Monthly Archives: December 2015

Three-Cheese Potato Gratin


By now, most of you know Molly Stevens is one our most revered chefs. So when we went looking for a potato gratin for the Christmas Eve meal, her name popped up in the search and we knew we had a winner. This gratin tastes more complex than simple cheese and potatoes—it’s comfort food yet sophisticated at the same time.

By no means diet-friendly, the Three-Cheese Potato Gratin is a calorie-buster with all of the whole milk, heavy cream, cheeses and butter (we even increase the amount of the cheeses.) But good God, it’s heavenly!! So if you are counting calories, (which at some point in our lives most of us are) just eat a small portion.

To create, it was a group effort with Russ, his son Dan and me all pitching in to assemble the casserole. Dan did a great job slicing the potatoes on the mandoline and grating the cheeses, while Russ prepared the milk and cream mixture. I buttered the dish and started the layering process, taking turns with Dan until complete.

With our standing Prime Rib Roast, and Haricot Verts with Pancetta (recipe follows), the gratin was a perfect match and made for a divine Christmas Eve dinner.

Dan uses the mandoline to make perfectly even potato slices.

The slices are all equally 1/8″ thick.

Dan puts some muscle into shredding the Swiss cheese.

Father and son bond over the cooking experience.

Lynn adds the shredded cheese mixture to the first layer of potatoes.

Next, Lynn crumbles goat cheese over the shredded cheese layer.

Dan takes over to add the second layer.

The final potato slice is added.

Russ pours the infused cream mixture over all layers.

On top of the cream, a final topping of the shredded cheeses.

Luscious goodness after resting for twenty minutes, yum!


  • 2 tsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 to 3 sprigs rosemary, 3 inches long
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 oz. grated Swiss cheese (about 1 cup)
  • 2 oz. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 lb. russet potatoes (3 to 4 medium)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 4 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 2/3 cup)


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with the butter.
  2. Pour the milk and cream into a small saucepan. Add the garlic, rosemary, and nutmeg. Bring just to a simmer, cover, and remove from the heat. Set aside to infuse for at least 20 minutes. Combine the Swiss cheese and Parmigiano in a bowl.
  3. Peel the potatoes and, using a mandoline or your sharpest knife, slice them into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Arrange about one-third of the potatoes in a single overlapping layer in the baking dish, season with kosher salt and white pepper, and top with one-third of the Swiss-Parmigiano mix. Scatter over half of the goat cheese. Add a second overlapping layer of potatoes, more salt and white pepper, another third of the Swiss-Parmigiano mix, and the remaining goat cheese. Make a third layer with the remaining potatoes and season with salt and white pepper. Press down lightly to compact the layer
  4. Remove the garlic and rosemary from the infused cream, and discard them. Set the cream over medium-high heat and watch carefully until it just begins to simmer; don’t let it boil. Pour the cream over the potatoes and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
  5. Set the baking dish on the foil-lined baking sheet, and bake until the top is deeply brown and the potatoes are completely tender when poked with a skewer, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.



  • 12 ounces haricot green beans, trimmed
  • 3 ounces pancetta, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter


  • Cook beans in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain. Transfer to bowl of ice water; cool 5 minutes. Drain. Transfer beans to paper towels and pat dry.
  • Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and sauté until crisp, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Increase heat to medium-high. Add butter to same skillet.
  • Add beans and stir until heated through, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in pancetta.

Recipe by Dorie Greenspan


Prime Rib—The Best from Both Worlds


This year for our Christmas Eve dinner, Russ combined two prime rib recipes, one from Cooks Illustrated, Perfect Prime Rib; and the other for it’s crown of herbs and spices from Fine Cooking, Slow-Roasted Prime Rib. Prior to cooking, we had the butcher cut the meat off the bone and then tie it back onto the ribs. This way it cooks as a “bone-in” roast, and is a real treat for those who like to chew the flavorful bones afterward.

Surprisingly, the Cooks Illustrated perfect prime rib recipe turned out to be one cooked in a 250-degree oven, which eliminates the gray banding. Unlike roasts that cook at higher temperatures, this one was rosy pink from the surface to the center and was so juicy and tender. By searing the meat on top of the stove before low-roasting it, you achieve a gorgeous browned and crusty exterior.

