Watermelon Petit Fours

Dessert nights have come and gone in this house several times with nothing on the table. The boys are used to having me create something weekly for the blog or having ice cream in the freezer. Needless to say I have done neither in a while.

Well, I was able to come up with this little gem. And why not? I had an entire watermelon and thought, “Now, what can I do with this watermelon to make a dessert?”

What, you’ve never done that?

Try it. It was extremely tasty.

Watermelon Petit Fours

Cubed watermelon*

Cream Cheese frosting

Shaved chocolate

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain how to assemble these, though I would say that seedless watermelon is a no-brainer even though my watermelon was not seedless. *Here I made my cubes about 1 inch squared but you could make them 2 or 3 inch cubes if you’d like. There are also endless possibilities for dressing up these little confections, not the least of which would be candied nuts, dried fruits, sugar sprinkles- colored or regular, candies or colored sprinkles, cinnamon, candied ginger, mint, basil….oh the list is endless!

Have fun concocting your own watermelon petit fours and enjoy!!

Simmering Smell-Goods

Who here uses candles to make their home smell good?

Did you know a simple and virtually free of cost way to smell up your kitchen in a lovely aroma is by using orange peels and cinnamon sticks?

You did? Aren’t you clever. I knew we got along for a reason :)

This is definitely not a new concept and I take no credit for it at all. BUT I do use this method often (especially in the Fall and Winter) when I have orange peels to spare, which I do most days as I usually eat an orange every day. The only real cost is the cinnamon sticks and you can find those as great prices when they go on sale post-Christmas season. So next time you see cinnamon sticks on sale, stock up!

It’s very simple. Using a corningware dish (I love these because they are stove-top safe) place your orange peels and one or two cinnamon sticks on top of a low burner. Fill with water and allow to simmer all day. When the water starts to get too low just add more. Eventually your ingredients will expire but you can get a nice long day out of one orange and 1 cinnamon stick.

*As you can see, I’ve left a bit of pulp on a few of these peels because the orange was a little old and I wanted to make sure I got a good orange smell in the mix.

You can get similar results by baking the orange peels and cinnamon sticks at a very low heat in the oven :)

Crunchy Mexican Casserole

This supper is so easy-peasy and delicious that you will make it again and again. I tweaked a recipe that came from a blog that came from a blog- so the origin is unknown. However, due to the high-fat content of the original recipe, I changed a few things and came up with something that I felt like I could live with :) My boys agreed as they gobbled up half a pan.

Crunchy Mexican Casserole

1 lb. ground turkey or chicken

1 package taco seasoning (1/4 cup)

1 can diced tomatoes with chiles (do not drain)

1 can cream of chicken soup (click here for my healthy alternative*)

1 cup cooked brown rice

1 (6 oz) can of V8 juice plus water to make 3/4 cup

1/2 bag tortilla chips, crushed

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese


Preheat oven to 350*. Brown meat and drain if using beef. Stir in taco seasoning, juice and water, and can of diced tomatoes with juice. Combine well and bring to a low boil. Allow to bubble a few extra minutes so extra liquid can be absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in soup mixture and rice. Crush chips into bottom of lightly greased 9×12 baking dish and top evenly with meat mixture. Sprinkle cheese over top and bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

*If using my condensed soup alternative, you will need 1/3 cup of the dry cream soup mix and 1 & 1/4 cup water. Whisk together and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Do not let it scald.

Hubby said next time I should add a can of black beans (or pinto) and I agree that would be yummy!

Serve with a crisp, fresh salad (I added fresh cilantro leaves to the lettuce for an authentic Mexican taste!) and Enjoy!

From the Archives – Giardiniera

*This recipe is repost worthy of the highest magnitude. Since I first posted it close to a year ago, I feel that all my newer readers might like it.

