In My December Kitchen – 2014

When did December sneak up on us?  If it weren’t for Celia over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, I don’t think I’d know what month it is.  Please stop by to say hi to Celia and take a look at what she and other bloggers have going on in their kitchens this month.  She really caught my eye with the awesome Cheese and Garlic Crack bread!

After finding a recipe for Spicy Lime Shrimp with Drunken Grapes (check out the recipe on  Simply Fresh Dinners – Robyn, guest writer on BamsKitchen blog) I tried this recipe as just an appetizer.  My husband and I decided that in the future it’s worthy of an entire meal.  Little appetizer bites were great, but you just don’t want to stop eating these.  I used a dried ginger powders for the shrimp since I didn’t have fresh and Pinot Grigio to get the grapes drunk.  As I say, the shrimp was so good but I may have gotten a little too excited about the drunken grapes. Therefore, in my December kitchen …

IMG_1608an extra mason jar of Drunken Grapes.  They’re sweet red seedless grapes with a Pinot Grigio poured over the top and soaked for 6 hours to no more than 2 days.  I can tell you that after 2 days those little grapes will blow your head off.  So what to do with the extra grapes?

Make some Goat Balls with Drunken Grapes…


No need to put them on crackers.  I just did that to get my husband to try them.  When he’s watching football, you can put anything on top of a cracker and he’ll eat it.  I just ground up some pecans, made little balls with the goat cheese (I found that small balls are better than big since the cheese can overpower the other flavors),  rolled the cheese balls in the pecans and stuck them with a pick.  Of course you can just eat the drunken grapes.

This is what’s left of the Pinot Grigio.  It was a very nice wine but I’m including it really to show the background kitchen wall paint.  Yes, I really did get that room painted!


ALMOST in my kitchen are some food rings.

I’ve been coveting food rings every time I see Happiness Stan making something with his (like this cottage pie with seared filet in madeira sauce) and vow to get some for myself.  While my husband and I were out Christmas shopping I found these at Sur la Table – a really fun store with everything you can imagine for cooking.  Since I couldn’t find the food rings, my husband asked a clerk and we BOTH went over to the bins where I picked 4 rings and said “I’ll get these but you can wrap them and put them in my stocking for Christmas”.  So that’s why they’re not quite in my kitchen yet.  BUT…a few days later, my husband went back out Christmas shopping alone.  When he got home I was taking a picture of these and he did a double take and said “where’d you get those?”.  I reminded him that we bought them when we were out shopping, that I explained that he needed to wrap them, and they were to go in my stocking.  At which point, he went back down to his car and came up with these…

Oh look…more food rings!  One of each size … from Sur La Table.  Since I wanted them to make pretty and equal portions of foods like mac and cheese or some sort of meat patty meal, I’m not sure what to do with one of each.  Maybe I could make a portion for papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear – any ideas or should they just go back?  Especially that tiny little one, I’m not quite sure what you’d put in that other than maybe – oh yes – a drunken grape sitting on a goat ball.

Well that’s all that I can show in my kitchen right now since the island is full of Christmas gifts waiting to be wrapped and I can’t very well share those pictures yet.  Thanks again to Celia, hostess for In My Kitchen.


Clams Casino – “the recipe”

I had to add “the recipe” after noticing that there’s a musician who, for some reason changed his name from Mike Volpe to Clams Casino.  I LOVE clams casino, but I don’t think I love them enough to change my name to Clams Casino.  I just wonder why a guy named Mike Volpe would decide to do that – was he sitting in a restaurant and wanted to make sure he remembered the delectable appetizer he was eating and decided “hey if I start calling myself Clams Casino, I’ll always remember what I want to order”.


I finally have everything put away in the kitchen cabinets – maybe not completely organized, but at least out of boxes.  I think I need a class in the Bosch stove though since I haven’t had any luck starting the warming oven when the large oven is on…”Yes, Chancellor Merkel, I’ve read the instructions on this and followed your directions”.  I’ll give it another go when I’m not desperate to get a meal on the table and if it doesn’t seem to be working, I’ll call the store where I bought it for instructions.

