Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Planning for Spring Tablescape

 A candlelight breakfast? Why not? Gazing outside imagining what will soon be, on an overcast but warm day like today, when the temperatures tickle 60°, I am champing at the bit to garden. With all of the seed catalogs that arrived in January, I am plotting and planning. This table is a tribute to people like me who get deliriously excited at a time of the year when others are wondering what to do.


I started with a neutral tablecloth and runner. It seemed only fitting that this table be topped with green leaf placemats.

On top of them are green Bordallo Pinheiro geranium leaf chargers. They are topped with a neutral, black square plates, on which I have placed a square green leafy luncheon plate by Fitz and Floyd, in their “Manhattan Garden” pattern. Plaid napkins are from Pottery Barn.

A Bordallo Pinheiro geranium leaf dessert plate tops this; a Longchamps wine label appetizer plate rounds out this garden inspired plate stack.

Mixing old with new, toast is being served on a vintage toast rack.

Adding a bit of whimsy is the garden gecko salt cellar from Pottery Barn, years ago.

The choice of stemware is a bit serendipitous. Is it properly placed? No. Do I care? Not one bit. Having recently stumbled upon the cranberry liqueur glasses that I bought about 35 years ago, I decided to get them out, wash them up, and use them for whatever beverage I like. The green water glasses are Villeroy and Boch; the wine glass is by Mikasa in their “Parklane” pattern.

What garden doesn’t have a butterfly or two? I had to add my white butterfly dishes that worked perfectly for serving butter pats and jelly.

The greenhouse at center gives an overall gardening feel. The sleeping Buddha, will awaken come spring.

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 This post is linked to: Tablescape Thursday

Monday, February 6, 2023

Cheesy Baked Rigatoni with Spinach and Roasted Mushrooms

This is the perfect recipe for Meatless Monday for a variety of reasons. It comes together in 40 minutes or less, is company worthy, and works equally well as a starter, side dish, or main. It’s also rich and delicious. The fact that you are adding a serving of vegetables with this is another benefit. Roasting the mushrooms gives them the most incredibly woodsy taste. This is a winner.

Cheesy Baked Rigatoni with Spinach and Roasted Mushrooms

  To roast mushrooms:

 1½ lbs. baby Bella mushrooms, quartered

1 t. kosher salt

1 t. freshly ground black pepper

1 t. dried thyme

¼ c. olive oil

 To make pasta:

 1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry*

1 lb. rigatoni

¾ lb. ricotta

½ lb. shredded Fontina cheese

¾ c. heavy cream

1 T. Melissa’s minced garlic

½ c. grated Parmesan, divided

¼ t. freshly ground nutmeg

¼ c. pasta water

Freshly ground black pepper

 Preheat your oven to 450°F. Spray a 1-1/2-quart baking dish with PAM; set aside.

 Place mushrooms, olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl; toss to coat. Transfer mushrooms to a baking sheet, spreading into a single layer. Place on the lower rack of the oven, and roast for 15-20 minutes until nicely browned.

 While the mushrooms are roasting, prepare pasta “al dente,” according to package directions; drain, reserving some pasta water. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.

 In a large mixing bowl place spinach, nutmeg, heavy cream, ricotta, Fontina, ¼ c. Parmesan, garlic, roasted mushrooms, and reserved pasta water. Add pasta, toss to coat, and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Transfer the mixture to prepared baking dish, and then sprinkle the remaining half of the Parmesan over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional five minutes until the cheese is golden and the edges are bubbly. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

 *Or 9 oz. as it has become, don’t get me started!

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Friday, February 3, 2023

Irish Whiskey Cake

Last month I told you that I was searching for the perfect Irish whiskey cake to serve with my St. Patrick’s Day dinner. At that point I gave you a recipe that was good, but it wasn’t blow your skirt up, punch you in the face, clear your sinuses fantastic. This one is. It contains a good bit of whiskey, but do not cut back on any of it. It is the perfect blend of chocolate and whiskey that will make you more than aware that you are seriously enjoying both. I found that I liked it best the first day when the base of it was super moist from all of the whiskey. My son, and zealous recipe tester, liked it a couple of days hence, when the cake wasn’t quite as moist, but the whiskey had infused every morsel. Honestly, you cannot go wrong with this. Your guests will love you for it.

