All posts by LynnHoll

About LynnHoll

I have been an artist and designer all my life incorporating graphic design for websites, gardens, publications, fabrics, interior design and cooking. I am now retired from my professional job, but still create artistic visions in all forms on a daily basis.

Casa Pepe in Córdoba

Our second trip to Spain centered on the Andalusian region in the southwest portion of the country, and our first few days were spent in Córdoba. Córdoba’s history can be traced back to prehistoric times, but the first historical reference is probably the Carthaginian settlement of ‘Kart-uba’, literally meaning “the City of Juba.” It was one of the few places in Europe where free Muslims, Jews and Christian people could mingle quite comfortably together. From 756 to 1031 it was the capital of al-Andalus (Islamic Spain).

As part of our trip, we had pre-scheduled a personal tour of the walled city with a third-generation tour guide Wallada (shown below with Russ) who was named after an Andalusian poet. At some point in her explanation of the history, Russ asked what her favorite restaurant was, and without hesitation she replied Casa Pepe. That was all we needed to hear…

IMG_7849Casa Pepe de la Judería restaurant is located in the heart of the city’s Jewish quarter. They specialize in southern Spanish cuisine with a modern touch. It boasts an eclectic interior, replete with a typical Andalusian patio, pleasant dining rooms and a charming rooftop terrace. Our first choice of getting seated in the center courtyard was not possible due to the long list of hungry diners, so we were shown to a small room with soaring ceilings featuring a chandelier and a chocolate-colored back wall.





While contemplating the menu, Russ was thrilled to see they stocked a Bai Gorri Tempranillo, a winery we patronized on our first trip to Spain over five years ago. It was a nice segue to begin our dining experience, and it only got better from there.


For starters we ordered their well-merited Creamy Croquettes, individually hand-made with stewed meat and Ibérico ham. After one bite, we literally died and went to heaven! Soft, fluffy pillows of luscious goodness, they will forever be the ultimate croquette to which we will compare every future croquette we encounter.



Desiring some colorful vegetables, we also chose another starter of Grilled Lettuce Hearts with Garlic and Peppers. Typical of Córdoba, this method of preparing lettuce hearts is served with crunchy garlic fried in extra virgin olive oil. There wasn’t a morsel left on the platter. FYI, the area surrounding the nearby settlement of Montalbán is one of the largest garlic-producing areas in Spain.


For my main, I couldn’t resist the Iberian Pork Fillet—after all we were on the Iberian Peninsula. Iberian pork is an especially tender and succulent meat because of the animal’s foraged diet of acorns and pasture. On top of being extremely tasty, it is also very healthy because its fat graining contains fatty acids that are beneficial to the cardiovascular system. Hands-down, the BEST pork I’ve ever eaten, my 100% acorn-fed grilled shoulder fillets came plated with roasted potatoes and Padrón peppers—their peculiarity lies in the fact that, while their taste is usually mild, a minority (10-25%) are particularly hot, although mine we are all on the milder side.


For Russ, it was also all about the pork. His choice was the Taco of Iberian acorn-fed ‘Presa’ fillet, marinated and grilled. Taco in Spanish means “tube” which describes the tenderloin that was then sliced down and spread across the plate with a side of bright red piquillo peppers sprinkled with fresh chives. We did exchange a bite of each other’s pork, but we couldn’t choose a winner because both of them were truly memorable.

Of all the places we ate in Spain on this trip—and there were a LOT—Casa Pepe stands out as the pinnacle choice of the eating establishments. Thanks Wallada for the suggestion! If you ever happen to find yourself in Córdoba, don’t miss the opportunity to feast on some of the best pork and croquettes you’ll ever taste.


Roasting Whole Heads of Garlic. Because You Should.

For several decades I’ve been roasting whole heads of garlic with extra virgin olive oil—because it is soooo worth it. I am amazed to find out how many people still have never attempted making this simple and versatile caramelized deliciousness! So here is a quick “how to” on the uncomplicated technique, and how you came tame it’s brasher profile for its softer side.

As far as the process, there are numerous ways to go about it, but I find the steps below work best for me. Sometimes I don’t even slice off the tops before roasting, but doing so certainly makes it easier to squeeze out the caramelized paste when they are finished cooking. I’ve noticed that many cooks roast their bulbs at 400°F, but I do mine at a lower temp of 325° so that they don’t burn (which has happened in the past.)


Doing it my way, you also don’t have any pans leftover to clean. Some chefs place the cut bulbs in a pie plate or in the cups of a muffin pan. I simply put them in a large piece of aluminum foil and fold it up to seal in the heat. When done, just toss the tinfoil in the garbage.


Did you know roasting garlic changes its chemical makeup so that it’s easier to digest? You can eat a lot more garlic if it is completely cooked, with fewer side effects than you would get from eating raw garlic. And just imagine that heady aroma wafting through your house as they cook! Pungent cloves go silky and sultry, warm and welcoming, like a bonfire burned down to glowing embers.

For garlic aficionados, you can eat the caramelized roasted cloves directly out of the heads—just sayin’. Once roasted, you can store the whole cloves covered with olive oil. My preference however, is to blend them with EVOO into a velvety paste, put in a tightly sealed loc-n-loc, top with a thin layer of EVOO and refrigerate.

The applications for using roasted garlic are endless. You can spread some of this buttery, nutty deliciousness on a piece of crusty baguette or make toasty garlic bread. Or use the paste (or cloves) in pasta dishes, mashed or roasted potatoes, over and under skin for roasted chicken, add to soups or even mix it with sour cream for a dip. I recently spread it over a pizza crust before topping with the other ingredients.

If you’ve never made this, today’s a good day to start—you won’t regret it!

Roasted Garlic Heads

  • Servings: About 3/4 Cup
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print


  • 3 Large heads of garlic
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fresh thyme sprigs, optional


  1. Preheat your oven to 325°F
  2. Remove any loose papery skin from the heads and using a sharp knife, cut 1/4 inch from the top of cloves, exposing the individual cloves of garlic. Don’t worry if a few of them are still intact, the garlic will still squeeze out later.
  3. Place the garlic heads, cut side up, in tinfoil, drizzle heavily with extra virgin olive oil (top with fresh thyme if using) and fold to completely enclose. Put in the oven for at least 60, or up to 90 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven, open the tinfoil to release the steam.
  5. When cool, squeeze each clove into a mini-blender and drizzle in olive oil while puréeing until a thick homogenized paste forms.
  6. Place into a container, drizzle on another thin layer of EVOO over the top, seal tightly, and refrigerate, where it will last for several months.
    IMG_8580ALTERNATIVELY: Squeeze the cloves directly into a container and pour enough olive oil over to cover them completely. Close tightly with lid and refrigerate.
  7. When ready to use, take the container out of the fridge for about 30 minutes to soften and let the oil come to room temp. Spoon out necessary amount.

