Cheddar Swirl Buns

As we head into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I’m throwing a wrench into our little Christmas process here.  Many of you know that we moved into a new home last winter and we’re finally ready to host our housewarming party!  Well, we’re almost at the point where we’re ready…but the invitations went out weeks ago so now we’re committed to a date in just less than two weeks from now.  This translates into a life of to-do lists, multiple trips to the hardware store, and lots of making nice after ruffled nerves give way to sharp tongues.  You get my point.

It also means menu planning (my favorite part, naturally) and even though I’ve been planning this party in my head for over a year, you’d think I’d have a better handle on the menu than I currently do.  For reals guys – this menu has been in the works since before this house had windows!  I’m still constantly adding and removing ideas but after a bout of insomnia baking hit me over the weekend and these cheddar swirl buns emerged from my oven after multiple proofs during the wee hours, I’m totally and completely sold on them being a part of our housewarming menu.

Soft and buttery dough envelops swirls of sharp cheddar cheese, grated onion and thyme and I still can’t stop thinking about them.  The onion melts away leaving a little tang behind and the only thing that could make these buns any better, if it’s possible, is maybe a little bacon.  These buns will make breakfast or brunch, cocktail hour, or dinnertime a magical event.  And surprisingly, they reheat beautifully wrapped in some foil in a 250 degree oven…so you don’t have to stand over the counter looking down at a dozen freshly baked cheese-oozing buns and fret that you might have to eat them all in one day.  Like me.  They are unexpectedly and decadently rich savory buns so they’ll be great for a crowd (say, at Thanksgiving) or you can just reheat them over the course of a few days.  We’re not complaining.

Cheddar Swirl Buns

Prep Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 55 minutes

Yield: 12 buns

Give yourself some time to make this recipe; the inactive time for proofing is up to 4 hours total. Are they totally worth the wait? Absolutely. Is it feasible to start them in the morning to serve for breakfast? Likely not. But you can prep the dough up to the first rise and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe. It's a great time saver that I'll definitely take advantage of for party prep or weekend guests.


    For the bun dough:
  • 3 cups (13 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) instant yeast
  • 1 cup of milk, slightly warmed
  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm plus 1 tbsp extra for brushing the rolls
  • For the filling:
  • 1/2 medium onion, grated (about 1/2 cup)
  • 6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper


  1. To make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, salt, black pepper, and sugar; stir together on low speed with the paddle attachment. In a 1 cup liquid measuring cup, whisk the yeast into the warmed milk until it dissolves then pour the milk mixture and the melted butter over the dry ingredients. Mix everything together on low speed until they form a shaggy mass of dough.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for 6 minutes on low speed, until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand for about 8 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm spot (like a barely warm oven) until it doubles, about 2 hours. While the dough rises, make the filling; chill it until you're ready to use it.
  3. To form the buns: Transfer the dough from the bowl to a well-floured counter top or work surface, sprinkle the dough with a little more flour, and pat it down into a rough rectangular shape. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 12x16-inch rectangle. Spread the filling out evenly over the dough to within 1/2" of the edges of the dough. Starting at the short end (or the long end if it's 6 am and you're still half asleep like I was), roll the dough tightly up into a log. With a serrated knife, cut the dough into twelve 1-inch rolls (or 1 1/2-inch rolls if you rolled it from the long end).
  4. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans or a 13x9-inch baking dish with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper with baking spray. Arrange 6 buns evenly spaced apart in each pan or all 12 in the large dish. Melt the additional tablespoon of butter and brush the tops of the buns with it. Cover the pans with plastic wrap and let the buns rise in a warm place until the buns just about double in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When the buns have almost doubled, preheat the oven to 350° F.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes (remove the plastic wrap first) until the buns are golden brown and the cheese is bubbling up. Serve immediately. The buns will keep, covered, at room temperature for 2-3 days. Reheat any leftovers (ha!) in a 250° F wrapped in foil until they are just warmed through.


