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

Chili Chocolate Pork Chops with Apple Aplenty

Peeled Snacks apple APLENTY trail mix package.The first item I want to introduce to you from our MARY’s secret ingredients winter box is Apple Aplenty from Peeled Snacks. It is a totally delicious, organic, all natural trail mix with dried fruits, nuts, peanuts and chocolate pieces. Of course it’s terrific right out of the bag. However, these Chili Chocolate Pork Chops with Apple Aplenty really take this mix to another level. I reached back to Mexican cooking for inspiration. Think mole sauce, then, think about how delicious apples and raisins are with pork. Can’t go wrong with some red wine thrown in and garnishing it with cilantro kept it in the Mexican theme.

This dish was so very scrumptious and satisfying. I woke up the next morning still remembering every bite and feeling all nice and yummy inside. I think it was the chocolate in the sauce. It was all deliciousness!

Noha Waibsnaider started this Peeled Snacks company in 2004, when she noticed that the snack aisle was only filled with processed food. She set out to develop healthy, tasty and nourishing snacks using gently dried fruits combined with nuts and sometimes chocolate for a nutritious snack you could feel good about eating. She believes we all should be mindful of what we eat. That is certainly my philosophy here at LOVE.
 Chili Chocolate Pork Chops with Apple Aplenty - chops on a platter.

Try this recipe – it is just so good!!!


1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. butter
2 one-inch thick pork loin chops
Pepper, fresh ground
1/8  tsp. sweet smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 cup dry red wine – preferably a Syrah
Apple Aplenty in a measuring cup.1 scant cup of Apple Aplenty
1/16 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
1 heaping Tbs. of chopped cilantro

Preheat your to 375 degrees.

Wash and dry your chops. Salt and pepper one side and sprinkle the smoked paprika evenly over both chops on the same side. Rub the seasonings in a bit.

Warm olive oil in a small skillet. Add butter and turn up heat to medium-high. When butter stops sizzling, add the chops, seasoned side down. Brown the chops on that side for about 3 minutes. While the chops are browning, season the top side with salt and pepper.

Chili Chocolate Pork Chops with Apple Aplenty in a skillet.Turn chops over. After 2 minutes, drain grease, add the wine and sprinkle the Apple Aplenty on top along with the red chili flakes, distributing evenly. Put the skillet in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Test with an instant meat thermometer – it should be at 145 – 150 degrees. Remove the chops to a platter, scraping all the goodness on top. Let sit for 5 -10 minutes and the temperature will gain to the perfect degree of doneness.

Garnish with the cilantro and serve with LOVE!

Chili Chocolate Pork Chops with Apple Aplenty on two plates on table

I served these Chili Chocolate Pork Chops with Apple Aplenty alongside roasted zucchini topped with a green salsa. Delish!


MARY’s secret ingredients winter box


It’s been a whirlwind first year for this subscription box business and I’m delighted to share with you the products in our MARY’s secret ingredients winter box!! It’s the last box of the year so we made this one extra special, overflowing with goodness, giving you a great foundation to start the holiday season with some super unique items. We’ve got bitters to brighten your cocktails, teas to warm your heart on a cold winter night, along with buttery rich peppermint cookies – now that’s a great nightcap! Both the hot pepper sauce and smoked peppers in the chili paste will add some terrific new flavors to your life and then you can go make some wonderful muffins in the prettiest paper cups. You could do some hiking to work it all off with the best trail mix, or wait for my most unexpected recipe using this product. A fun time is coming!!

We hope we’ve made your cooking more inventive and stretched your boundaries a bit. We’ve certainly had quite a fun time testing and choosing the most interesting, different and fun products to work with. We wonder, for those of you who didn’t order a box, do you find these “box posts” boring? Should we move them all to the MARY’s secret ingredients site? Or do you find them interesting?

Take a look at our lovely Marie Anello, once again opening the box in this video to the tune of a seasonal classic, Let It Snow!

Here are all the products, along with a tidbit about each company.

Chelsea MaGran Luchito Smoked Chili Paste.rket Baskets - Gran Luchito (Smoke and chilli combine for total deliciousness!)