Way More Than Meh…

For me, a pot roast dinner is certainly not the first meal that comes to mind when I think “company-worthy.” Until my later adult years, I’ve always considered it a “meh” meal. But this Zinfandel Pot Roast with Glazed Carrots & Fresh Sage recipe from cookbook author Molly Stevens altered my “meh” mindset. She thinks of it as dinner-party pot roast, and after making it, so do I—although for our first go-around, it was just for me and hubby, with leftovers of course.


It may seem a bit unwieldy at first glance when you take note of the long list of ingredients and the number of steps in the directions. Don’t shy away though, it’s great for a slow, lazy weekend afternoon. Plan on about 4+ hours from start to finish. After the initial prep of browning the meat and making the braising liquid, the roast will cook unattended for three hours (with just one flip midway) and fill your home with tantalizing aromas—prepare your self.

According to Molly, while the basic technique is the same as a regular Sunday night pot roast, the herb-flecked carrot garnish makes it dressy enough for company. Instead of braising along with the beef, the carrots are glazed on top of the stove in a bit of the Zinfandel braising liquid just before serving, so that they remain bright and crisp—a fresh contrast to the gorgeously tender beef.

At Molly’s suggestion, we used a combination of parsnips and carrots, which both cook in the same amount of time. Your first choice for this recipe should be top blade roast because its neat shape makes it easy and elegant to carve for guests. You can certainly select other pot roast cuts, which we had to because no top blade was available. In fact, we bought two smaller chuck roasts as that was our only option.

Molly’s recipe only calls for two garlic cloves, but “go big or go home” I say, so I tossed in four large. And you know I’m always touting the use of homemade stock instead of store-bought, but with no homemade beef in-house, I incorporated the Better Than Bouillon brand. Next time, we’re seriously toying with the idea of increasing the amount of wine and stock by 50% (1 1/2 cups each) resulting in more of the cherished liquid—it was truly oralgasmic!

Our pot roast was paired with garlicky, buttery mashed potatoes, yum! (Creamy polenta would make a good substitute.) Oh, and those carrots, we agree they may have been the BEST ever! In our household, braising season has begun in earnest…


Zinfandel Pot Roast with Glazed Carrots & Fresh Sage

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print


  • One 3 ½ to 4-pound boneless beef chuck roast, preferably top blade roast
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion (about 8 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • carrot, coarsely chopped
  • celery stalk, coarsely shopped
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup Zinfandel or other robust dry red wine
  • 1 cup beef, veal, or chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
  • Three large 3- to 4-inch leafy fresh sage sprigs
  • Two to three 6- to 8-inch leafy flat-leaf parsley sprigs
  • 8 to 10 black peppercorns

For the Carrots

  • 1 ½ pounds small to medium carrots, peeled, or ¾ pound each carrots and parsnips, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley


  1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees.IMG_8418
  2. Tying the meat: Using a kitchen string, tie the beef into a neat, snug shape.
  3. Browning the meat: Season the beef all over with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or other braising pot (5-quart works well) over medium heat. Add the beef and brown it on all sides, turning it with tongs as you go, about 18 minutes total. Remove the beef and set it aside on a large plate or dish that will collect any juices that the meat releases. If there are any charred bits in the pot, remove them with a damp paper towel, but leave behind any tasty-looking drippings.
  4. The aromatics and braising liquid: Return the pot to medium-high heat and add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine, scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen any of the cherished cooked-on bits of caramelized beef juices, and boil to reduce the wine by about half, about 6 minutes. Add the stock, return to a boil, and boil to reduce by just about one third, another 5 minutes.
    Return the meat to the pot, and add the sage, parsley, and peppercorns. Cover with a piece of parchment paper, pressing down so that it nearly touches the meat and the edges of the paper overhang the pot by about an inch. Set the lid in place.
  5. The braise: transfer the pot to the low third of the oven and braise at a gentle simmer, turning the roast once halfway through braising, until fork-tender, about 3 hours. Peek under the lid after the first 10 to 15 minutes to check that the liquid isn’t simmering too vigorously; if it is, lower the oven heat by 10 or 15 degrees.
  6. The garnish: while the beef braises, cut the carrots into sticks by cutting them crosswise in half, then cutting the halves lengthwise into sticks about 3 inches by ½ inch. This typically means cutting the thicker tops into quarters and the skinnier tips in half. (If using parsnips, remove any woody core before cutting them into sticks) You can chop the sage and parsley for the garnish now as well. Set aside.
  7. The finish: remove the pot from the oven. Lift the beef out with tongs or a sturdy spatula, set on a carving platter to catch the juices, and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid, pressing down on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
    Discard the spent aromatics (there is a lot of flavor in this and Russ likes to eat the solids and/or add to his mashed potatoes), and pour the liquid into a medium saucepan. Let the braising liquid settle, then if possible, spoon off and discard as much fat as you easily can with a wide spoon. Measure out ½ cup of the juices for glazing the carrots and set the rest aside in a warm spot.
  8. Glazing the carrots: heat the oil and butter in a large skillet (12 or 13 inch) over medium-high heat. When quite hot, add the carrots (and parsnips, if using), season with salt and pepper, and cook briskly, shaking or stirring them, until lightly glazed and brown in spots, about 8 minutes.
    Add the ½ cup braising liquid, cover partway, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until tender but not at all mushy, 6 to 8 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat, and bring back to a boil. Add the vinegar, sugar, sage and parsley and cook until the liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper.
  9. The finish: heat the remaining reserved cooking juices over medium-high heat, and boil for 1 or 2 minutes to concentrate their flavor. Taste. You may not need to add any salt or pepper, but do so if the juices are lacking in flavor.
  10. Serving: remove the strings from the roast. For a platter presentation, arrange the carrots (and parsnips, if using) around the pot roast. Alternatively, slice the roast into ½-inch thick slices and arrange the slices on dinner plates along with the carrots (and parsnips, if using). Spoon a bit of sauce over the meat and serve immediately. Pass any remaining sauce at the table.

Food Is Life.

Having recently returned from southern Spain where we enjoyed an other-wordly gastronomic experience, it was a treat back home to be able to dine at the nearby authentic Spanish restaurant, Vida & Comida (literal translation is Life and Food). Not long ago, our friends Paula and Mike Graham  enjoyed a fantastic meal there and knew it would be right up our alley.