A luxurious centerpiece for a holiday menu, this three-bone prime-rib roast gets heaped with a big pile of smashed garlic, butter, and fresh herbs, then slow-cooked in a low oven for at least two hours, until the meat becomes meltingly tender, and the herbs and garlic infuse it through and through. Our roast took 25 minutes per pound to reach 125 degrees. Keep in mind, the temp will rise another 5-10 degrees or so as it rests under the foil tent.

Be sure to tie the prime rib two to three times between the rib bones or the outer layer of the meat pulls away from the rib-eye muscle, causing the roast to look unattractive. And since this is the star of the show, you wouldn’t want that to happen, would you?


  • 3-bone beef rib roast (about 7 lb.), preferably from the small or loin end and Prime grade
  • 3 Tbs. fleur de sel or other flaky sea salt
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. coarsely cracked black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 to 10 sprigs rosemary
  • 8 to 10 sprigs thyme
  • 10 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

The uncovered raw roast is taken out of the frig to come to room temperature.

Starting to sear one side of the roast.

A sear on the final end cap finishes the process.

The seared roast is crowned with fresh rosemary, thyme, garlic and butter cubes.

The roast after it cooked for several hours on a low temp.

Releasing the twine removes the bones for easier slicing.

Slicing the beef before plating. Make sure to pour the juices back onto the meat.


  1. Place the roast, uncovered, on a rack in the refrigerator over night—this helps to dry age the beef.
  2. Take the beef out of the refrigerator 3 hours before cooking so it can come to room temperature.
  3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 325ºF.
  4. Turn on the exhaust fan. Heat a 12-inch skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the olive oil and,  when the oil puts off its first wisp of smoke, place the beef in the pan, and sear it on all the outer sides (not the cut sides) until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes total.
  5. Use a set of tongs to flip the beef; be careful of splattering oil. With two sets of tongs, transfer the beef, bone side down, to a roasting rack set in a small roasting pan. Season the meat on all sides with the fleur de sel and cracked black pepper. Arrange the rosemary, thyme, garlic, and butter evenly on top.
  6. Roast the beef, basting every 30 minutes with a bulb baster, until a thermometer inserted into the center reads 120º to 125ºF for rare, about 2 hours. Cook to 130º to 135ºF for medium-rare (about 2-1/4 hours), 140º to 145ºF for medium (about 2-1/2 hours). Let the meat rest 20 minutes before carving (a bit longer is fine.)
Next blog will highlight our accompaniments of Three-Cheese Potato Gratin and Haricot Verts with Pancetta.

Pork Brings Wealth and Prosperity in the New Year

Old ‘Hood Reunion

~During the late 1980’s and all of the 90’s, Barb and Brad (B&B), and Fran and Grant (F&G) were close neighbors of mine (and my ex) when we all resided on Manor Lane in Yardley, PA. After the devastating floods in 1996, F&G were the first to move out in 1997. B&B followed in 2000, and I finally left for drier pastures (with Russ) in 2011. But friends we remained. And so every Christmas season the three couples get together for some holiday cheer, and this year it happened to be at our place, Casa H.

We dined on Russ’s famous Braised Pork N ‘Kraut, the always tasty and versatile, “go-with-everything” Celery Root Puree, and homemade Solebury Farm Apple Sauce, and a festive side salad for starters.


The custom of eating pork on New Year’s is based on the idea that pigs symbolize progress. The animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving. It also signifies wealth and prosperity… Read more under the Reconnecting with Friends tab…

Scan 1
Fran, Lynn and Barb in the 1990’s on Manor Lane North.

An Enduring Holiday Tradition



Ooey, gooey goodness! Russ first came across this recipe in Gourmet Magazine in 1998. He’s been making it for his children (now adults in their twenties) almost every Christmas morning since, much to their delight!

To date, it has received nearly 600, 4 out of 4 “Forks” in the posted reviews. Of course you don’t have to wait until Christmas to make it, your family and company will thank you anytime of year…


  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 braided Challah loaf, about 14 oz.
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

The braided Challah loaf is sliced and arranged on a rack to dry out.

