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

Food Memories

Cookies in a napkin at the foot of the bed.

With the end of summer here, I’d like to share this story with you:

Some time ago my brother, Steve and his wife, Trish visited us in the country and at dinner that weekend, Steve told us a story I had never heard before.

He talked about wanting to spend time in the summer with our Uncle Tony (my mother’s older brother) and Auntie Casmira when he was probably five or six, young enough to still take a nap. He likely requested to spend time there to get away from the chaos of our large family – his little “vacation”. Uncle Tony owned a grocery store and meat market. He was a butcher and followed in my grandfather’s footsteps. So Steve wanted to work in the store.

Uncle Tony was the nicest man. Whenever we visited them for family parties, they would let all of us (6 kids) into the closed store and allow us to choose any candy or soda we wanted – both forbidden in our house.

Their three daughters (all older than Steve) pitched in and helped out at the store. So he remembers Julie’s fiancé, Bob, delivering groceries for Uncle Tony on steamy, hot St. Louis summer nights in a big ole’ station wagon with the rear panel down, letting Steve sit on that, dangling his feet (my mother would have died had she known), while he drove slowly around the neighborhood making his drops.

He remembers Auntie Casmira mopping the store floor and if there was a stain she couldn’t get out, she’d pour a little of Whistle Orange Soda on it, and that would take it out! Can you imagine what’s in that soda that we used to drink?

And he remembers being coaxed to take a nap (they lived in a lovely home in the same building, upstairs from the store), and if he did, when he woke up, there would be a cookie or two in a napkin at the foot of the bed.

Isn’t that the sweetest? Those cookies, while not necessarily homemade, were lovingly wrapped and waiting for him.

I hope that this blog is helping you to create your own food memories with your family, with some inspiring recipes.

Best Biscuit Recipe

Biscuits baked in a cast iron skillet.

Biscuits. What is more comforting in the morning? So homey. Makes you really feel loved, right? My mother used to tell me this story: When my father was at Officer Training School in Fort Benning, Georgia (WW II – he became a Major), they didn’t have room for everyone to live on the base, so residents of the town with extra room would take in officers and their wives. They lived with Mr. and Mrs. Olsen, in an upstairs portion of their house. And my mother would say, “Oh Mary, Mrs. Olsen made the BEST biscuits every Sunday morning!” Well if only my mother (and Mrs. Olsen too) were still living because I do believe this is the Best Biscuit Recipe around!

Usually my cooking is pretty clean, healthy, low fat, not much butter. Here is a major deviation. But every once in a while – maybe twice a year, it can’t hurt you. Actually, these biscuits are so good and have so much butter in them already, you don’t need to put anything on them so you can skip those calories. Try these tomorrow with your Sunday breakfast and you will not be disappointed. Fairly easy to make and well worth the extra effort as opposed to plain toast, this recipe is from Food & Wine magazine, the August issue. Make them with LOVE and you will be in a little bit of heaven.Homemade biscuit on a brown colored plate.

SKILLET BUTTERMILK BISCUITS adapted from Food & Wine Magazine – contributed by Coleen Cruze Bhatti

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for greasing
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 cups cold buttermilk (I used Kate’s Buttermilk – the real thing)

Preheat the oven to 450° and butter a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. In a large bowl, whisk the 2 cups of flour with the baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add the cubed butter and, using a pastry cutter or your fingers, pinch the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles very coarse crumbs, with some of the butter the size of small peas. Gently stir in the buttermilk, just until a soft dough forms.

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a 3/4-inch-thick round. Using a 2-inch round biscuit cutter, stamp out biscuits as close together as possible. Gently press the scraps together and stamp out more biscuits. Arrange the 
biscuits in the prepared skillet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm.

Homemade biscuit in a tiny pie pan.I had leftover dough and used this little pie pan my mother used to use to make us little birthday pies when we were toddlers. Isn’t it so cute?!

Freekeh Salad

Freekeh salad in a red bowl.

Did you know that September is National Whole Grains Month? Me neither. The good people at Freekehlicious asked me to try this young roasted green wheat, so I have been playing with it these past few weeks. The cracked freekeh is my favorite and I created this absolutely delicious Freekeh Salad loosely based on a farro salad recipe from the Zuni Café cookbook. 

