spring rolls

Tonight we are having these for dinner! I documented how to make and assemble these a while back so I decided to post the pictures and instructions here on the blog so you could make them yourself! Have fun.


1 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ tablespoon fish sauce
2 ½ tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces rice vermicelli
1 large carrot, peeled and grated on large holes of grater (about ½ cup)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted salted peanuts
1 medium jalapeno or 2 Thai chilies, stemmed, seeded and minced
4 large leaves read leaf or Boston leaf lettuce, halved lengthwise
8 – 10 round rice paper wrappers (8” diameter)
½ cup each, loosely packed basil, cilantro and mint
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut according to directions below

Peanut dipping sauce

1. Combine sugar, fish sauce and lime juice in a small bowl; set aside.
2. Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in medium saucepan. Stir in salt and rice vermicelli. Cook until noodles are tender but not mushy, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain noodles and rinse under cold running water until cool. Drain again and transfer to medium bowl; toss 2 tablespoons fish sauce mixture with the noodles and set aside.
3. Combine carrot, peanuts and jalapeno in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon fish sauce mixture; toss to combine. Toss cucumber in remaining 1 tablespoon fish sauce mixture.
4. Place lettuce on platter. Spread clean, damp kitchen towel on work surface. Fill 9 inch pie place with 1 inch warm water. Working one at a time, immerse each wrapper in water until just pliable, about 10 seconds; lay softened wrapper on towel. Scatter a few of each herb on the rice paper. Arrange 5 or so cucumber sticks horizontally on the wrapper, top with 1 tablespoon carrot mixture, then arrange about 2 ½ tablespoons noodles on top of the carrot mixture. Wrap spring roll, set on platter. Cover with second damp towel; repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. Serve with dipping sauce.

Makes 8 spring rolls

1. Cut peeled cucumber in half crosswise. Cut into ¼ inch planks from outermost part of each cucumber half, leaving seeds behind.
2. Cut each plank in five 1/8 inch strips. You should have about 40 strips of cucumber.

1. Lay filling on wrapper. (middle)
2. Fold up bottom 2-inch border over filling.
3. Fold left then right edge of wrapper over filling.
4. Roll filling to top edge of wrapper to form a tight cylinder.

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Notes: Be careful when working with rice papers. Soaking time is crucial. If soaked too long the wrappers disintegrate; when soaking for just 2 or 3 seconds, they remain too stiff to work with. Ten seconds is about perfect but make sure you place them on a damp kitchen towel. If you put them directly on the counter they will fall part.

The thickness of the vermicelli noodles from brand to brand, which affects cooking time. It’s best to taste the noodles every minute or so during cooking until they are tender. A rinse in cold water is then needed to stop the cooking and keep the starchy noodles from congealing into an inseparable mass.

I get bottled peanut dipping sauce in Oriental/Thai section of the grocery store. The rice vermicelli and wraps I purchase at an international market. (My grocery story just doesn’t carry these things)

I never go to all this trouble and make just 8 of these guys, it’s just so much easier to make more once you have everything laid out in bowls. Getting everything ready before starting is key.

Most importantly, have FUN.

Tomato Pie – The quintessential taste of summer at our house.

Tomato Pie 3

Every spring when we set out our tomato plants we also plant lots of basil to go with them because what we have in mind is tomato pie. The other thing we plant in the spring is sweet banana peppers because you cannot have tomato pie without them. Did I mention how much we love tomato pie?  We have so many memories that are attached to this pie that it’s like taking a walk down memory lane when we eat it. (smile)

When the day finally arrives that the slicing tomatoes begin to ripen, it’s time to get the bacon and pepper jack cheese in the house because it won’t be long now. The basil and banana peppers are already going gangbusters by this time too. See how all these things come together? It’s as if heaven is smiling down on this pie.

I’ll share with you my recipe but you will need to realize it’s more of an ingredient list with approx. amounts because I have never measured anything before. It won’t matter anyway, you can customize it however you like.

Tomato Pie 1


1 Prebaked Pie crust

2 cups Tomatoes, chopped (about 2”)

4 Sweet Banana Peppers, seeded and sliced

¼ cup Fresh Basil, chopped

½ to ¾ Lb. Cooked Bacon, chopped

2 Cups, Pepper Jack cheese, shredded.

The first thing I do is make the pie crust and that’s because it has to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour before rolling it out. Once it’s properly chilled, I roll it out to fit the 9” pie pan then fit it into the pie pan and crimp the edges; I then put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. (Or you can buy a frozen pie crust)

Meanwhile preheat your oven to 350⁰. When the pie crust has finished chilling, press a piece of aluminum foil into the bottom of it; making sure to take care not to break off the edges. Fill with dried beans or baking blinds and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove the beans and foil and return to the oven for approx. 10 more minutes or until light golden brown.

Place a small amount of shredded cheese in the bottom of the crust. Toss together the drained tomatoes, basil and the banana peppers and add to the crust. Add the bacon next, topping everything with the rest of the cheese.

Tomato Pie 2


Bake on a baking sheet for 25 to 30 minutes to allow everything to heat up and the cheese to melt.

Serve hot


tomato pie 4


Meatballs and Marinara Sauce


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Sometimes I have a plan for dinner and sometimes I don’t. When I do, I make sure I have all the ingredients on hand and if not, they get added to the grocery list. And then there are the occasions that despite having a plan in place, I run across a recipe that changes everything! I think that should be the rule for family meals and cooking in general – make a plan but be willing to shift.

I can’t tell you how many times I KNEW I had something in the pantry, something critical for a recipe, so I didn’t buy it when I bought everything else and then get home to find out I was wrong. Ugh, I hate that the worst. But at the same time, it does force me to be creative and come up with something new.

Last night I had all the ingredients for spaghetti on hand, ready to make dinner but then I ran across a recipe for baked meatballs with mozzarella. The picture was mouthwatering and the next thing you know, I was shifting gears and going in a new direction.

I decided to make my own version of this, using my own recipes. It’s legal, lol. Recipes are so great for inspiration but then you are free to make it however you like.

Making the meatballs only took about 15 minutes or so to get in the oven – then I was free to begin making the marinara sauce.


To assemble you will also need 8 oz shredded mozzarella and ¼ cup parmesan cheese.

Put half the marinara in a large ovenproof skillet.

Next, arrange the meatballs on top of the sauce, then pour the remaining marinara over the meatballs.


Bake @375 degrees for 15 or so minutes; it should be bubbling around the edges when ready.

Pull from the oven and sprinkle both cheeses on top and return back to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes more.

(While this was baking, I cooked some spaghetti for the meatballs to go over.)

Add some nice crusty French or Italian bread and maybe a small green salad and you will think you had gone out to a fancy Italian restaurant for dinner!

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When I make this again, I will most likely forgo the pasta and use either grilled eggplant or zucchini instead. YUM. Mix it up, change it around to suit your taste – it’s what makes cooking fun!

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(I couldn’t finish it!)


2 lbs. Ground beef (I used 1 lb beef and 1 lb pork)

¼ cup finely chopped onions

1 finely chopped small bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ tsp dried oregano

1 ½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp red pepper flakes (Optional, to taste)

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

½ cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees


Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; being careful to not over mix or the meatballs will be tough. Shape into balls by hand or use a small cookie/ice cream scoop. You should have 25 or 30 meatballs.  Place on a greased or foil-lined baking pan, leaving a little bit of room between each. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning about halfway through. (Reduce the heat in the oven to 375 degrees when you take the meatballs out)

Meanwhile make the marinara.

Marinara Sauce:

Large onion, diced

Large bell pepper, diced

8 oz Mushrooms, sliced

½ cup fresh basil chopped

¼ cup fresh rosemary leaves, chopped (Optional)

1 tsp fennel seed

2 tsp dry oregano

2 15 oz cans petite diced tomatoes

1 15 oz can tomato sauce

½ small can tomato paste

Sauté the vegetables in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until onions are translucent and mushrooms have released their liquid. Add in the seasonings, fresh and dry and let simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring often.

Add in all the tomatoes, using the juice too. Combine it all together well and let simmer covered for about 15 to 20 minutes. (You can always make this ahead of time and let it simmer for as long as like really.)

Breakfast Avocado Melt

Breakfast Avacado Melt


Some mornings I get tired of the same old grind. You know eggs, some protein and toast. I  love breakfast and eggs are a big part of that every day. But some mornings, when the planets line up, the moon is full and all is well in the universe, I will make a shift from my usual breakfast fare and decide we need an open-faced, stacked something.

That’s what happened here. The tomato and avocado were both at peak ripeness, (YES on the same day!!) and knowing this was practically a divine moment I decided to take advantage of it, right there and then.

The first thing I did was slice the tomato and avocado and give them a  nice sprinkle of salt and pepper to start bringing out the juices, then set them aside. The next order of business was to get a couple pieces of sausage into the pan to begin browning while I toasted off 2 large pieces of multigrain bread.

Basic assembly followed, beginning with a couple of thick slabs of pepper Jack cheese followed by the tomato slices. Next I took a sausage patty and sliced it in two thinner patties and put it on top of the tomatoes. The final layer was the avocado and them more pepper Jack cheese.

This was then placed in a preheated 350⁰ oven and left until the cheese was melted and dripping down the sides. Meanwhile, I fried an egg to rest on the top of this cheesy beautiful thing, just before serving.

If you want to venture out and try a “stacked” breakfast yourself, I would encourage you to  look around at what’s on your counter and what’s in your refrigerator – I bet you can come up with something equally as yummy as mine!


Making Tuesday Night Special


Individual blueberry pies

Yes, it’s Tuesday again. If ever there’s a day that dinner is lame, it’s this day. We affectionately call it, “Tuesday Night Special” around here; affectionately is said more with sarcasm than love, at least by me. And so far we have managed to survive this weekly mundane meal for years; which is way too long in my opinion. I don’t know what it is about Tuesday that makes figuring out what to have for dinner so difficult, it’s just another week night. Period. Isn’t it? Am I missing something here? Is it just me? Help!  Sometimes our Tuesday Night Special falls on a Wednesday; but not often.

So here I am, writing this blog post and I’m still not sure exactly what we’re having for dinner. I have some thoughts; I even got a new magazine in the mail the other day. I’m thinking about the Three-Herb Chicken Breast with Mushrooms but that also depends on what I have in my pantry and refrigerator right now. Did I remember to get those mushrooms at the grocery store?

Cooking magazines are so good for helping my imagination fill in the missing pieces for those pesky meals. And I have some missing pieces sometimes, believe me.

But we’ll get back to that…later. Right now I wanted to tell you how I’ve decided to make our Tuesday dinner special; in the real definition of the word. You may have noticed that I started this blog post with a picture of individual blueberry pies, so…

Quite often, I find myself with leftover pie crust and when it happens; my thoughts tend to lean toward somehow including it in the evening meal. Since I do bake for a living, I usually think sweet first, way more often before it occurs to me to even consider a savory option. And since this is Tuesday and as usual I’m not sure what we are having for dinner, I can skip all that and head straight to dessert.

My reasoning for that; EVERYTHING, tastes better when you have a great dessert! It’s true. So, dinner may be special but if we add a little blueberry pie for each person and ….maybe a little scoop of vanilla ice cream, I think dinner may just cross the line over into Special, the real Special!

Sometimes I don’t feel like making individual pies, instead I opt for a more rustic one. Here is a picture of a peach one that I made awhile back.


Many things can become mundane and ordinary if we allow them to. Our meals don’t have to be one of them. With so many options at our grocery stores, or our farmer’s markets, etc., why would we let that happen? I know that I’m certainly ready for some change in our meals – especially on Tuesdays! And I’m speaking to me, okay maybe you too, but all it takes is a little thought and a little planning to make little changes that can have a big impact on the quality of our meals.

And you know, it doesn’t take all that much to make a meal special. I do know this but sometimes (like Tuesday’s) I forget! By adding something as simple as a fresh fruit salsa to the meal occasionally can kick things up. Or you could make a great big salad and serve it with a piece of grilled meat or fish on top. A one-dish meal certainly cuts down on the clean up and who doesn’t appreciate that?

Just promise me this…. Try one thing new this week. See how it goes. If it’s a dismal failure, so what; have fun anyway, get up and try again. If that one change has great results, why not try two new things next week? Whatever it takes to make your families meals special will be worth it.  I promise.

Meatloaf with Mushroom-Garlic Sauce – aka The very best meatloaf I’ve ever eaten, bar none.

Meatloaf with mushroom gravy

Last night while I was trying to figure out what to have for dinner, I discovered 2 packages of mushrooms hidden behind the lettuce. Apparently I forgot I bought them the week before. For some crazy reason I thought of meatloaf with a mushroom gravy.  It was crazy because I usually only make meatloaf once every 6 or 7 years. I’m NOT a fan. Boy did that ever change!

I found a great recipe while looking for something else. (Isn’t that always the case?) But the best part of this recipe was the sauce. I embellished it with mushrooms since they were the reason for making meatloaf in the first place and if I can be honest, I used quite a bit more roasted garlic in the sauce than it called for; maybe 15 to 16 cloves. What?? Isn’t garlic supposed to be good for you? Yes it is. Besides, once roasted it’s super mild but huge in flavor.

I worked on the sauce while the meatloaf baked since they take about the same amount of time to cook. And in between all that, I peeled some potatoes and started them boiling for the mashed potatoes that are simply a MUST with a dish like this.

To round out the meal I had a bag of beautiful whole carrots and had just picked up some fresh radishes at the store and thought they would be great roasted together. (which they were).  I peeled and trimmed the carrots and trimmed the radishes then tossed them in a little olive oil, adding a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper. They roasted in the oven at 400º on a rimmed sheet pan for about 20 to 25 minutes after the meatloaf was finished and resting on the counter. (Why yes, the meatloaf was  covered loosely with foil).

If you would like to try this recipe, here is my adapted recipe for the meatloaf. I hope you enjoy it. And don’t forget to go check out the original recipe too. (I just didn’t have all the ingredients, hence the adaptation). The link is after the recipe.


Meatloaf with Mushroom-Garlic Sauce*


6 to 8 servings

  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion (1 large)
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced celery (2 stalks)
  • 3 pound ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups bread crumbs
  • Garlic Sauce (recipe follows)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent but not browned. Set aside to cool slightly.

Place the beef, parsley, thyme, chives, eggs, milk, salt, pepper and bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl.

Add the onion mixture to the meat mixture. With clean hands, gently toss the mixture together, making sure it’s combined but not compacted.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Pat the meat into a flat rectangle and then press the sides in until it forms a cylinder down the middle of the pan (this will ensure no air pockets). Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the middle reads 155 degrees F to 160 degrees F. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve hot with the Garlic Sauce.

Garlic Sauce

3/4 cup good olive oil

10 garlic cloves, peeled

4 cups chicken or beef stock

5 tablespoons butter, separated, at room temperature

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. White button mushroom, sliced. (or however many you want)

Combine the oil and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Be careful not to burn the garlic or it will be bitter. Remove the garlic from the oil and set aside. (I save the oil for vinaigrettes or brushing on pizza dough.) When the garlic has cooled, I give it a rough chop so it will blend more in the sauce.