source: barely adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman

Browned Butter Sweet Potatoes with Maple Sour Cream

browned butter sweet potatoes with maple sour cream

In spite of the serious lack of sweet potato recipes on this blog, I actually am a pretty huge fan of them.  I bake them up frequently in the fall and winter to take for lunch or to have as a healthier alternative to a regular white potato with dinner.  And when Thanksgiving rolls around, hold me back from the sweet potato casserole!  So this recipe, while pretty basic, is also right up my alley.

browned butter sweet potatoes with maple sour cream

There’s nothing complicated about it – you just bake a few sweet potatoes, overcook brown some butter, and mix a little maple syrup into sour cream.  With a little nuttiness from the browned butter alongside the sweet and tangy maple sour cream, you’ve got the makings of quite the perfect cool weather side dish.  Or lunch served with a little salad or bowl of soup, perhaps?

Browned Butter Sweet Potatoes with Maple Sour Cream

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 4 servings


  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, washed and dried
  • 3 tbsp salted butter
  • ½ cup sour cream (light works fine)
  • 1 tbsp pure maple syrup


  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Poke each sweet potato several times with a fork. Place the sweet potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake until soft and cooked through, 50-60 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the oven to cool for a few minutes.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together sour cream and maple syrup; set aside.
  3. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until brown bits start to form on the bottom of the pan and the butter turns golden brown in color, about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on the butter - it can burn quickly.
  4. Slice the sweet potatoes open lengthwise and lightly mash up the potato inside the skin with a fork. Divide the browned butter between the potatoes and dollop the top of each with some of the maple sour cream. Serve hot.


maple sour cream adapted from Everyday Food

Crispy Baked Zucchini Fries

As expected, our zucchini yield in our garden wasn’t as spectacular as it probably should have been this summer.  I don’t know what it is, but we just don’t have a green thumb when it comes to growing zucchini.  The first year we planted it, we got zero zucchini.  How depressing.  This year, our three seedling plants grew fabulously, flowered like it was there job (it was), and so far we’ve only gotten two zucchini (two more will be ready this week though).  From three plants, I don’t consider that to be a success.

But nonetheless, one of the zucchini we picked got chopped up and made into these baked zucchini fries.  And to be able to eat what we grew and picked from our own yard made for such a satisfying dinner – all of the dread of a low yield just melts away.  These fries are freaking awesome!  A quick run through a basic flour-egg-panko combination then into the oven for 20 or so minutes is all that separates you from zucchini heaven.

Because the fries aren’t actually fried, I feel like you are actually able to taste the zucchini and not just the grease (there is none of here anyway), which is certainly the goal with such fresh ingredients.  They come out of the oven crispy on the outside and tender and not mushy on the inside…and not at all watery, which I was slightly worried about since zucchini is such a watery vegetable.  While the zucchini fries were baking, I whipped up a batch of our favorite ranch dressing in the blender to dip them into – this should be a requirement when making these fries.  I have a few other recipes planned for the rest of the zucchini that we pick but it’s certainly going to take a heckavalot of restraint not to make these fries again this summer!

Bacon Ranch Potato Salad

In my lifetime, I have passed over hundreds of offerings of potato salad.  I don’t know what the trigger was for my distaste of it but I do know that gloppy mayonnaise-based salads have never been my thing.  Apparently, my grandmother makes the best potato salad and it’s the only version that has been brought to nearly all of our family gatherings in the summer months.  I just never got the appeal and I’m sure there were plenty of heads being shook at my countless refusals.

So along comes bacon ranch potato salad.  I’ll admit, I was completely turned off the by the idea of it…until I realized that it wasn’t a gloppy mayonnaise-based potato salad, but one made with ranch dressing.  Yes indeed, this low-fat homemade ranch dressing.  With the addition of crispy bacon bits, this potato salad is a match made in heaven.  Rather than completely chilled, I served it while the potatoes were still slightly warm, while the dressing still had a chance to soak into the potatoes.  And I loved did Kyle who could eat potato salad any day of the week.  I will not likely ever be a traditional potato salad eater, but this bacon-ranch version is one I can definitely get behind.