Chef/owner Manuel J. grew up on a big farm in Spain. He moved with his brother to Switzerland where they both attended culinary school and eventually became executive chefs; Manuel then moved to America in 1979. He opened Vida & Comida in the center of Ambler in the Spring of 2017, and recently announced a new executive chef, Chef Abde Dahrouch, above right. Both chefs integrated their expertise to create a menu that is modern, yet accented with classical style.


But before dining at V&C, we got the party started at the Graham’s lovely home. Russ just couldn’t fathom making anything other than an authentic Spanish appetizer—and it had to be transportable for the 20+ minute car ride. Therefore he made these super-simple, but none-the-less super-tasty Manchego Cheese Canapés with Olives and Piquillo Peppers (shown above with recipe at this link.) And Paula made a beautifully arranged platter of cheeses, olives, peppers and mini toasts.



Lucky for us Vida & Comida is a BYOB, and we just happened to have brought back a Viña Albali Gran Reserva—a red wine from Valdepeñas with the best tempranillo grapes of 2011—from our trip to the mother country. A tasteful segue to begin the meal.



V&C’s carefully planned menu contains 10 mouth-watering appetizers, a couple of soups, 4 salads, 7 seafood options, and 6 meat entrées that include chicken, beef, pork, lamb and veal; not to mention nightly specials. Surprisingly, they also offer a traditional seafood Paella to-go; which is, by far, their most popular, and most talked about, dish.

Not only did we have the same mindset when making our appetizers, both couples actually ordered the very same thing from our starters, to the entrées, and even dessert!


Gambas al Ajillo—Famous Spanish, tapas style wild, Gulf shrimp sautéed with garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Russ has made this fantastic appetizer on occasion for company at home, on a much bigger scale of course. It is a hit every time, and you want to make sure to include crusty bread to mop up the leftover garlicky olive oil.


Corvina—Seared corvina with jumbo crab, corn ragout, grilled asparagus, and truffle oil. Paula and I were on the same page when it came to choosing this entrée. The perfectly cooked piece of fish came floating in a luscious pool of lump crab meat and sweet corn with just the right amount of truffle oil to pull it all together. The topping of grilled asparagus stalks added a nice pop of color and a pleasant toothy texture. Simply mahvelous dahling!

Interesting Tidbit: Corvina, a firm white fish similar to sea bass, is a general name for a bevy of fish found in many different parts of the world. They belong to the scaienidae family, which is better known as “drums or croakers.” Drum fish and croaker fish are differentiated by whether they produce a drumming sound or a croaking sound when they pop their heads above the water.


The men both went for the Medallones de Ternera Salteados con Jamón Serrano, Salvia y Vino Blanco, a riff on the Italian dish Veal Saltimboca. Three large sautéed veal medallions are suffused in a velvety white wine sauce with Serrano ham, sage and a medley of crisp-tender veggies, then topped with a bit of microgreens. Did they love it? You betcha!


Even though I’m not a dessert person, it didn’t stop the other three from indulging in some authentic Flan artfully plated in a large swath of melting caramel and topped with real whipped cream, fresh blueberries and a raspberry drizzle. Now totally satiated, not one of us had any leftovers this time around!

What a pleasant way to spend an evening which reminded us of our recent trip to Spain.

In the Tradition of Sicily

This Sicilian classic, made with sautéed eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and red pepper
flakes, is Italian comfort food at its best—it really embodies the flavors of the island.


A tasty and colorful recipe from the Sicilian gastronomic tradition, Pasta alla Norma is a triumph of Mediterranean flavors and was so called in honor of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “Norma”. The story says that in 19th century, Nino Martoglio, a Sicilian writer, poet and theater director, was so impressed when he first tasted this dish that he compared it to “Norma”, Bellini’s masterpiece. And the name lasted ever since.

Traditionally, I believe that penne was the pasta of choice, but here, we’re using a more healthy whole wheat fettuccini. Choosing pasta is no longer just about the size and shape. Whether it’s fettuccini, rigatoni or good ol’ spaghetti, white versus wheat is the latest supermarket quandary. While the stripped-down white stuff boasts a longer shelf life, not to mention a cheaper price tag, it’s considered nutritionally weaker.

It may take some getting used to, but in many pasta dishes we prefer its strong, nuttier flavor and more grainy consistency. With the right sauce or topping, adding whole wheat pasta is an easy way to enjoy a healthy meal and sneak those whole grains into the menu.

We were leaving for a two-week vacation a few days hence, so we made a concentrated effort to use up any foods that might spoil while we’d be away. Eyeballing a small piece of fresh mozzarella in the fridge, I cut that into small chunks and tossed it in when mixing everything together. We didn’t have ricotta, and I wasn’t about to buy any when all we needed was a few dollops, so I grated up our chunk of Grana Padano.


Note my optional comment in Step 1 concerning removal of excess moisture from the eggplant. The original recipe did not include this notation, but I find that eggplant is less mushy if you follow this process. And in the end, the amount of kick you add with the red pepper flakes is certainly a personal preference… you know my take on that…


Spicy Pasta Alla Norma

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil; more as needed
  • 1-1/2 lb. Italian eggplant (about 2 medium), cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 lb. ripe tomatoes, cut into 3/4-inch dice (or one 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, with juice)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 to 1-1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 12 oz. fettuccine, preferably whole wheat
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil; more for garnish
  • 1/3 cup fresh ricotta or 1/4 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving


  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
    OPTIONAL: Before sautéing the eggplant, place the cubes in a colander over the sink, sprinkle with salt, and let drain for 30-60 minutes to remove the excess liquid. Pat dry with paper towels, and omit the salt in Step 2.
  2. Heat 2 Tbs. of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add one quarter of the eggplant and 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring often, until the eggplant is browned and softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, adding more oil as needed.
  3. Heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the tomatoes and oregano, and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the eggplant and pepper flakes and toss to combine. Keep warm.
  6. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and transfer to a large bowl.
  7. Add the eggplant mixture, toss to combine, and add a little of the cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. Serve with a dollop of ricotta or some grated cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with basil leaves.

Adapted from a recipe by Lisa Lahey from Fine Cooking

Grilled Swordfish with Lemon, Dill & Cucumber Sauce; Plus Couscous Tabbouleh

You probably already know that you’re supposed to be eating fish twice a week. Fish are a lean, healthy source of protein. Keep in mind, mercury poisoning is still a concern when it comes to fish consumption, but there are ways to mitigate this risk. Because of high mercury levels in swordfish, limit consumption to once a week or less (I would go with the less concept)—and not at all if you’re pregnant. The FDA recommends only one 7-ounce helping per week of large fish, such as shark and swordfish.