I love giardiniera. Most grocery stores sell several brands of jarred giardiniera, but if you’re a true giardiniera-lover like me, you know that stuff isn’t very good. That is…unless you’ve never had mine :) I say that with complete humility because I have fashioned my giardiniera recipe after the best in the world, which can be found in just about any place in the greater Chicago area. Granted, there are many different types of giardiniera to be found in Chicago, but in the tradition of Tony’s Subs and Sammy’s (as well as many others, I am sure) this version of giardiniera is what I’ve grown up with and love along with the highly coveted and indigenous Italian Beef sandwich.

Ingredients for Giardiniera:

1 sm head cauliflower, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper & 1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 – 3 ribs of celery, sliced

1 lb. bag of shredded carrots

1 jar small green olives

3 chile or jalapeno pods, sliced

4 cloves garlic

8 lg sprigs fresh dill

12 peppercorns

2 1/2 C. water

3 C. white wine or rice vinegar

4 T. sea or kosher salt

olive oil to top off


This little gadget from Pampered Chef  is super cool and useful when making perfect little slices of any vegetable.

Thoroughly clean and trim the vegetables, including seeds from hot peppers (leave in for desired hotness), cutting  into small pieces. This particular batch will be hot because I used 5 peppers and left in all the seeds. I also used a whole batch of fresh dill sprigs because you just can’t have too much dill. I also had to use really large olives because that was all that was available in my supermarket, so I sliced them up myself.


Pack the veggies into 1 quart jars tightly. I use regular screw-lid jars. There is no need for boiling or sealing the lids. Make your pickling mixture using the water, wine, and salt. I’ve used the rice vinegar once and I did not like it at all. I’ve made this with a general dry chardonnay many times and it always comes out great! The vinegar makes it way too vinegary for my taste- the wine does an ample job of giving it a nice subdued vinegaryness (yeah, I know that’s not a word).  Pour the water-wine mixture into the jars, submerging the veggies, and let it settle. Leave enough room for the 1/2 inch of olive oil that you will pour to top it all off with.

Screw the lids on tightly and store in a cool pantry for 2 -6 weeks. The longer it pickles the better it will be! Do not open the lids until ready to eat. Once the jar has been opened, refrigerate. Makes 3 quarts.

What to eat with your Giardiniera??

Italian Beef Sandwiches, of course!

Excellent on all types of deli sandwiches including turkey, beef, and even tuna.

For a very low-fat breakfast, make into an omelet. Delicious!

Fish Newburg

We eat a lot of fish around here- mostly tilapia and salmon. When we lived on the island we were so blessed with fresh fish often. We’d have cobia, flounder, tuna, spanish mackerel, and blue fish to name a few. It was wonderful. Now that we’re inland the fish isn’t quite up to par. Hate to sound like a snob but going into the local grocers and looking at the “fresh” fish really disappointed me. So now it’s back to frozen fish, and an occasional whole salmon from Sams.

Some of our favorite ways to prepare fish is very simple and delicious. Our favorite way to prepare salmon is to pan-sear it with BBQ sauce. Click here for that recipe. I also like to poach it in foil with onions, celery, garlic, lemon juice and lots of dill and then serve it with this awesome sour cream and dill dressing. I just realized that I haven’t done that in a long time. I definitely will make it soon and post all about it. You’re gonna love it!

For the tilapia I like to pan-sear it in a little EVOO and lime pepper, and serve it up with some fresh homemade salsa. Click here for that recipe. One of my favorite sides to anything served/cooked in salsa (fish and chicken basically) is parmesan cous cous. Tilapia also makes great fish tacos :)

Making sure we eat fish at least once a week can get a little boring if I stick to the same 3 or 4 recipes. So this week I decided to do something a little different by way of a newburg sauce. Most Newburg recipes combine crab, lobster, clams, scallops, and shrimp: either just one, some, or as many different types of seafood as you want. Mine was very simple as I used only tilapia- but we found it to be very good for an occasional change (it’s quite fattening!).

