Petite Pepper Poppers

April 14, 2015


This recipe is a shout out to my buddy Katie who turned me on to these adorable mini tricolored peppers. At a recent stay at her house, we ate these peppers with scrambled in eggs for breakfast, for an extra crunch in a wrap for lunch, and as a grilled side dish with salmon for dinner. I fell head over heels for these little buggers! Upon my return home, I immediately bought a bag of peppers and started putting the mini guys in everything. Only problem, there were so many! Seeing as there are only two of us at home right now, I had a lot of peppers to use! Hence, this recipe was born. My husband and I were heading off to watch a Blackhawks game at a friend’s house so I decided to bring along this newly created appetizer to see how it would be received….they got two thumbs up!! So, Katie, next time you are serving margaritas by the pool please serve these Petite Pepper Poppers too…they would make a great pair!!

Begin by slicing each pepper from stem to bottom and scape out the seeds and any large ribs you can get at. Wash out and place on a towel to dry off. Meanwhile, put the goat cheese in a small bowl and bring to room temperature. If using plain goat cheese, you may want to spice it up with fresh herbs — think thyme, parsley, garlic to name just a few options. Just make sure if you add your own spices to finely mince the herbs. Next, crumble the bacon into the cheese and stir to blend well. Now the fun part — using your hands (tried a spoon — didn’t work) stuff each pepper with the cheese mixture and place in a Pyrex dish. Drizzle each pepper with a little olive oil and bake at 375º for 15-20 minutes (until peppers are softened). Place on serving platter and sprinkle with chopped chives.


 Serve with a napkin as these poppers are a little juicy!!


12 mini peppers, 4 of each color
1 log goat cheese (herbed or plain)
3 pieces bacon, cooked very crispy
Olive oil
Chives for garnish, finely chopped

Makes 12 Petite Pepper Poppers

Shucking Good Corn Bread

March 18, 2015


Some things in life are just as easy making from scratch as it is making from a box — corn bread is just that thing. With simply eight ingredients, you can’t tell me this is hard to make! Corn bread is an amazing treat for breakfast, a delicious afternoon snack or the perfect side dish at dinner. And by using coarse corn meal and raw sugar, the texture is amazing!! Add a dab of butter and drizzle of honey and you have a shucking good thing!


In a large mixing bowl, add the corn meal, flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Mix well. Next, add the milk, oil and egg and stir to blend completely. Meanwhile, butter the muffin cups, loaf pan or baking dish with a generous amount of butter (tastes great with corn bread so don’t be shy). Ladle mixture into muffins cups, loaf pan or 8×8 baking dish (I mix it up depending on why I’m making corn bread — muffins for breakfast, mini loaves for a side dish at dinner). Bake at 375º for 20-25 minutes, or until a tooth pick comes out clean. Cool muffins on a wire rack.


Serve warm and watch the butter melt into the crannies….perfection!


1¼ cup coarse grind corn meal
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup raw sugar
Dash of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk (I use skim)
1 egg

Makes one 8×8 baking dish, 20 mini muffins or 12 muffins.

Blueberry Hand Pies

February 9, 2015


Like most things I bake, these Blueberry Hand Pies are SO easy!!! If you need a quick, easy to make, homemade dessert that everyone will love, make these hand pies! You can add a little fancy vanilla ice cream if you feel they need to be dressed up, but really, they can stand on their own two feet….just look at how pretty they are. They kind of remind me of the Hostess fruit pies we had as kids way back when….but so much better!!

Begin by mixing in a large bowl the blueberries, sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice. Stir to combine and set aside. On a floured surface, roll out your pie crust. Using a cereal bowl (because I don’t have a 6″ cookie cutter), cut the pie crust into circles. You should end up with 6-8 circles.


Put the pie crust circles on a parchment lined cookie sheet and fill each half of the circles with a few tablespoons of the blueberry mixture. Fold the crust over to form a half circle. Using a fork, crimp the ends.