IMG_7571If the weather is not cooperating outdoors, use an indoor grill pan to get similar results.

But, swordfish also offers many health benefits, especially for people who are following low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets. It has no carbohydrates and contains essential amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids. It contains a significant amount of fat—the majority of that fat consists of heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. These fats aid in lowering cholesterol and the risk of coronary artery disease.

Delicate and light, this cucumber sauce has a loose texture that’s somewhere between a vinaigrette and a salad. It complements most any grilled fish, so feel free to substitute salmon, tuna or halibut steaks for the swordfish.


Along with the fish, more heart-healthy ingredients appear in the cucumber sauce and the couscous tabbouleh. To intensify the flavors of the couscous, I used homemade shellfish stock instead of water. And it seemed that 2 cups of parsley was overkill, so I incorporated only about 1/2 bunch and that seemed to be a good balance. Finally, since we had lots of sweet cherry tomatoes on the vine, I picked those for the tabbouleh instead of buying plum tomatoes.

Add in a side salad and you’ve got a healthy superstar meal!


Grilled swordfish with Lemon, Dill & Cucumber Sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


For the sauce:

  • 1 medium English cucumber, peeled and finely diced to yield 2 cups
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh dill
  • 1 Tbs. minced shallot
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh mint

For the swordfish:

  • 1-1/2 Tbs. olive oil; more for brushing the grill
  • Six 1-1/4-inch-thick swordfish steaks (6 to 8 oz. each)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt


Make the sauce:

  1. Put the cucumber in a medium bowl. Add the lemon juice and the sugar, toss to combine, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Stir in the olive oil, dill, shallot, and mint, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to marry.
  3. Taste for seasoning again just before serving and adjust if necessary.

Grill the swordfish:

  1. Clean and oil the grates on a gas grill and heat the grill to medium high, or prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire.
  2. Meanwhile, generously coat both sides of the swordfish with the oil and season both sides with salt. Let the fish sit at room temperature for 15 minutes (while the grill heats).
  3. Grill the swordfish steaks directly over the heat source (covered on a gas grill, uncovered on a charcoal grill), without touching, until they have good grill marks, 2 to 4 minutes.
  4. Flip the steaks and grill until the second sides have good grill marks and the fish is done to your liking, another 2 to 4 minutes. (Check for doneness by slicing into one of the thicker pieces.)
  5. Serve immediately, topped with the cucumber sauce.

Couscous Tabbouleh

With fresh lemon and plenty of herbs like mint and parsley, the tabbouleh is a wonderful complement to the fish.

Couscous Tabbouleh

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 6 Tbs. couscous
  • 1/2 cup shellfish stock (or water)
  • 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
  • 3 ripe plum tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 bunch chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice; more if needed


  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring 1/2 cup water to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the couscous, 1 Tbs. of the olive oil, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
  2. Stir well, cover the pan, and let sit for 5 min. Fluff the couscous with a fork and spread on a large plate to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, season the tomatoes with 1 tsp. salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Add the couscous, parsley, scallions, and 1 Tbs. of the mint and toss.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and 3 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add to the couscous mixture and toss well. Taste and add more lemon juice if needed.
  5. Garnish with more mint if desired.

Both recipes are from Fine Cooking

Free Tapas. A Tradition Still Alive and Kicking in Granada.

What better way to get to know a new area than investigating it with a knowledgeable guide? And while we had a more typical tour planned for Granada, Spain the following day, on our first evening we had prescheduled a walking tapas tour. (Tapa is Spanish for a hot or cold appetizer or snack.) Our tour was set to begin at 8 p.m. and we were to meet the others at a nearby church. Easier said than done.

In these ancient cities, the roads are a bit convoluted with cobblestone streets, narrow passage ways, and steep inclines, to put it mildly. Well, suffice it to say, we couldn’t find the original meeting spot, but Russ recognized the first taverna, La Tabernilla del Darro, as we were scouting out the back streets. The place is an old water tank reconditioned and integrated into the typical buildings located on the banks of the Darro River.


We had no idea what our guide looked like, although we knew she was female and named Antonia working for a company called Devour Tours. For about 10-15 minutes we scrutinized everyone walking by—and the streets were packed with pedestrians and taxis due to the fact that a major parade was happening in town the following day. Eagle-eyed Russ finally noted a woman decked out in an white polka-dotted orange dress talking with 4 other tourists, and simply wrangled his way in and started speaking to her in Spanish. Later on, Antonia told us she thought he was some rude Spanish local trying to get in on the action!

What we learned was, in a culture almost unique to this city, bars and eateries around town serve tapas to patrons at no cost, whenever they order a drink! With every drink comes a different tapa, often more substantial than the one before, and several rounds of drinks means a full meal can be had—the only cost being the couple of euros paid for every glass of wine (or other libation.)

FYI, if you sit at a bar anywhere in town and ask for a tapas menu to order from, it’s a surefire sign that you’re a tourist because Granadians would never to think to pay for them. An interesting concept, though I doubt it would take a stronghold here in the U.S.


Our first drink in the grotto-like interior of La Tabernilla was an amber-colored, slightly sweet vermouth on ice, not my usual cup of tea, but I was game to try anything. While Antonia regaled us with the bar’s history, the group exchanged names as well as our points of origin. Two retired school teachers from Sydney, Australia—Karen and Sue (above left)—were in the middle of a 5-week extensive vacation to several countries that was to include a one-week cruise. Another couple, Gypsy and Don, hailed from Madison, Wisconsin.

Antonia herself was born in a cave-house in the Sacramonte district on the hill and valley of Valparaís just outside the city limits before moving into the town’s center as a baby. As an adult, she has lived in several countries, is fluent in five languages, and is currently tackling Chinese.



With our vermouth came the first tapa, a Requeté served on two plates with three forks each, which we were to split amongst ourselves. (As a guide, Antonia neither eats nor drinks.) Three breadsticks were erected in a mound of flaky tuna and piquillo peppers doused in a piquant mixture of sherry and extra virgin olive oil. Then, before most of us could even finish our drinks, it was time to hop off of the stools and head to our next destination, a not-too-short walk away.


Hiding in an abbreviated alleyway off Plaza Nueva, Bar Casa Julio has some of the most unpredictable opening hours in Granada, if they even open! The inside resembles a kiosk more than a bar, so most patrons stand around the four or five tall circular tables in the alleyway outside, as did we. Along with our sangria-like drink, the “summer wine” is a mix of red wine and lemon soda (which I again couldn’t finish in time), we were served two plates (with the allotted 3 forks each) of the tastiest fried fish I’ve ever eaten, crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside.