Fish Newburg

4 tilapia fillets (feel free to add any seafood you’d like)

1  1/4 cup milk

4 T butter, divided

1/4 dry white wine


cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 cup flour


1. Saute fish in 2 T butter, sprinkle paprika on both sides during cooking. Set fish aside and keep warm.

2. In same skillet, pour in wine and allow to boil and deglaze, picking up all the bits leftover from the fish and butter.

3. Make a roux using the other 2 T butter and flour (I usually just melt the butter in the microwave and whisk the flour into it).

4. Have your milk ready. Add the roux to the wine, whisking constantly, then slowly add the milk (about 1/2 cup at a time) while continuing to whisk. Make sure all is blended and smooth. Sauce should be thick but not too thick. Add milk to your desired consistency, up to an additional 1/4 cup.

5. Add paprika and salt. *Here is where I added some of my Tuscan salt for a little extra something. I have to say that newburg sauce is too fattening to be worth it based on its bland flavor. It needs some sort of va-va-voom! Season as you like with whatever you like- you will not be sorry.

6. Pour sauce over warm fish and stir gently (with the tilapia I did not stir it together because the fish is so delicate).

7. Serve over brown rice.


Breakfast Blueberry Bake

This was a super yummy and easy breakfast to throw together one Saturday morning. I had family visiting in our new home and wanted to have a special morning meal at least once with everyone around the breakfast table. I served it with scrambled eggs and turkey bacon. It was a hit!

Breakfast Blueberry Bake

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp.

1 cup sugar, plus additional for later

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups 1/2 & 1/2 flour (unbleached all-purpose and whole wheat)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups fresh (or frozen) blueberries

1/2 cup buttermilk*


Cream butter and sugar in mixer bowl. Add egg and vanilla and combine well. Mix in flour, baking powder, salt, and buttermilk.

*I did not have buttermilk in my refrigerator so I combined 1/2 T of white vinegar (lemon juice works too) with 1/2 cup regular milk and let sit for 5 minutes. Worked very well as a substitute for the real thing.

Fold in blueberries and pour batter into a greased 9×13 baking dish. Sprinkle additional sugar over the top.

Bake at 350* (preheated) for about 30 minutes.

SOOOO good!

Organic vs. Non-Organic

When I first went organic about 9 years ago, I caught flack from several of my friends. It didn’t seem to make sense to them. Perhaps they thought I was just on the yuppie band-wagon. You know, keeping up with the Jones’ and all that. Buying organic definitely had seemed more fad than fact to some- but to me it was important and relevant to my family’s health.

There were several reasons for this change in our diet, starting with my migraines that were primarily induced by MSG’s, hydrogenated and hydrolyzed oils, which seem to be found in everything. This led me to stop purchasing and consuming pre-packaged meals (which I did little of anyway) but also cookies, crackers, etc. Just about any convenience food that comes out of a box has some type of hydrogenated oil in it.

FYI:  hydrogenated oil is only one molecule away from being plastic.

Learn more:  http://www.naturalnews.com/024694_oil_food_oils.html#ixzz24CuLmC00

My health issues went beyond headaches and I had to look at the way I was eating and how it affected my body from many different points of view. In the end, I found these health issues to be a blessing. How many of us can say that their bodies actually tell them within minutes that what they’ve just eaten is bad for them?

Think about it this way: there are millions of people out there eating donuts, diet sodas, nitrate lunch meats and hotdogs, pork products, white burger buns and sandwich bread, candy, never-ending pasta bowls, french fries, breaded and fried foods, honeybuns, etc. They are eating like this everyday- by the pounds. Perhaps you eat some of this stuff, too. When was the last time you ate a pack of nabs and you got a headache from it? Never? Do you think it means that your body likes it? Just because your body isn’t screaming at you the way mine did to me, doesn’t mean it likes that junk food. But all those millions of people are suffering for their eating habits in other, small ways. Maybe you do, too. In ways such as fatigue, occasional headaches, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Hydrogenated oils are a freshness preservative, nothing more.

So not only is it bad, it’s not even added as a “nutrient fortified” gimmick. It’s purely used as a preservative. Hmm….just one more fantastic reason to eat all-natural and fresh ingredients.

