Foods That Inspire Love

Foods That Inspire Love


Foods that inspire loveI feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes;
Love is all around me and so the feeling grows;
It is written on the wind, it’s everywhere I go;
So if you really love me, come on and let it show….


–Rock song performed by The Troggs, 1967


In spite of the difficult world we live in, love is all around us, and we see it demonstrated every day, sometimes in the most unlikely scenarios. We observe it in overheard sound bites of passersby, sense it in random glances, and sometimes see it fully revealed at our work and in our homes.


Yes, it is the season of Valentine’s Day and yes, it is a Hallmark holiday that we all observe, willingly or not, and no, it is often not the favorite day of the male of the species (the pressure, the pressure!)


But there it is.


“Love is….”


No, we are so not going to go there.


Food is, of course, something we all require to survive and, as psychological studies have shown, so is love.


Many people show their love by the preparation of food. For some people, words and gestures are difficult and the presentation of specially-prepared meals becomes the finest expression of their feeling. Love is the attitude you put into the meal and that feeling carries over to the table. Meals that are rushed, and prepared with the anxiety of obligation rarely taste as wonderful as those made with time, sensitivity and thoughtfulness.


Any dish made with thought, time and care is a food of devotion, but undeniably, there are certain foods that are considered foods of love. It is no coincidence that they are often soft, creamy foods that remind us of the warmth of our mommies. By popular definition, the primary demographic group that shows love by genetics, culture or disposition with food, is mothers.


Those of us of a certain age remember the weekly meals Mom prepared:

  • - Fried chicken
  • - Pot Roast
  • - Meat Loaf
  • - Spaghetti and meatballs
  • - Stuffed cabbage rolls
  • - Beef stew and cornbread muffins


As we all know, biology doesn’t figure into the maternal instinct in the least. Any father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent or neighbor can lovingly feed a Scout troop, soccer team, classroom party or sleepover gang with the following:

  • - Homemade mac & cheese
  • - Grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup
  • - French toast with grated orange peel & real maple syrup
  • - Heart-shaped pancakes
  • - Waffles dusted with cinnamon/sugar and topped with whipped cream
  • - Double pepperoni pizza (delivered, pluheeze!)


Parental figures aren’t the only group that demonstrates their affection through food. Other social groups are well represented:

  • - Dating couples (What you can expect if you consider marrying me)
  • - Engaged couples (What you can expect regularly once we are married)
  • - Husbands and wives (special birthday and anniversary treats that are purely personal)
  • - Co-workers (through company pot-lucks)
  • - Children (chocolate chip cookies they have baked for their family)


There are other kinds of love foods and these involve a certain amount thought, planning, creativity and careful execution of timing:

  • - Roasted Salmon
  • - Steak and lobster (with clarified garlic butter)
  • - Crab cakes with spicy aioli/curry mayonnaise
  • - Latkes with applesauce and sour cream
  • - Eggs Benedict with homemade Hollandaise sauce


In preparing a meal for someone you cherish, sometimes similar ingredients can run together (roasted meats, potatoes, rice, and bread). If you are presenting a plate that looks too beige or monochromatic, toss some color onto that plate.


Consider finely mincing the following to add color, flavor and nutrition to a dish:

  • - English or Persian cucumber
  • - Bell pepper
  • - Tomatoes (in season)
  • - Carrots
  • - Artichoke hearts
  • - Capers
  • - Kalamata olives
  • - Grilled Japanese eggplant
  • - Pimentos
  • - Radishes
  • - Toasted nuts


On the list of beverages of love:

  • - Champagne
  • - Red wine
  • - Sangria
  • - Sparkling water with a fresh lime wedge
  • - Hot Chocolate with a splash of Peppermint Schnapps


Desserts: a memorable finish:

  • - Cheesecake (topped with fresh fruit, whipped cream)
  • - Red velvet cake (iced with a thick, sweet buttercream frosting)
  • - Chocolate (rich truffles are the best)
  • - Strawberries and whipped cream (simple, colorful and bright)
  • - Warm, gooey brownies (with a slab of ice cream and whipped cream swirl topping)


Remember, it doesn’t always have to be creamy, bland or sweet. The human palate appreciates surprise: Creative examples might include:

  • - Savory, sweet and sour (grilled Polish Kielbasa with sweet/hot mustard on fresh rye bread
  • - Salty, crunchy and sweet (Chopped nuts, fresh berries and granola topping Greek yogurt)
  • - Hot and cold (hot, crusty French rolls with a pat of cold. unsalted butter)
  • - Bland and spicy (chilled cooked salmon topped with homemade mayonnaise spiked with Tabasco, lemon juice  and Hot Madras curry powder)


Whatever your preferences, consider combining contrasting elements to compose a culinary difference that will invigorate and excite your family’s appetite.


But whatever you do, prepare it with contemplation, ample time, consideration and love.

"Love Is All Around" was written by Long, Morrison / D.j. Bobo, / Breitung, Axel.


Duluth Wedding Venues

Wedding Planning in the Duluth areaThat special question has been asked and you have a shiny, diamond ring on your finger.  Once the euphoria dissipates, it is time to get to planning your wedding.  This is one of the most important days of your life and we can help you do it right without the stress that most brides and grooms encounter when choosing a wedding venue.