Their founder’s passion for inspired specialty foods and thoughtfully designed gifts led to the creation of Chelsea Market Baskets in 1993. Owner David Porat continues to search the world for innovative products that are distinctly high quality, fresh, unique, and have a certain indescribable charm. Chelsea Market Baskets’ ultimate goal is to delight their customers through their Chelsea Market retail shop in New York City, their mail order gift business, and their wholesale imports. They believe in product integrity and a high level of customer service. Their mission is to heighten each and every customer’s experience with these core values. And they make great holiday gift baskets!

Gran Luchito Smoked Chilli Paste: An authentic Mexican smoked chilli paste made in Mexico using chilies that have been ethically sourced directly from local farmers. When you try the product, the first thing you’ll notice is the smoky flavor, but then you’ll notice a hint of agave sweetness, perhaps the nuttiness of garlic and, of course, a medium heat. 

Dutch's Spirits trio of American Era Cocktail Bitters.Dutch’s Spirits(Aren’t these just so cute?? I love the hats!)

Dutch’s Spirits is an artisanal distillery. Named after an infamous New York mobster of the Prohibition era, Dutch’s Spirits inhabits the same location as Harvest Homestead Farm, where Dutch Schultz set up his bootlegging complex. Dutch’s Spirits has steeped their bitters production in a heady combination of historical reference and dedication to the American cocktail craft.

American Era Cocktail Bitters: Inspired by the United States’ colorful history, Dutch’s Spirits crafted bold new recipes blending unique flavors from each era to create a truly distinctive line of cocktail bitters. The variety 3-pack includes:

Colonial Cocktail Bitters: Wild spicebush berries and Kinnikinnick leaf combined with chamomile blossoms, rose petals, lavender, bitter orange, angelica seed, juniper, allspice and cinnamon. A classically aromatic bitters blend.

Boomtown Bitters: Combines the ingredients of sarsaparilla and wintergreen with flavors representing American whiskies of the day such as coconut and oak from the maturing cask. This is an alternative bitters variety for bourbon and whiskey drinks.

ProhiBitters: Blend of flavors tailored to tweak the usual gin martini. Predominant citrus notes blend with licorice, hibiscus, ginger root and coriander. 

Maddy's Sweet Shop Peppermint Snaps.
Maddy’s Sweet Shop: (Bet you can’t eat just one!)

At Maddy’s Sweet Shop they continue to do things the old-fashioned way. Their delightful products are crafted in their artisanal bakery with time-honored recipes and the finest ingredients. Their award winning Lil’ Maddies are delectable shortbread cookies with a sweet candy crunch, covered in a unique powdered sugar coating.

Peppermint Snaps: Refresh your taste buds with the cool flavor of peppermint. It will wake you up and put a smile on your face. This is a surprisingly light and refreshing shortbread cookie with a peppermint candy crunch inside that is perfect for any time of the day.


Paper Chef Culinary Parchment Lotus Cups.PaperChef: (Make your cupcakes and muffins spectacular!)

PaperChef, a Toronto-based company founded in 2010, is a subsidiary of Culinary Papers and McNairn Packaging, a family business that has been making paper products for the food industry since 1882. The company is committed to bringing “The Art of Cooking with Parchment” to North America and the globe. The PaperChef line of products includes parchment rolls, parchment cooking bags and parchment baking cups.

Lotus cups: These cups are 100% biodegradable and they add personality to culinary creations while helping them to look their best. The cups’ inherent non-stick properties make them easy to peel away while keeping their shape, with little to no clean up.


Peeled Snacks apple APLENTY trail mix package.

Peeled Snacks: (Hiking never tasted so good – and wait until you see this recipe coming up!)

At Peeled Snacks, they know that food starts out delicious and nutritious. It doesn’t need a machine to improve it or an engineer to perfect it. They strive to bring you natural, premium ingredients so you can feel good about snacking. Eating well doesn’t have to mean eating tasteless, bland foods. It does, however, mean eating a healthy, wide range of foods from every food group.

apple APLENTY: This trail mix is a 100% organic, rich and tasty balance of sunflower seeds, walnuts, and peanuts, mixed with juicy Peeled Snacks raisins, dark chocolate, and apples. Whether you’re out on a hike or in for the night, apple Applenty will get you through, and help you bypass the doctor’s office. Enjoy!