IMG_7927.jpgDon, Gypsy, Karen, Sue, Lynn and Russ salute the camera outside of Casa Julio.


Time to meander down several more streets and alleyways to our next stop, La Botilleria. Since opening in 2013, La Botillería has established a fine local reputation thanks to its elegantly presented food and thoughtful wine list. It’s smart in a modern, casual way, with a bar area for tapas and a back restaurant where you can enjoy full meals. In fact, Russ and I liked it so much, we went back there for dinner the following day.


While our waitress poured glasses of a crisp white wine and gave us olives to nibble on, Antonia let us know we would be served two different tapas and two glasses of wine. First arriving was the incredible Carrillada Tapa, chunks of succulent pork cheeks bathing in a tasty sauce plated with crispy potatoes fried in EVOO and a few thick slices of crusty white bread.


Next was another glass of chilled white wine and a delicate cod tapa topped with a tomato sauce and a side salad with more crusty bread chunks. Here we seemed to linger a bit longer…


The tour concluded a few streets away at our fourth and final destination, rustic La Tana. Somehow Antonia managed to squeeze us all into the space between the crowded bar and few sparse tables lining the wall. But feeling claustrophobic, without even elbow room to spare, we spilled back out onto the street. As it was the end of the “meal,” sweet Baileys Irish Cream liqueur, along with a cannoli-like dessert tapa were offered. Sweet is not my thing, so I sipped a glass of dry red wine instead.


Without even small bistro tables onto which we could rest our cocktails, it was quite a balancing act to sip and eat at the same time. There just so happened to be a window ledge on the building across the street where some of us placed our stemware. Mind you, we never had individual plates at any of the bars, we just used forks, fingers and napkins.


At this point it was nearing 10:30 at night and it was time to meander back to our separate accommodations. Russ and I were pleasantly surprised when we realized that our hotel was only a brief jaunt away—although a longer trek would have helped burn up some of those calories…

TAPAS: The origin of the term, is uncertain, with countless stories as to how and when the practice came about.

One such tale has it that under the monarchy of Fernando el Católico, it became obligatory for bar owners to serve food with alcohol as a response to an increasingly drunken workforce. As a result, patrons can now order a drink and be provided with a plate of something tasty to sop up the alcohol. Though the practice may be fading in certain parts of Spain, any visitor looking to eat tapas in Granada will quickly discover the tradition is still alive and kicking.

Sweet Dumpling Squash

How do you get to be our age and have never heard of a Sweet Dumpling squash before? Can’t answer that, but I do know that when we recently eyeballed some at the supermarket, we didn’t hesitate to purchase one.

Dumpling squash, botanically classified as Cucurbita pepo, grows on short trailing vines and is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family along with gourds and pumpkins. Also known as Sweet Dumpling squash, it has a striking exterior similar in appearance to the delicata and sugar loaf and is known for its unique appearance and size.


What’s ironic is, we had some “bonus” plants growing in our yard this summer, most likely from seeds in our compost. My plant identifier App “PlantSnap” established it as a Cucurbita pepo! The vines got ridiculously long and grew some beautiful yellow hibiscus-like flowers, but never produced the fruit.

IMG_6858Our “bonus” Cucurbita pepo vine got to be 5 times this length and was taking over the patio!

IMG_7015Hibiscus-like flowers from the Cucurbita pepo vine.

Of course there are as many recipes, as there are types of squash, so without getting too complicated, I wanted to make a simple roasted squash recipe with comfort-food qualities reminiscent of Autumn. After all, the new season just got under way and the weather cooled down. When cooked, Sweet Dumpling is smooth-textured, light, and tender with a sweet, mild flavor—just the ticket to complement our grilled lamb chops.

It is best suited for cooked applications such as roasting, sautéing, baking, and steaming and it can be used in both sweet and savory preparations. Its lumpy exterior and small size make it difficult to peel and are most often cooked with their skin on. But to me that’s the beauty of it—the shell creates a natural decorative bowl in which to serve it.

Tastewise, the squash is like, if a sweet potato, butternut squash and acorn squash had a flavor baby, it would be the Dumpling. It’s a little sweet and full of flavor. The texture is almost like a sweet potato – more dense and not as stringy as an acorn squash. So I used a similar approach to cooking it as I do when I roast acorn squash.

All at once with this recipe, each bite is sweet, savory and salty. Now that Sweet Dumpling squash is on our radar, it’ll be a more frequent guest at our dinner table.


Roasted Sweet Dumpling Squash

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1 Sweet Dumpling squash
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. maple syrup


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut the squash in half and remove seeds with a spoon. Use a fork to poke several holes in the outside skin of each half of the squash.
  3. Place squash in baking pan with hollow side up. Add 1/2″ of water to bottom of pan. Place 1 tablespoon of butter, 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon salt in the hollow of each squash half.
  4. Pour 1 tablespoon of maple syrup in each well. (It will run off the edges if you try to pour it there.) Bake uncovered on middle rack, and after 25 minutes, baste the entire flesh, including the edges, with the butter mixture.
  5. Continue to roast for another 15-25 minutes (40-50 minutes total) or until the flesh is soft and the top is starting caramelize.
  6. The buttery goodness will have pooled in the hollow, so using a spoon or fork, mash it all together (you can scrape it into a serving bowl if desired.) Serve hot.

Stuffed Mushrooms—Champinoñes Rellenos de Jamón

Hosting a small dinner party was on our horizon, but due to a mix-up, we couldn’t remember if we had charged ourselves with making an additional appetizer. (Senior moment setting in.) Our motto is better to have too much than too little—when it comes to serving company anyway. We were a few days shy of our departure to Spain, so hubby thought to get us in the mood, he’d make something Spanish.

It had to be easy and not contain a long list of ingredients, so Champinoñes Rellenos de Jamón fit the bill perfectly. Rich and salty Serrano ham is combined with finely chopped mushrooms, parsley and bread crumbs for a tasty filling. After heating them, just stuff the mushroom caps and bake for a short while and serve hot. Sit back, have a sip of wine, and enjoy your company….

Muy buena!