Bacon Ranch Potato Salad

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: 8-10 servings


  • 2 lbs baby red potatoes, unpeeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1 batch of homemade ranch dressing (about 1 ½ cups)
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced and cooked crisp
  • Chives or scallions (green parts only), chopped, for garnish


  1. In an 8-quart stock pot, cover the potatoes with cold water by 1-inch and add the salt. Bring the potatoes to a boil over high heat then reduce to the heat to medium and cook the potatoes until fork-tender, about 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool down until they are very warm, about 5-10 minutes; transfer potatoes to a large bowl.
  2. Pour half of the dressing over the potatoes and stir to coat the potatoes well; refrigerate for 1-2 hours. When ready to serve, stir in the remainder of the ranch dressing and bacon. Garnish with chives or scallions, if using.


source: adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride

Take-Out Fake-Out: Veggie Fried Rice

Veggie Fried Rice

It never fails that when we’re looking to get Chinese take-out, I’m craving fried rice with my meal because let’s face it, white rice is for the birds.  The sticky stuff does nothing for me.  So when I came across this recipe last month for vegetable fried rice, I was all over it like…um, white on rice?  🙂 I loved the fact that by making it at home, I could control the ingredients and use up leftover rice from other nights of the week – or just make the rice in advance when I have a few spare minutes in the kitchen, which you should do anyway because the cooked rice needs to be cold for this dish.  I immediately opted for brown rice, boosted both the fresh garlic and ginger, and used frozen peas and carrots (easy!!) rather than peeling and chopping multiple carrots. We seriously loved how this recipe turned out – so much so that we made it twice in a week.  We paired it with some teriyaki chicken (let me know if you’re interested in the recipe) to round out the meal and it ended up being a substantial, quick, and relatively healthy dinner.  And since I misread a recipe I made earlier this week, leaving me with over 3 cups of cooked brown rice, I know what we’re having tonight!

Top 9 Favorites of 2011

Here’s to a fabulous 2011 and even better 2012!  Thank you all of your love and support this year – it’s been a great one for me and as Kyle and I transition into our new home in the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to sharing all kinds of great recipes that I’ve been holding out on until I have more space to work with.  Until then, enjoy a few of your favorites from this year…the Top 9 most popular posts, to be exact!

1. Red Velvet Brownies with White Chocolate Frosting

2. DIY: Ranch Dressing

3. Baked Fontina

4. DIY: Taco Seasoning

5. Chunky Hubby Cupcakes

6. Take Out Fake Out: Orange Chicken

7. NY-Style Crumb Cake

8. Pizza Bites

9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake

Cream Biscuits

Cream Biscuits

Perhaps the operative name for this recipe should be Dream Biscuits rather than Cream Biscuits.  I’ll admit that I’ve been fearful of taking on homemade biscuits but this recipe has changed my life.  With one bowl, a wooden spoon, and less than 10 minutes of time, these biscuits are ready to be baked without any plausible biscuit catastrophes.  There’s no worrying about pea-sized pieces of butter or fretting about whether the butter is cold enough; you’ll mix all of the ingredients together, do 30 seconds of kneading on the counter top, pat out the dough, cut out rounds, and bake – amazingly simple with extraordinary results.  These cream biscuits are high-risers and show off beautiful layers that you expect with a homemade biscuit and they will be the perfect addition with breakfast, soup, stew, or chili, and casual or holiday dinners (like say, the big one coming up this week).  I can also see them as being an excellent vessel for sliders or egg and cheese [and bacon/sausage/spinach/etc.] sandwiches since they aren’t tough and crumbly at all.  They are pretty much perfect biscuits and like I said, they are my dream biscuits.

Cream Biscuits

Butternut Squash Pureé


When it comes to side dishes for weeknight dinners, I feel like I deserve a C-.  It’s sort of reminiscent of my freshman microeconomics grade whereas I do put quite a bit of effort into the work in spite of the fact that I just don’t get it.  And yes, my micro- grade was a C-, not a great way to start off a college career.  In any event, I do plan side dishes for all of my meals, buy the ingredients when necessary, but I have such a hard time pulling the trigger to get them prepared.  Usually there are pans flying around my kitchen, a cookbook stacked on top of the coffee pot since space is so limited, and maybe a few choice words shouted at the burner that will never stay hot enough (thank you glass-top stove) when I’m cooking dinner.  It’s not a pretty scene so last week when I had some leftover butternut squash from the curried butternut soup that I made, I decided to use it up right away rather than stashing it in the fridge for another time that may never arrive.

