September 30, 2019

Jalapeño Ranch Dipping Sauce

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #VeggiesWithMcCain #CollectiveBias


1 jalapeño, minced
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons freeze-dried chives
1 1/2 teaspoons dillweed
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried onion
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 oz sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise


Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour prior to serving.

About 20 minutes before you are ready to eat, prepare the McCain® Potato, Broccoli & Cheddar Veggie Taters™ according to package instructions. Serve hot, with dipping sauce on the side.

My thoughts:

I spend a lot of my days cooking which should come as no surprise to anyone who has read this blog for the last 15+ years. What you might not know is how much side dishes can stress me out! Sometimes a meal is all about the side dishes like when I made a fun macaroni salad and served it with a simple burger but often, as a recipe developer, I'm either concentrating on the main dish or am so tired of making something I can't serve as a meal (like this pawpaw cake) that I just want something simple to serve as a side, snack or even a party appetizer. My husband really prefers that a meal includes some sort of starch and a vegetable but honestly, I'm normally good at the vegetable but the starch gives me some pause because if often requires a bit of work--boiling or roasting or mashing--and time.

Enter the McCain® Potato, Broccoli & Cheddar Veggie Taters™ . Made with real vegetables and potatoes they are super quick to make and are a better option than plain tater tots thanks to the full 1/2 cup of veggies in each serving. We don't have children but honestly, I'm always looking for easy and fun ways to sneak extra vegetables into our diet without having to make a separate side dish. Normally it's just tossing some spinach in while I'm making mashed potatoes or adding some arugula to tuna pasta salad but this is so much simpler and really tasty! They really taste like cheesy tater tots with a hint of broccoli- no artificial flavors here!

I really loved having them as a snack too. They heat up quickly in the oven and were a great way to get some extra veggies in outside of mealtime.

To make it a little more fun, I made this jalapeño ranch dipping sauce to dip the Veggie Taters in. The dip keeps for nearly a week in the fridge and takes about 2 minutes to make so you can have it on hand for any time the mood strikes. It's a bit spicy from the pepper but full of creamy, classic ranch flavor. 

McCain® Veggie Taters™ are easy to find in your local store. I bought them at ShopRite and they were in the frozen foods aisle in the frozen potato section. Check them out yourself! You have until 11/1/19 to save $1 on McCain® Veggie Taters™ using this coupon. If you don't live locally, you can purchase McCain® Veggie Taters™ at your local Wakefern, Shaw’s, and DeMoulas locations. 

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September 27, 2019

Kasha Varnishkes with Savoy Cabbage

2 tablespoons schmaltz*
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup kasha (buckwheat groats)
1 egg
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 savoy cabbage
3/4 lb bow tie noodles, cooked and drained

In a large saucepan, saute onions in schmaltz until blackened. Meanwhile, mix the egg and the kasha. Add to pan and saute with onions until the kernels begin to separate. about 5-10 minutes. Add broth and then cover. Simmer over low heat until kasha is tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the cabbage and saute until wilted Remove from heat. Stir in noodles and serve.

My thoughts:
My husband loves kasha varnishkes. Luckily kasha is pretty easy to find (it's buckwheat groats) especially this time of year when grocery stores have zero idea what foods go with which Jewish holiday and just put anything remotely Jewish or Kosher on sale.

I had to make a chicken dish for a client so Matt made schmaltz* with the leftover chicken fat and saved it to make kasha varnishkes. Thrifty! If you don't have schmaltz, you can just use oil. Traditionally it's just the buckwheat, onions and noodles but to totally eliminate the need for a second side dish (my secret goal when making pretty much any side dish), I had him add in some fresh savoy cabbage. I love cabbage so much and savoy cabbage is a little lighter alternative to white which takes a lot longer to cook. It really worked with the hearty flavors of the dish. I'm sure his ancestors would have approved of the addition despite tradition. It's a great side dish with roasted meat.

*To render chicken fat to make schmaltz: Heat a sauté pan, add the fat, and the small onion, quartered and cook over medium heat until the fat is rendered. Strain into a heat-safe bowl or measuring cup.
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September 25, 2019

Glazed Pawpaw Spice Cake


for the cake:
1 cup mashed pawpaw* (about 4 large pawpaws)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
pinch salt

for the glaze:
1 tablespoon melted butter
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons mashed pawpaw
2-3 tablespoons water


Butter and flour one loaf pan. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat together the pawpaw, vanilla, egg, butter, and sugars until fairly smooth. Beat in the dry ingredients. Mix mix until a thick batter forms. Scrape into the prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just 1-2 moist crumbs. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack then remove from the pan. Continue to cool on a wire rack completely.

