Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Just Cook It

2020. We are halfway through this very strange year. I've kind of forgotten what "normal" was like. (Is there actually such a thing as "normal"?) The last weeks and months we've all made adjustments. We've given up things. Some have had devastating losses. We have not. But still, it's been hard...not seeing grandchildren, not having dinner with friends, not planning trips and on and on and on. Other things have almost been a relief to jettison. I pretty much have given up makeup except for an occasional swipe of mascara. Schedules are (mostly) a thing of the past. 

While I have not counted consecutive meals I've cooked (like some of you do,) you know it's a lot. Months and months of meals. I've given up measuring ingredients much of the time. (If you are baking, do not do this.) Doing things differently keeps me from going bonkers. I've been "just cooking." Since I tend to stick to uncomplicated meals, that isn't the hardest thing to do. 

So last week on the same day that Daddy-O plunked down bucket #3 of grape tomatoes, a good friend posted Instagram photos of her supper. Pasta with grape tomatoes. I took that as a sign. I needed to make what she did. Except she told me the recipe came from a brand new magazine that I didn't have. Too new to find the recipe online. 

By 5:30 I realized if I didn't do something quick, there would be no dinner on the table. So I decided to make a wild stab at copying Missy's supper based on the photo. And it was delicious.

There was no actual recipe but in the interest of making this again, I'm writing down what I did (as best I can remember.) I'm making good guesses at amounts because like I said, I didn't measure anything. Feel free to do your own guesswork. 

GRAPE TOMATOES & PASTA (serves 2 to 3)

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups grape tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut in thin strips
salt & pepper to taste
pinch of sugar (optional)
3 tablespoon fresh grated parmesan 
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
fresh mozzarella pearls
8 oz whole wheat thin spaghetti

Heat oil in a large skillet to low. Add garlic, stir and cook about 2 minutes, being careful not to burn it. Add whole grape tomatoes. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes until tomatoes begin to soften. Break up some of the tomatoes. (I used a potato masher to mash up some of the tomatoes—maybe half of them. This releases juices that will help make a sauce.) Season with salt and pepper, add a pinch of sugar if tomatoes are very acidic. Stir in basil.

Cover and let simmer 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes are soft. Grate fresh parmesan over the sauce. Add balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine.

While sauce is simmering, cook spaghetti to al dente. Using tongs lift cooked spaghetti straight into the sauce. (Save a little pasta cooking water and add a spoonful or two to thin sauce if you need to.) Remove skillet from heat. Toss cooked spaghetti with tomato sauce. Poke mozzarella pearls down into the pasta. Cover and let sit a few minutes to let mozzarella melt.

Top with more Parmesan and garnish with basil. Serve.

Cattle farmer Daddy-O really liked this supper. Even though it had no meat, he kept saying, "This is really good!" Since the tomatoes are still coming in fast and furious and there is plenty of basil in the garden, I need to make this again soon. Might as well use up the other half of that box of spaghetti!

For the record, Missy sent me the recipe she used a couple of days later. My version was remarkably like hers. I mean—look at the photo. You can see what's in the dish. You know that olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper are basics. And parmesan is in most pasta dishes. I had mozzarella pearls that needed to be used, so in they went. All ingredients except the pasta could be eaten without cooking at all, so you could cook it more or cook it less. Any way you do it, it's not going to hurt you. There is no required doneness level for safety. That's pretty much all you need to know. Go for it.

Now for a question...is there one silly thing you've missed during this stay-at-home time? For me, it's been people watching. We live out in the country between a small town and a smaller town. In a normal time we don't see lots of folks, but now I find myself craving people. I seriously have found myself a few times driving around after I've picked up my grocery order looking for people. Any people. People walking to their cars in a parking lot. People going into the drug store. People walking their dog. And it makes me feel a little better. What about you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Cool ~ Creamy ~ Lemony

This lemon ice cream might be the best recipe I've ever posted. (Did I, by any chance, also say this about the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins?) And it is possibly the easiest. Four ingredients whisked together, poured into a pan and popped in the freezer. It's a perfect mix of tart and sweet. It only makes three cups but it's very rich, so tiny servings are appropriate. 

A friend just called to ask a question as she was stirring this up. I had shared the recipe with her before I got it posted to the blog. She also said her husband asked what she was making and when she read him the ingredients he said, "That doesn't sound good to me." One of my son-in-laws—the one who doesn't like citrus— would agree. (UPDATE: Turns out my friend's husband loved this!) 