Brush the top of each hand pie with an egg wash and sprinkle with raw sugar. Vent each hand pie with a knife and bake at 375º for 30 minutes, or until perfectly browned. There you have it!! That’s it. Told you it was easy!



1 pie crust (I use refrigerated ready to use pie crust)
1½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Egg wash (1 egg whisked with a teaspoon of cold water)
Raw sugar to dust the tops of the pies

Makes 6-8 hand pies






Tots Gone Wild

January 31, 2015


I hear you. It’s Super Bowl Sunday and you have no idea what to bring to the big party. Let me just say this: tater tots; BBQ sauce; bacon. Oh yeah, bleu cheese dip. Read on fans.

On a large tin foil lined cookie sheet, arrange your frozen tater tots in neat little rows (hey, I’m OCD). Wrap each tot with a strip of cut bacon and place on cookie sheet seem side down. Repeat until all tater tots have a piece of bacon wrapped snuggly around them. Bake in a 400º oven for 20 minutes, or until the bacon starts to crisp. Remove from oven and liberally brush on the BBQ sauce on each tater tot. I’m serious — be generous with the sauce!! It adds great flavor. Cook another 10 minutes until sauce is sizzling with yumminess. Arrange the tots in neat little rows on a platter and serve with a bowl of bleu cheese dressing (btw, I have an amazing recipe for bleu cheese dressing right here on this blog!). Use your fingers when dipping — I tried using cute little forks but the tots fall apart. Plus, BBQ sauce is always finger licking good!!




1 bag frozen Tater Tots
1 lb bacon, cut into 3 inch strips
1 bottle your favorite BBQ sauce
Bleu cheese dressing (see my recipe for Creamy Bleu Cheese Dressing in Salads and Dressings category)

Makes a whole lot of Tots Gone Wild if you use entire bag!

Winter Stew

January 25, 2015


It’s cold. It’s windy. It’s snowing. It’s Chicago in January.  It’s the perfect time to get in the kitchen and whip up my Winter Stew! Whether you are experiencing my kind of winter or are lucky enough to live somewhere warm, Winter Stew is a delightful dish to satisfy any type of winter day (or Fall or Spring day for that matter….).

In a large saucepan, saute all the vegetables in 2-3 tablespoons olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. Next, add your spices, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes blending the vegetables and spices. Add the diced tomatoes, cooked chicken, water and black beans and stir well. Bring to a rapid boil for 5 minutes then cover and reduce heat to a simmer and cook an additional 15 minutes. Adjust your seasoning to your liking and your stew is ready to serve! I like to top the stew with a few sprigs of fresh basil for added flavor.


Note: I often use a cooked rotisserie chicken from my grocery store for the chicken portion of this recipe (makes life so much easier!). Also, you can easily substitute different kinds of beans: cannellini, kidney, even garbanzo beans all taste delicious in this stew. Same with the veggies — you can add or delete any variation that pleases your family’s tastes. I have a friend whose kids will not eat mushrooms. Omit them then!


2-3 tablespoons olive oil
½ green pepper, diced
1 small onion, minced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
5-6 button mushrooms, cubed
3 tablespoons fresh basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
dash of black pepper
dash of salt
3 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes (with all juices)
2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite size peices
½ cup water
1 can black beans

Makes roughly 6 servings

This recipe is adapted from Gimme Some Oven’s Tomato Basil Chicken Stew.


Wicked Good Avocado Dressing

January 16, 2015


It’s a new year and a new start. I know I have been a little (a lot?) lax in my blog postings lately but I am back and will be starting this new year with some yummy, healthy recipes to keep mealtime interesting! I created this recipe sort of by accident. I had an avocado I let sit too long — don’t ya hate when you do that? —  but I didn’t want to toss it out just because it wasn’t pretty anymore. Since we were going to a friend’s house for dinner and I was in charge of salad, I had to improvise quickly. Instead of the avocado being an ingredient in the salad I decided to turn it into the dressing on top — same great flavor without all the ugliness! A little tweak here, a little tweak there and a great salad dressing was born. As my daughter said last night,”Wow Mom, this is wicked good!” I hope you feel the same way!