In a small bowl. whisk together glaze ingredients. Add water as needed to make it pourable. Pour over fully cooled cake. Allow to sit 30 minutes prior to slicing.

*Make sure your pawpaw is ripe! It should be quite soft. When fully ripe, the seeds will pop out easily and the flesh will be so soft you should not have to mash it at all. Do not use unripe or underripe pawpaws!

My thoughts:

First things, first, I'm talking about the North American native fruit, pawpaws which look sort of like mangos and is a member of the same family as custard apples and soursop, not papayas, which in some countries are also called pawpaw. American pawpaws can be tricky to find because they are not very grocery store friendly--they go from ripe to rotten in about 2 days unless refrigerated (and even that is iffy)--but in areas where they are grown you can occasionally find them in farmers' markets. Or hunt for them in the wild, especially in a marshy area! We grow our own using trees from a local native plant nursery. Here is a piece by NPR on foraging for pawpaws that gives some background into the fruit. 

We have been growing pawpaws for quite a few years now but until now I really haven't a big enough harvest to really make anything with them. First, you really need around four trees (unless you are very close to an area where they grow wild, I live in Baltimore City so I do not) for optional pollination. You can get away with two apparently but we have not had luck with that few. Then the trees need to be fairly mature to actually produce fruit. Our neighbor also grows pawpaws and knows by looking at the trunk if they are old enough to fruit. From what I can tell, the magic number is about 6 inches around or about 4 years old. It's a commitment! When the fruit is ripe it falls off the tree (where is it quickly consumed by birds and bugs) but you can catch it when it is just soft, similar to an overripe avocado or mango and harvest it yourself.

Pawpaws have a soft, custardy texture and a very strong, fruity mango meets citrus aroma and flavor. They add a ton of moisture to any baked good making them perfect for simple cakes like this. We had a similar cake at a now-defunct restaurant and I have been wanting to recreate it for years! Finally, we had enough pawpaws (and we were actually home when they ripened, they go from unripe to overripe amazingly quickly) to make a whole (small) cake. It came together quickly and for just the two of us, a loaf cake is the perfect size.

 It's excellent for dessert or a little snack with tea. The lush tropical flavor really makes it stand out against other similar cakes and is a fun change from the usual citrus or banana.

September 17, 2019

(Baked) Australian-style Potato Wedges


3 lbs Russet potatoes, cut into wedges
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

to serve:
sour cream


Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the potatoes and cook until easily pierced with a fork (but not fall-apart tender), about 5 minutes. Drain. Place in a large bowl. Set aside.

Whisk together the oil, salt, paprika, garlic, and pepper.

Drizzle the potatoes with seasoned oil. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to arrange the potatoes in a single layer (skin side down) on the lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until crisp and cooked through.

To serve:

Pour chili sauce into ramekins. Top each with a dollop of sour cream.

My thoughts:
I read a fair amount of Australian books and watch a lot of Australian shows for someone who has lived in the US their entire life. I love seeing a glimpse of a different place and of course, I'm always interested in what they are eating! Australian food is a neat mashup of British food, food from many different Asian countries, Indigenous Australians and Pacific Islanders.

I noticed in one show the characters were at a pub eating potato wedges dipped in something but I couldn't make out what it was. Then I read about wedges in a mystery. Then last week, someone talked about having something called "Aussie wedges" at a restaurant in NYC. Well then. I had to investigate!

In looking up recipes in Australian food magazines, they seem to be a regular snack and often fried. You can fry them of course, but I find frying wedges a little tricky, even parboiled, they often aren't quite tender in the middle. Baking ensures the ultimate final product, in my opinion.

The dipping sauce is really what sets it apart. You can make your own sweet chili sauce but to be honest, it is just as tasty store-bought. I was skeptical about the combination but trust me (and millions of Australians!), it is really good!

It's a simple recipe but makes for a very satisfying and easy side dish.