Preparing the “topping” for the french toast.

The stale bread slices are positioned over the topping and then the cream mixture is poured all over.

The baked french toast is ready for serving.

The final step is to flip the bread over onto the plate to reveal the creme brulée topping.


  1. In a small heavy saucepan melt butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth and pour into a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking dish. Cut six 1-inch thick slices from center portion of bread, reserving ends for another use, and trim crusts. Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit.
  2. In a bowl whisk together eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, Grand Marnier, and salt until combined well and pour evenly over bread. Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.
  3. Preheat oven to 350° F. and bring bread to room temperature.
  4. Bake bread mixture, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are pale golden, 35 to 40 minutes.
  5. Serve hot French toast immediately.

Simplify Things During the Holidays

You need a break from all of the fancy, fussy, time-consuming meals you’re making during the holidays, so try this Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Cider—with flavors that are off the charts! A creamy sauce flavored with shallots, cider, and mustard brings together pork and fresh pears in this fabulous cool-weather dish. And while sautéed green beans and wild rice pilaf would make lovely accompaniments, we made baked sweet potatoes with a shallot butter, thyme and a drizzle of maple syrup. Perfecto!

And easy enough for a well-rounded weeknight meal. What’s not to like about it?

Searing the pork tenderloins to get a nice browning going.


  • 1-1/4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter
  • 2 firm-ripe Anjou pears, each peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
  • 2/3 cup pear cider or apple cider
  • 3 Tbs. heavy cream
  • 1-1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme, minced

While the pork is “resting,” cook the pear slices until lightly browned.

After removing the pears from the pan, make the shallot sauce. 

Sliced tenderloin and pears arranged on a platter.

The finished platter with the cider sauce topping the meat.


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 500°F.
  2. Pat the pork dry, rub it with the oil, and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy-duty 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat until very hot, and then sear the pork on all sides until golden brown, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to a small rimmed baking sheet and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 140°F, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the pork to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 1 Tbs. of the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pears in a single layer and cook, flipping once, until just tender and lightly browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
  4. Add the remaining 1 Tbs. butter and the shallots to the skillet and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the shallots are just beginning to turn golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vinegar and stir, scraping up any brown bits. Add the cider and cook until slightly reduced, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the heavy cream, mustard, and thyme and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Slice the pork and serve with the sauce and pears.

Close-up of the baked sweet potato with shallot butter sauce.

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Scrub whole sweet potatoes and prick them in several places with a fork. You can microwave or bake in a 400 degree oven until soft enough to pierce easily with a fork.

Meanwhile, brown some finely chopped shallots in about a tablespoon of butter in a small skillet. In a small bowl, combine the shallots with more (up to you) room temperature butter, a little minced thyme, a drizzle of maple syrup, and finely chopped pecans (optional). Add a pinch of salt and mash everything together with a fork until well blended.


Dark Chocolate Mint Bark

Pure chocolate amazingness right here. So festive and so addictive!


For the past several years now I’ve been concocting different versions of chocolate bark for the holiday season. For 2015, it’s a tasty rendition on dark chocolate and mint—that is super simple to make. The surprise ingredient is incorporating Famous chocolate cookie wafers sandwiched between the two layers of luscious white and dark chocolate. And for the grand finale, topped with chopped Andes Creme De Menthe Thins.

Not only is it a treat to have in a candy dish for your noshing pleasure, but wrapped in holiday packaging makes for wonderful gift giving. So go ahead and make yourself a batch—or three…



  • One box of 28 Andes Creme De Menthe Thins, coarsely chopped
  • Four, 4.25 ounce bars of Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate, melted
  • Approximately 16 ounces of white chocolate chips, melted
  • 30 Famous chocolate cookie wafers
  • Few drops of mint extract
  • A bit of green food coloring

Layering on chocolate cookie wafers on the melted dark chocolate.

Spreading on the tinted white chocolate over the refrigerated chocolate layers.

The hardened candy before it is cut into chunks.