Freekehlicious package.I love farro, another whole grain, so I wondered what was the difference between the two. In taste, farro is a bit more chewy. I liken the cracked freekeh a bit more to bulger, but a little larger in size. Freekeh is a whole grain that is very satisfying. I served this salad with a broiled steak and some blanched sugar snap peas and I literally stopped eating the steak after two bites and had seconds on this salad instead!

So what is freekeh? It is wheat that is harvested while still young and green, then parched, roasted and dried. I’m told that this process captures and retains the grains at the state of peak taste and nutrition. Full of health benefits and it does a good job of making you feel full, so it’s great for dieters.

They say you can also make this as a breakfast cereal. I once had a nanny for our kids, that when I asked her to make polenta for dinner, she added sugar, because she had only eaten it as a breakfast cereal! The sweet polenta did not go over well as a dinner side.

But this salad will, so try it and try freekeh. Although the name is funny, the taste is delicious! I also found it needed a few minutes longer in cooking than the package directions stated. Taste and tenderness should be your barometer.

 FREEKEH SALAD – serves 4

1 cup cracked freekeh
3 cups of water
6 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. sherry vinegar
Pepper, fresh ground
1 cup cherry or sunny gold tomatoes, halved
7 – 8 anchovies packed in oil, drained and patted dry, and minced
4 oz. cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and diced
Large handful of basil leaves, washed, dried and tornFreekeh salad ingredients.

Place freekeh and water in a small saucepan and lightly salt with coarse sea salt or kosher salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 – 30 minutes, until tender. Remove from heat and let sit in pot for 5 minutes longer. Drain and spread out on a sheet pan to cool.Cooked freekeh drying on a sheet pan.

Whisk together the sherry vinegar and olive oil. You should barely taste the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When freekeh is cool, transfer it to a bowl and fold in the tomatoes, anchovies and cucumber. Drizzle on the vinegar and olive oil dressing and scatter the basil leaves on top. Fold all to combine. Serve with LOVE immediately. (Do not let this sit around as the brightness of all the ingredients will fade.) Enjoy!Freekeh salad on a plate with steak and sugar snap peas.


Sorrel Sauce

If you would please indulge me in my over-abundance of sorrel, just one more time, I would so appreciate it. Good thing I love it! And from the last post, I was honored to have turned some of you on to it. Raymund in New Zealand, and John in Chicago, I do hope you both can find it. Margot in Australia, I hope you plant it in your garden now. I know you all will LOVE it! Bright, lemony and light, it works on so many things. So I put together this sorrel sauce to do just that.

Sorrel sauce in a Cuisinart.This sauce is composed of mainly sorrel (thank goodness it uses a lot!) with a base of yogurt, (I used 2%), which even makes this healthy and relatively low calorie, although it tastes rich and full of flavor, yet light and lemony all at the same time. I used this on sautéed boneless skinless chicken breasts, on seared salmon, as a dip for crackers and even as a sauce for a warm potato salad with some grilled scallions. It’s versatile and super delicious. I made some more last night and threw it in the freezer, because my husband was getting sorrel-ed out!

Sorrel sauce in a white bowl.And the color is so divinely green, it dresses up any dish. This may even work on pork – experiment and have fun!

SORREL SAUCE – makes about 1.5 cups

3 cups packed sorrel leaves, washed and dried
1/2 cup unflavored Greek yogurt (I used 2%)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

In a food processor or a blender, place sorrel, yogurt, garlic, olive oil, the mustard, salt to taste and 12 grinds of fresh pepper. Process until it is bright green. Taste and add more salt, if necessary/desired. Refrigerate until needed. Or freeze for future use.

This is great on grilled seafood, chicken, vegetables or as a sauce for a warm potato salad.

Sorrel sauce on salmon.

Sorrel sauce on grilled salmon with steamed jasmine rice, grilled Japanese turnips and sauteed kale with garlic.

Sorrel sauce on sliced chicken breasts with roasted broccoli and freekeh.

Sorrel sauce on grilled sliced chicken breasts, with oven roasted broccoli and freekeh.



