Engaging stories of love, joy, comfort and friendship with proven scrumptious, healthy recipes, we celebrate LOVE as the secret ingredient for wonderful food!

A Salt Problem and Pumpkin Woes

Our youngest passed his orals for his Ph.D at Yale! YAY!!!!

So we wanted to celebrate with everyone, both boys and their girls. I wanted to make a special meal, filled with Zach’s favorites for last night (Sunday dinner) – starting with crab cakes with a chipotle mayo and then an herb crusted rack of lamb, farro with olive oil, sherry vinegar and parsley, and roasted asparagus.

Well, I had a salt problem. I followed a new recipe for the lamb that had me salting the meat and adding salt to the breadcrumb mixture too. As I was doing it, I was like, uh, (in my mind) this is too much salt, but with all the commotion of everyone being home and in the kitchen with me, I soldiered on, talking and following the recipe instructions. WRONG!!! And at such expense with the meat ($68.00), to screw it up with too much salt! I should have known better, as I was questioning myself while doing it. One should always trust your intuition, right? And as all you cooks out there know, with a meal like this, if people aren’t ooing and ahhing, there’s something wrong. My husband was sweet and said it was cooked perfectly. My boys were honest and the girls liked it, but one was sick so taste buds were off. I felt SO bad! I ruined what could have been a spectacular meal! Made me weepy and sad. I hate salt problems!!!

So that’s the sad part – but always being the optimist – here’s the funny part of the weekend.

Cutting a pie pumpkin with a hammer and screwdriver.

Take a look at my husband helping me cut open my pie pumpkin to roast. Pie pumpkin cutting tools.Yes, that’s right, after numerous knives, we tried the saw from his tool chest. When that didn’t work we went to a screwdriver with a hammer and worked our way around the pumpkin. Pie pumpkin shell after roasting.After I roasted it and removed the pulp, you could have used the skin as a helmet, it was that hard. Maybe they did use these as head protectors for battle a long, long time ago. Meanwhile this pulp is flavorful and not at all watery. It actually has a little bit of the texture of spaghetti squash. I will puree it on Wednesday in order to bake the pumpkin pie on Thursday morning and let you know how it comes out. Have you all ever had a pie pumpkin like this? It’s a first for me!

The big day is coming – Thanksgiving 2014

I just LOVE Thanksgiving!! My favorite holiday and right around my birthday. This year, my birthday is the day before. My boys with their girls and my husband always plan something great (no pressure guys, if you’re reading this). And this year, once again we get to have all of them at our home in the country along with a dad of one the girls. We are all so excited!!Thanksgiving recipes and process in an e-book format, beautifully designed to give you a magnificent feast.

The turkey has been ordered and cranberries have been bought but that’s it. Ever since I wrote the cookbook, that has a schedule, process and my favorite recipes for the big day, I can relax, because honestly I have it all written down now and can just follow my own e-cookbook! It’s really great. You can download it to your Kindle here. I’m super excited for the cornbread apple stuffing I make, as well as the cranberry ginger sauce and the giblet gravy, all surrounding the big bird.

Thanksgiving centerpiece to make with kids out of vegetables.I was recently invited to a special lunch at Bill Telepan’s new Telepan Local restaurant. It was all about encouraging folks to eat vegetables, especially local vegetables. Just take a look at this centerpiece.

You too can make this – especially a fun project if you have younger kids! Cut 2 flat sides perpendicular to each other on an acorn squash and use toothpicks to put in the other vegetables. Use cloves for the eyes. Enjoy!!

Pasta with Salmon and Broccoli

Pasta with salmon and broccoli .
We all had seconds. Some even had thirds. My sister-in-law said, “Please remember what you did”. This Pasta with Salmon and Broccoli was a lunch dish for the four of us. I made it up. The combination of ingredients was simply something I had in my head that I wanted to eat. I looked for a bit but couldn’t find any recipe that resembled what I had in my mind. This worked, really well I might add!