  1. Coarsely chop Andes mint candy and set aside.
  2. Place dark chocolate in a heat proof bowl (or double boiler) over (not on) simmering water and stir until melted.
  3. Pour melted chocolate onto a large rimmed baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Using an offset spatula smooth out chocolate until you achieve an even layer. Don’t worry about perfect edges. Clean out the bowl/pan to later melt the white chocolate.
  4. Press chocolate cookie wafers lightly into melted chocolate; and place pan into the refrigerate for 10 minutes to slightly harden the candy.
  5. Place white chocolate pieces into the now clean bowl over (not on) simmering water and stir until melted. Remove from heat.
  6. Add a tiny amount of green food coloring to tint the white chocolate and stir until thoroughly combined and even in color. Add a drop or two of mint extract; stir to combine.
  7. From the refrigerator remove pan with dark chocolate and wafers and pour tinted white chocolate on top. Smooth out using an offset icing spatula until you completely cover the bottom layers. Sprinkle chopped Andes candies on top.
  8. Return the fully assembled bark to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to harden completely. Cut into irregular shapes with a sharp chef’s knife. Store in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container.
Boxed up and ready for any occasion.

Heck yeah, this is easy enough to make on a weeknight.

Broiled Salmon with Ginger-Shiitake Glaze~

Salmon is one of our go to meals for Meatless Monday, and this particular recipe does not disappoint! The salmon was moist and the sauce was a lively combination of sweet and savory.

Though most glazes are applied with a brush, this chunky mixture of sautéed mushrooms and red peppers is spooned over the fish. The honey helps the crust brown, and a splash of vinegar and a spoonful of chili paste perk up the fish, while the vegetables add texture and color. The reds and greens lend a festive Christmas touch!

Although the author paired it with a stir-fried cabbage dish, we made a side of Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts with an Asian flair (recipe follows.)

Recipe by Tony Rosenfeld from Big Buy Cooking


  • 2 lbs. salmon fillet, skin on
  • 3 Tbs. canola oil, more for the baking sheet
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 small red bell pepper, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced (white and green parts separated)
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped ginger
  • 3-1/2 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 Tbs. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. Asian chili sauce (like Sriracha)
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch

The raw ingredients prepped for cooking.

The oiled salmon sprinkled with coriander.

Chopped red pepper and scallions.

Adding chopped mushrooms to the softened veggies.

The liquids are added to the veggies and the sauce starts to thicken.

The cooked salmon prior to adding the chunky glaze.


  1. Position an oven rack about 8 inches away from the broiler element and heat the broiler to high.
  2. Oil a large, rimmed baking sheet. Set the salmon skin side down on the baking sheet, sprinkle with 1 Tbs. oil, the coriander, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper, and let sit at room temperature (important) while you prepare the sauce.
  3. In a large (12-inch) skillet over medium heat, cook the red pepper, scallion whites, and ginger in the remaining 2 Tbs. oil, stirring occasionally, until the red pepper and scallions start to soften and brown, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, raise the heat to medium-high, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring, until they soften and start to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the honey, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce, and 1/4 cup water, and bring to a simmer. Whisk the cornstarch with 1 tsp. water and stir into the glaze. Return to a simmer and cook until the glaze thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
  4. Broil the salmon until it starts to brown and becomes almost firm to the touch, about 8 minutes. Momentarily transfer to the stovetop and spoon the glaze over the salmon. Return to the oven and broil for about 1 more minute so the glaze browns and the salmon almost completely cooks through (check by using a paring knife to flake a thicker part of the fillet). Sprinkle with the scallion greens, transfer to a large platter, and serve.

Serving Suggestions
Serve with steamed rice and Stir-Fried Napa Cabbage with Chile and Basil.