Irish Whiskey Cake


1 c. unsalted butter, softened

2 c. flour

5 oz. unsweetened chocolate

¼ c. instant espresso powder

2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 c. Irish whiskey

½ t. kosher salt

2 c. sugar

3 large eggs

1 T. vanilla extract

1 t. baking soda


8 T. unsalted butter

¼ c. water

1 c. sugar

¼ t. kosher salt

½ c. Irish whiskey

 Preheat oven to 325ºF. Spray the heck out of a 10-cup Bundt pan with Baker’s Joy; set aside.

  In a double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate. Let cool.

 Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Mix until powders dissolve. Add whiskey and salt; let cool.

 Using an electric mixer, beat butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda, and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

 On low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with whiskey mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until cake tests done, about 1 hour 10 minutes.

 While the cake is baking, make the syrup.

  Transfer cake to a rack. Use a long skewer to poke holes all over the cake. Keep the cake in the pan and slowly drizzle the syrup over the cake (still in the pan). Do this in increments in order to allow the syrup to soak in.

 Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit overnight at room temperature to soak in all of that luscious syrup. When ready to serve, loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto your serving plate. If the cake won’t release, don't force it. Place it in the oven, turn the oven to 350°F, and warm for about 10 minutes, to soften the sticky syrup. Remove the cake from the oven, and tip it onto the serving plate.

 To make the syrup:

In a medium-sized saucepan combine the syrup ingredients, except almond extract. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and cook, without stirring, for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly. Remove from heat.

Store at room temperature, covered, for several days. Freezes well.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Chicken

Yesterday I talked about the fact that lunches can be boring, providing you with a nutritious vegetarian lunch idea as a nutritious and healthy change. Today I’m giving you another idea that is relatively quick, particularly if you make the various components ahead. It’s a specialty of Outback Steakhouse, served for dinner alongside mashed potatoes and vegetables. You can do that too, but here I have put it on a bun, topped it with their Bloomin’ Sauce, and it was sensational!

Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Chicken

Slightly adapted from copycat.com

Bloomin’ Sauce

2 t. ketchup

2 T. horseradish

¼ t. smoked paprika

¼ t. kosher salt

1/8 t. garlic powder

1/8 t. dried oregano

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne pepper

 For the chicken:

 2 c. flour

4 t. smoked paprika

2 t. garlic powder

1 t. kosher salt

½ t. freshly ground black pepper

½ t. cayenne pepper

1 c. buttermilk

½ c. water

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, flattened to 1/2” thick

Prepare the bloom sauce by combining all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well. Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. 

 Place the flour, paprika, garlic powder, salt, ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper into a pie plate. Stir to combine.

Place the buttermilk into another pie plate, add the water, and stir to combine.

 Place a wire rack on top of a cookie sheet.

 Dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour and shake off the excess.

 Dip the chicken into the buttermilk and shake off the excess.

Dip the chicken into the seasoned flour for a second time.

Place the breaded chicken onto the wire rack and repeat for the remaining pieces of chicken. The chicken should rest for about 5 minutes before cooking.

 Pour 1 to 2 inches of vegetable oil into a skillet. Heat the oil to 350°F.

 Place 1 or 2 pieces of chicken into the oil and fry until done, about 7 to 8 minutes. Turn the chicken breasts over while frying to make sure both sides of the chicken are golden brown. Then remove the chicken from the oil and let it drain on a wire rack.

 To serve, place the fried chicken on a plate and drizzle some of the bloom sauce on top.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Wild Mushroom Toast

I remember, back in the day, my mother used to tell my dad that she married him for better or for worse, but not for lunch. Dad would occasionally come home for lunch, leaving my mother quite perplexed. She really found lunches, on the whole, to be rather boring. I feel the same. We tend to get locked into doing what we are used to for lunch rather than trying something new. This recipe makes a wonderful lunch. It’s perfect for Meatless Monday or any day of the week, and will be enjoyed by carnivores and vegetarians alike. You can make the mixture a day ahead, or even earlier in the day, spread it onto the bread, and heat it. Hearty, woodsy, and flavorful.

Wild Mushroom Toast

1 1/2-oz. pkg.
Melissa’s dried porcini mushrooms
2 T. olive oil
1 lb. crimini mushrooms, cleaned
1 T.
Melissa’s minced garlic
1 T. finely chopped Melissa’s shallots
1 T. cognac
1 T. butter
½ t. kosher salt
1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 t.
dried rosemary
1/8 t. dried thyme
¼ c. chopped flat leaf parsley
¼ c. grated Parmesan
4 slices rustic bread*

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Soak dried mushrooms in a bowl of hot water to re-hydrate while you slice the crimini mushrooms 1/4” thick. Rinse re-hydrated mushrooms and squeeze to dry.

