Paul’s work dinner party tonight, time to get cracken with some old fav’s to warm up the night

My partner, Paul and his colleague M, wanted to have a dinner party with some folks from work; so I was volunteered to help pull the dinner party off – I wonder if I can pull this look off?

Since were going to hold it at her house, my thoughts were to go simple with good standards fitting the weather; so that means;

  • A vegan Carrot “Hummus” with raw veggies as the chips
  • For the main course; since the Mexican chicken soup was such a hit two weeks ago at home and is slow cooker friendly –  it’s up again. Topped with all the fixings after a long slow cook and shredding the chicken – its a perfect rainy friday night dish.
  • For after supper, my favorite adaption of a black pepper biscotti and a new version of the old school italian “Ugly But Good” almond paste cookie should set the table for a great social tonight.
  • Others will bring salad, cheese and crackers, and we’ve got a fresh loaf of baked bread to round it all off.



I first made the Carrot Hummus at Easter and posted about it here. I found the recipe initially on the Joanne Weir website for CreateTV and adapted it some for my taste. For this version I adapted it as a fully vegan version with out oil.


  • 2 1/2 lbs  large carrots, roughly cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 pieces of pealed garlic whole
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Agave Nectar
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste in a pinch peanut butter or almond butter will work too I bet), well stirred (I might use up to 2 teaspoons more next time)
  • 2 Tablespoons of sesame seeds, roasted and ground
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted and ground cardamom
  • Pinch crushed red chili pepper, or cayenne  (or to taste)
  • Juice and peel of one lemon
  • Fresh squeezed lemon juice to taste
Note: for the next time I plan to try these with grilled carrots, garlic and ginger then puree.
Heat up the oven to 375°F.
  • Place the carrots, salt, and agave on a large piece of foil or parchment paper. Toss together.  (I wanted a bit of a char on them so didn’t cover them, but it you wrap them up and seal the edges so the steam doesn’t escape. you will get a more mellow taste)
  • Bake in the oven until tender, 20 minutes. Stir and continue to roast for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and cool completely.
  • Pour the entire packet of carrots and oil into to the food processor with the remaining ingredients (except for the water and lemon juice).
  • Process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  • Add water if needed to make a thick dip the consistency of hummus.
  • Season with salt and lemon juice to taste. This is also when you can add more honey, spices etc.
Joanne Weir’s recipes calls for serving the dip with thin sliced root vegetable “chips” but few are going with fresh veggies.  To check out the original inspiration for this version, visit Joanne Weir’s recipe here
This will keep in the refrigerator for a few days but I take it out about 20 min before serving.


For the Soup

I first came across this on  Ree Drummond’s  Food Network show the Pioneer Woman but she also did a version on her blog back in 2015 here. I made a first batch a few weeks ago and was surprised at how good and easy it was. I have made some adaptions for our tastes below.

  • 5 boneless, skinless whole chicken breasts (The original recipe called for 3 – but I needed family stye for men)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • One 28-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 32 ounce low-sodium chicken broth (you can add less initially if you want it thicker)
  • 2  15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • One 10-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles, such as Ro*tel
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 small or 1 large pepper chopped and  1 teaspoon of the adobo sauce from a canned chipotle pepper in adobo (you may add more peppers if you like but it has some heat – I will leave the rest as a garnish)
  • Juice of  1/2 to 1 lime, (to taste – you could end up using the whole lime or serve some as garnish)
  • 1 can of roasted corn (or fresh roasted off the grill if you have it)

Salt, Pepper and Cumin one side of the chicken and lay flat in the bottom of slow cooker. add more pepper salt, cumin and the chili powder.

In layers, add the tomatoes, black beans, tomatoes with chiles, tomato paste, onion, chipotle pepper and red and yellow peppers, chicken broth. Stir, place the lid on the slow cooker and cook for 5 hours on high or 8 hours on low.

Add in the corn (with out it’s liquid). Stir in the lime juice. Remove the chicken to a plate and use 2 forks to break it into chunks (or shred it finely). Return the chicken to the pot, taste and add more seasoning if necessary.
Serve piping hot in a bowl with avocado, sour cream, grated cheese, crushed tortilla chips and cilantro leaves on top!