Red Snapper Wildwood Arbol Sauce.Red Snapper Sauce: (No this is not made of fish – the name is a misnomer and the sauce is hot – a tiny bit goes a long way!)

The story of Red Snapper Sauce and the history of the McVea family are essentially one and the same. Some of the family’s happiest memories have been made while gathered around tables stocked with their legendary Louisiana-style hot sauce. Since they can’t invite each of you to their table, they’re sharing their history and family pride in each and every bottle.

Wildwood Arbol Sauce: This medium heat sauce is made with Chile De Arbol peppers, (a relative of the cayenne), and is quickly becoming the condiment of choice on many food lovers’ tables. It is extremely flavorful, with a woody base. Every bite increases the heat, giving warmth and flavor to any dish.


SerendipiTEA HolidayCheer and Once Upon a Tea with a mesh tea ball.SerendipiTea: (Just the cutest names!!)

SerendipiTea is committed to the highest quality loose-leaf tea, selecting fine certified organics when available. They work closely with tea gardens, estates and specialists around the world, maintaining knowledge and expertise regarding all facets of tea and its production.

Holiday Cheer: Spread some Holiday Cheer this season! Enjoy this hand-crafted blend of warming spices, festive orange peel, invigorating mint & a touch of Black Tea for fortitude.

Once Upon a Tea:  A fairy tale beginning with a delectable ending! Boldly based on rooibos, the mellow notes of vanilla, rich texture of chocolate & the defining essence of mint all blend together, deliciously ever after.

MARY’s secret ingredients GIVEAWAY!!!

MSI fall box 2014.

Pictured above was our recent fall box. The winter box will be revealed tomorrow!

My new subscription box business, MARY’s secret ingredients, has been a huge journey for me and my team this year. The support and warmth I’ve received from you means a great deal to me. I want to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to all of you who have shared your kind words as well as perhaps purchased or reviewed boxes for us. Your help has been invaluable! 

So now, since it is the season of giving, and because I want to share not only my appreciation, but also the wonderful gourmet, international products with you, I am hosting a GIVEAWAY!!!

I’ll be giving away one FULL YEAR’S SUBSCRIPTION of MARY’s secret ingredients (that’s FOUR boxes filled with surprise products) to one lucky follower, as well as TWO SPRING 2015 boxes as runner-up gifts!

The rules are simple; just comment below with your favorite dish to cook for the upcoming holidays (feel free to add a link to the recipe if you have one) and on December 16th, my team will use a random number generator to choose the lucky winners. Since there are three chances to win, I do hope that all of you will comment and share with your friends!

Unfortunately, if you live outside of the continental United States, (that’s you, Maureen and Charlie Louie), I’m sorry to say you won’t be eligible for this giveaway, as MSI’s shipping is still limited to the U.S. However, please comment below with your favorite recipes anyway. I can’t wait to see what you have to share!

Best of luck to all of you, and stay tuned for more posts about the contents of our winter box and all the great recipes I’ve created using this season’s ingredients.

Mustard and cumin coated whole chicken with dried fruit on top.Now here I’d like to share with you just how NOT to roast a chicken. Remember that great on-the-flash dish I made in front of our guests – the Cumin and Mustard Roasted Chicken pieces with dried fruit? Well on Sunday night, I tried to do that again with a whole butterflied chicken, with a more complex, delicious glaze (thank goodness, because that’s all that was left) and, of course, a longer time in the oven (30 minutes) since it was a whole bird and THAT was my undoing.

Mustard and cumin chicken with charred dried fruit on top.

Mmmm, lovely….

The fruit totally charred!! Just look!! (Imagine if that happened when I had the guests over!)

Roast butterflied chicken with 2 prunes.Fortunately we could just remove the fruit and enjoy the chicken, which was cooked perfectly. Two prunes and two pears survived.

I know your holiday recipes will all be smashing, unlike this one! 