I forget that there are people in the world who do not like lemon. So when I say "best" what I really mean is "the best" to me.  And it also might mean what's "best" to me on that particular day. No judgement if you don't agree. Differences are what make us more interesting.

I'll quit telling you about this ice cream now...other than to say "go make some!"


1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons) 
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream

Whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and salt in a large bowl. In a measuring cup whisk together milk and heavy cream. Slowly pour into lemon/sugar mixture, whisking constantly. Continue whisking until sugar is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes.

Pour into 8-inch square metal pan. Cover tightly with foil and freeze for 2-3 hours until frozen around the edges and soft in the middle. Take out of freezer and stir well. Cover with foil and freeze again for about an hour. Scoop into chilled bowls to serve.

This recipe came from Dori Sanders, an 85-year-old African-American Southern author who lives not so very far from where I live. Her first novel, Clover, was a best seller in 1990. Such a good story. It would still be a good read decades later. (It's on my bookshelf. Might be time for a re-read.) She is also a food writer and peach farmer. Her own life is quite a story, too. I haven't read her cookbook where you'll find this ice cream recipe. But I just added it to my online shopping cart.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Bakes Like A Champ

Triple Chocolate Cake

Oh my goodness...what a difference a few years make. From baking super quick and easy things when she was in 4th and 5h grades, Big Sister has moved into the big league of baking. When she came to the lake for week #2 of our family time, she told me she was bringing a cake. Everyone brought food to share. But no one had planned any dessert. Except for Big Sister.

And she outdid herself. I have been choosing carefully at each meal, trying to make a difference in how I feel. And to have good lab results next time at the doctor. Seriously, people. I ate three slices of this cake. I will give Big Sister credit...she didn't cut me the biggest piece. But if she had, I would have gladly eaten it.

She had baked the same cake earlier in the summer for another family event. She told me that from now on if she needed to take food to a gathering, this was going to be her signature food. And now we are all trying to figure out how to concoct another "gathering" so we can enjoy a second cake. The cake is delicious. The frosting is divine.

Don't let the coffee scare you off. Big Sister said it did smell "very coffee-y" before it baked, but it does not taste like coffee when it's done.

TRIPLE CHOCOLATE CAKE (from SallysBakingAddiction.com)

1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (she used Ghiradelli)
1-3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons espresso powder, optional (she didn't use this)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs (room temp)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup freshly brewed strong hot coffee (or hot water)
chocolate chips for decoration, if you'd like (that's the chocolate #3)

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and espresso if using. Set aside. 

In another bowl, mix oil, eggs and vanilla together on medium-high until combined. Add buttermilk and mix until combined.
Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, add hot coffee (or hot water.) Beat on low speed until completely combined. Batter will be thin.

Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake for 23-26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Remove cakes from oven and place on racks.  Allow to cool completely in pans


2-1/2 sticks (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened to room temp
3 to 4 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3-5 tablespoons heavy cream (or half-and-half or milk) at room temp
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

With a handheld or stand mixer, beat butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners sugar, cocoa powder, heavy cream, salt and vanilla. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 1 full minute. DO NOT OVERWHIP. 

Add 1/4 cup more confectioners sugar or cocoa if frosting is too thin. Or, another tablespoon (or 2 or 3) of cream if frosting is too thick. Adjust until it's the consistency you want. Taste. Add more salt if needed. (Maybe a pinch.)

To Assemble:  If cakes  have a dome on top use a long serrated knife and slice a thin layer off to level. (Can save crumbs from this step and use to decorate top of cake, like Big Sister did.) Place one layer on cake plate. Cover with frosting. Top with second cake layer and spread remaining frosting over top and sides. You can edge the cake in chocolate chips if you need more chocolate.

Refrigerate cake for at least 30-60 minutes before slicing. This helps it hold its shape. Store leftover cake, covered, in refrigerator. 

(You can find many more tips for this cake at SallysBakingAddiction.com )

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Lake Magic - Week 2

Welcome to the lake, Little Lady! It's your first time here. 
You handled it like a champ. 

You got to spend lots of time with Mimi.

And your best buddy (and cousin) was here with you.

In another year, you'll get to eat with us on the porch
and not just watch while we enjoy lunch.