  • 1 medium-small head napa cabbage (about 1-3/4 lb.)
  • 1 Tbs. canola oil
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (about 1 Tbs.)
  • 1 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 1-1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 medium serrano chile, coarsely chopped (don’t seed)
  • 1/4 cup roughly torn fresh basil leaves
  • 2 to 3 tsp. fresh lime juice
  • 2 medium scallions, thinly sliced on an extreme diagonal, for garnish


  1. Slice the cabbage in half lengthwise. Position one half cut side up and slice it across the middle at the point where the ruffled, leafy top gives way to white stem. Remove the core, slice the stem end lengthwise into 1-1/2-inch-thick wedges, and cut the wedges crosswise into 1-1/2-inch pieces (the leaves will separate). Cut the leafy half in the same way. Keep the leaves and stems separate. Repeat with the remaining half cabbage. You should have about 5 cups stems and 4 cups leaves.
  2. Stir-Fried Napa Cabbage with Garlic, Fresh Chile & Basil Recipe
  3. Heat a wok or a 12-inch skillet over high heat for about 45 seconds and then add the oil, swirling it to coat the pan. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the garlic and the white stems. Stir-fry until the stems brown lightly in spots and begin to release some liquid, about 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce, sugar, salt, and chile and toss. Continue to stir-fry until the stems are barely tender, about 2-1/2 minutes.
  4. Add the cabbage leaves, stirring quickly to move them to the bottom of the pan. As soon as the stems are just tender and the tops are barely wilted, 30 to 40 seconds more, remove from the heat and stir in the basil and 2 tsp. lime juice. Season to taste with salt, garnish with the scallions, and add more lime juice, if you like. Serve immediately.

Other Side Dish: Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts

Chop the rest of the red pepper from the salmon dish. Heat a tablespoon or so of canola or peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add some minced garlic and fresh ginger, and cook, stirring constantly , until fragrant. Add some trimmed, quartered (or halved, depending on size) Brussels Sprouts and cook, stirring until bright green. Add the red pepper, plus a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon or two of rice vinegar, then cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the sprouts and peppers are crisp tender. remove the lid, raise the heat, and cook until most of the liquid evaporates.

The halved sprouts in the skillet with garlic and ginger. 

A close-up of the cooked brussels sprouts.

The salmon fillet covered with the chunky ginger shiitake glaze.

Pizza Party: Gluten-Free with Mrs. Z

Thanksgiving might be over, but happily, it’s always pizza season! And our pizza party formulated when Rosanne Zarrilli asked about weekend plans, and as luck would have it, we were wide open on Saturday night. So she suggested a relaxing, at home affair making pizzas and sipping wine. She was also aware that Russ has been wheat-free so she made a special effort to buy gluten-free pizza dough from Wegman’s
Thanks Mrs. Z—let the party begin!

A new visitor to the party, gluten-free crust from Wegman’s.

The appetizer platter.

Festive plates await the appetizers…

We arrived with a bottle of wine and a platter of meats, cheeses and olives, figuring if they didn’t all get eaten prior to pizza sampling, we could use the leftovers for toppings. Not necessary since Rosanne had a wide assortment of goodies for the pies. In particular, she purchased Risoldi’s homemade Italian sausage, an old family recipe popular in Mercer County, NJ. In addition, Mrs. Z produced some of her homemade meatballs along with a variety of cheeses and veggies.
Russ assists in opening the wine with a fancy contraption.

But before we started noshing, we enjoyed Rosanne’s wonderful holiday decorating touches. And if you know Rosanne, you know she always goes the extra mile—every inch of the house was spot-on festive! She even segued the Christmas theme into the dinner, starting with a beautiful and very tasty red tomato soup—Hearty Tomato Soup with Lemon and Rosemary, a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis’ repertoire (recipe follows.) Oh yeah babe, we’re making this again sometime real soon!

A swirl of creme fraiche adorns the tomato soup.

Can’t have Christmas red with out a green, thus the salad; a concoction she made from the Skinny and Martha Stewart sites—her rendition of Waldorf Salad—without the chicken. (She purposely left half of the salad unadorned with walnuts knowing Russ’ aversion to the nut.) Ingredients included: Bibb lettuce, celery, cucumber, green apple, green grapes, and toasted walnuts. The dressing was made up of:

  • 3/4 c buttermilk  (she used lowfat)
  • 1/2 c mayo (she used lite)
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1+ T chives chopped
  • 1+ T parsley chopped
  • 2 T finely chopped shallot
  • 1/4 tsp celery salt
  • pepper

The green “Waldorf” salad.