That was a bit of a tangent. I apologize. Back to the point. Organic vs. non-organic….

It took quite some time to figure out that not everything needed to be organic. Truth is it’s best to make everything yourself using wholesome and all-natural ingredients. I say that knowing that while I have some great recipes for homemade crackers, I’ve yet to make them, and instead I buy the occasional box of Ritz. We are not big cracker people in this house, but if we were I’d definitely be making them (or so I say). I realize that many people just don’t have time to make these “convenience” foods from scratch, and it’s definitely easier for me to say to just cut those foods out of your diet because they are no benefit for you anyway.

Making many of the things that come in boxes from scratch eliminates the consumption of about 6000 chemicals and toxins that are found in packaged foods. That’s a lot of chemicals!  But what about the things you’re just not going to make- or can’t? My mother gave me a yogurt maker once. I don’t know how many products like this are on the market or the different levels of difficulty, but this particular one seemed way more trouble than it was worth. With the availability of organic and all-natural yogurt out there now, this contraption seemed pointless. There were so many steps involved, ingredients that I’d never heard of and didn’t know where to find, it seemed way easier to go to the store and pick some off the shelf.

Or what about produce? If you can’t grow your own (and I can’t!) then buying it at inflated prices can break your bank. Here’s a list of the dirty dozen. 12 fruits and vegetables that should be eaten organic at all times due to the levels of pesticides:


1. Apples

2. Celery

3. Sweet Bell Peppers

4. Peaches

5. Strawberries

6. Nectarines – imported

7. Grapes

8. Spinach

9. Lettuce

10. Cucumbers

11. Blueberries – domestic

12. Potatoes

Makes sense, right? These all have thin skin, or none at all, and you eat the whole thing. The next list is called the Clean 15. These foods are the lowest in pesticides and therefore do not have to be organic. You can go a little easier on your wallet with these items.

Clean 15

1. Onions

2. Sweet Corn

3. Pineapples

4. Avocado

5. Cabbage

6. Sweet Peas

7. Asparagus

8. Mangoes

9. Eggplant

10. Kiwi

11. Cantaloupe

12. Sweet Potatoes

13. Grapefruit

14. Watermelon

15. Mushrooms

So there you have it. Organic vs. non-organic. Here’s an image I found of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 that have a few different items on the lists. Considering the huge number of fruit and vegetable varieties, it would make sense that others would make these lists.

Suetta’s Pimento Cheese

I had family in for the weekend, and I usually do a sort of appetizer layout at one point or another, because let’s face it, nibbles are fun and having guests are the perfect reason for it. I mean, who puts out an appetizer buffet on  a random night, right?

One of the things I included was this awesome pimento cheese. The recipe was given to me by a new friend who I think is a wonderful person and cook :)

Now, if you like pimento you will LOVE this recipe. If you are on the fence about pimento then I will say that this recipe will probably give you that final push over. Even if you do not like it so much, give it a try. You might be surprised. I am one of those who has never been very pimento-inclined, but I had to admit that this recipe was awesome. Of course, it helps to love all things cheese, which I do.

Suetta’s Pimento Cheese

1 – 2 cup package sharp cheddar cheese

4 oz. jar pimentos

1/2 cup mayo

1 teaspoon grated onion ( this will be according to your taste)

5 shakes of cayenne pepper, or less than 1/4 tsp.

Combine all the ingredients well. Refrigerate for best results.

*These are Suetta’s directions. I will add this, based on my own experience following the recipe:

1. You do not need to drain the pimentos. I used the whole jar and it came out a bit soupy. However, after sitting a bit it will thicken up, so you can reserve the juice and add as you like, or just add it all from the get-go.

2. 1/2 cup mayo seemed a lot at first, but like I said, the cheese does thicken up over time/refrigeration. Go slowly with the mayo, you may need less than 1/2 cup.