I’d like to say that I put more effort into this pureé other than boiling the squash in a sauce pan until tender but I’d be lying.  Actually, photographing the squash took longer than it did for me to prepare it once it was cooked.  I drained the squash, added a few staple ingredients, mashed it, and it was ready – ridiculously simple, really.  I love a hefty amount of freshly cracked pepper in butternut squash when it’s prepared this way, something I never lost since childhood (what kid loads up their food with pepper?), but if it doesn’t suit your tastes, cut back on it.  The way I prepared the squash here is my favorite version however, you can definitely play around with some warm spices of fall – cinnamon, cumin, curry powder – and easily make this side dish your own.  And if you want to cheat and buy the squash pre-cut from the grocery store, go for it – I did and it cut down on the painful prep of peeling a slippery squash.  It’s tough to turn my back on side dish that take 15 inactive minutes to make and I don’t think any busy person on a weeknight would either.

Eggplant Caponata

Eggplant Caponata

The eggplant harvest continues here.  We picked a couple more before the hurricane/tropical storm hit last weekend and the plants with smaller eggplant survived the storm, thankfully.  Today, I’m highlighting this eggplant caponata and I truly believe it’s a dish that every cook should have in his/her repertoire.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, caponata is a traditional Sicilian stew (entrée, side, or appetizer/antipasti) usually made with eggplant, celery, capers, and a tomato-based sauce but [according to Wikipedia] other add-ins such as red peppers, pine nuts, raisins, olives, carrots, octopus, and lobster are also widely accepted.


In this recipe, the eggplant is sautéed down to a soft and almost spreadable texture which makes the caponata a gorgeous addition to some crusty bread (which we had for dinner twice this past week).  I also considered serving this over pasta and also on it’s own with a small salad on the side, and I think it would make an excellent complement to a meaty fish like halibut or swordfish.  For lunch this week, I put the caponata on a toasted hard roll with some provolone (also twice this week – the recipe makes a lot of caponata!) and it made for a terrific sandwich.  All in all, Kyle and I both fell in love with this recipe and I’m contemplating if I should make it again for an upcoming party next weekend.  The caponata is warm and earthy with a deep flavor of fresh tomato sauce and it’s these simple flavors that make it so easy to fall in love with.  It’s a recipe that I’ll be able to make all year round (wouldn’t this be great by a fire in the middle of winter?), since eggplants are always available in the grocery stores these days, but will most definitely look forward to each August when my garden is overloaded with eggplants.

Eggplant Caponata


    For the simple tomato sauce:
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 (28oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained (reserve all of the juice) and chopped
  • Large pinch (about 1/2 tsp) Kosher salt
  • For the caponata:
  • 2 medium eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cups simple tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar


  1. To make the sauce: In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in the garlic and when it starts to sizzle, immediately stir in the tomatoes, all of the reserved juice, and the salt.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 15-20 minutes.
  3. To make the caponata: Place eggplant in two large colanders and sprinkle about 2 tbsp salt over all of the eggplant. Toss to evenly distribute the salt. Allow the eggplant to drain for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Once the eggplant has drained, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add enough eggplant to cover the bottom of the pot in one layer and sauté until golden on all sides. Continue cooking the eggplant in batches until all of it has browned, adding more olive oil with each batch or as needed. Once all of the eggplant has cooked, remove it from the pot and keep warm on the side.
  5. In the same pot, warm 1 tbsp olive oil and sauté celery for 5 minutes. Add in the onions and cook the onions and celery until they are translucent and soft, about 7-10 minutes, adding a little more oil if needed. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the tomato sauce; cook for 7 minutes. Stir in the eggplant and celery and add the capers, anchovy paste, vinegar, and sugar. Cook for 10-15 more minutes until the mixture is a thick stew-like consistency. Check for flavor, adding more salt, vinegar, or sugar as needed. Serve hot or at room temperature.