Speaking of the stove…it’s a flattop with a triple burner that has options for small, medium and large pots, a small burner in the back, and 2 small burners on the left with a bridge unit between them which can accommodate a very large pot or rectangular pan like a turkey roasting pan.  The thing is that for safety purposes, if you don’t have a pot on a unit and turn it on, it will shut off after a certain amount of time.  That’s a good feature since how often have I thought I turned on the back unit only to walk back in and found the front unit burning brightly red.  The downside to that safety feature is that if you have banged up old pots that don’t have flat bottoms covering enough surface area of the unit, it will assume there’s no pot on and shut down.  This happened to me when I was cooking Chicken with Mascarpone Sauce & Mustard.  I was so busy cooking the chicken on the front unit that I didn’t noticed the noodle pot in back had shut off and the noodles were still crunchy when I was ready to serve the meal.

The next meal, I had 3 units going and was on the look-out for wobblers.  I kept peeking under the pots and pans and the minute I saw the unit go dark, the bad pot would get tossed faster than you can say Clams Casino and replaced with a new one from the stack on hand.  (I have tons of pots and pans – my own cast iron from when I got married, some from my mother’s house, even more from John’s mother’s and aunt’s houses).  By the time that meal got cooked, I had piles of pots and pans in the basement headed for the give-away shed at the dump and I was looking online at the cost of brand new pots and pans – wow is all I can say!  My husband kept saying how he didn’t think they were that wobbly – but then again, he was probably the one whose head dented them.  And then I read some more of the stove instructions….”units will cycle on and off while cooking to prevent the glass top from shattering”.

Oooh…  “John would you please bring all those boxes back upstairs?”  Now that first pot that didn’t cook the noodles was definitely a goner but as it turns out, all of the other pots and pans were fine – just victims of the unit’s cycling.  I apologize to whoever was going to inherit lots of pots and pans from the shed next week but I’m tapped out right now with Christmas shopping and all that.  I’ve rescued almost all of my pots and pans so let’s get on to the Clams Casino.  This is an appetizer that I think a lot of people will order in a restaurant but shy away from making at home because of having to shuck the clams.  I’ll tell you about a little trick for helping to make that easier.


The topping amount is for about 10-12 fresh cherrystone clams and best prepared before opening clams.  The ratio of ingredients is approximate and looks about like this:


–  Olive Oil – 2 TBL
–  Bacon- 3-4 slices
–  Thin strips of red bell peppers, 3-4 thin slices, diced
–  Sweet onion,  about 1/4 cup, minced
–  Garlic cloves, 2, minced
–  Oregano – a dash or 2
–  White wine- 1/3 cup
–  Tabasco sauce – dash, more if you like but you can set some in a dish for dipping
–  Freshly grated Parmesan – 6 TBL
–  Bread crumbs – 1/4 cup

In a heavy saucepan, cook bacon strips and drain excess fat.  Using either a little of the bacon fat or olive oil, sauté the bell pepper and onions until translucent, then add garlic for just a minute.  Sprinkle oregano then add the wine, simmering until it’s almost evaporated.  Add a dash or 2 of Tabasco/hot sauce and about half of the Parmesan cheese.  Stir in breadcrumbs – you might not need 1/4 cup, just enough to hold the mixture together.   Set aside while preheating oven to 500°.

Making the mixture’s the easy part, but sometimes opening the clams up can be a little difficult & dangerous.  Rinse your clams, then place in a foil lined baking pan and stick them in the oven for a couple of minutes.  This will help them to open up a little.  Use an oven mitt for the hand that will be holding the clam and a short bladed sturdy knife to completely open the clam at the hinges.  Believe me, use the mitt or some kind of protective glove because you WILL end up in the emergency room.  Find a spot near the hinge where the shells have separated and work the blade in there, then twist to open.  You’re clam will be stuck to the top and bottom like the top clam here:


Rinse the clam again to get rid of any sand, then run your knife blade under each clam bottom to release from the shell.  Pull one of the shells off leaving the whole clam on one of the shells (bottom clam).  If you have any clams that haven’t opened and you can’t get the blade between the shells, discard since that’s a dead clam and you DO NOT want to eat those!