Now to the pizzas. First up, a gluten-free pie with that famous sausage, garlic, fresh basil, black olives, mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese. What helped make the crust crispy was rolling it out on corn meal, providing a wonderful crunch. The jury was in—we all were surprised how tasty this gluten-free version was—especially compared to some of the gloppy gluten-free pastas we’ve experienced in the past… Moving on…

Rosanne prepares the gluten-free crust over some corn meal.

Some of the toppings waiting their turn to shine.

Pizza number one using the gluten-free crust.

Pizza number two using regular crust.

A third pie using the gluten-free crust again.

Pie number two was a regular crust pizza with the infamous meatballs, red and yellow peppers, onion, basil, and ricotta cheese. Russ had to abstain, but I didn’t 🙂 Then came the final pizza, again using the gluten-free crust, and similar to the second pie as far as toppings. Lucky for us, there was a hefty portion of this last pizza leftover so we took it home and it enjoyed it for brunch on Sunday.

And God love Gary (Mr. Z.) About a month ago he had shoulder surgery and was still in an arm sling, trying his best to help out by pouring wine and doing dishes. We’ll just call that physical therapy 😀


Hearty Tomato Soup with Lemon and Rosemary


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can cannellini (white) beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, plus 1 teaspoon, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 cup creme fraiche
  • Zest of one lemon


  1. In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, and garlic and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, covered.
  2. Puree the soup in a blender in batches, being careful to remove and discard the bay leaf. Return the soup to a soup pot and keep warm over low heat. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. In a medium bowl fold in the lemon zest and the remaining teaspoon of rosemary to 2/3 cup creme fraiche. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and dollop each bowl with the lemon rosemary creme fraiche. Serve immediately.

Pizza, soup and salad, with good friends—not a bad way to pass a Saturday night.

Cozy Up This Weekend with Pork: It’s Forkin’ Delicious!


Be thinner than your dinner. Eat pork. A perfect fall/winter meal, and one we’ve made a few times because it’s quick, easy and mighty tasty! But if you decide to cook the braised cabbage gratin with it, plan on about 90 minutes from start to finish.

The chef, Mindy Fox, paired the pork dish with an escarole and apple salad but we had a head of savoy cabbage on hand and recalled a wonderful Braised Savoy Cabbage casserole from Molly Stevens All About Braising cookbook (see Feb. 23, 2014 blog under Braising Bonanza tab) and decided it would go perfectly with the Fennel-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin.





This time however we made a few alterations. Unable to purchase the Saint Marcellin cheese, we got a triple cream soft ripened with mushrooms called Champignon. And wanting to use up a small fennel bulb, we sliced it up and mixed it in with the shredded cabbage. Perfect combination!



Please note that the following recipe also includes ingredients and directions for the escarole salad—which we didn’t make.



  • 6 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. cider vinegar
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 small head fennel, fronds and tender stems finely chopped together, bulb cored and very thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 small pork tenderloins (1-3/4 to 2 lb. total)
  • 1 head escarole (about 12 oz.), leaves torn into small pieces
  • 1 Pink Lady or other sweet-tart red apple, thinly sliced


  1. Position an oven rack 6 inches below the broiler and heat the broiler on high. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk 6 Tbs. of the oil, the vinegar, shallot, 1/2 tsp. of the mustard, and 1/4 tsp. salt; set aside.
  3. In another small bowl, combine the fennel fronds and stems, the remaining 2 tsp. oil and 1/2 tsp. mustard, the garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper.
  4. Rub the pork all over with the fennel mixture. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and broil, flipping once, until just cooked through (145°F), about 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the fennel bulb, escarole, apple, 1/4 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper with half of the dressing. Slice the pork and drizzle with any juice. Serve with the salad, passing the remaining dressing at the table.

From Fine Cooking Magazine by Mindy Fox

Braised Savoy Cabbage and Fennel.
(see Feb. 23, 2014 blog under Braising Bonanza tab)

Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecakes

Last year for Thanksgiving I made Double-Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, and our guests LOVED it! (Blog post November 28, 2014) This year these same guests (Barb and Brad) invited us to their home for the Thanksgiving feast, so I decided to make a mini-adaption of the same delicious dessert (I found a recipe on from which to base my ingredients. My version is listed below.)