Add 2 tablespoons butter to a large sauté pan. Once melted, add the mushrooms and sauté for about 5 or 6 minutes. Combine the chicken stock, butter and cooked garlic in with the mushrooms and  bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook at a full boil for 35 to 40 minutes, until slightly thickened. Whisk in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and taste for seasonings. Spoon the warm sauce over the meatloaf.

*Recipe adapted from, Ina Garten’s recipe 1770 House Meatloaf, here:

Mango Salsa

Mango Salsa


Mango salsa is one of my go to recipes when I’m in the mood for something grilled yet want it to be fresh and healthy at the same time. And normally U serve it with Blackened Grilled Salmon. The combinations is do die for!

 But tonight, we’re having chicken instead because I used the salmon earlier in the week along with the spring rolls. This IS plan B, (smile) and the alternate plan doesn’t have to mean it’s secondary or less than. So back to the salsa, I figured I’d actually give you a recipe this week instead of just writing about food after the fact.

The first thing you need to do is get your knife really sharp because you’re going to give it a work-out for this salsa. Next, you need to  get everything, the mangos, the tomatoes, the pineapple and the jalapenos, which are actually minced but you get the point.


Next, squeeze on the lime juice and give it a good stir.


Now you’re home free! Just poke it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so while you get the rest of your meal ready.


(psst, go light that grill!)


Mango Salsa

4 Mangos, ripe but still firm, peeled & finely diced

4-5 ripe Roma tomatoes (depending on size), finely diced

1 jalapeno, or to taste, minced

1 small can diced pineapple (of course you can use fresh)

¾ C. chopped cilantro

Juice & zest of 1 or 2 Limes (be sure to zest before juicing)

Salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Serve with chips, grilled blackened salmon, chicken or pork or simply a spoon.

Note: I used the pineapple juice along with some lime juice and minced garlic to marinate the chicken in before grilling.

Honoring Mothers

I’m a little behind in my blogging for this site so I decided to reblog something from my other site “Conversations”. Thanks for reading.


Mother's day post

Mother’s Day is on May 10th this year and that makes it less than a month away. I have to find a victim, quick! No, really. Let me explain…….

My mother passed away 6 years ago and because she has gone on, it doesn’t exempt me from honoring mothers all around me. There are single mothers who need encouraging, spiritual mothers who need honoring, sisters who have forgotten how awesome they truly are or maybe you’re a mother to orphans who simply needs someone to listen to what has happened in your day. The need is greater than we know.

I’ve heard it said that Mother’s Day is only a ‘Hallmark’ holiday and it doesn’t really matter that much but this couldn’t be further from the truth! It matters a lot. No, it doesn’t matter how the world celebrates or even doesn’t celebrate; WE are of a different kingdom…

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Easter feasting, another excuse to gather around the table

Easter 4

I love spring. As a matter of fact, I love both transitional seasons; spring and fall. I only wish they lasted longer before the intense heat or cold sets in. In the spring all of creation erupts into song. The birds begin a new season of nest building and family growing. Nature awakens from the long winter sleep and flowers begin to pop up all over the place.

For me and our family, spring means Easter. And Easter means lamb. For years we celebrated the feast with baked ham like many others until one year, back in 1993 if I’m correct, I received my monthly Bon Appetite magazine. In it was a Greek Easter feast that I simply HAD to try. I used every single recipe for the meal and even added a Martha Stewart recipe for Spanakopita instead of just purchasing them at the store. I looked up a recipe for stuffed grape leaves instead of purchasing them also.

Easter 1

Boy what a feast it was that year! We began with the lamb and lemon soup, followed by roasted leg of lamb, the three different varieties of Spanakopita, salad and an assortment of breads, pita, Kalamata olives and cheeses. We completed the meal with coffee, strawberries and delicate almond cookies.

It was a perfect feast! I only wish we had invited more people, we had so much food!