In a food processor, add your avocado, vinegar, garlic, greek yogurt, lemon juice and salt and pepper. While blending, slowly add the olive oil through the top feed tube. Puree until smooth. Taste and adjust spices to your liking. The dressing tastes great on any lettuce but I especially like it on butter lettuce. The texture is so smooth and creamy! I even have used it as a replacement for mayo in egg salad — talk about green eggs! All you need is to add a little ham….


One avocado
¼ cup champagne (or white wine) vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup olive oil

Makes roughly one cup of dressing.

Billy Boy’s Mustard

May 15, 2014


I am dedicating this post to my lovely gourmet husband, Billy. If it wasn’t for his wanting to make mustard I probably never would have tried this myself. He had been talking about making mustard for quiet some time so for Christmas I gave him a couple different kind of seeds and a bottle of fancy white wine vinegar (pretty much all you need to make mustard). Well, since I am not a very patient person, I decided one day to make the mustard while Billy was at work — it’d be a nice surprise when he got home! Unfortunately, I had to wait (did I already tell you I am not a very patient person?) as the seeds, vinegar and water have to sit in the refrigerator for a good 48 hours before you can actually make the mustard…. Well, 48 hours later I was blending up some pretty snazzy mustard!! It was all very exciting. Who knew, it did pay off to be patient after all.

The most difficult part of this recipe is getting good quality mustard seeds. I am lucky to have The Spice House just down the road who fortunately carry a nice selection of seeds. For this recipe, I used both yellow mustard seeds (whole) and brown mustard seeds (crushed). You can use just one type if you like, whole or crushed — it’s up to you. I like the combination of seeds. By using both I believe it adds texture and flavor.


Begin by adding 1 ounce of yellow mustard seeds and 1 ounce of brown mustard seeds (or 2 ounces of the same kind) to a jar. Add 2.5 ounces of good quality white wine vinegar and 2 ounces of water. Seal the jar, give it a good shake and place the jar in your refrigerator for the next 48 hours. Every so often during those 48 hours give the jar a good shaking, mixing up the liquid and seeds. Not sure if this adds anything to the quality of the mustard but it is satisfying knowing you’re doing something while you wait.


After 48 hours, pour the mixture into a food processor and blend until desired texture of your mustard — a little less if you like coarser mustard or longer if you want it creamy. That’s it! Your mustard is ready to eat. Wasn’t that easy?


One last word on this mustard: the day you make your mustard will be its spiciest. As it ages in the refrigerator it mellows. So if you like it spicy eat it right away. If you like it more sedated just wait a day or two. Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 weeks.


1 ounce yellow mustard seeds
1 ounce brown mustard seeds
2 ounces white wine vinegar
2 ounces water
pinch of sea salt

Makes roughly one 5 ounce jar of mustard

Mandy’s Mini Mushroom Cups

April 3, 2014



When entertaining, simplicity is nice. I am a true believer in enjoying your own party. Often people think the only way to accomplish this is by buying (or catering) appetizers already made and just reheating…not always so! My Mini Mushroom Cups are so simple — the mixture can be made ahead of time and then assembled and heated right before your guests arrive. And because they are a one bite treat, there will be no crumbs for Fido…an added bonus to post party clean up!!

In a large skillet, melt butter over low to medium heat. Add the shallots, mushrooms, garlic, thyme and parsley and saute stirring the mixture often (do not let the garlic burn). After 10 – 15 minutes, slowly add the wine to the mixture and cook until liquid has reduced.  Turn off heat and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Meanwhile, arrange your mini phyllo cups on a cookie sheet. Fill each cup with a spoonful of the mushroom/shallot mixture, topping each one with a generous amount of Gruyère cheese. Bake in a preheated 400º oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is thoroughly melted and the phyllo has slightly browned. Serve immediately.