Champiñones Rellenos de Jamón

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 24 large mushrooms, 2-3 inches wide
  • 4 Tbsp. EVOO
  • 2 oz. Jamón Serrano, (or prosciutto)
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 3 sprigs Italian parsley
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon


  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. Clean mushroom caps of dirt and debris and rinse under cold water.
  3. Twist off stems from caps. Set aside 4 mushrooms for later.
  4. Brush or mist caps with olive oil and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 5-8 minutes in oven.
  5. Meanwhile, chop the reserved 4 mushroom caps into small pieces and add the lemon juice.
  6. Cut the ham into about 1/4″ dice. Sauté mushrooms and ham in 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil in a small frying pan for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  7. Finely chop parsley and place in a small bowl with the bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly.
  8. Remove extra moisture that has accumulated in well of mushrooms.
  9. Spoon stuffing into caps and place in oven for 8 minutes. Remove to serving dish and serve hot.

Trust Me, It Was About Thyme

Not surprisingly the historic Black Horse Tavern on State Street in Newtown closed—it was about time! Mishaps occurred on our last two visits—one incident involved spilling an entire glass of red wine on Russ. Red flag number one. But accidents happen, right?

Red flag number two occurred on our follow up visit as we sat starving and waited over an hour for our dinner to arrive. To everyone’s shocked dismay, the chef came out of the kitchen and started break dancing in the dining room, kid you not! To appease the disgruntled diners, they plied us with several glasses of free wine. (I think the chef plied himself with several free glasses too.) Neither scenario left us wanting to return for more. And online comments from other patrons left similar scathing reviews.

Luckily, in late August of this year, it opened under new ownership as the Thyme Bar & Grill, and we were game to try it out. Their menu includes lunch and pub fare with crab towers, ahi tuna, lobster roll, duck quesadillas, as well as burgers, truffle fries and wings; while dinner options range from jambalaya, sea scallops and rack of lamb, to king crab cakes and pork chops.


We were seated at a two-top next to a wall in the crowded upstairs dining room. It had been redecorated in soft gray tones with gauze fabric and tiny lights undulating through the rafters. The old stone fireplace prevailed and remains a focal point along with a large gilded mirror on the back wall.


The waitstaff was very attentive, although you could tell they were still smoothing out the kinks toward becoming a well-oiled machine. Our chosen bottle of red wine was not in stock, but we were given an upgrade to a pricier selection—a nice touch indeed.


For starters we enjoyed one of three choices of Flat Breads. Ours came topped with Boursin cheese, baby arugula, garbanzo beans and Kalamata olives. I must admit, I was a bit concerned about chickpeas on my flatbread, but it was very good; and the arugula added a nice peppery bite. Our one criticism would be the bread itself was slightly thicker than we prefer.


Luckily, there was no lapse in service under the new ownership. Our entrées arrived shortly after consuming our appetizer. Russ loved his perfectly cooked to medium-rare Twin Filets topped with sautéed greens and crispy herbed potato croquettes, resting on a bed of their silky house steak sauce.


I was in a seafood mood and finally settled on their Seared Sea Scallops that came plated floating on a puddle of creamed sweet corn, tomato jam and braised greens. While it may not seem like a whole lot, I was pretty full from the flatbread and took half of my meal home—which made for a perfect reheated lunch a few days later.

This “Thyme” the dinner was a winner!

Fajitas. Because You Should.

The history of fajitas is short, flavor is not. Most folks aren’t hell-bent on pondering the origin of the foods they like, but I occasionally like to go back and figure out how they came into being. The word “fajita,” as a reference to a particular food, didn’t even appear in print until 1975, about the time I became obsessed with Mexican cuisine. Yet, within a decade, it had become the hottest food craze in the country.

BTW, the word derives from the Spanish “faja,” for “girdle” or “strip”—thus the less desirable cut of meat. Technically, only beef has a fajita, but over the years, the term has been corrupted to mean any kind of meat or seafood wrapped in a tortilla. Its popularity lies in the fact that it’s a delectable combination of flavors and textures, and can be assembled with such ease.

Yes, you can buy the prepackaged stuff, but if you make homemade seasoning, not only does it taste really good, it’s cheaper than buying pack after pack of store-bought, lasts for ages and is full of only what you put in there—herbs and spices!

It’s really impressive if you have a fajita skillet that you can bring to the table sizzling hot. Although we pretty much have every other cooking vehicle, that is one we lack. But don’t fret, it’s just as easy to make them in a cast-iron skillet—and the fajitas taste just as amazing; and they are in actual fact, very healthy.

The most important thing when making fajitas is the marinade. This not only makes the ingredients incredibly tender, but also full of flavor. If you are feeling really adventurous, go ahead and make a side of Bobby Flay’s Avocado Crema. It adds a cool soothing note to the spicy fajita marinade. Recipe follows at the end.


We happened to have some already grill-charred long hot green peppers. I slit them in half, removed the seeds and stems, chopped them up and added them to the skillet at the end—they provided a nice little kick. If your meat seems a little too rare when you slice it, don’t worry, it will cook a bit more in the last stages when you add it back to the skillet with the peppers and onions.


Sizzling Steak Fajitas

  • Servings: 8-10 Fajitas
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print



  • 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking
  • 1 1/2 lbs. skirt or flank steak
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • bell peppers, thinly sliced (preferably two different colors)
  • large onion, sliced into half moons
  • Avocado crema, for serving* (see below)
  • Cilantro, for serving
  • 1 package, 10 flour tortillas


  1. In a large ziploc bag, toss steak in seasoning mixture (see below) with olive oil and lime juice. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, or preferably, up to 4 hours.
  2. Heat stovetop burner to medium-high. Place a cast-iron skillet directly on hot burner and drizzle a thin layer of olive oil to coat. Add onion and bell pepper and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are soft, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Meanwhile, shake off excess marinade from steak and season both sides with salt and pepper. Place in skillet, return to a medium hot burner, and cook to your liking, about 4-5 minutes per side for medium-rare, 125°F.
  4. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing against the grain into thin strips.
  5. Add sliced steak to skillet with veggies and reheat all for about one more minute.
  6. Garnish steak and veggies with cilantro and serve immediately with warm tortillas, avocado crema and cilantro.


Homemade fajita seasoning, hurray! A spice mix so tasty, so versatile, it can be used as taco or burrito seasoning too.



  • 1 tsp. Cumin
  • 1 tsp. Chilli powder
  • 1 tsp. Paprika
  • 1 tsp. Dried Oregano
  • 1 tsp. Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp. Onion Powder


  1. Mix together all the seasonings in a small bowl.
  2. Use the spice mix whenever you would use a store-bought version—generally mix it in with your meat and/or vegetables in the skillet/pan. (Add a couple tablespoons of water if you see the seasoning clumping in the pan.)