source: adapted from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)

I would venture a bet that you’re reading this post as I sit here post-Irene.  No electricity, no water in spite of the deluge of rain we’ve received during the first hurricane the Northeast has experienced in 20 years.  My potted herbs and stringy cherry tomato plants have taken over my kitchen floor.  The patio table stands awkwardly in my living room.  I can only hope that as you read this, that no major damage to our home [that technically isn’t even our home anymore] has been sustained, that we are safe, that my family on the south shore of Long Island have weathered this storm in a similar fashion.  That you and your families are safe.  Mother Nature works in such mystifying ways, doesn’t she?  An earthquake and a hurricane in one week.  A winter that us New Englanders will never forget.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa [Salsa Verde]

And through all this, we hunker down and we cook.  We cook to prepare, we cook to pass the time.  Isn’t it in our nature to turn to food and family in times of trouble?  Or is that just the Italian in me?  Either way, I made a big batch of this salsa verde before the hurricane hit this weekend after having made it (and fell in love with it) for the first time for a Tex-Mex-inspired dinner with friends last weekend.  If you’re unfamiliar with salsa verde as I was, put simply, it’s roasted tomatillos and roasted garlic whirred up in the food processor with a bit of heat from the hot pepper of your choice (either a jalapeño or a serrano) added in.  For this recipe, you’ll dry roast the tomatillos and garlic in a hot pan, similar to the method for this rustic roasted salsa.  I can’t say enough about how much we adore this salsa.  Unlike tomato-based salsa which leans towards the acidic side, the roasted tomatillos yield a sweet undertone that blends with a perfect amount of heat from a jalapeño and the addictive flavor of fresh cilantro.  Along with a bag of blue corn tortilla chips on the hurricane preparedness list, this salsa will go a long way to helping you forget about the 80 mile per hour winds howling outside.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes


  • 4-5 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and halved (about 8 ounces)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1-2 jalapeño, seeded and ribs removed, roughly chopped
  • about 1/3 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 small white onion, chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Kosher salt


  1. Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lay the garlic and tomatillos (cut-side down) in the skillet. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the tomatillos are well-browned. Turn everything over and brown the other side (the tomatillos should be very soft). Remove the tomatillos and garlic and add to a food processor or blender. Allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the jalapeño, 1/4 cup of water, onions, cilantro, and lime juice to the food processor, and blend to a coarse purée. Add Kosher salt to taste. Pour into a dish and add more water if necessary, to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency.


source: Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless, as seen on Pink Parsley

Fresh Tomato Mozzarella Tart with Basil Garlic Crust

Fresh Tomato Mozzarella Tart with Basil Garlic Crust

Sometimes choosing new recipes to make in the summer is a completely overbearing experience.  Hundreds of thousands of recipes using the freshest of ingredients – what’s a blogger to do?  In the case of this Fresh Tomato Mozzarella Tart with Basil Garlic Crust, it was a no-brainer.  I’ve been hanging onto the recipe for 2 years and made it as the local tomatoes were on their way out last Summer with the full intention of sharing it with you…and it totally flopped.  Gummy crust, watery filling, and generally a turn-off of a meal.

But I vowed to avenge myself this summer.  I knew it wasn’t the recipe.  I knew it had partly to do with the fresh mozzarella that I foolishly used – obvious note to you: don’t use fresh mozzarella in this tart.  So I made a special stop this weekend at a local farm stand and picked up a few gorgeous ripe local tomatoes, plucked some basil from my pots on the deck, and pulled this tart together in virtually no time.  Now that I was actually able to eat this tart, I fell head over heels for the ever simple tomato-basil-mozzarella combination all over again.  The basil garlic crust was crispy and amazing, the perfect complement to the fresh [now] roasted, sweet, and earthy tomatoes, and gooey mozzarella.  A sprinkle of basil over the top of the baked tart is the last piece of this puzzle that no longer confounds me.  We served this tart alongside some grilled shrimp but a small salad or some grilled chicken would be great options as well.  I don’t know about you, but I’m itching to make this again as the summer rolls on and the tomatoes really come into their own later this month.

Fresh Tomato Mozzarella Tart with Basil Garlic Crust

Prep Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings


    For the tart dough:
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 8 to 10 pieces
  • 4-5 tablespoons ice water
  • For the filling:
  • 8 ounces sliced mozzarella
  • 1-2 large, ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored and cut crosswise into thin slices
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil


  1. To make the tart dough: Place the basil and garlic in the work bowl of a food processor. Process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until finely chopped. Add flour and salt; pulse to combine.
  2. Add butter. Pulse about 10 times, or until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs.
  3. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing several times after each addition. After 4 tablespoons water have been added, process the dough for several seconds to see if the mixture forms a ball. If not, add remaining water. Process until dough forms into a ball. Remove dough from processor.
  4. Flatten the dough into a 5-inch disk. Wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The dough can be placed in a zipper-lock plastic bag and refrigerated for several days or frozen for 1 month. If frozen, defrost the dough in the refrigerator.)
  5. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle. Lay the dough over the tart pan, and press it into the pan. Trim the dough, and proceed with the recipe as directed.
  6. To make the filling and assemble:
  7. Prepare the dough, and press it into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. A 9-inch pan works as well - you'll just have some leftover dough which you could use to make a small galette with any leftover ingredients.
  8. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line the bottom of the tart shell with mozzarella. Arrange the tomatoes over the cheese in a ring around the edge of the tart and a second ring in the center. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.
  9. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cheese has started to brown in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a rack for at least 5 minutes before slicing. (The tart may be covered and kept at room temperature for 6 hours.)

Baked Oven Fries

Baked Oven Fries

I’m all for easy weeknight meals and most nights when I get home from work, I’m pretty organized in the meal department.  Every week, I plan out a menu and keep it on the side of the fridge so that in the mornings, I’ll know what I need defrost and in the evenings, I’ve got a game plan for the meal at hand.  I’ve shared plenty of my weeknight meals with you here but it isn’t often that I share a side dish and that may be why I’m so excited to share these baked oven fries with you.

Simply cut the potatoes into wedges and after a short soak in some hot water, the wedges head into the oven on a baking sheet that you’ll have coated with vegetable/canola/peanut oil.  And believe it or not, it isn’t the olive oil that makes these fries so flipping amazing – it’s the soak!  The water pulls out some of the starch from the potatoes which allows them to bake up perfectly tender.  The oil on the baking sheet is what you’ll need to crisp up the outsides of the potatoes so don’t think you can skip this step to cut back on calories – the editors of Cook’s Illustrated always think of everything.  I’ve made these fries a few times and I feel like you can allow the potatoes to soak for between 10 and 20 minutes – 10 is the recommended time by CI and over 20 minutes results in a hollow oven fry…and nobody likes a hollow fry!

To further ease up my weeknight, I’ve been pairing these fries with bbq chicken burgers.  I make double-batches of burgers, shape the burgers, and freeze them in 2-pack portions so they are ready to pull from the freezer when we’re craving them.  I’ve also always got a batch of bbq sauce (included with the burger recipe) in the fridge to slather on the burgers…and perhaps to dip the oven fries in as well.  We adore these baked oven fries and we’re moving further and further away from buying frozen, store-bought fries and tator tots.  I think the natural next step is to grow our own potatoes – and you may see that happening in the next couple of years!

Shrimp Tacos/Quesadillas with Mango Salsa

Shrimp Tacos

After posting 3 different bar recipes in the past week, it’s definitely time to lighten things up a little around here.  These tacos and salsa are definitely a better indicators of how we’ve actually been eating recently and the meal such a great way to balance out some of the sweet stuff.   These shrimp tacos are light, super quick, and mucho healthy.   Shawnda actually chose them for her PPQ choice a few weeks ago but I wasn’t really “feeling” them back then.  And I’m not sure why because I knew they would be awesome…which, of course, they were.  I changed things up just a little, using ancho chile powder on the shrimp instead of cayenne and omitting the peppers, onions, and Worcestershire sauce. After an easy sauté, the shrimp are left with a hint of spice but combine perfectly with the cool mango salsa.  Top the tacos with a little lime sour cream (a little lime zest and juice mixed with sour cream) and you’ve got yourself a great meal!

In case you’re wondering about WW PointsPlus (as some of you have asked about), each taco consisted of 3 shrimp on a regular 6″ flour tortilla with about 1 tsp of shredded cheddar (not including sour cream) and was 5 Pts – the mango salsa is free.  Not too shabby!  I actually had quite a bit of salsa left over after only using 1/2lb of shrimp so I made another batch of shrimp yesterday morning while I was running around getting ready for work (roasted them at 425 degrees F for 8 minutes) and ate just the shrimp (9 shrimp) and salsa as a 2 Pt lunch yesterday – score!!

Shrimp Tacos/Quesadillas with Mango Salsa

Total Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


    For the salsa:
  • 2 mangoes, diced
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and finely diced
  • ½ small red onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup Thai-style sweet chile sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • For the tacos:
  • 1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ancho chile powder
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 8 small (6-inch) tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese


  1. To make the salsa: Combine the mango, jalapeno, onion, lime juice, salt, chili sauce, garlic, and cilantro in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or until ready to serve.
  2. To make the tacos: Rub the shrimp with chile powder and salt. In a large saute pan set over medium-high heat, heat oil and saute the shrimp 3 minutes, flipping halfway through, until they curl and turn pink. Remove the shrimp from the heat and serve the shrimp hot in warmed tortillas with mango salsa and cheese.


source: adapted from The Pastry Queen, by Recbecca Rather

Elly’s World Famous Black Beans

Elly's World Famous Black Beans

World Famous Black Beans? Really?  Well, why not?  My friend Elly at Elly Says Opa! created this black bean recipe ages ago and before making it, I had only heard rave reviews about it.  And folks, those reviews are justified.  These black beans really are quite fabulous and they are super easy to put together.  They’ll cook in about 15 minutes on the stove top and I was able to throw them together while I was waiting for my favorite chicken enchiladas to bake up in the oven.  Unlike the black beans served in Mexican/Tex-Mex restaurants, you’ll have control over the texture of the beans.  I prefer my beans to be more on the mashed side like these refried beans with bacon but you can definitely mash them less and leave more whole beans – it’s up to you.  As far as the flavor goes, shall I venture to say they were world-famous worthy?  All of my favorite flavors of cumin, chili powder, and cilantro combine with my favorite Mexican food add-in (the black beans) to make the this a star side dish that I’ll continue to make over and over.  And with Cinco de Mayo now just over two weeks away, you can bet that these beans will be on my menu that night!

Rosemary Asiago Focaccia

This post has been a long time coming.  Since before I started baking any kind of bread, I’ve wanted to make focaccia.  The puffy center and slightly crisp crust of freshly baked focaccia has always excited me.  Yet it’s terrified me at the same time.  How could what I make ever compare to the greatness of some focaccia I’ve eaten?  Folks, that’s what learning to cook and bake is about.  It’s about trying out new things, hoping they come out the way you want, and trying again if they don’t.  Fortunately for me, this focaccia was everything I had hoped it would be.


Since this Italian bread is as much of a blank canvas as pasta is, the possibilities for toppings (or even fillings!) are only as restricted as your imagination.  I topped my first loaf with chopped rosemary and Asiago cheese and served it alongside spinach lasagna and a green salad.  Nothing fancy, just good, homey Italian food for a Sunday night supper.  The focaccia was beyond my expectations and half of the loaf was easily gone after a dinner with four people.  Even after we had finished eating and were sitting at the table chatting before the dishes were cleared, we were still stealing pieces to munch on from the bread basket.  The rosemary lends some really great flavor to the bread and the powerful Asiago is the perfect complement to the punch of the fresh rosemary.  While from start to finish, this focaccia takes nearly 20 hours to make, almost all of the time is inactive, and the overnight starter is a key component to the final flavor, so don’t skip that step.  You’ll be able to find plenty of things to do during the inactive starter/rise/proof time like sleep, make scones, hummus, toffee bar brownie torte, and spinach lasagna.  Sunday was a very busy day for me in the kitchen but it was topped off with a very special accomplishment: my first focaccia.