Perfect one bite wonders!!


1 tbsp salted butter
1 large shallot, minced
1 package crimini or baby portobella mushrooms, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh parsley
¼ cup white wine
Salt & pepper to taste
¾ cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
2 packages frozen mini phyllo cups (total of 30 cups)

Makes 30 mini cups

Cinnamon Applesauce

February 7, 2014


One of my New Year resolutions is to make a concentrated effort to create more basics from scratch — mustard, ketchup, maybe even mayonnaise. Applesauce fits right into that category. When my kids were much younger I would make them applesauce quite often. Somewhere along the way of busy family life I stopped. Not sure why. I suppose it is just easier to buy it at the market! Well, in keeping with both my New Year’s resolution and my need for simplicity in the kitchen, I am sharing with you my version of Cinnamon Applesauce. It’s incredibly quick and easy to make and because it is fresh the flavor is amazing! Trust me, it’s so much better than store-bought. (Oh, and my mustard recipe is coming soon. Also incredibly easy to make — who knew? — and again because it is fresh the flavor is that much more robust!)

DSC_7004Have a mason jar handy to store your applesauce in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Begin by peeling, slicing and chopping 8 apples into cubes (I use Granny Smith because I love their tartness but you can use whatever kind of apple you prefer). In a large pot, add the apples, ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1½ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring often. Your apples are ready when they are very tender (not quite mushy). Remove from heat and put in a food processor. Blend until desired consistency — some like it a little chunky, others like it totally pureed.


In our house we add applesauce to a lot of things: on top of cake instead of ice cream, along side pancakes instead of syrup. But our all time favorite is in a bowl with crunched up Oreos.
(Don’t say yuck until you try it — doesn’t look pretty but it tastes delicious!)


8 apples (whatever kind you like)
½ cup water
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg

Makes four servings.

Tomato Basil Bisque

January 11, 2014


For many, 2014 started off really cold. Who ever heard of a polar vortex? Chicago being labeled Chiberia? I was fortunate enough to have missed the brutally cold air but the mere thought of it made me retreat to the warmth of my kitchen and make soup — a staple on a normally chilly day but especially welcome during a deep freeze. Being a new year with all those typical New Year resolutions, I wanted to make a hearty yet super healthy soup that would prevent frost bite on a nippy day. Tomato Basil Bisque was my answer! It has incredible health benefits from both the tomatoes (lycopene, vitamins A,  C and K and beta-carotene to name just a few perks) and the fresh basil (Vitamins A and K, iron, and many essential minerals and oils). And by using fat-free half and half instead of full fat heavy cream, I reduce the fat and caloric intake helping to recede the waistline (New Year resolution perhaps?). However, adding the grilled cheese croutons might not help reduce the waistline….oh but indulge yourself!

In a large soup pot begin by sauteing the onions, garlic and fresh basil in 2 tbsp of olive oil. Cook for roughly 10 minutes. Add the white wine and continue cooking on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Next, add the tomatoes and their juices along with 1 tsp of salt and pepper. Bring to a rapid boil. Turn off heat and, using your hand immersion blender (or a regular blender if you don’t have an immersion one), puree the soup so there is just a slight tomato texture left. With the soup still off the heat, slowly add the cream, stirring to blend well. On a low flame, heat the soup for 10 minutes (do not bring to a boil). Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. Ladle into bowls, garnish with grilled cheese “croutons” and freshly chopped basil and enjoy your healthy bisque by a warm fire!


Garnish each bowl with freshly chopped basil and a few grilled cheese “croutons” . Serve immediately.


2 tbsp olive oil
½ yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
4 tbsp fresh basil, torn in pieces
½ cup white wine
8 cups canned diced tomatoes, with juices
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup heavy cream (or fat-free half and half works great too!)
chopped fresh basil, for garnish
grilled cheese croutons, for garnish

Serves 6-8

* Recipe adapted from Cristina’s of Sun Valley.