My sister-in-law, Trish, is gluten intolerant so I used a brown rice pasta – penne – and we all agreed it was decidedly lighter that way. My brother Steve brought a beautiful bottle of Sancerre to pair with this and it was perfect. An ideal Saturday afternoon lunch!

There are a fair amount of steps in this recipe, but they are all simple and at least three of them can be done in advance – from the fried capers, to the spice rub for the salmon (which can be used on any fish), and the blanched broccoli florets. Everyone thought there was cheese in this dish but no, no cheese, (the Italians taught me to NEVER combine cheese and fish), yet the yogurt provides the satisfying creaminess, in a much healthier manner. The broccoli had a bit of crunch, in contrast to the creaminess of the salmon with the tang of the lemon zest, and every once in a while, encountering the crunch and punch of saltiness from the fried capers, all made this recipe is a keeper. Make it with LOVE, serve it with some crusty bread and a crisp white wine, and I guarantee you’ll feel all warm and satisfied after a meal like this.
Pasta with salmon and broccoli topped with fried capers-single serving.

Vegetable oil for frying
1/4 cup of capers, rinsed, drained and patted really dry to fry
3 cups broccoli flowerets
1.5 lbs center cut salmon fillet with skin
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Fantastic Fish Rub – see separate recipe
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Coarse sea salt for pasta water
1 lb. brown rice penne pasta
1/3 cup pasta water
1/3 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
Zest from I whole lemon

Heat your oven to 425 degrees.

PREPARE THE CAPERS: In a skillet, heat 1/4 inch of vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the capers and stand back until all the moisture is out of the capers. Remember, oil and water do not mix (I learned this from my old printmaking days) so do not try to stir until all the nonsense (splattering) is over. Fry over moderately high heat, stirring, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the capers to paper towels on a plate to drain. Set aside.

MAKE THE FANTASTIC FISH RUB: This is for approximately 3 lbs. of fish, so you will have some of this lovely stuff left over to use later.
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 scant TBS. of yellow mustard seeds
1 heaping TBS. of ground cumin
1/2 tsp. of crushed red pepper
Throw it all in a mini spice grinder and grind up.
Use on fish to cover – Great on cod, scrod, salmon, tilapia, shrimp, swordfish, Chilean sea bass, or really any hearty, meaty fish. Use the Canadian cooking method for roasting or grilling any type of fish. Figure on 10 minutes for each 1 inch of thickness at 425 degrees.

Broccoli flowerets on a cutting board.

MAKE THE BROCCOLI FLORETS: Wash and cut your broccoli as shown here in the photo. Bring a large pot of water to a roiling boil, salt it with coarse sea salt, add the broccoli flowerets and let them be in there for 1 minute, until they turn bright green. Parboiled broccoli flowerets.Drain and immerse in cold water with ice cubes to stop the cooking. Drain and pat dry.

MAKE THE SALMON: Wash and pat dry the salmon. Spread the 2 tsp. of Dijon mustard on top, salt and fresh ground pepper, and generously sprinkle on evenly some fish rub to coat. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium high heat with 1 Tbs. olive oil. Put in salmon, seasoned side down for 3 minutes. Carefully turn over and put in the oven for 8 minutes. When finished, remove from the skillet and place on a platter. Flake the salmon after about 5 minutes.

Bring another large pot of water to boil for your pasta. Meanwhile, warm the olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic slices and warm up, stir, let them only get slightly golden. Add the broccoli flowerets to warm and cook them a bit more. Salt the pasta water generously with coarse sea salt. Start cooking your pasta until al dente, about 2 minutes less than the package directions tell you. Flake the salmon from the skin (discard) while the pasta is cooking. Measure out your yogurt too. Save at least a cup of the pasta water, and drain the pasta. Add the pasta and 1/3 cup pasta water to the broccoli with the garlic and toss and cook a bit more until pasta is done.

So now you need to combine everything and make this magnificent dish!