Bobby Flay's Avocado Crema

  • Servings: About 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


*Avocado Crema

Makes enough as a condiment for 12 small fajitas

  • 2 ripe Haas avocados, peeled, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Combine the avocados, water, lime juice, rice vinegar and honey in a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Add the cilantro, salt and pepper and blend a few seconds just to incorporate.

Spice-Rubbed Grilled Pork Chops

Juicy grilled pork chops make a perfect, quick meal and dry rubs are a terrific way to season them. Be sure to select chops of close to an inch in thickness—nothing flimsy—then grill them over steady, medium heat.


Opt for rib chops over the center-cut variety when cooking outdoors because their greater fat content helps keep them moist, and bone-in chops are preferred for their juiciness. You could add a barbecue sauce on the side, but we relish their crispy surface unvarnished.

I must confess, the pork chops I purchased were over 2″ thick!! My choice at the supermarket was either boneless chops—which I wasn’t looking for in this case—or very thin bone-in chops, which I knew would dry out. Obviously, cooking times need to be lengthened to accommodate the extra thick meat, but the directions below cater to a 1″ thickness.


In order to get the desired cross marks and a perfect doneness, sear over direct heat on both sides, then move the chops to the indirect heat side of the grill until they reach 135°. Carryover cooking will cause the temperature to continue rising after being removed from the heat source, so knowing when to pull the pork chops off the grill is critical. Pull from the grill and allow to rest on a cutting board, tented with foil, for about 5-10 minutes. Spot check the internal temperature after about 5 minutes to be sure you’re at, or almost at the target temp of 145°F.


Alas, the best laid plans… due to an emergency, I had to freeze the already seasoned chops until two weeks later. And it was raining the evening we actually had them for dinner, so I used another sure-fire method to cook the chops. Just sear both sides on high heat in a carbon steel or cast iron skillet. Then put the skillet directly into a 400° oven until they reach 135°. Tent with foil for five minutes to let the juices redistribute, and voila, juicy pork chops!


As I mentioned, our two-chops-in-one were over 2″ thick, so they took nearly 20 minutes in the oven to come to temp. But they came out with a perfect light pink interior and crispy exterior. Our sides of crispy/creamy baby roasted potatoes and savory, tender kale completed the meal. Not surprisingly, we had a lot of leftover pork which, when sliced down, came in handy for lunches and munchies…

Spice-Rubbed Grilled Bone-in Pork Chops

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 3 Tbsp. hot smoked paprika, preferably Spanish
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. coarse salt, either kosher or sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp. granulated garlic or garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne
  • 6 to 8, 10-ounce bone-in pork rib chops, 1-inch thick
  • Vegetable oil spray


  1. At least 1 and up to 8 hours before you plan to grill the pork chops, prepare the dry rub, combining the ingredients in a small bowl. Coat the chops with the spice mixture, place them in a large plastic bag, seal, and refrigerate.
  2. Fire up the grill, bringing the heat to medium.
  3. Remove the chops from the refrigerator and let them sit covered at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
  4. Spray the chops with oil and transfer them to the grill. Grill for 18 to 20 minutes total. Turn onto each side twice, rotating the chops a half turn each time to get criss-cross grill marks. (If your chops are much thicker, move them over to indirect heat for the time needed to reach 135°.)
  5. Pull from the grill and allow to rest on a cutting board, tented with foil, for about 5-10 minutes. Spot check the internal temperature after about 5 minutes to be sure you’re at, or almost at the target temp of 145°F. Serve hot.


Recipe adapted from Cheryl and Bill Jamison, found on Epicuious

Mexican Corn Salad (Esquites)

Corn season is on the wane here in the Northeast, but while you still can, make sure to try the following creamy and tangy recipe. This Mexican Corn Salad from Cook’s Illustrated features charred kernels whose nutty, slightly bitter flavor complements corn’s natural sweetness. It was a perfect companion to our main entrée of Grilled Cedar-Planked Salmon with Lemon Thyme Rub.

The corn is dressed with a mixture of sour cream, a touch of mayonnaise and some lime juice. Chopped cilantro and spicy serrano chiles add bright colors and fresh flavors. A half dozen ears of corn yields enough for 6 to 8 guests, but if you have any leftover, it’s still very good when reheated slightly.

Cotija is a Hispanic-style cheese named after the town of Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacán. This hard, crumbly Mexican cheese is made mainly from cow’s milk, and is white, fresh and salty thus bearing an immense resemblance to feta cheese, which would make a suitable substitution. However, with aging it becomes hard and crumbly like Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Mexican Corn Salad

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 3 tablespoons lime juice, plus extra for seasoning (2 limes)
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1–2 serrano chiles, stemmed and cut into ⅛-inch-thick rings
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 6 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (6 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled (1 cup)
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin


  1. Combine lime juice, sour cream, mayonnaise, serrano(s), and ¼ teaspoon salt in large bowl. Set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add half of corn and spread into even layer. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, without stirring, until corn touching skillet is charred, about 3 minutes.
  3. Remove skillet from heat and let stand, covered, for 15 seconds, until any popping subsides. Transfer corn to bowl with sour cream mixture.
  4. Repeat with 1 tablespoon oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and remaining corn.
  5. Return now-empty skillet to medium heat and add remaining 1 teaspoon oil, garlic, and chili powder. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  6. Transfer garlic mixture to bowl with corn mixture and toss to combine. Let cool for at least 15 minutes.
  7. Add cotija, cilantro, and scallions and toss to combine. Season salad with salt and up to 1 tablespoon extra lime juice to taste. Serve.

NOTE: If desired, substitute plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream. For the serrano chile, you can substitute a jalapeño chile that has been halved lengthwise and sliced into ⅛-inch-thick half-moons. Adjust the amount of chiles to suit your taste. If cotija cheese is unavailable, substitute feta cheese.

IMG_7508We served our corn salad at an outdoor BBQ along with Cedar-Planked Salmon with Lemon Thyme Rub.

Grilled Bistecca with Herby Fish Sauce

Has to be one of the top three BEST steaks I’ve EVER eaten! And to think I was a bit concerned when I saw it was basted with fish sauce. But then I started thinking fish sauce is umami, which pairs beautifully with steak. (Curiously, the Italian word bistecca is actually borrowed from the English “beef steak.”)


When it comes to the meat, it’s best to order a 1-1/2- to 2-inch-thick porterhouse that weighs in at 2 1/2 to 3 pounds a piece (figure about 3/4 lbs. per person). But the thickest I could get my hands on was 1 1/2″ thick and weighed in at 1.6 pounds. With that knowledge, I chopped off a few minutes in the grilling process to make sure it wasn’t overcooked. Ended up being the perfect amount for the two of us.