Over medium high heat, heat a 12” ovenproof skillet until very hot. Add olive oil and fresh mushrooms, and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms release their liquid, about 10 minutes; stir in garlic. Add the shallots, cognac, butter, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast, for 15 minutes. Serve warm on garlic bread sprinkled with Parmesan.

*I used split ciabatta rolls.

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Kirsten's Fried Pork Chops with Country Gravy

Last week, lured by an exceptional sale, I bought a pack of pork chops. After I got home and started unloading my groceries, I wondered what the heck I was thinking. Sure, I’m weak and pathetic when it comes to a bargain; still, I hadn’t made pork chops in years. I decided to pull out the behemoth that was the cookbook of favorite recipes that my husband and I had put together over our 23 years, and came across this one. It had been heavily annotated, including the mention of how quick and easy these were, and how much we both enjoyed them. That was all I needed to hear. Brining is of the utmost importance here so don’t skip that step. Do make these. They are, indeed, quick and easy, and they certainly are delicious!

Kirsten's Fried Pork Chops with Country Gravy

From food.com, adapted, edited for clarity

 Basic Brine:

3 c. boiling water

¼ c. kosher salt

¼ c. sugar

2 c. ice cubes

6 bone-in pork rib chops (each 1/2-inch thick) or 6 boneless pork chops

 Country Gravy:

½ lb. bulk fresh sausage

2 T. flour

2 c. half-and-half, plus additional if needed

Freshly grated nutmeg

¼ t. Worcestershire sauce

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)

 ½ c. flour

Sausage fat or bacon fat

 To make the brine:

Put the water in a large bowl and stir in the salt and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add ice cubes and cool the mixture to at least 45ºF. Submerge the pork chops in the brine. Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 4. Remove the pork chops from the brine, pat dry, and wrap in plastic wrap. Store in refrigerator until ready to cook.

 To make the gravy:

In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium heat, breaking it up with a spatula or fork. Pour off all but 2 T. of the fat and discard. Reserve the fat in a cup for cooking chops. Sprinkle the flour over the cooked sausage in the skillet; stir to coat. Gradually stir in the half-and-half, nutmeg, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add more half-and-half if the sauce becomes too thick. Season, to taste, with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Cover the skillet and set aside while you cook the chops.

 To cook chops:

Sprinkle the chops generously with pepper. Dredge then in the flour, shaking off excess. In a large, heavy skillet, heat the reserved fat plus additional oil to a depth of 1/8-inch over medium-high heat. Put the chops in the pan, as many as will fit without crowding, and fry until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes. To serve, put 1 chop on each plate and spoon the gravy over the top. Serve extra gravy on the side to pour biscuits or grits.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Ultimate Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball

I am not a fan of football, but I know that the Super Bowl is coming, and that means lots and lots of party food. I also know that, back in my day, a party wasn’t a party without a cheese ball. This “ultimate” cheese ball is the best one that I have ever had. I tweaked it a tiny bit, and trust me when I tell you this is cheese ball perfection. You’ll want to have this at your next casual gathering.

The Ultimate Bacon Ranch Cheese Ball

Slightly adapted from thechunkychef.com

 16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

3 T. sour cream

1 oz. pkg. (3 T.) ranch dressing mix

¾ t. garlic powder

½ t. dried minced onion

¼ t. kosher salt

¼ t. black pepper

½ t. Worcestershire sauce

1 ¼ c. grated cheddar cheese (divided)

½ c. grated pepper jack cheese

8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (divided)

1/3 c. chopped green onions (divided)

2/3 c. chopped toasted pecans

1 t. poppy seeds


 In a large mixing bowl place cream cheese, sour cream, ranch seasoning, garlic powder, minced onion, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire. Beat until combined. Add 1 cup of the cheddar cheese, all of the pepper jack cheese, half of the bacon, and half the green onions.  Stir until mixed. Lay out a large sheet of plastic wrap and drop cream cheese mixture onto it.  Cover tightly on all sides, and shape into a ball shape.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight, until firm.


 Add remaining 1/4 cup cheddar cheese, remaining bacon, and green onions to a small mixing bowl.  Stir in poppy seeds and refrigerate alongside the cheese ball. Before rolling the cheese ball, add pecans and stir well.


Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread out the outer coating in an even layer. Remove plastic wrap and roll cheese ball in coating, making sure all sides are coated.  You may have to pick up some of the coating and press it so it sticks. Serve immediately, or cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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