Line the clams back up on the foil lined baking dish, load them up with the topping and bake for no more than 10 minutes.  When the clams come out sprinkle each with the remaining Parmesan cheese.  Not so bad – right?

I served these with baked haddock that had just a little sprinkling of breadcrumbs, butter, and lemon.


See the little butterfly dish with the red sauce?  That was Tabasco, really just for the picture but my husband assumed it was some kind of dipping sauce and before I could warn him, he’d drenched his first clam and with the Tabasco dripping off, popped it into his mouth.  Uh oh… while I was enjoying my clams thoroughly, he was crying complaining that he couldn’t feel his lips or taste anything.  Sort of like when he grabbed my arthritis cream thinking it was toothpaste and brushed his teeth with it.   Maybe you like spicy (and he does) but it was a bit much even for him.

One final word of warning:  Remember those shells and dead clams that you tossed away?  Don’t leave them in your kitchen trash for too long.  It’s like that saying about fish and overnight guests…and reminds me of a little situation years ago.  We took our daughter to the beach where she collected buckets of sea glass and shells.  About a week later I went out to read on the porch and GAG!!!  I thought I had a dead body under the porch and wasn’t sure who to call until I realized that Niki had collected buckets of of live mussels and clams and shoved them under the porch a week in 80° heat.

Stuffed Artichokes – the lazy way

Have you gone through slumps where you just can’t figure out what you want to eat, never mind cook? With the hot and incredibly humid air we’ve had here for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t felt like doing either. Niki was at the house the other day making a grocery list because she doesn’t have a Wegman’s near her & always takes the opportunity to get over there when she’s out this way. I guess it’s like eating at someone else’s house or going to a restaurant when someone puts a great meal in front of you and kick starts your appetite because as she made her list, all of a sudden everything sounded good. I felt like I was cheating on a test but as she made her list I just copied it down. When she got to artichokes I realized that I haven’t made stuffed artichokes in a very long time.


A lot of recipes tell you to clip the prickly points from each leaf and to open the artichoke up to pull out the choke.  Me?  Nah…if you want my stuffed artichokes you have to live dangerously.  I just par boil them until the bottom petal just starts to pull away, then let them drain.  For the stuffing I just pull each petal gently away and sprinkle in some bread crumbs, then plenty of grated parmesan cheese and finish off with a small drizzle of olive oil.  Put in an oiled baking dish and pop in the oven until the cheese has melted.

If I’m serving this to someone who might not have ever tried stuffed artichokes before I now give a little lesson after realizing a guest was trying to masticate the entire leaf (yes, prickles and all).  If you’ve never tried these, just pull each leaf off & run your teeth down the leaf, grabbing all the breadcrumbs and melted cheese and bite off just the soft tip at the end.  When you get to the artichoke heart, just cut away the soft heart and leave the choke…so you don’t choke.

Provincetown & Risotto Poppers

Provincetown is one of my favorite stroll-around, artsy, shopping and eating towns.

You need to drive all the way to the very tip of Cape Cod to get there but it’s worth the drive (and once you get on Rt 6 East, your GPS lady will be quiet all the way to downtown PTown).  We spent a leisurely day of wandering and shopping (wonderful art and jewelry stores).  I’m not sure what might be going into this shop, but I would love to have a shop just like this:

We finally ended up on the deck at Pepe’s at around 4:00.  Not really hungry for a big dinner but needing to replenish the fluids & salt that I lost due to the heat, we finished the afternoon sipping salted margarita’s and appetizers.  When it’s hot you have to be very careful to not let your electrolytes get out of whack.

Pepe’s risotto balls were stuffed with Fontina cheese and drizzled with Italian truffle oil.

Absolutely wonderful but I decided to try my version using a triple cream (there I go again with the triple cream) Brie.  You can also see my crab cake appetizer which I haven’t tried making myself since finding some at Wegman’s that I’d have a hard time trying to beat.  As you can see I hardly touched the liquid part of my margarita because I needed that salt.  I’m pretty sure that was margarita #1, maybe not but let’s say it was.