Don’t forget to serve it with the fixings – it makes the whole dish: avocado, sour cream, crumbled cheese, crushed tortilla chips and fresh cilantro leaves

And of course the Cookies

Black Pepper, Vanilla & Orange peel  I wrote about on “the battle rages on” which is actually yet its own adapted recipe  Valerie Bertinelli’s Helen’s Black Pepper Biscotti is one I know Paul’s boss loves. So this was a remake for her.

  •  2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  •  1/2 teaspoon baking soda*
  •  1/2 teaspoon baking powder*
  •  1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper ( I use a mix of fine ground and course grind for taste and texture.)**
  •  Pinch kosher salt
  •  1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  •  1 cup sugar
  •  3 large eggs, at room temperature
  •  2 teaspoons grated orange zest (I tend to get the organic ones or ones I pick from my pals garden- depending on size of orange this may be 1 -oranges )
  • The zest of one lemon
  •  1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  •  1/4 teaspoon almond extract
** To give these a visual pop – you can ground peppercorns that are other colors over the traditional black)

Sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder in a medium bowl. Stir in the pepper and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until pale and light, have the patience to let it do it’s work – it could take several minutes. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the orange zest and vanilla and almond extract .

With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the flour mixture, and then the walnuts. Mix a few minutes till the dough texture is formed a sticky mess 😉 .

(You can also do this by hand and fold them in then work the dough by hand till smooth).

Pour the dough out on to a lightly floured plastic wrap covered surface or clean counter top. Gently knead the dough to shape with your hands to form a thick round ball shape. The dough is super easy to handle at this piont. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (For this batch I omitted nuts).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper ( nonstick silicone liners also work).

Remove from the refrigerator, unwrap and divide the dough in half,  and shape each piece into a 12-inch log, about 2 inches across and 1 inch tall. (note you can make these as wide or thick as you like – I find because of the texture and taste of these, I tend to like a finished bake that is about 3 inch long and 1.5 inch high you may have to play with it a few times). But they don’t need to be preferfect. In fact any uniform shape will work.

Because I wanted to use less space – I actually cooked this in old-school metal ice trays lined with parchment paper. Bake until the logs are cooked through and lightly browned on the bottom, about between 30 – 35 minutes, depending on your oven and pans.  Watch them the last 5- 10 minutes as this could differ based on your pan and stove temp.

Let the logs cool for about 5-7 minutes on the baking sheets (leave the oven on), then transfer them carefully to racks (remove the parchment paper) to cool 10-15 minutes more.

Using a serrated knife, slice each log either on the diagonal (to give you a fancy shape) or straight across into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices cut-side down on the baking sheets and return to the oven until well toasted, 10 to 15 minutes more. I general flip mine over about half way to get even color.

Note: These biscotti have a great golden color to them which will darker to as you “second bake”. If you want to keep them less brown; adjust time or instead of laying them on the cut sides, leave the standing cooked side down.

Transfer the biscotti to cooling racks to cool completely. The longer they bake the harder they become. Note: they will continue to harden as they cool. Store in tins or air tight containers (QVC favorite Lock & Lock rock for this). They will keep, tightly covered, up to 1 week.

This Cook’s Note came from the recipe website and I thought worth sharing: To toast the walnuts  or most nuts on the stove top, put them in a dry skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring, until golden and fragrant. To toast them in the oven, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees F until golden and fragrant. In either case- the minute you smell them – get them off the heat.

Ugly But Good Cookies (aka Brutti Ma Buoni)

These quick and simple almond cookie are a old-school cookie that adapts well. I have made version chocolate covered cherries, candied ginger, gluten free etc. they are pretty forgiving. Pack a lot of flavor and is a nice “host” gift if you are going to someones for dinner.


Preheat the over to 300 degrees.

In a food processor; blend almond paste and egg white until smooth, add rest of the ingredients until just mixed.

On a parchment paper covered pan, drop  teaspoon sized scoops of the mix. Don’t bother trying to make them pretty – they will grow and cook organically which is what is why they named it that way.

If you are using chocolate or cherries, you could top with a one on the top it try and dress it up.

Bake for 25 minutes till golden. Cool and serve. they should keep about a week in an air tight container.