My Birthday

Best birthday card.I have to share with you the best card that I received from my friend Sheila in Texas for my birthday this year. First of all, you must know, Sheila and I have been friends for like, 37 years. And she always sends me a card, NEVER forgets. But this card, isn’t it the greatest? And it is fitting for me – don’t you think? (I certainly hope no one is offended.)

My real birthday was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. My younger son and his girlfriend made me a beautiful dinner that evening – exactly what I wanted, fulfilling my request superbly – sautéed boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a red sauce with capers over pasta, topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, with some green beans and pancetta on the side. It was a simple, robust and perfect meal for a snowy evening in front of the fire after a long day of cooking for Thanksgiving. The only thing is that I forgot to take pictures. 

My older son declared my birthday was Saturday as he and his girlfriend did not arrive until Thanksgiving day, so they just moved my day. He recently made Pot au Feu for a Sunday evening dinner for my husband and me and he wanted to revisit that dish, only this time, he started making the broth on Thursday evening with the turkey carcass along with a chicken carcass I had saved for him. He cooked that broth in my giant soup pot for 3 days, as it very slowly simmered, totally permeating the house with luscious stock smells. His meat was pork shoulder and a whole breast of veal. This meal was to die for. Pot au Feu platter with broth in bowls.

The broth was so dark and rich and his vegetables were cooked perfectly – cabbage still a little crisp, turnips and potatoes were dreamy creamy while both meats were fork tender and so flavorful. Fresh baked peasant bread and a chocolate pie with a gingerbread crust.Agata made a crusty bread for dipping and his girlfriend made a totally yummy, rich chocolate pie with a ginger snap crust. It was EPIC! And, we got to have the exact same meal on Monday night with all the leftovers. I feel so fat and happy and I don’t care, for just this once. Just like a queen! Lucky me!Pot au Feu dinner.

Sending LOVE to all of you!!

Pie Crusts with Lard and Other Thanksgiving Meal Questions

I trust that everyone had a great Thanksgiving! It is such a wonderful holiday – all about being together, with great food. What could be better? No worrying about presents or decorations, the focus is on food. With the major snowstorm we had all day on Wednesday, our electricity kept blinking, but still going, so the bread got baked without a hitch. I make my grandmother’s recipe for Polish bread every holiday.Homemade bread cut with two slices. This year, unfortunately I forgot to bring the recipe, but Zach’s girlfriend is from Poland and her family makes a similar bread recipe! Together, from our collective memories, we pieced together the ingredients and process and it turned out great! (Lucky!!!) Our other son, his girlfriend and her father all arrived safely early afternoon on Thanksgiving, and Agata made us another guest outside!Snowman with a skirt. 

So I have a question for all of you. Knowing that hydrogenated vegetable oil is not good for you, as it essentially never leaves your body, this year I decided to use lard in my pie crust recipe. I had to special order it from our little local grocery store. I made the dough the day before so it was fully chilled. It handled absolutely beautifully in rolling it out. I then even had time to chill the formed crust again before baking. However, my beautiful crimped sides all fell during baking. Pumpkin pie half cut.

You can see that here. What did I do wrong? Should I have used half lard and half butter? Pecan pie with a flakey pie crust.

But here you can see how flakey it was on the pecan pie. Yum!

Meanwhile, the fresh pumpkin extracted with the hammer and screwdriver produced the BEST pumpkin pie – epic – as our oldest said!

Then the next thing I want to ask you is what do you do for your green vegetable at the big meal? In my book and at our last two Thanksgiving celebrations, I did this Brussels sprouts recipe with a fish sauce – from Momofuku and published at Food 52. My husband and I liked this but as my friend Judy said, it’s an acquired taste. So my boys vetoed that recipe out of the meal this year. I replaced it with sugar snap peas (blanched for one minute) with red pepper strips tossed with a sherry vinaigrette and topped with nitrate-free, all natural bacon bits.

My theory was that this would be a great refreshing dish, a counterpoint to the richness of the dressing, turkey and gravy with the crunch of the just blanched snap peas, and the sherry vinaigrette would be a nice contrast to the maple glazed sweet potatoes. A cool, salad-like dish to be clean and different on the plate, right?

Wrong. I hated it. To me, it broke up the whole warmth of the entire meal. So what do you do? Please share!

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!