In any case, I found a great recipe from Giada for the balls which I combined with my basic risotto recipe (see below for basic risotto which I also use for the lobster risotto) to came up with an appetizer that could easily be a meal – add salad to balance things out.  Start with a batch of basic risotto.  This may all seem like a lot of work, but my friend & neighbor Judy (who leaves dead dog/logs on my lawn) said that she almost made some risotto poppers the other day with leftover risotto.  So the poppers could be a great way to use up leftover risotto if you don’t feel like doing it all at once:


2     Cups chicken broth
3     TBL butter
½    Cup finely chopped onion
2-3  Garlic cloves, minced
¾    Cup Arborio rice
½    Cup vermouth or white wine
½    Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Tarragon-sprinkled over the top,  about 1-2 teaspoons

– In medium saucepan, bring broth to a simmer.
– In a large, heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat (just a tick over medium is best).  Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Stir in garlic for just a minute, this cooks quickly so do not let it burn.  Add 1 more TBL of butter, melt, then stir in the rice to coat it.  Add the vermouth/wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes.  Add a ladle & 1/2 of simmering broth and stir. After about 2-5 minutes the broth should be almost completely absorbed.  Continue cooking rice by adding the broth a ladle at a time, stirring, and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20-30 minutes total.  If you think the rice isn’t quite cooked, then add in more vermouth or cooking wine… that never seems to hurt.

Risotto Poppers

  • Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups Risotto
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 cups dried Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 2 ounces triple creme Brie, cut into 1/2-inch cubes*
  • Salt


Pour about 3″ of oil in a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees F.  You want the oil to be hot enough so the balls don’t soak up the oil & get soggy.

Stir the eggs, risotto, Parmesan, and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs in a large bowl to combine. Place the remaining breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Take about 2 tablespoons of the risotto mixture for each, form the risotto mixture into 1 1/2″ balls.  Insert 1 cube of Brie into the center of each ball then roll the balls in the bread crumbs to coat.

Working in batches, add the rice balls to the hot oil and cook until brown and heated through, turn as necessary, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rice balls to paper towels to drain. Season with salt. Let rest 2 minutes. Serve hot.

*  Giada uses mozzarella which I will try next time.  PePe’s used Fontina so I think playing with your favorite cheese or making up a variety of batches would be great.

Cape Cod: Sun, Sand, Loaded Baked Potato Dip & Pizza Dip

Now that the laundry is washed, folded and put away, I guess vacation really is over and it’s time to share some really fantastic food ideas from Cape Cod starting with 2 great appetizers: Loaded Baked Potato Dip and Pizza Dip.  One question though – how does laundry double from what you packed?  I have a theory that the salt air causes everything to expand.

I’ve always loved the Cape.  The beaches along the National Seashore are breathtaking and the sound of the surf really relaxes me even if driving to them can be challenging.  Yes, traffic on the Cape in the summer can be frustrating gridlock but we John someone seemed to have a problem, even with the help of GPS, understanding the basic layout of the Cape and the concept of East-West-North-South.

If you aren’t familiar with Cape Cod, it’s a long arm of land in the Atlantic with one major highway (Rt. 6) running down the center.  On the north side you have the scenic Rt. 6A, on the south side you have the winding, scenic Rt. 28.  Connecting those three main routes are a number of small roads going north and south – take almost any one of them and eventually you’ll end up back on Rt. 6, 6A, or Rt. 28.

Since we were staying on the north side of Rt. 6 in Brewster almost every place we were heading other than our first stop in Falmouth , involved going east.  So tell me – why did we end up heading west on Rt. 6 (back home) so many times even with the suggestions of the nice GPS lady who spent a very frustrating week of “recalculating your route”?  I swear, at one point I heard her get a little snippy and say “recalculating your route, againnnn….”  I’m not trying to pick on anyone of Italian heritage but I’m thinking this is genetic.  Look what happened with Chistopher Columbus when he tried to find his way aross an ocean – same deal with John and he had GPS making some very good suggestions.