Sunday breakfast in front of the TV

Been watching the tv and the complete idiocracy of what has been done with a swipe of a pen in the hands of the “wannabe” leader. So needed a breakfast I could make and eat easily, and still have leftovers for the week. These crustless (gluten free), “Egg-ffins” (yeah its just what call them..) where the perfect low drama fix.

They couldn’t be simpler to make and easy adapt to what ever you have in the house.

  1. Preheat oven to 365 (350 is fine just cook linger)
  2. Crack 12 large eggs in a bowl; 12 will fill a regular muffin pan. 
  3. Using a fork, blend, add a splash water or cream, salt & pepper to taste, stir and add in 1 teaspoon of dried parsely. Note: you can use any fresh or dried herbs you have available. This is a great way to use jarred herb blends as well. 
  4. Dice up cooked meat, leftover vegatables, deli meats, set aside.  In this case I used stir fried chicked & broccoli from earlier in the week. Hint: this works great with leftover steak or beef. You will need about 1-1 1/2 cups, depending on your taste.
  5. Use cooking spray on the pan, then pour the eggs mixture into each cup.   From half to 3/4 full. Then add the meat & veggies. Top with shredded cheddar cheese.
  6. Using the back of a fork, poke and gently stir each egg and cheese mixture, then top with more shredded cheese.
  7. Bake 12-15 min at 365 degrees until set and solid and it pushes back to the touch.

You can also pop these under the broiler for the last few minutes of cooking if you want the top more crisp. Hint: Especially good if you add some grated parm cheese on it just before hitting the broiler. 

FYI: if you use mini muffin pans, this same mix works great for appetizers or for a party. It can be pre-mixed and kept in the refrigerator until cooking (take out 30 min before)  at the last minute or even better cooking them earlier in the day and serve room temperature.

Hint: no time to make dinner? Pair the larger Egg-ffins with some fresh greens or spinach, diced tomatoes, pear etc and toss with a simple vinegrette and you have dinner.

Celebration Dinner (part 2)

For part two of Pauls dinner, I decided to try Ree Drummond’s version of pot roast. When I have made them before – I tend to use the crockpot – but the need to use an extra pan to crust the meat seems counter intuitive when I know I am going to be home and have a dutch oven to cook it in.IMG_2967

Over all I think her recipe came to well – but I will notate placed I would change for the future (and one significant change I did make).


Salt and freshly ground black pepper
One 3 to 5-pound chuck roast [For the one here – it was just over 5 lbs – but I made the butcher give me one that was somewhat even thickness]IMG_2955
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 whole onions, peeled and halvedIMG_2953 IMG_2954
6 to 8 whole carrots, unpeeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup red wine, optional [So I didn’t want to crack open a bottle for this one recipe – so used Pomegranate soda instead.. yes Pomegranate. As a fruit it is a natural pairing with beef and they make the carrots even sweeter tasting]
3 cups beef broth
2 or 3 sprigs fresh rosemary [in future I will use 4 or 5 – this was way to subtle for me]
2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme [in future I will use 4 or 5 – this was way to subtle for me]


Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Generously salt and pepper the chuck roast. [I do mean generously – its a think cut of meat]
Heat the olive oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the halved onions to the pot, browning them on both sides. Remove the onions to a plate.
Throw the carrots into the same very hot pot and toss them aIMG_2956round a bit until slightly browned, about a minute or so. Reserve the carrots with the onions.
If needed, add a bit more olive oil to the very hot pot. Place the meat in the pot and sear it for about a minute on all sides until it is nice and brown all over. Remove the roast to a plate.

With the burner still on high, use either red wine [Remember I used Pomegranate soda] or beef broth (about 1 cup) to deglaze the pot, scraping the bottom with a whisk. Place the roast back into the pot and add enough beef stock to cover the meat halfway.IMG_2960 IMG_2958IMG_2961
Add in the onions and the carrots, along with the fresh herbs.
Put the lid on, then roast for 3 hours for a 3-pound roast. For a 4 to 5-pound roast, plan on 4 hours. The roast is ready when it’s fall-apart tender. [Mine was ready at the 4 hour mark!] Fall apart goodness.IMG_2964 IMG_2966

Note: During the last 40 minutes, I cut some wedges of potatoes and tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and cayenne and tossed them in the oven to cook as well. I wanted the crisp texture to contrast with the soft and chewy one of the pot roast.