Since there were only going to be five of us for dinner (Barb’s sister Pat joined the party), and I didn’t want this decadent dessert tempting us after-the-fact, I cut the recipe in half and made only six mini-cheesecakes. They’re like “crack for sweet-tooth addicts,” so it’s best not to have many leftovers for the “users.”

Actually their dog Chloe made an even half dozen attendees!

With cocktail hour, we enjoyed a baked brie with apricot preserves.

The star of the show, roasted turkey and stuffing.

Barb and Brad showing off their gravy-making skills.

When we arrived late in the afternoon, the 16-pound, picture-perfect turkey was just pulled from the oven and “resting,” allowing time for cocktail hour with a baked brie appetizer—and enjoyed on their outdoor deck because the weather was balmy for late-November. Brad informed us that they cooked their bird according to the recipe of Melissa Clark, The New York Times Columnist and Food Journalist—author/coauthor of an astounding 32 cookbooks. Not only did it look fabulous, it tasted great too!

Russ assists Brad in carving the bird.

Along with sides of mashed potatoes, stuffing, and homemade gravy, I made a very colorful and delectable Maple Dijon Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Bacon (recipe follows). Of the two optional ingredients, we chose to include the crumbled bacon, but omit the Feta cheese. Because it came out of the oven almost two hours before we ate dinner, we did reheat the veggies for about 10 minutes.

Maple Dijon Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Bacon.

Since we were not going to have any leftovers this year, Brad graciously gave us the turkey carcass with which we plan to make a soup or gumbo in the near future. And while we do love to cook, it was rather pleasant not having to do all that goes into such a holiday meal for once…

The plated meal with all the fixin’s.

********************Mini Cheesecakes 
(makes 12)
For crust:
  • 1 cup finely crushed Famous chocolate wafer cookies
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
For filling:
  • 16 oz cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • ⅔ cup powder sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
For topping:
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet Ghirardelli chocolate pieces
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 30 miniature Reese’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups, 6 sliced in half and the remainder coarsely chopped

A visual pictorial on making the cheesecakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and line a cupcake pan with paper liners.
  2. In a bowl mix together graham cracker (or cookie crumbs), sugar and melted butter.
  3. Divide crumbs in the cupcake liners and press it on the bootom. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, mix together cream cheese, peanut butter, powder sugar and vanilla on medium speed until well combined.
  5. Beat in eggs (one by one) until evenly combined. DO NOT OVER MIX IT.
  6. Spoon cheesecake filling over the crusts and bake at 325 F for 20 minutes or until the toothpick comes out almost clean. (After 20 minutes, mine were nowhere near done, so I baked them for an additional 8 minutes.)
  7. Remove from oven and cool completely.
  8. Melt the chocolate pieces and stir in heavy cream. Spoon chocolate ganache on top of each cheesecake.
  9. Center a half of a peanut butter cup on each cheesecake followed by the chopped pieces. Then add a light drizzle of the ganache for garnish. (I even topped off each cake with several Ghirardelli pieces.)
  10. Store cheesecakes in refrigerator.

*************Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash


  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed, sliced in half through stem
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Dijon Maple Butter Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper


  • 1/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup Feta cheese or to taste—optional
  • 8 slices bacon, crumbled or taste—optional
After roasting for 25 minutes, and before the sauce and pecans are added.
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the Dijon Maple Butter Sauce ingredients. Set aside.
  3. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Add Brussels sprouts and squash, drizzle with olive oil and toss to evenly coat.
  4. Evenly spread out vegetables and roast at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes.
  5. Toss vegetables with Dijon Maple Butter Sauce and 1/4 cup pecans (it will seem “wet but will soak in the vegetables) then roast another 10-20 minutes or until squash is fork tender.
  6. Toss Brussels sprouts and squash with cranberries and feta and bacon if desired. Serve warm.

Close-up of the decadent Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecakes.