Thursday, September 30, 2021

Watercolor Snacks, a Review

Inasmuch as I would love to be a painter, I’m simply not. I am, however, a collector of paints and various paint-related accoutrements — watercolors, acrylics, paint sticks, mica powders, water color pencils, water brushes, if you can name it, I probably have it. When I learned of Watercolor Snacks, I was eager to get my hands on a copy as it appealed both to my love of food and desire to paint; it did not disappoint. Quite the contrary, it delighted and inspired.

With only the turn of a page or two, I had surrounded myself with cups of water, paintbrushes, and all of my supplies. A filled watercolor sketchbook later, I had page after page of painted food stuffs, in various degrees of completion, done in watercolor, following the informative directions, and ending up rather pleased when all was said and done. If, like me, you would like to be able to try your hand and be reasonably accomplished at watercolor, and if the thought of painting food appeals, stop what you’re doing, and order a copy of this book now. You can get one here.

 Perfect for beginners, the author provides step-by-step, easy to follow instructions on how to paint your favorite foods. Informative, yet not condescending, the author gives you information on supplies, techniques, how to fix mistakes, and overall be happy with your art.

This book will appeal to artists and food lovers alike. If you would like to expand your creativity in a new direction, this is definitely the book for you.


 Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher  in exchange for an honest review.

 As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Loaf

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Over the weekend I made double chocolate brownies with pumpkin buttercream frosting. They were delicious. Unfortunately they were not photogenic. Not, in a very big way. As a consequence, I am going to have to make them again and have another photo shoot, because this is a recipe you absolutely must try. I had just enough leftover pumpkin from the buttercream to give this recipe a try. Am I ever glad that I did! I do believe that this is one of the best pumpkin loaves that I have ever tasted. I happen to be a big fan of streusel, totally convinced that it improves everything it graces, which may explain why I like this loaf so much. You have to make this one.

Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Loaf
Slightly adapted from

Crumb Topping:

½ c. flour

½ c. dark brown sugar
½ t. pumpkin pie spice
1/8 t. kosher salt
¼ c. cold unsalted butter, cubed

Pumpkin bread:

1 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
½ t. kosher salt
1 c. granulated sugar
¾ c. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. pumpkin purée

2 t. pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8” x 4” loaf pan with a Baker’s Joy; set aside

Prepare crumb topping: In the work bowl of a large or
mini food processor combine topping ingredients. Pulse until large crumbs are formed; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla, pumpkin, and pumpkin pie spice until smooth and blended. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until smooth and no lumps remain.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and top with prepared crumb mix. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until the loaf tests done. If you see the top is browning too quickly, loosely tent with foil.

Remove from oven and allow the bread to cool in the pan for 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Homemade One-Pot Hamburger Helper (with Zucchini!)

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It is officially the first day of fall and, in this household anyway, the official beginning of comfort food season. I thought I would kick off the season with an adapted version of homemade hamburger helper that I found online. What I particularly liked about this version is that it contains vegetables in the form of shredded zucchini that disappears into the mix, so no one’s the wiser. Whether your kids like or don’t like vegetables, they won’t even know they are there in this comforting and delicious casserole. You will find it hearty and satisfying, the kids will love it.

Homemade One-Pot Hamburger Helper
Adapted from

2 T. olive oil
1 lb. ground chuck
1 medium onion, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ t.
Montreal steak seasoning
1 t. chili powder
1 t. paprika
1 t. garlic powder
10 oz.
medium shells
1 zucchini, grated (about 1 c.)
2 c. beef broth
1½ c. whole milk
1½ -2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 T. ketchup

Place beef and onion in a large pot (I used
this one) set over medium/high heat; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the meat is browned, breaking up as you go, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the steak seasoning, chili powder, paprika, and garlic powder, and cook another minute.

Add pasta and zucchini and toss to coat. Pour in broth and milk; add ketchup, stirring to combine. Bring to a gentle boil over medium/high heat, and simmer 8 to 10 minutes until the pasta is al dente, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cheese and cook until melted and creamy.

Serves four.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Smoked Sausage and Corn Chowder

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Despite the 90° temperatures that we’re having during the day, once September hits, I move into “soup mode.” I absolutely love it! The thicker and chunkier, the better, beginning with the concoction below. It goes together quickly, keeps 3 to 4 days in the fridge, and it’s wonderful alongside half a sandwich, salad, or all on its own with a crusty roll.

Smoked Sausage and Corn Chowder

8 oz. smoked sausage, fully cooked, thinly sliced
1 c. chopped
Melissa’s shallots
1 carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
3½ - 4 c. chicken stock
2½ - 3 c. frozen O’Brien potatoes
1 14.75-oz. can
cream style corn
1/8 t. cayenne
1/8 t.
Old Bay
¼ t. Italian seasoning
½ c. heavy cream

In a large saucepan, ground sausage over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Drain any excess fat. Stir in broth, potatoes, corn, cayenne, old Bay, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in cream; heat through.

Garnish with croutons and sliced scallions, if desired.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Veggie Wrap with Spinach Artichoke Cream Cheese

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If you are desperately trying to use up all of the zucchini and tomatoes that you harvested this year, have I got a sandwich for you! It’s a simple wrap that goes together quickly, providing you prepare your spinach artichoke cream cheese the day before. The wonderfully tasty cream cheese mixture (inspired by the iconic dip), lasts in the fridge for up to one week, and the flavor enhances if it’s left overnight before using. One wrap sandwich provides 2 to 3 servings of vegetables (depending upon how thickly you layer them), and is a delicious way to get your nutrition for the day. Make a number of them, wrap them tightly in cling film, and keep them at the ready in the fridge.

Veggie Wrap with Spinach Artichoke Cream Cheese

spinach herb tortillas
1 tomato
1 zucchini

½ red onion, thinly sliced*

½ c. Melissa’s red bell peppers, sliced into strips

2 leaves Romaine lettuce

1/2 c. grated mozzarella

Spinach Artichoke Cream Cheese (recipe below)

 Thinly slice tomato, sprinkle lightly with salt, and allow to drain on a paper towel-lined plate while you prepare the zucchini. Slice zucchini, lengthwise, into 1/8” - 1/4” strips. Sauté in a skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat, or on the grill, until both sides are nicely seared.

On one side of the tortilla, spread an ample portion of Spinach Artichoke Cream Cheese within a half-inch of the edge. Layer zucchini, tomato, onion, pepper, cheese, and lettuce. Salt and pepper to taste, and roll up burrito style. Slice in half on a diagonal and serve. May be made ahead, wrapped in plastic wrap, and stored in the fridge. Makes 2.

*I used a mandoline.

Spinach Artichoke Cream Cheese

 1 6-oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1/2 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry

1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened

2 T. Duke’s mayonnaise

2 T. sour cream

½ c. shredded mozzarella

½ t. garlic powder

1 t. dry Vermouth

¼ t. dried basil

1/8 t. salt

Few gratings freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients into a medium bowl, and beat with a hand mixer until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Unofficial Hogwarts Cookbook for Kids, Reviewed

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 I am all for getting kids involved in the kitchen. In fact, any form of coercion or trickery that works in that regard is okay by me. Ulysses Press and author Alana Al-Hatlani have done just that with
The Unofficial Hogwarts Cookbook for Kids: 50 Magically Simple, Spellbinding Recipes for Young Witches and Wizards. 

If kids aren’t sucked in by the plethora of beautiful, mouthwatering color photos, they will be by the cleverly named recipes such as Witch Hat Quesadillas, Burgers with Wizard Wizz-Bang Sauce, Cockroach Clusters, and Chocolate Frogs. As someone who is painfully unacquainted with Harry Potter, I have to say that this book drew me right in.

The recipes are clear and concise, and divided into simple steps that children can easily follow. Each recipe is accompanied by a brief introduction explaining the recipe, its name, and offering various suggestions or substitutions.

 Cauldron Cakes, children are told, “a rich chocolate cake with a molten melty center” are sold on the train trolley.

While the recipes are geared toward young cooks, they are sophisticated enough to please the entire family. The book is divided into six sections: breakfast, snacks and small treats, lunch, dinner, dessert, and drinks. There is a nice introduction, as well as an explanation of recipe terms that will be invaluable to the burgeoning young cook. The conversion table should aid both young and old.

 Many of the recipes in this book are traditionally British such as Bath Buns, Crumpets, Shepherd’s Pie, and Treacle Tart. This provides a nice introduction to another country’s cuisine, something I find so important in educating young people. In the making, they may also teach their parents a thing or two, and what and what kid doesn’t love that?

Recommended for the young and young at heart!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.


Friday, September 10, 2021

5 Ingredient Slow Cooker Chicken Legs

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I must say that I was extremely wary of this recipe. I have tried those easy crockpot recipes containing chicken and a few other ingredients, and ended up sending it right down the drain. This recipe was quite a pleasant surprise. I followed the recipe as I found it online, for the most part, although I did give it a hearty sprinkling of Montreal chicken seasoning as well as a few gratings of freshly ground black pepper. I cooked mine on low for four hours, and then cranked up the heat to high for that last hour. That seemed to work out perfectly.

5 Ingredient Slow Cooker Chicken Legs

Adapted from

 3 - 3.5 lb. chicken drumsticks

Montreal Chicken Seasoning

1 c. jam jelly, or preserves (I used peach)

½ c. ketchup

1/3 c. soy sauce

2 t. Melissa’s minced garlic

 Place the chicken legs in the bottom of the slow cooker. Sprinkle with copious amounts of chicken seasoning and freshly ground black pepper.

 In a small bowl place jam, ketchup, soy sauce, and garlic. Mix to combine well. Pour the sauce over the chicken legs.

 Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours and then high for one hour. Enjoy. These chicken legs reheat beautifully, and the flavor intensifies overnight in the fridge.


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Pasta Night Tablescape

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If you are as passionate about dinnerware as I am, it would serve you well to let this be widely known. The reason being is that there is always someone who is about to move, or downsize, or otherwise have a need to part with some of their tableware, serving pieces, flatware, or all of the above. Such was the case with these gorgeous pasta bowls and the large serving bowl.

Technically, these belong to my aunt who recently moved from a rowhouse style condo into an apartment. She couldn’t bear to part with these, but because she cut her living space in half, a lot of things had to go (Don’t ask me about the roll top desk and matching chair that I’m storing for her in the belly of the beast. I mean it, don’t.). 

The understanding here is that I’m storing these for her, I am encouraged to use them, but if and when she ever wants them back, they’re hers. I agreed to that, but truth be told, she’s going to have to wrestle me to the ground to get these back. Honestly, I think she could do it, she’s pretty wiry.

 Seriously, aren’t these lovely? They are from Certified International and the art is by Susan Winget. I couldn’t find this exact set, but I did find two equally lovely and very similar sets here and here.

Once these were in my possession, I knew that I had to do a table called “Pasta Night.” Don’t these just make the table? The color theme gives a nod to the Italian flag lots of red and green.

The pasta bowls are layered with Bordallo Pinhiero geranium leaf chargers on top of which I put a simple red plate (also from my aunt, but she tells me I can keep these), and then a bowl. Each pasta bowl has its own unique design, not always in keeping with the Italian flag color theme, but I did not let that deter me.

The salad bowls are Bordallo Pinhiero as well. They may be used for salad, they may be used to hold a dinner roll or hunk of crusty bread.

The centerpiece is typically Italian with my mother’s soup deep green soup pot that perches on its own candle powered burner to keep the soup warm, flight with bright red bowls, add a Chianti bottle that can be used for actually holding wine, or as a unique vessel for water.


The red and white napkins are tied in a simple nut and placed by the plate. There is some thing about this display of napkins that always seems so festive.

Fruit topped tarts add to the color, whimsy, and festiveness of the party.


This post is linked to: Tablescape Thursday



Wednesday, September 8, 2021

New York-Style Cheesecake Bars

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There used to be a wonderful Jewish deli, not far from where I used to live, that had the most amazing meats, bread, and chicken salad. Sadly, as happens, the couple who owned it grew older and retired; I still miss it. Not so sadly, for those of you who love Jewish pastries as much as I do, the new book by author Beth A. Lee, The Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook, has helped me get over my grief.