Daddy-O can tell you all about this lake cabin.
And the new cottage.
And how it's all part of your family history.

You liked our shady picnic pavilion
where the little blue pool was ready for you.

Besides being a champion boater and (mostly) a superstar napper,
you won the prize for most splashing. 


And all too soon, it was very quiet here.

But there's one thing about this lake place—

it's always here, always...

waiting to say, "Welcome back!"


And because Barb asked about this...

I think I have made this four times this summer. And it's only mid-July. It's cool and juicy and sweet and salty. A perfect salad for a hot evening on the porch. 


1/2 small chilled watermelon, cut into cubes or scooped into balls

juice of 1 lime (more if the lime isn't very juicy)

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

crumbled feta cheese

fresh mint, optional

Make this shortly before serving. You could have the melon prepped and stir in dressing and cheese later.

Squeeze lime juice into a small cup. Whisk in oil, salt & pepper with a fork. Pour over watermelon and toss gently. Sprinkle crumbled feta over watermelon. Garnish with fresh mint if available. 

I honestly don't do any measuring for this. Bigger watermelon? Use more juice and oil. (The actual recipe called for 12 cups of melon cubes, juice of 3 limes and 1/4 cup olive oil.) The proportion should be about the same.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Lake Magic

Did you think I went away? And was never coming back? I did take a nice, long break. We had two weeks at the lake with family. I took my computer, thinking I would post something while I was there. And then I never took it out of the bag. That's what a vacation should be. 

In this strange year of the pandemic, we had a different kind of lake time. Sadly we had to cancel the big family July 4th gathering that we have hosted for over 30 years. Our immediate family came—but at different times. One family is able to work and school from home. They have taken "stay home" seriously. The other family has to be out and about more because of work. So they worked out a schedule to come spend time with us at the lake, one family at a time. There was literally 5 minutes between the first ones leaving and the next ones coming. They waved at each other on the narrow road to the lake house as they were coming and going. But any potential germ mixing was avoided.

Our old lake cabin has so many memories baked into the walls. Layer upon layer. Daddy-O learning to ski when he was growing up. His high school and college buddies who spent lots of time there and still won't tell us all the stories! Our own babies growing into teens. This is even where Daddy-O and I met as teenagers. And now the grandchildren also call this place "ours." Four generations. Baby Girl told us that "one day Little Lady (new baby) will come here and bring her daughters and then her daughters' daughters." We hope so.

It wasn't our usual family time. The little girls didn't get to visit with their new baby cousin. Or, their big sister who is spending part of her summer doing some nanny duty with the baby. We didn't have as many people crowded around the big table on the porch for meals. No need to squeeze in extra chairs. But the lake can still work its magic. 

The little girls live in a suburban area where the yards are small. So the freedom to roam and run and wander was a major treat. "Daddy-O! Come see the dead bug we found yesterday. It's still dead!" There are geese and osprey and cranes to watch. Plus lots of lizards and squirrels to see. We even saw a few bats at night.

There was fishing (no fish were harmed during the process), boating, swimming, hammock time, kayaks, and terrific food that was all cooked at the cabin. 

This family would have planned a much bigger vacation and traveled further in a typical year. But maybe we all learned a lesson about loving what you already have. How fortunate we are to have this get-away spot.

When they packed up and left the lake, Mommy and family relocated to the farm for another week while we stayed at the lake with the other half of the family. Here at the farm the little girls could ride bikes and skate and run in the sprinklers and pick the garden every day. They ate just-picked vegetables every night. Their daddy helped them create the solar system—to scale. They calculated and measured to set out each handmade planet. The furthest planet was way out in the pasture. Can you think of anything much better than what went on at the farm?

The best was when Baby Girl told her mommy just before bedtime that she wanted to go on a midnight ride. Mommy said, "Tell me about this midnight ride." Because Mommy had no clue what was going on in that little head. And Baby Girl replied, "It means I would go out in the dark and ride my bike around the house." Mommy told her, "Be careful!" It was deep into dusk and Baby Girl hopped on her bike and rode by herself around the house three times in the almost dark. She came back in, so happy with herself and her "midnight ride," ready to climb into bed. Good times. 

And I must tell you about the surprise waiting for us when we got home last night. We saw a Post-It note stuck to the back door. Now, it's not unusual for the little girls to leave us a note when they leave. But when we went inside and began to unpack, we started finding notes EVERYWHERE! We have had great fun looking for these. The first 20 were pretty easy to find. Then the next dozen were hidden deeper. Yes. We are up to 32 notes. The last one was deep inside Daddy-O's boot. What a happy thing for them to do for us. I have no idea if there are more, but we are still looking. Someone had a genius idea! Thank you, little girls, for making us smile.

Next blog post, I'll share a little of week #2. There are recipes, too!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Banana "Nice" Cream


I've been making something similar to this since long before I was married. But I just discovered that this stuff has an actual name—"nice" cream. It's nothing but frozen bananas and something to make it blend. Somewhere deep in an old recipe box is the recipe to make this frozen dessert using frozen bananas and apple juice.

Right now as we've focused on making even healthier food choices, I saw a version that used fat-free Greek yogurt, your choice of fat-free milk, and frozen bananas. Yesterday for a Father's Day treat I whipped up another batch. What a terrific way to use up those last three overripe bananas! (Why is it always three?) I also baked banana bread again this week from the ripe bananas on the kitchen counter. But I had a small container of banana slices in the freezer, too. Making this healthy dessert instead of more banana bread (which we love) was a winning choice.

One change I've noticed in my "still in quarantine" cooking is that I am using fewer true recipes. I'm just cooking. Understand that I have many, many years of experience in the kitchen, but with some basic understanding of cooking all of you can do this, too. I've been watching Jamie Oliver and Al Roker (among others) on Instagram as they show what they are doing in the kitchen. No recipes. They have cooked foods simple enough that you can watch them and then repeat in your kitchen. And it frees you to substitute and make changes to suit your family. This year I've looked more for food ideas than recipes.

When I'm doing this kind of cooking I sometimes ask myself, "What's the worst thing that can happen?" When I was giving Little Sister a FaceTime omelet lesson, I told her that the worst thing that could happen was that she would end up with scrambled eggs instead of an omelet. With this faux banana ice cream, the worst is that you might have a banana milk shake instead of a soft-serve frozen dessert. Sounds pretty yummy either way.

This is not really a recipe, but here's roughly what I did... 

       ...makes 2-3 servings

3 overripe bananas, sliced
juice of 1 lime
1 spoonful of fat-free Greek Yogurt
unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Slice the bananas and toss in the lime juice. Freeze. To make these easier to blend, freeze in a single layer then place in a freezer container or freezer bag. This keeps them in separate slices. Not a frozen clump.

To make the frozen dessert, put a big spoonful of yogurt in the blender (I use a Vitamix,) toss in the frozen banana slices and pour in some almond milk. You will need enough milk to let the bananas blend. As more as you need it. Start blender on a slow speed and increase slowly. Stop and push bananas down in the blender as needed to continue blending. Process until it reaches a soft serve consistency.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Blue Cheese Dressing Two Ways


At the lake last weekend I made Daddy-O a treat. He loves a wedge salad and often orders one when we go out to eat. It's not something I ever make at home. Of course, the best part about wedge salad is the blue cheese salad dressing. I have bought the bottled version a few times. They were barely acceptable. So this time I decided to find a recipe and make it.

There are a zillion recipes floating around out there in cyberspace. But I wanted an easy one. The recipe with the fewest ingredients. And mercy, this could not have been any more simple. And it far exceeded our expectations. Why on earth have I not been doing this for years? The leftover dressing made a good dip for celery sticks the next day.


1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2-oz blue cheese crumbles (I used 1/2 of a 5-oz container)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
pinch fine sea salt
pinch ground black pepper
water, to thin it (optional)

Blend all ingredients until well combined. Use the back of the spoon to mash some of the blue cheese into the dressing. This consistency makes a good dip. For pouring onto a salad, thin with a little water.

Now...I am on a mission to lose some extra "pandemic pounds," so that rich, luscious dressing was not going on my salad. And glory be, SkinnyTaste has a "skinny" version on her website. I didn't have exactly what her recipe calls for, so I made do with what I had at the lake. Here is her recipe along with my substitutions. 


1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
6-oz fat-free Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise (I used regular)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I used all lemon juice)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste

Mix all until well blended.  I made my substitutions and just eyeballed the amounts to make a single serving.

Did this taste like the dressing Daddy-O ate? No. Was it good? Yes! He even said if he had not tasted his, he would have been perfectly happy with this one. I will be using both of these recipes from now on.