Porterhouse is the best cut (and usually the most pricey); failing that a T-Bone, and failing that, a strip steak. Absolute purists say that the T-bone should have filet on one side, and sirloin on the other. One piece of meat is expected to be shared between two and four diners—depending on how much it weighs. You’d be wise to contact your local butcher and ask to have the meat cut and weighed to your exact specifications ahead of time.

The meat should sit out of the refrigerator for at least an hour before starting. Okay, that being said, here’s another takeaway on resting steak at room temperature: Don’t bother. Rather, dry them very thoroughly on paper towels before searing. Or better yet, salt them and let them rest uncovered on a rack in the fridge for a night or two, so that their surface moisture can evaporate. You’ll get much more efficient browning that way.

I’ve also read when cooking thick steaks, start them on the cooler side of the grill and cook with the lid on until they reach about ten degrees below final serving temperature. Finish them off on the hot side of the grill for a great crust. Just the opposite of what this recipe calls for. I’ll leave you to have those arguments with yourself… I followed the recipe as listed below, and our steak was heavenly!

The 20 minute resting time is an excruciating waiting period because it smells absolutely divine; so let’s face it, we had to “taste-test” by dipping our pinky into the juices. This caused an automatic reaction of grumbling stomachs and salivating tastebuds. When it’s finally time to cut the meat off the bone, you are practically ravenous. But gather yourself together enough to slice those slabs against the grain and divvy up amongst the dinner plates. It’s probably a wise idea to have some crusty bread on hand for mopping up any stray juices, it’s just that good!


Along with some grilled long hot green peppers, I made an herby side salad of sweet multi-color cherry tomatoes freshly picked from the garden, and seasoned with oregano, minced shallot, olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper.



There’s only one 100% reliable way that I know of to guarantee that your meat will be perfectly cooked every single time, and that’s by using an accurate instant-read thermometer like the Thermapen by Thermoworks.
They can be a little pricey, but you will quickly make that money back by never overcooking another piece of expensive meat again, no matter how big it is, how fatty it is, or how many beverages you might have indulged in beforehand. In true Tuscan fashion, the steak should be eaten rare, but these directions are for medium-rare (125°)—just don’t go any more well done than that. Be prepared to oooh and aaah throughout the meal…


Grilled Bistecca with Herby Fish Sauce

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 2 (1 1/2″–2″-thick) porterhouse steaks (about 6 lb. total)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped marjoram, rosemary, and/or thyme


  1. Rub steak with 1/4 cup oil; season with salt and sprinkle with pepper (it should nearly cover both sides). Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.
  2. Mix garlic, fish sauce, herbs, and remaining 1/4 cup oil in a small bowl.
  3. Prepare a grill for medium-high indirect heat (for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off; for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of grill).
  4. Grill steaks over direct heat until nicely charred, about 2 minutes per side.
  5. Move steaks over indirect heat and continue grilling, basting with fish sauce mixture, until browned all over, about 5 minutes per side. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of steaks should register 120°F for rare; temperature will rise to 125°F (or medium-rare) as they rest.
  6. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 20 minutes before slicing against the grain.


Bistecca recipe by Ignacio Mattos found on

Ready For Dessert? Posset-tively!

Autumn was right around the corner, and it was a beautiful and warm evening when we hosted an end-of-summer, al fresco BBQ. The party started with some appetizers on the patio, namely the simple-yet-elegant Gambas al Ajillo in a cazuela, compliments of Russ. The other two appetizers arrived via Rosanne. The Pea Pesto Crostini (recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis) not only was gorgeous to look at, but tasted great! And her yummy little skewers were a mix of spicy sausage, and sweet for those with a more delicate palette.

IMG_7490A sliced baguette is a must with this sizzling garlic shrimp dish to mop up all of the luscious EVOO.


One of the guests was originally going to bring dessert, but the couple had to back out so Russ did a little online investigating and found this Lemon Posset with Berries on the Cook’s Illustrated website (recipe follows). The description of a silky, rich British dessert with bright citrus flavor caught his attention. The fact that there were only four ingredients made it that much more appealing.

IMG_7492Wendy and Rosanne keep me company in the kitchen as I prepare the Mexican corn dish.

According to Wikipedia: A posset (also historically spelled poshoteposhotte) was originally a popular British hot drink made of milk curdled with wine or ale, often spiced, which was often used as a remedy. In the 16th century the drink evolved into a cream, sugar and citrus-based confection, which is still consumed today as a cold set dessert—somewhat like a cross between custard and pudding.

IMG_7511Add a small shortbread cookie on the side for some crunch factor.

Using just the right proportions of sugar and lemon juice is the key to custard with a smooth, luxurious consistency and a bright enough flavor to balance the richness of the cream. Pairing the dessert with fresh berries for textural contrast helps keep it from feeling overly rich. One reviewer commented he added a pinch of Moroccan mint and a star anise pod, claiming the subtleties were delicious and totally complimentary to the lemon—although we did not include those touches.

IMG_7470Zesting and juicing the lemons for the posset.

Before dessert however, we enjoyed a main course of Cedar-Planked Salmon with Lemon Pepper Rub, Mexican Corn and Wendy’s cheerful tossed salad brimming with lots of healthy ingredients and containing almost every color in the rainbow.


IMG_7508A side of horseradish chive sauce is served with the salmon.

Lemon Posset with Berries

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: moderately easy
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Lemon Posset with Berries


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest plus 6 tablespoons juice (2 lemons)
  • 1 ½ cups blueberries or raspberries


  1. Combine cream, sugar, and lemon zest in medium saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Continue to boil, stirring frequently to dissolve sugar. If mixture begins to boil over, briefly remove from heat. Cook until mixture is reduced to 2 cups*, 8 to 12 minutes.
  2. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let sit until mixture is cooled slightly and skin forms on top, about 20 minutes.
  3. Strain through fine-mesh strainer into bowl; discard zest. Divide mixture evenly among 6 individual ramekins or serving glasses.
  4. Refrigerate, uncovered, until set, at least 3 hours. Once chilled, possets can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
  5. Unwrap and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with berries and serve.

*This dessert requires portioning into individual servings. Reducing the cream mixture to exactly 2 cups creates the best consistency. An easy method is pouring 2 cups of water into your saucepan first. Measure the water height with a wooden skewer, making a notch at that point. Bend the tip at the notch. Pour out the water, bring your ingredients to a boil, checking the depth after about 8 minutes. Continue boiling until the desired depth of 2 cups is reached.


Footnote: We made another Posset the following weekend for more company. It was lime-based and topped with fresh raspberries, shown below.