Sorrel Pesto

The crickets are chirping with the sounds of fall and the days are getting shorter. August has been a runaway month for us. Three weekends got away with a wedding in NJ, our week in Vermont and then a Saturday in Baltimore to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 95th birthday. Finally, we’ve been able to get back on track to normalcy to spend the weekend at our home upstate, visiting our friends up there. And then there’s my garden, which has been neglected for all this time. I was afraid I would miss all of my beautiful tomatoes, but thankfully most have waited for me! But my kale and sorrel have all gone wild!! So I had to do something with them. Kale salad last night and tonight (and hopefully our son who lives in Brooklyn will take some more), and the sorrel – so much! –   so far, I made a sorrel pesto sauce!
Herb garden in upstate NY.I spent all of Labor Day in the kitchen and garden. Here’s how my garden looked when I arrived on Friday. Holy kale, right!?

Sorrel leaves in a colander.And here’s all the sorrel I harvested. I used only 1/3 of this for the pesto.

I made a basil pesto and then I whipped up this sorrel pesto. After that I made a red sauce, which I simmered for 4 hours with short ribs, a fruit salad and I was going to make a sorrel sauce but my husband couldn’t find any plain unflavored Greek yogurt at any store that was open on this holiday, (the only one being Stewart’s).  While cutting everything in the garden, I did a bit of weeding and tied up the tomatoes that were growing all over the place. And then in the kitchen, I did something super dumb. I was reaching deep into this bottom cabinet where we keep the plastic leftover containers, trying to find a matching lid for my sorrel pesto container. I lifted my head before fully backing out and banged and cut my nose on the bottom part of the counter overhang. Wow! How stupid!! Here I am dizzy and bleeding while Steve is at Stewart’s trying to wrestle up some Greek yogurt to no avail.

So I’m holding an ice pack to my eyes and nose while blood drips down all over my face. Not a pretty sight. Steve comes home, we clean up the wound and try to make a butterfly bandage to hopefully heal this thing without a scar. Seems too minor to stitch. Besides, who wants to go to the emergency room? What a mess! Jeesh – the hazards of cooking!

Sorrel pesto on a spoon.Meanwhile back to my sorrel pesto. Here it is. A very pretty green, (with no blood drops, mind you).

Sorrel is a lovely, lemony flavor. I remembered this lemon asparagus pasta sauce recipe that I used to make all the time. I thought the sorrel pesto would be interesting, with the addition of the cheeses that a traditional pesto has. Because I feel sorrel is lighter than basil, I used a combination of pine nuts and walnuts as the nut addition. I know it’s not often that you may have extra sorrel around your household, but if you do, this is really delicious for a simple yet unique pasta dish.

So give it a go!! But don’t cut your nose like I did!

Remember, it’s all about the quality of the ingredients for any dish you make, so use the very best you can, and always cook with LOVE.

SORREL PESTOmakes about 1.5 cups

3 cups of packed sorrel leaves, thoroughly washed and dried
4 – 5  large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
3/4 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil (I like Athena brand)
¼ cup of pine nuts
1/2 cups walnuts
3/4 cups grated Parmesan (Reggiano) cheese
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano (Locatelli) cheese

In a large food processor, combine sorrel leaves, garlic, pine nuts and walnuts. Process to make a near paste. Scrape bowl. With machine on, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Scrape bowl again. Add the cheeses, a big pinch of salt and 12 grinds of fresh pepper. Process again, taste and add more salt, if necessary, to your liking.

A one cup portion is enough to coat 1 lb. of dried pasta, cooked. I like it on fusilli or gemelli best as it can get in all the little groves for maximum coverage and flavor. Excellent to put a dab on grilled chicken breasts, squash, potatoes or green beans. Adds a lovely cheesy, lemony flavor.

This freezes well.

Crystal Lake in Barton, Vermont

Our visit to my brother and sister-in-law, Steve and Trish, at their vacation home on Crystal Lake in Barton, Vermont was filled with great food, amazing wine and wonderful times to create lasting memories. We picked up our youngest son, Zach and his girlfriend, Agata, arriving from Germany, at the airport last week on Thursday and headed straight up north. Barton is a quiet village with a population of 720, near the Canadian border. This makes for a marked contrast to the hustle and bustle of our daily lives in NYC. We have been going up there for 34 years now and not much has changed. Crystal Lake is aptly named. It is very crystal clear.