Some Home Cooking to get me back in practice (Part 1)

IMG_2946 IMG_2951 IMG_2952After several weeks of vacation and a lot of work travel I haven’t been able to cook as much as I tend too. So when Paul got word about his promotion, it was a good reason to try out a few new recipes I have been waiting on.

First off was the Pineapple Upside-down cake; for some reason I had a craving for its sweet and gooey texture when I got back from Provincetown. I cheated some and used a Duncan Hines box as the starter (and they were recently on sale) along with canned Pineapple. The recipe I started with is below and my changes are in red.

  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar [I prefer dark but light will do]
  • 1 can (20 oz.) pineapple slices, drained and lightly patted dry
  • 4 Maraschino cherries, halved [I forgot to buy them..]
  • 1 package Duncan Hines®  Signature Pineapple Cake Mix
  • 1 package (3.4 oz.) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling [I actually use coconut instant pudding – it adds a different yet subtle taste.]
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • pitch of salt


Now the cast Iron pan I use is larger than the one they recommend by an inch or two.. but that just means it won’t be a high

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Melt butter in 12-inch skillet with oven-proof handle or cast iron skillet. [Because I use a cast iron skillet, I actually put the pan in the oven while it heat up, then once hot, put in on the burner while I add the butter to melt]
  • Remove from heat. Evenly sprinkle with brown sugar.
  • Arrange pineapple slices on top of mixture and place cherries in center of each pineapple; set aside.
  • Combine cake mix, eggs, water, oil, salt, vanilla and instant pudding in large bowl.
  • Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed for 2 minutes. [Mixing by hand works perfectly fine as well]
  • Pour batter evenly over fruit in skillet.
  • Bake 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. [My oven had the cake perfect at 42 minutes – but had I wanted a more well cooked top, I could have left it in longer.]
  • Cool cake completely on wire rack in the pan. While it cools the dome in the middle will sink down and flatten out.
  • Invert onto serving plate.

Now to kick this up a few notches – you could drizzle in rum over the cake while it is still warm.. I am just saying..


Sunday was our last day of vacation – so it was grill time

Most Sundays we try to eat early so that we can settle in and prep for the week ahead. Since it was to be our first Monday back after a vacation  – it was even more so important.

I decided the easiest thing was to grill up some veggies, meat and keep it simple.

I saw that Hatch Peppers were in season and on sale – so picked up some of them (they are the long ones) BUT be careful some are mild and some aren’t. I ended up with ones that have more heat than our household will enjoy. So I packed them in olive oil and garlic to marinate them for another day. We had a few peaches at home i wanted to use up so sliced the in half and tossed them on too. The tri-tip comes marinated, but I always add more salt and pepper.  The basic method I use for grilling try-tip is as follows:

Preheat both sides the grill to high. Scape down the grate, cover and reheat.

Toss on the meat, fat side down for 10 mins and don’t touch it! Cover the lid

After 10 min’s. lower the heat to medium on one side, and flip the meat over on to the lower side for 20 – 25 min depending on your grill and how you like the meat done. Once you pull it off, cover in foil for up to 10 min to keep the juices in.

Add the veggies etc to the hot side  and cover for 7-10. then check the veggies for char marks and to flip. They are done when they get to the stage you like them. Remove and cover.

For the watermelon & feta salad – couldn’t be more simple, slice and layer, top with tomatoes, sprinkle with hot pepper flakes, salt and corse pepper. Chill till ready to serve.Just before serving drizzle lemon juice, olive oil and balsamic vinegar (peach vinegar and champagne vinegar also taste great) to taste.

Easter Family Dinner Prep

Planning for family dinner Sunday with cousins before they leave the Bay Area. So first up; my version of Pear & Cornmeal cake with Rosemary Sryup (gluten, dairy & soy free).


Fresh out of the oven with a few modifications; I substituted 1/2 olive (4 tablespoons) oil & 1/2 corn oil (3 tablespoons) for the butter and used dairy free milk (lactaid free milk works too) treated w/lemon juice to stand in for buttermilk.