September 11, 2019

Nectarine Butter with Lemongrass and Ginger (Slow Cooker)


6-8 lb nectarines, pitted and coarsely chopped
zest of 2 limes
2 cups light brown sugar
1 2-inch knob ginger, peeled
2 3-inch pieces lemongrass, cut into 1/4 inch chunks
1 1/2 tablespoons white peppercorns
1/4 cup (bottled) lemon juice


Place the nectarines, zest, and sugar in a 4-quart slow cooker, stir. Note: you can fill the insert all the way to the top, it will cook down quickly!

Place the ginger, lemongrass, and peppercorns into a large tea ball and place in the slow cooker.

Turn the slow cooker on low and cook overnight  (8-10 hrs)  or until the mixture has reduced by nearly half, with the lid slightly askew to allow for some evaporation to occur. A chopstick can help keep the lid from closing if necessary.

Puree the mixture with an immersion or standard blender. Return the mixture to the slow cooker and continue to cook, with the lid slightly askew, as needed to obtain fruit butter consistency, about an hour.

Stir in the lemon juice.

Prep your jars and lids.

Pour the butter in the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yield: about 6 8-oz jars

Note: A great source for canning information is the Blue Book guide to preserving. I highly recommend it for learning how to can. Here are some of my other favorite canning books and supplies.

My thoughts:
Another year as canbassader for the Washington State Fruit Commission has come to an end! This year I was sent a whole case of nectarines! In previous years I've been sent plums and peaches which have been amazing but I'll be honest. nectarines have always been my favorite summer fruit. The fuzz on peaches makes my hands itchy so it's tricky to peel them myself and I always end up needed help making anything. No issue with nectarines! The skin is fuzz-free and so thin, you don't even need to peel them before canning unless you want to.

Apple butter is the most popular fruit butter out there, possibly followed by pumpkin butter but I like stone fruit butter the best. It really concentrates the flavors of the fruit. Apples are available nearly year-round (although of course, they are better when in season during the fall) but most stone fruit is only available during the summer, making it more attractive to can. There is nothing better than getting a taste of nectarines during the darkest part of winter.

For this butter, I used the classic combination of floral lemongrass and spicy ginger and tossed in some white peppercorn for just a hint of heat. They perfectly brought out the near tropical sweetness of the nectarine.

Making it in the slow cooker really makes it a breeze to make. You can just simmer it on the stove but it requires a lot of attention or it very easily scorches. No risk of that in the slow cooker and the only real hands-on time is cutting the nectarine and then briefly boiling the jars.

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September 09, 2019

Fig and Delicata Squash Salad

for the squash:
1 delicata squash, sliced into 1/4 inch half-moons, seeds reserved
1 tablespoon fennel pollen
freshly ground black pepper
canola oil

for the seeds:
1/2 cup raw delicata seeds, rinsed clean
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

for the salad:
10 fresh figs, halved
10 oz watercress
1/2 red onion, sliced
4 oz crumbled blue cheese (gorgonzola is good)
4 oz prosciutto

to serve:
prosecco or other white wine vinegar


Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss together the squash, a drizzle of canola oil, salt, pepper and fennel pollen. Arrange in a single layer on the lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, stir together the seeds, oil, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and oregano. Place on the baking sheet next to the squash.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the squash is fork-tender. Allow to cool about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss together the salad ingredients. Divide between two plates for a meal, 4 four as a side dish. Top with squash and seeds. Drizzle with vinegar and serve.

My thoughts:

Our fig trees are doing so well this year! It's been a wet, hot summer but apparently, that is what all of the fruit trees in our yard love. They are all really producing! We have hundreds of beach plums, dozens of pawpaws and a huge amount of figs. This year is the first year we've been able to harvest anything from our "Little Miss Figgy" tree, which is smaller than the average fig tree, and the figs are great! Very flavorful and they have great stems which makes it easy to pick them off the tree without damaging the fruit. a major plus when you want to serve them raw.

Delicata squash is one of my favorites. It's in season this time of year. Many people think it's a winter squash like butternut but it is actually summer squash like zucchini that is consumed when it matures in the late summer or early fall. You can eat the skin which makes it a breeze to prepare. I hate having to peel the bumpy skins off winter squash! It makes meals with it much faster. I pulled this together for a quick lunch and it took only about half an hour, including cooling the cooked squash. Initially, I had thought to add nuts to the salad but then I thought--why not use the seeds? It's nice not to have them go to waste and the squash cooks so quickly, you can toast them on the same pan as the squash.