In a large shallow bowl, combine the pasta-broccoli-oil combination, the flaked salmon, and the yogurt. Gently fold all together. Zest the lemon on top. Fold again. Only add more pasta water if necessary. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve and top with the fried capers for extra crunch and salt. Enjoy!

Cumin and Mustard Roasted Chicken with Fruit

We had some friends over for dinner on Tuesday night. They were coming at 7 pm. I got home at 6:15. I thought that getting home so late might happen so I had set the table the night before and had planned an easy dinner of grilled Cauliflower Steaks with an herb salsa verde as a first course (divine), followed by roasted sumac chicken stuffed with fennel stalks and Parmesan cheese rinds, roasted baby Yukon Gold potatoes and roasted tomatoes with olive oil and Greek oregano. Simple, yet if done right, perfectly delicious and comforting after a full days work on an early fall evening. Paired with a Petit Syrah and we were set!

Grilled cauliflower steaks with an herb salsa verde.

Grilled cauliflower steaks with an herb salsa verde – a great Food and Wine recipe

Now you all have seen my kitchen in our videos. It is a galley that is completely open to the living room. With a small gathering, our guests sit right across the counter from me while I’m cooking, and literally see everything. So all is going well until I start to open the organic chicken package only to discover that it’s not a whole chicken! It is chicken parts, and badly cut at that, yet they had put it together in the package to appear as a whole bird!! Well I was surprised, flustered, and of course, a little ticked off at my husband, as he picked out the meat that shopping trip. (I had to blame it on someone!) So now, in my head, I was scrambling, what was I to do? I was searching for something with great flavor to work with, quick, at that late hour. What did I have? No pancetta, which is a great way to add some big flavor in no time. There was no time to make a tomato sauce, no nice savory jams in the fridge. No mushrooms on hand and no time to caramelize onions. Really, my mind was racing while making small talk to my guests sitting right in front of me!

So I thought to start with a little butter and olive oil, instead of just the oil. Salt and pepper on the skin side, added a sprinkling of cumin on the other side. White wine is always good and then I smeared some Dijon mustard on top. Then I saw this box of dried fruit on the counter to the left of my stove. I had just bought it last week to serve with some lovely cheeses, but that never happened. So I thought, what the heck, let’s try this. I topped each chicken piece with slices of fruit – apricots, apples, peaches, pears and prunes, and then threw the whole thing in the oven for about 17 minutes and voila, it was divine! And the oven was hot – 450 degrees for that roast chicken that wasn’t to be – so the fruit got golden and beautiful and dinner was saved. This new recipe is good enough to share, good enough to repeat, and different too! The only thing was that the roasted tomatoes with oregano sort of no longer went with the other food – but they tasted good with the potatoes!

Has this sort of thing ever happened to you? Please share.Cumin and mustard roasted chicken with fruit.


One whole organic chicken, backbone removed, cut into 8 pieces, extra skin and fat trimmed
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
Pepper, fresh ground
11/2 tsp. ground cumin
½ cup dry white wine
4 tsp. Dijon mustard
16 – 18 slices of mixed dried fruit – apricots, peaches, pears, apples and prunes
1 – 2 Tbs. Chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Wash and dry the chicken pieces, all fat and extra skin trimmed off. Salt and pepper skin side.

Warm olive oil and butter on medium high heat. Swirl to combine and when butter stops sizzling, place the chicken in the skillet, seasoned side down to brown and crisp skin for 3 – 4 minutes. While that side is browning, season the top side with salt, pepper and cumin. After the first side is nicely browned, turn chicken pieces over and brown the other side for two minutes, then add the white wine and spread the mustard on top of each piece. Then place 2 pieces of dried fruit on top of each lightly mustard coated piece. Put 2 – 3 pieces of fruit on each of the breasts, depending on the size of the fruit. You want to essentially cover the top of the chicken.

Place the skillet in the oven and roast for 15 – 18 minutes. Check doneness with a thermometer – should be 160 – 165 degrees. Remove chicken pieces to a platter, keeping the fruit on top. Pour any juices left in the skillet on top of the chicken. Let rest for 10 minutes and sprinkle chopped parsley on top and serve with LOVE.