Our first stop was in Falmouth to watch Niki and a group of friends run in the 40th Falmouth Road Race on Sunday.  Saturday night had been a downpour and the race was slightly delayed while they cleared flooding on the route, but the skies did clear.  Great for us watching, not so great for the runners because once the sun hit, the humidity was incredible.

I give them all a great deal of credit for starting the race, never mind finishing.

We’d positioned ourselves at the top of the final hill right before the finish line and somehow managed to miss every one of Niki’s friends and our own daughter.  Oh well, we did catch up with them later after the finish line and moved on to a fantastic post-run feast at Niki’s friends’ beach house.  Kudos and thank you to Cate and Jules who pulled it all together.

I can’t take credit for the creation of these appetizers that Niki made (adapted from but I can take credit for scarfing up more than my fair share, especially the loaded baked potato/bacon dip.

Loaded Baked Potato Dip
Prep time: 10 minutes

I had to call Niki on this one because I couldn’t find the potato in the recipe.  There is none, the potato part comes from the potato chip that you use to scoop up as much of this as the chip will hold.  The name comes from all the most wonderful things that you could possibly put on top of a loaded baked spud which makes this about the easiest, fastest dip you can put together.

16 ounces sour cream
16 slices (12-ounce package) bacon, cooked and crumbled
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup thinly chopped scallions or chives
Couple dashes of Worcestershire Sauce 

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving to allow flavors to meld together. Garnish with extra shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, and chopped chives. Serve with Ruffles (sturdy) potato chips. If there are any leftovers (unlikely) they can be refrigerated for up to a week.

And, in case you don’t get your fill of the Loaded Baked Potato Dip, give this one a try:

Pizza Dip
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Bake Time: 20 minutes

8 oz. softened cream cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup pizza sauce
2 oz. sliced pepperoni
2 tablespoons chopped green pepper
Add just about anything that you like on a pizza to create your own combo.

1. Preheat oven to 400°
2. Spread the cream cheese over the bottom of a 9″ baking dish.  Top with ½ cup of the shredded mozzarella and ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese.
3. Spread the pizza sauce on top of the cheeses, and then top with the remaining ½ cups of mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.
4. Top with pepperoni slices, chopped green pepper
5. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve with toasted French bread slices.

Shrimp on Avocado – What to eat after getting a crown

Crown and river in Sweden

Today I finally got my crown.  No, not the sparkly one with diamonds and rubies, but the one on top of the post that’s been sticking out of my gums and the last step in the dental implant saga.  That would be the implant I needed after a bouncy Bernese Mountain dog jumped up to give me a kiss, breaking my tooth off at the gum line requiring an oral surgeon to drill out the roots – that tooth.  I’m really glad it’s over ($$$$$) and today didn’t hurt much at all but with the heat and the gums being a little sore, I figure it’s a soft food kind of night.

But first a story from my dentist who was a little late getting to me.  Reason being, he tried to squeeze in a guy during his lunch hour who’d broken his crown over the weekend.  Being a guy, he tried a do-it-yourself quick fix that I’m sure he thought was brilliant at the time.  Apparently, this guy decided to put the crown back on using Gorilla Glue – that is correct, Gorilla Glue. Now I’ve checked my bottle of Gorilla Glue and I just do not see anywhere on the label where it says that it may be used to repair a crown in your mouth.  Your tiara/crown, definitely, but not the one inside your mouth. Plus the guy made a total mess of it and didn’t even line it up very well.

So for this hot, humid night I’m making this tasty avocado topped with shrimp and Russian dressing.  There’s no cooking involved if you get the pre-cooked shrimp.  I made my own quick Russian dressing  – just a combination of 1/2 cup mayo; 1/4 cup ketchup; a tablespoon of red wine vinegar & a tablespoon of finely chopped onion.


Halve the avocado and remove the pit.  Chop cooked shrimp and mound on top of the avocado, then top with salad dressing.  So easy, so fast and easy on sore gums.

Time Flies – Joyce Chen Chicken Wings

My original plan was to par boil, then marinate some chicken wings in a delicious marinade from the Joyce Chen Cookbook, then grill them.  Got the wings boiling when I looked out the window and saw big black clouds moving in.  Decided to take Lola out for a short walk.  When I walked back in the house I looked over into the living room to see my current disaster in the making:

Decided to pull a few more staples from the 3,898,747,437 staples holding the fabric to the frame.  When Moe decided to test drive this for a scratching post I remembered that I’d meant to clip the little bugger’s claws.  Wrapped the cat in a towel and brought him upstairs, got him clipped when I noticed the book on the bedside table… read a couple chapters.  Alert readers will have noticed by now that I haven’t gotten back to the par boiling chicken wings.  Damn!  Not totally destroyed but the meat was definitely falling off the bones which meant, not a great idea to put them on the grill. The good news is that I didn’t set the alarm off and I could still dump all the pieces into a zip lock bag of this very easy marinade, let them sit for a few hours and toss all of it into the oven.  And the funny thing is John commented on how ‘tender’ the wings were!  “Yes, it takes a great chef to get it just right”.

Joyce Chen Chicken Wings:

1/3     Cup soy sauce mixed with 1/3 cup water
2        Tablespoons sugar
1        Tablespoon dry sherry
2        Slices ginger root or about 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1        Teaspoon of anise seed, ground it up a little in your hand

Mix all of the ingredients in a zip lock bag then add par boiled chicken wings for at least a few hours.  If you haven’t over par boiled them, they’re great on the grill.  If you forgot they were boiling away just toss in a pan with the marinade and bake at 350° for about 30 minutes.

Portabella’s marinated & stuffed

Ok, I’m just going to say it – I am sick and tired of this rain!  Don’t respond to that please, especially if you’re one of those people who just has to say something positive like “well, we didn’t get much snow, we need the rain”.  Really?  Well I have indoor plumbing and I shower inside my house so I’d have to say I should be okay if it stops for a few days.

Now if you happen to live in an area that isn’t being drenched, these marinated and stuffed Portabella mushrooms are terrific on the grill.  If you happen to be getting mildewed in Massachusetts, baking in the oven will do just fine.  The great thing about these jumbo mushrooms is that you can share them as an appetizer or pile them high with just about anything and call it a meal.  Fast to put together, you just need about an 1 or 2 to marinate them (I put it all in a plastic zip lock bag & rotate it every now & then).

1/4     Cup Olive Oil
4        Tablespoons soy sauce
1        Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4        Cloves of garlic smashed

Be as creative as you want – last night I needed to use up the last of my extra thick maple bacon (we should be done with bacon recipes for a while).  After frying the bacon, I minced then sauted a little bit of onion and red bell pepper in the bacon grease.  Usually I put a layer of baby spinach first on top of the mushroom, then add the onion/pepper and bacon.  On top of that I piled a combination of Pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheeses – nice high piles because it will melt & ooze down all over that bacon. I didn’t have any mozzarella otherwise that would have been my first choice.  Then  sprinkle a little breadcrumb on top, with just a dash of oregano.  You can come up with millions of combinations of toppings depending on what’s in the fridge, how hungry you are, or how weird you want to be.  I baked at 350°  for about 15 minutes.  You know, I’m looking at this picture thinking I really should have done a little something with presentation – you can trust me though, it’s good.

Marscapone Fruit Appetizers

After spending a wonderful girlie weekend with my daughter Niki – Boston on Saturday, then she came home on Sunday to make  smoothies – I was left with an excess of fresh fruit.  The reason for all the fruit was a trip to Wegman’s, which has finally opened in our area, to buy the ingredients for batches of these nutritional oatmeal/fruit smoothies that you store in Mason jars:

My taste test rates them as wicked good and a great way (check this out Anastasia, your kids will love these) to get some oatmeal, fruit & yogurt into your diet.  Niki made up about 8 Mason jars of smoothies, but there was plenty of fresh fruit left for me.

As for the appetizers, I love berries and have been thinking about these easy appetizer/snacks that Niki re-created after sampling a variation at Food Week in Boston.  

All you need is toasted French bread (or these tiny little toast squares).  I was ambitious yesterday and had baked a couple loaves of French bread just for this.  So easy, just toast up slices of bread, spread with Marscapone cheese, then put the fruit/berry of your choice on top.  In my case I also had a couple slivers of smoked salmon left over from my zucchini pancakes that I wasn’t about to waste.  Much as I love these with fruit, I have to say, the smoked salmon ended up being my favorite.  Experiment with different toppings – in the fall when peaches are ripe, try slivers of juicy peaches or brandy soaked pears.  Umm… last time I brandied the pears, I left them for a couple days – that would be too long.

Artichoke Dip-Transforming a recipe into a family photo

This is where I love to get creative combining a favorite recipe with a photo.  One of my favorite party dips is this artichoke dip.  It fills a casserole dish and serves lots of people.


2      Cans regular artichoke hearts (14 oz)
1      Jar marinated artichoke hearts (6 oz)
2-4   TBL minced onions
2      Large cloves garlic, minced
2      Lbs. cream cheese
3      TBL chopped fresh basil
½      Cup Parmesan cheese, grated  plus extra for sprinkling on top (good quality makes a difference)

– Cook onion & garlic in sauté pan until transparent

– Place artichoke hearts & cream cheese in mixing bowl.  Use your hands to crush the artichoke hearts into the cream cheese.  Add onion/garlic mixture, continue mixing until combined, leaving only a few chunks of artichokes remaining.

– Add basil and Parmesan cheese and combine.

– Place in oven proof baking dish. Top with small amount of butter & Parmesan cheese.

– Bake at 400 until top is golden brown. Serve with warm pita bread or toasted French bread.

Funny story about the first time I made this dip.  It was late afternoon Christmas Eve and I was busy trying to prep food for Christmas, cleaning the house, wrapping gifts & also doing the laundry.  This dip was for a party we were going to that evening.

Since I was flying around trying to put this together while doing other things the dip was sort of put together piecemeal.  When I got to the part about grating the cheese I just couldn’t find it.  I knew I’d taken it out of the fridge so I thought maybe I had it in my hand while I was going from upstairs, to the pantry, to the laundry room… I retraced my steps & actions right down to looking inside the dryer for this large block of very expensive Parmesan cheese ($26 worth of cheese to be exact).  Believe me this is critical to this recipe.  As I stood there scratching my head I realized that I hadn’t seen Lola (remember the 85 lb. of Bernese Mountain Dog?) for a while.  She is an eternal optimist so is always underfoot when there’s food around.  Hmm…. very odd that I hadn’t been stepping over this small pony/dog for a while.   I think you can see where this is going.  I found her upstairs in her typical Berner bear skin rug mode but looking very sorry and like she might have a little bit of a belly ache.  I mean let’s face it, an entire block of Parmesan?  In case there is any doubt in your mind,  yes, I found the plastic wrapping on the stairway and I was a little surprised that that didn’t go down the hatch too!

Lola, the cheese thief !!!!

I was very lucky that the store was still open & my husband was willing to make a quick dash for another block of Parmesan.  Normally this recipe is not all that expensive, but I do recommend a high quality Parmesan for the best results and if you happen to have a Berner that you keep the cheese in the fridge until it’s time to use it.

Once I’ve decided on a recipe I love, I choose a favorite photo that reminds me of a special holiday where I’ve made the dish, or possibly a photo that just seems to “go” with this recipe.  In this case, Niki and I have made this dip for Christmas Eve parties.  Niki had returned from Italy before Christmas but downtown Florence had been decorated and she took this picture of the lights in the city which I love for it’s simplicity and elegance.

After choosing a photo, I use my photo software to fade out the background, playing with different shadings.  For example, this is a 30% transparency effect of the entire canvas:

After deciding the effect of the background, I overlay the recipe on top of the photo:

After overlaying the recipe onto the photo I add it to Niki’s recipe collection in an acrylic box frame.  New pictures can be added to the front to display or you can move the recipe you are making to the front and it’s protected by the acrylic frame.  Another idea is to slide each photo/recipe into a plastic sleeve and keep in a notebook.