The flavors are perfect for late summer. The fresh sweetness of the figs, the peppery watercress, the creamy cheese, salty prosciutto,  floral fennel pollen, crunchy seeds, and the earthy squash hit all of my flavors and textures in a salad. I didn't feel the need to make a formal dressing, there is enough oil left clinging to the squash and seeds that just a quick splash of vinegar was enough.

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September 06, 2019

Fennel, Mushroom, Olive and Beef Ragout over Polenta


for the ragout:

1 1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 bulbs fennel, sliced into half-moons
1 red onion, sliced into half-moons
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/4 lb cubed sirloin or stew beef
superfine flour (like Wondra)
quart beef stock
1/4 cup (drained) kalamata olives
1 tablespoon coarse herbs de Provence
1/4 cup chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper

for the polenta:
6 cups beef stock or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups yellow stone-ground (polenta) grits
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
freshly ground black pepper


for the ragout:

In a medium heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat some oil. Add the mushrooms, fennel, onion, and garlic and saute until well cooked down. The onions and fennel should be near caramelized. Sprinkle the beef with flour and stir it into the vegetables, browning the cubes on each side. Add the stock until the meat is nearly covered (may have stock leftover) and add the olive and spices. Stir and simmer, covered for 1 1/2-2 hrs or until the meat is tender. Remove the lid, stir in the parsley and simmer until the liquid has reduced and the stew is quite thick if needed.

for the polenta:

In a medium pot, bring the stock and the bay leaf to a boil. Add the polenta/grits, butter, and oil then stir continually for about 10 minutes or until all the broth is absorbed. Remove from the heat, fish out the bay leaf and stir in the cheese and spices--go light on the salt due to the olives in the ragout.

Divide the polenta up onto 4-6 serving dishes, top with ragout. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:
It is still summer and I don't love fall because fall means winter is coming and winter is the worst season of them all.The last few weeks of summer are some of my favorites because it is still warm but not meltingly hot and some of my favorite foods are still in season: tomatoes, corn, summer squash and now, fennel. This is a very fall-like dish but the fennel is so fresh and sweet it is still a good fit for early September. It does take quite a while to make but it is 90% hands off and very easy. The flavors are rich and earthy. The perfect transitional dinner.

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September 04, 2019

Lemon-Dill Shishito Pepper Chicken Skewers

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #ChooseMazola #CollectiveBias
A clinical study showed Mazola® Corn Oil reduces cholesterol 2x more than extra virgin olive oil. To learn more about this claim, see
  • Ingredients: 
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped 
  • 1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces 
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill 
  • 1/2 cup Mazola Corn Oil 
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice zest of one lemon 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1-pint shishito peppers 
Directions: The night before you want to serve the chicken, place all ingredients EXCEPT the shishito peppers in a resealable bag or marinating container. Refrigerate overnight.

Heat your broiler as needed. Add the peppers to the bag or marinating container and shake to coat the peppers in the marinade. Place two pieces of chicken followed one (whole) pepper on a skewer and repeat until all of the chicken and peppers are gone, resulting about 4 large skewers.

Place on a broiler-safe pan and broil for 10-12 minutes, turning once, or until the chicken is fully cooked.

Serves 4

My thoughts:
My summer obsession with dill continues. I don't know why, but this summer, I have wanted dill in nearly everything I've eaten. So when Mazola Corn Oil got in touch about developing a recipe using Mazola Corn Oil as part of September's National Cholesterol Awareness Month, I knew it had to have dill!

I started using corn oil more last year and I like it a lot. It has a higher smoke point (450°F!) than many oils including olive oil and a neutral taste, which makes it pretty versatile. I've used it when grilling, sautéing, stir-frying, and in recipes like this when making a marinade.

Mazola Corn Oil is an all-purpose, cholesterol-free cooking oil that is a smart heart-healthy* choice for your family. *See for more information on the relationship between corn oil and heart health.

For this recipe, I swapped out a few ingredients to make them more health-friendly. Instead of marinating in sour cream or Greek salad dressing, I used cholesterol-free Mazola Corn Oil. Instead of the dry dill dip mix I was tempted to use but which was high in sodium, I used fresh dill, lemon juice, and spices. I also swapped out chicken thighs for chicken breast, which is lower in cholesterol. Broiling was a great choice, too. It was healthier than pan frying but not as dependent on the weather as grilling.
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