Calphalon Serrated Spatula

Calphalon serrated spatula.


Who doesn’t love Calphalon? Well they’ve been our friend in the kitchen, providing us with quality cookware for like, at least 35 years. As I mentioned when I ran the giveaway for one of their skillets, they were on my bridal registry 33 years ago and I still use those same skillets and pots today! (Our anniversary is Halloween.)

Well now they’ve moved into the small kitchen tool area and contacted us to be in our MARY’s secret ingredients box with this newly designed serrated spatula. Or would you call this a turner? I dunno. But I do know that this is very cool and handy – like two tools in one! The angle is perfect for flipping and the serrated edge allows you to make a little cut easily to check on doneness.

Here I am checking on an Italian pork sausage – important because you need it to be done!

Calphalon serrated spatula cutting pork sausages.


Works great to cut a too big piece of potato when you’ve done an inconsistent job on the cutting board before, like me.

Calphalon serrated spatula cutting a potato.There are so many uses! And the best part about it is that you can use it with all your non- stick cookware, because it won’t scratch the surface. It’s made of nylon with soft-touch silicone accents to let you do your job and not spoil the pot. And it’s dishwasher safe, heat resistant to 400 degrees with a full lifetime warranty. You can’t beat that! If you ordered a box, I sure hope you enjoy using it!

Harmonian Orange Glazed Olive Oil Cake

Harmonian Olive Oil.
Harmonian is a wonderful company, based in Athens, Greece. Georgios, the owner, established it to promote harmonious ingredients – harmonious to the earth and for your body – all the things that MARY’s secret ingredients stands for. They say on their site, “taste approved; health improved.” This Harmonian Olive Oil is the fourth item in our fall box and we absolutely love it! It is light, flavorful and made with Kalamata Olives.

Of course you can use this to cook with or as a finishing oil. I think it’s so special that it should only be used as a finishing oil – or used in this fantastic olive oil cake recipe. As the oil is super high quality, extra virgin and silky in texture, you guessed it, this cake is too! It is light, fluffy and super delicious.

Here’s the recipe:Orange glazed olive oil cake.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1¾ cups sugar
1½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
11/3 cups Harmonian extra-virgin olive oil
1¼ cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1½ Tbs. grated orange zest
¼ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup Triple Sec or Grand Marnier

Flour mixture in olive oil cake batter.Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper too.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and powder. In another bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the olive oil, milk, orange zest and juice and Triple Sec or Grand Marnier. Add the dry ingredients in three batches and whisk until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes.

Run a knife around the edge of the pan, invert the cake onto the rack and let cool completely, 2 hours.Olive oil cake cooling in a pan.


4 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 Tbs. fresh orange juice
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Melt butter in a small saucepan or microwave.

Sift 2 cups of powdered sugar into a medium size bowl. Add the melted butter to the powdered sugar. Add orange juice and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy, adding a little more orange juice if necessary.Olive oil cake with orange glaze dripping.

Frost the cooled cake between layers and the top (let drips down the side happen) with this glaze.

Bet you can’t eat just one piece.

Of course, use this wonderful olive oil on any vegetable, raw or cooked. Here is my favorite asparagus recipe. Roasted with the olive oil and then topped with a fresh drizzle compounds the flavor and just makes this so delicious. I bet this will become your go-to recipe for asparagus from now on. It certainly is mine!Olive oil and lemon roasted asparagus.


1 1/2 lbs. medium asparagus, washed, air dried and broken at the point of tenderness and lower portions discarded
3 Tbs. extra-virgin Harmonian olive oil
Pepper, freshly ground
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a baking dish, drizzle the asparagus with half of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coast evenly. Roast for about 8 – 10 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with a fork. Drizzle the asparagus with the remaining olive oil and the lemon juice, and zest. Toss again. Serve hot, with LOVE. Enjoy!!