3. Cayenne is to taste, so 5 shakes may be a lot to you. Start with 3 or 4 and go from there.


*I apologize for the picture quality. It was late afternoon and the pictures did not come out as fabulous as I had hoped.

Sweet Cherry Caprese

If you’ve been following me long enough you know by now that I love caprese. And brushetta. And well….anything tomato and basil and balsamic-inclined. This caprese is a flavorful twist on the original by adding sweet cherries and avocado. Who would have thought that cherries and balsamic go together? Well, they do! And it’s fabulous :)

Sweet Cherry Caprese

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

1 T lime juice (about 1 lime)


1 tsp balsamic vinegar (or to taste)

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

20 fresh cherries, pitted and halved

8 oz. sweet grape tomatoes, halved (yellow works too)

1 ripe avocado, diced

4 oz. mini fresh mozzarella balls (or use a block like I did and dice into small pieces)


In a large bowl add chopped basil, lime juice, EVOO, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Combine well.

Remove stems and pits from cherries. Cut cherries and tomatoes in half and them to the mixture; toss well.

Drain mozzarella balls and add to salad (cut first if using a block). Toss well to coat.

When ready to serve, gently fold in diced avocado but do not over mix.

*I found this recipe at The Nourishing Home and it was sooooooo good. Avocado doesn’t keep well so be ready to eat it up right away!

Dehydrated Basil

I love basil.

I LOVE LOVE fresh basil, among other herbs, but especially basil.

Due to my recent trip to Chicago and a head cold that just refuses to go away, I have not been in the kitchen for a good two weeks. You may have noticed by the lack of posts at the beginning of the month. What has come of this is a huge basil plant that I refuse to let go to waste. In comes the dehydrator.

If you don’t have one of these and hate waste as much as I do, you really, really should get one. They are not that expensive, and although I do not use it often throughout the year, when I do use it, it is REALLY handy.

Like most, I use my dehydrator a lot in the spring and summer when produce is plentiful, but there are lots of uses for it year-round, as well.

Case in point is all this beautiful, sweet, fresh basil :) Fresh is always best, but I’ll take this over no basil any day.

You can dehydrate a multiple of things from fruit, to vegetables, to herbs, to meat. Here are a few dehydrator tips for year-round use:

Spring & Summer: (Almost) any seasonal fruit and veggie can be dehydrated. Just think about all those tomatoes you’ve grown (or been given) this year. You don’t have to freeze or can them all. Make sun-dried tomatoes or tomato powder and use them all year long in a variety of ways. And what about banana chips? If you like making your own trail mix, bananas dehydrate beautifully. Any fruit or vegetable you have an abundance of can be dehydrated as well as it can be canned or frozen. Just remember that fruits which easily bruise should be brushed with an acidic like lemon juice or even honey to help preserve while dehydrating.

Click here to see what Kitchen Stewardship says about dehydrating fruit and the recipes.

Fall & Winter: You’re not out of dehydrating options just because the weather is colder. A bounty of veggies are available even after the Autumn apples are gone, starting with mushrooms and gourds of all types. My favorite? Kale :) They make great chips! Just lightly coat with a little EVOO, salt & pepper, and wait until crispy.

*Dehydrated apples and mushrooms come in handy at this house all the time. I rarely buy fresh mushrooms because I’m the only one in the house who likes to eat them. But sometimes a recipe calls for them and no substitute will do. That’s when I can grab a handful from the jar and the re-hydrating is minimal with {albeit} decent results compared to fresh. However, I will say that in some recipes even dried is no substitute for fresh mushrooms.

The apples come in handy for several reasons. First is just for munching- they are a very good source of fiber and are filling without adding tons of calories. Much like a regular apple, of course. But the best is having a hankering for apple pie or some type of pastry and being able to use an all-natural filling instead of some BPA-filled canned apple goop.

Check out this link for some unique dehydrator recipes from Food.com.

Summer is coming to a close and Fall will be here before you know it. Get out your dehydrators and make use of your summer produce so you can enjoy it throughout the winter months. You’ll be glad you did! :)