salt, zest and pepper. Toss to evenly distribute all ingredients.

 Garnish with parsley. Serve.

*I  tossed in some lemon zest into the recommended broth/water.

My thoughts:
I am not a fan of winter, at all. I even dislike autumn because I know it means winter is coming. The only good part of winter in my option is that citrus is in season. For this recipe I tossed some of my favorite Cara Cara oranges with some root vegetables and a chile for spice with couscous. I was surprised at how tasty it was! Very fresh yet winter-appropriate. 

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January 09, 2019

Speculoos Butterscotch 7-Layer Bars


1 3/4 cups speculoos cookie crumbs*
1/2 cup butter
10 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup unsweetened finely flaked coconut
1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted pecans
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

Melt butter in a small pan. Remove from heat and stir in cookie crumbs until thoroughly combined. Press, using the back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup into the bottom of the buttered pan taking care to reach all corners.

Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, then the butterscotch chips,  coconut, and peanut over the cookie layer. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top, and spread with the back of a spoon or spatula until the mixture is evenly coated.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges are golden brown.

Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before slicing. TYou can refrigerate them before slicing if you are a clean lines fanatic. Store in the refrigerator or on a cool counter in an air-tight container. Freeze leftovers up to 6 months if desired.

*You can also use pre-packaged cookies. Lotus brand speculoos (Biscoff cookies in the US) are readily available. You'll need one 8.8 oz container (minus a cookie or two for snacking and quality control purposes) to make 1 3/4 cups crumbs.

My thoughts:
Every year my husband and I do a themed NYE movie marathon with paired food and games. For a long time, we did decades then switched to other themes when we ran out of them. We've done everything from Hawaii to Westerns to Trains. This year we did movies with numbers in the title, played games involving numbers like Dos and this classic edition Yahtzee and made food with numbers in the name. 

I made a version of 7-layer bars over the summer I called cocoanuts bars  that we really enjoyed so it was obvious I needed to make a new version for New Year's Eve!  I had used speculoos in another recipe so I had them on hand and used that as a base to work out off. I thought the warm flavors of butterscotch and pecans would pair nicely with the spice cookie. It really did! These cookie bars were definitely sweet but had a cozy, warm feeling to them.

Once again, I used unsweetened coconut because the other ingredients are so very sweet. I found it in the "natural" food aisle if you have trouble locating it, not the baking aisle. It is pretty fine and the result is that the bars have a definite more candy bar feel vs the slightly cookie-macaroon of more coarsely grated coconut. I liked it a lot but there is a tiny texture difference. You can use unsweetened flaked coconut for a more traditional 7-Layer/Dolly Bar texture.

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