Bernese mountain dog eating.Steve and Trish are the most amazing hosts. They planned every meal to perfection along with delicious pairings of wine. (you may remember that Steve has a wine and food pairing blog – www.wineandfoodpairings.net) We were joined by their friends, Dana and Richard. (They are the owners of the beautiful Bernese mountain dog, Otis.) Richard was celebrating a birthday last Saturday, and he brought some fantastic champagne, French Chardonnays plus a magnum of Tensley Syrah from CA and a 1977 port! Both Richard and Steve have full wine cellars. Richard said that since it was his birthday, he picked very special bottles he had been saving and felt like a kid in his own candy store. We got to be the lucky beneficiaries!

We arrived home this past Wednesday, relaxed, refreshed, and happy. We all ate and drank too much – but I’m not sorry. Here are some visual highlights so you can take a vicarious tour of our little vaca. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was too busy drinking all the delicious wine.

We are a cooking family! Here’s Trish’s agile hands on the mandolin cutting raw zucchini into pasta-like strips to make Jenny Ross’s zucchini pasta with lemon pistachio pesto recipe from Jenny’s cookbook, Raw Basics. Jenny has the restaurant 118 Degrees in Costa Mesa, CA, where everything is served at 118 degrees or less. It was delicious!! Totally raw and totally healthy.

Putting balsamic vinegar pearls on tomatoes with basil.Here’s my brother, Steve completing his fresh tomatoes and basil side, with balsamic vinegar pearls or as he likes to call them, balsamic caviar. This is made with the Molecular Gastronomy Kit by Cuisine R-evolution. To make them you put a tall glass of vegetable oil in the freezer for 30 minutes. Combine agar-agar with balsamic and bring to boil. Fill a pipette (dropper) with this mixture and then slowly drip the liquid from the pipette into the cold oil. The pearls will form and then you use a sieve to remove pearls from the oil, rinse with water and serve. Pretty cool, eh?

Barbecue baby back ribs with a bottle of Williams Selyem Zinfandel.Zach and Agata helping themselves to my brother’s famous grilled baby back ribs. What a beautiful meal with a gorgeous wine pairing!! The Williams Selyem vineyard is one of my brother’s favorites, and mine too!

 Georgian wine and borscht.Having just come back from spending the summer in Europe, Zach and Agata wanted to make some traditional food for us for lunch –  borscht and pierogi.

Here’s Zach’s Ukrainian style borscht, which was delicious and oh so healthy with homemade chicken broth. (I liked it with a small dollop of sour cream.) They brought back a bottle of wine from Georgia to give to my brother. They said they knew that it was a little like bringing sand to the beach, but did you know that Georgia has some of the oldest wine producing regions on earth? I surely didn’t.

Pierogi ready to cook on wooden boards.The pierogi ready to boil. Agata made 71 of them!! Aren’t they beautiful?

Pierogi on a plate with bacon and onion topping.The finished pierogi with a bacon onion topping. Delish!!

Beach at Lake Willoughby Vermont. The starting point of my 10 mile bike ride around neighboring Lake Willoughby.

Waterfall in Vermont.Waterfalls along the way.

Speedboat on a lake in Vermont.Steve and Steve (my husband and brother) out for an afternoon cruise. You can see just how clear the water is.

Cocktail time food.Always a highlight of a Vermont visit is the weather permitting, early evening cocktail cruise. Here’s our appetizer tray for one evening – homemade kale chips, jalapeño hummus, vegetable dipping sticks and lightly salted cashews. 

Man on a boat with a Summit NJ baseball hat on.My husband enjoying the cruise. Notice the “S” on his hat – so he doesn’t forget his name is Steve! (Actually it’s from Summit, NJ baseball when our boys played.)

Now you’ll notice I have no mention of my meal made there, as my Provencial chicken got quite the blackened treatment from a fire on the grill. Although it still tasted good and seconds were had, it was not something to share in a photograph.

I hope you all have been able to fit in relaxing vacation time this summer as well. School is starting soon!