Loaded with one delicious, not-too-difficult-to-make recipe, after another, the cheesecake bars were calling my name. Easy to assemble, these will please the masses. Lemon lover that I am, I doubled up on the lemon zest to give it a lot more zing. To make them extra special, top each square with fresh fruit, a drizzle of chocolate, or fruit sauce (Instructions below; I used blueberry). Both book and recipe are keepers.

Any Fruit Dessert Sauce

1 c. any flavor jam
3 T. water

Place jam and water into a small saucepan and heat, stirring, over low/medium heat until it becomes “saucy.” If you want it runnier, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Nothing is easier, and this makes any dessert company worthy.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Cheesecake Factory Thai Chicken Pasta

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The French term mise en place (In culinary terms this means to have all of your ingredients chopped, prepped, and in place prior to cooking.), will serve you well in this recipe. If you do so, this delicious, flavorful, Cheesecake Factory clone can be on the table in 30 minutes. It’s been a while since I was last at the Cheesecake Factory, and an even longer while since I last had this dish, considering that, some time ago, they removed it from their menu. From what I can remember, however, this version is better than theirs.

 Cheesecake Factory Thai Chicken Pasta

  For the Peanut Sauce:

1 c. creamy peanut butter

¼ c. soy sauce

1 T. chili paste

2 T. dark brown sugar

1 Meyer lemon, juiced

½ c. hot water

1 clove garlic, minced

1 t. rice vinegar

1 t. ground ginger

For the Pasta:

2 T. vegetable oil

2 chicken breasts, cut into strips

12 oz. linguini

1 c. peanuts

1 c. julienne sliced carrots

1 c. fresh bean sprouts

½ t. ground ginger

Prepare peanut sauce by whisking all ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth and creamy; set aside.

 Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook linguine according to package directions. While linguine is cooking, heat vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet or wok. Add chicken strips, ground ginger, and peanuts, and sauté until chicken is done. Add carrots and bean sprouts, and sauté an additional two minutes. Add sauce, all at once, and let simmer to heat through. Add cooked, drained linguine, and toss well. Serve.

 Makes 4 large main dish servings.


Sunday, September 5, 2021

Five-Ingredient Dinners: 100+ Fast, Flavorful Meals, Reviewed

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I am very fortunate in that I am able to review a lot of cookbooks, thanks to the generosity of authors and publishers. That said, some books are easier to review than others. Five-Ingredient Dinners: 100+ Fast, Flavorful Meals by America’s Test Kitchen is one of those books. The reason that it wasn’t particularly easy for me to review is that quite a few of the recipes didn’t interest me, and the reason for that is because I am not a fan of quite a few of the ingredients used, among them grains and lamb. That said, my personal tastes should not deter you from giving this cookbook a try.

 Having studied it page-by-page, I’m quite impressed overall. The meals are five ingredients (with the exception of basic staples like salt, pepper, butter, you get the drift), varied, and are relatively easy to prepare. Some of them are fancy enough for company, others great pleasers for kids. Honestly, a meal with only five ingredients is something of which dreams are made. 

 Each recipe features a test cook’s or editor’s commentary on what you are about to create, providing an inside look at the process, and inspiring your culinary endeavors. Learn what other people’s families find satisfying and doable. That personal touch makes this cookbook stand out among the rest.

 One of the things I absolutely loved about this book was at the very beginning when it lists all kinds of things that you might have left over, and what to do with those little bits. I had to laugh at this because one of those leftovers was chilies in adobo sauce, and I cannot tell you how many of those I have tossed out over the years. No more! When I find myself with leftovers, I am definitely going to make Chipotle Shrimp Risotto.

 There are loads of beautiful, colorful pictures in this book, something that, in my cranky old age, is an absolute must. I want to see what the finished dish is supposed to look like, so I can compare my efforts; I found their methods of plating to be helpful as well. 

  All in all, a handy, versatile book that can make your life a whole lot easier.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.