For the main recipe;

Dreary weekend tag team; Preserving Lemons

So I figured this being my last official weekend off before I kick back into writing mode then made to work on the 15th I wanted to get a few things done. After getting the house put back together, and the new bed in place (Oh my god – I think Tuft and Needles  may have a new  customer for life and a new advocate that foam bed don’t have to break the bank for more a the bed – see the pending post soon) that I would do something I had been thinking about since my return from Atlanta. I had met someone from Morroco and over the months, talk ended up on food and his Mom shared her recipe for preserved lemons. A must have for Moroccan cooking, not to mention a great way to add lemon flavor with less tartness. So today, I decided to try my hand at it.

Since next door has an abundance of Meyer Lemons I figured it is a perfect way to use them.


  • Lemons, scrubbed and washed (Meyers or other bright thick skinned ones)
  • Kosher salt
  • Black and Red Peppercorns ( you can use all black too)
  • Cardamon seeds
  • Cinnamon sticks (halved)
  • Bay leaves ( about 2 per jar you plane to make for pints sized – use the fresh ones not the dried)
  • Fresh lemon juice as neededIMG_8997 (1)


Wash and scrub the lemons well. Dry. Sanitize your canning jars and lids. My friend’s Mom says she tends to make this recipe in a huge glass jar then ofter a month she makes smaller jars to share. But the concept wIMG_8990orks the same with the smaller Pints. (Joanne Weirs recipe below uses a quart container for instance.)

Preparation –

  • Squeeze juice from lemons for juice to be used in the jars.  Hint: I was told that this is perfect to use the juice from regular lemons as they tend to me more acidic than Meyers. You will need to have enough juice to fill the jars after they are full of the fruit.  Plan ahead with extra lemons. IMG_9002 (1)
  • Cut the ends off of each lemon, make 2 cuts into the lemon to partially quarter the lemon BUT don’t cut all the way through. Leave it joined at one end.
  • Using your fingers or a small spoon liberal coat the insides of the lemon with salt. Place on a surface until you have them all done.IMG_8996 (1)


You can do this in any order – but this is what I used:

  • At the bottom of each jar – place a teaspoon of salt, and drop 1-2  lemons into the jar, gently compressing them, add Cardamon,  Peppercorns, a piece of Cinnamon stick and them more salt, rotate the process by adding 1-2 more lemons. Slide in a Bay Leaf along the side or of the lemons are big,  place in between the layers (You can use up to 2 leaves).IMG_9004
  • Remember to compress the lemons so that more of the liquid releases.
  • After you have the jar full, you will want to pour in the extra lemon juice almost to the top of the jar.
    • Note: some recipes I noticed while reserching also suggested that you can use 3 parts lemon juice and 1 part cold water. My friends Mom says she uses all juice.
  • Cover the jar tightly. Turn over once or twice to get the salt, juice and spices moving.IMG_9005

The Lemons will take about a month to cure – so each week, for the first 30 days try to turn them several times to get the salt and spices to mix. After that they are good to go and will be good for up to 6 months.  They can be left at room temperature. Once opened, they can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3-6 months depending who you ask. You can add other spices. Some recipes call for fennel, etc I am thinking that rosemary might be a good one to try next

Basically when you use them; you will be using the skin of the lemons not the pulpy flesh (I did see some recipes online that do use it but I haven’t). So peal the skin back and slice or dice. Remember – they will be salty so when adding to a dish remember to compensate what other salt you are adding. Don’t make this with regular Iodized salt. I used Kosher salt. Don’t forget the liquid left in the jar will have lots of flavor and could be used all sorts of ways from dressings to marinades.


A few additional recipes for your own creative side:


Ways to use Preserved Lemons:

For Eating:


For Drinking:

Preserved Lemon Martini (or, as I like to call it, The Dirty Lemon) Curtesy of (serves 2), or for you adventurous types; try the Morocco found on or get creative – imagine how they could kick up a Margarita or paired with Tequila or my favorite; using some of the brine in a Bloody Mary!

Preserved Lemon Martini 

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 2 ounces dry vermouth
  • 1 ounce preserved lemon brine
  • 2 slivers preserved lemon rind

Combine the vodka, vermouth, and lemon brine with a hefty amount of ice in a cocktail shaker (or the eternally useful mason jar). Shake, shake, shake. Put a sliver of lemon rind in the bottom of two martini glasses. Divide the vodka mixture between the two glasses.