These days, we keep the Greek theme for Easter because we love Mediterranean food and we love lamb, but it has evolved into a much more casual meal. We still make everything from scratch and we still make way too much food!

For the most part, it’s become a feast that is consumed with our hands; utensils aren’t required but certainly aren’t prohibited! We’ve even taken to having this feast alfresco so it works with the more casual atmosphere we’ve adopted.

Easter 2

This year our menu was pretty much the same as last year. Hey if it was great then, why change it?

The menu consisted of: Ground lamb which I made into sausages, grilled chicken Kebabs that were marinated in lemon vinaigrette, Greek salad, corn with feta and mint, Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), assorted olives with marinated feta cheese, and of course fresh pita bread and Tzaziki sauce.

Easter 3

Yes it seems like a lot of work but we do it once a year and really, it’s so worth it!

That’s the point; do things you love with those you love and it’s all worth it. It takes effort to plan and execute a meal, but it’s not difficult. We will do things for love that we will never do for duty and if we think of family gatherings as only a duty, they will not be fun for us, or those attending.

I take the time to tell you all the stuff we do, not to provoke you to jealously or even to show off our wonderful feast. No, I do this because I want you to get a passion for gathering around the table; be it with family or friends. It’s a big deal.

What we are passionate about, we want to do. So stir up those passions for food, for family and for amazing conversations! It will happen.

Dinner made simple.

Roasted chicken

You know, some nights I just have no idea what to have for dinner and this is exactly the reasons I make every effort to keep my pantry and refrigerator stocked with all kinds of basic things. Since I work double shifts when I work outside of my home, I usually get some sense of what dinner will consist of while making breakfast, early in the morning. That way if I need to thaw some chicken or something I have time to allow for it. If I need to get one more item from the store, I plan that too. I try to always keep potatoes, either sweet or a variety of white on hand, along with an assortment of rice and pasta and even an assortment of frozen vegetables. I prefer fresh produce but that’s not always possible.

In the dish that I’ve illustrated, I seared off some boneless, skinless chicken breast in my largest ovenproof skillet and then set them aside. To the same pan I added cubed red potatoes (no need to peel!!), mushrooms and onions and gave all that a quick sear too.  You can use pearl onions if chopping onions make cry like it does me. Return the chicken back to the pan, nestling it among the potatoes. Scatter some whole garlic cloves and fresh herbs and then squeeze the juice of an entire lemon over the entire dish, even throw in the lemon rinds and pop it into a preheated 400º oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and you house smells divine.

This takes about 15 minutes of active prep time and while dinner is finishing up in the oven you can throw together a quick salad and boom, dinner is done and it’s delicious too.

Most of this meal came from things I had on hand. I had boneless skinless chicken breasts stocked from when they had been on sale. I also had lemons, potatoes, garlic cloves and mushrooms. The fresh herbs were from my garden. The salad was a spring mix I picked up at the grocery store along with a cucumber and grape tomatoes. You can use purchased salad dressing or you can make your own with oil and either vinegar or lemon juice.

In our house we often have one dish meals. Of course this one had 2 with the salad but you could tuck some carrots or zucchinis into the chicken and have a real one dish meal if you like. There are no rules, just do what you like, with what you have on hand.

Quite often I will make a large salad and then top it with something like chicken or salmon that I cooked on the grill. This is super quick and more filling than you may think. Also, with cooking the meat on the grill, there are barely any dishes!

All of this is to say: It’s really not all that difficult or time consuming to put a great meal on the table in order for the opportunity to spend time together relating and conversing. It is the point you know; we were made for relationship and the more we intentionally make opportunities for relationships to happen, the more those relationships will grow.

Honestly, meal times are the best times in my life. Taking the time to make sure the food is good and wholesome is a wonderful thing but it is a means to an end.

I hope you get to spend some time around your table soon, conversing and creating and strengthening relationships.