The first task is to choose a date to get married.  Summer is a popular time in Duluth for weddings followed by spring and fall dates.  If winter is your season, there are plenty of wedding places in Duluth for you too.  Once a date has been chosen, you will want to book your wedding and reception venues as soon as possible.  Do you want to get married in one location and have a reception in another? Do you want to have the wedding and reception in the same place?  Are you anticipating a small intimate gathering or a big wedding ceremony?   How many people will you invite to the reception?  Answers to these questions will help decide where to look for ceremony and reception venues.


There are many Duluth and surrounding area wedding venues to choose from.  We have a few that we highly recommend in Duluth and elsewhere in Minnesota as well as in Wisconsin.  These venues are ideal locations for the ceremony and reception in one location.  They also likely have good working relationship with an officiate or two that they would recommend to officiate your ceremony.


The Inn on Lake Superior Hotel: This hotel is on the shore of Lake Superior in Duluth’s Canal Park area.  Their elegant ballroom can accommodate everything from small affairs to large scale weddings like no other Canal Park hotel.  Their location on Lake Superior provides a stunning background for your wedding ceremony and photos.  This location is great for an indoor or outdoor location.  You and your guests will also enjoy staying at this hotel in any one of its newly remodeled rooms with exceptional views of Lake Superior, the City of Duluth, or the Aerial Lift Bridge.


Glensheen Mansion: This historic mansion on the shore of Lake Superior boasts beautifully manicured lawns and gardens among a forest of trees and shrubs.  The large porch and patios are ideal for cocktails and wedding photos.  Glensheen is a wonderful location for a ceremony and reception.  The expansive lawn can accommodate a tent or guests can enjoy a meal in the Winter Garden room of the mansion.


Historic Union Depot: The Depot is a famous landmark in Duluth and is on the national registry of historic buildings.  Operated by the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center, the Duluth Depot offers a nostalgic feel and plenty of space for ceremonies and receptions.


Great Lakes Aquarium: What a special and different way to celebrate your special day than at the largest fresh water aquarium.  The aquarium has space for outdoor and indoor weddings and receptions.  Their waterfall wall will provide the backdrop to your first dance and serve as a gentle reminder of all that is unique about this wedding venue.


Fairlawn Mansion: Located just across the bay in Superior, Wisconsin, Fairlawn Mansion exudes elegance and the wealth of days gone by.  With a grand staircase for the bride to make an entrance, your ceremony will be extra special and your guests will have a full view of your wedding ceremony.


Brule River Barn: The Brule River Barn Wedding & Event Center in Wisconsin was born out of two parents wanting to provide a beautiful location for their daughter’s wedding.  The expansive grounds boast many gardens and ponds for you and your guests to enjoy.  The classic, rustic atmosphere will add charm to your wonderful reception.


Julianne James Place: Want a wedding in the woods of Minnesota? This is one of the most romantic locations for the nature minded bride and groom.


Choose a venue that works with your budget and your dreams for your wedding day.  Next topic is the food catering for your reception.

What a Crock! (Pot)

What a Crock! (Pot)
Yes, and Thank Heaven for It!

With the exception of Southern California, where the sun shines relentlessly (some CA natives would say idiotically) day after day, much of the nation is swept up in a cold snap this time of year.

Shorter, colder days beg for warming meals that stick to your ribs and give you something to look forward to after a long work day. These images bring comfort:
• In a pioneer homesteader’s log cabin: a cast-iron pot of bubbling venison stew hanging over the blazing open hearth
• In Little Italy: a long-simmered, garlic-fragrant, rich-tasting tomato sauce with sausage and meatballs for pasta
• Anywhere in America: a creamy split pea soup with tender chunks of smoked ham or Polish Kielbasa and finished with a bright sprinkling of crunchy diced carrot.
The modern slow cooker, aka crock-pot, has made all these warming meals possible, and in a fraction of the time for modern, busy lives.

When Mr. Irving Naxon, head of the Naxon Utilities Corporation in Chicago developed the Naxon Beanery All-Purpose Cooker, he had beans in mind. The inspiration came from his Jewish-Lithuanian grandmother who remembered her mother preparing a stew that required hours of slow oven cooking. In 1970, The Rival Company bought Naxon out, streamlined the design, and by 1971, America was awash in a sea of bright orange Crock-Pot®(s), just in time for the waves of women entering the workforce. Dinner could be plugged in at 7am and by the time the family arrived home at 6pm, not only was the meal cooked and ready, but a wonderful aroma greeted anyone coming through the door. That psychological lift was priceless. By 1974, Rival had introduced a removable stoneware insert, making the appliance far easier to clean.

Yes, we are talking about that life raft for working families: the crockpot (or slow cooker). Always an ideal wedding gift for young newlyweds just starting out and, conversely, often seen dust-covered, at nearly any garage sale in the country. But for all their migrations through the generations, slow cookers have never really gone out of style. The orange Crock-Pot®’s have given up the ghost for “smart” slow cookers with more heating variation controls and (thank heaven!) a stop & warm option. While perhaps in lesser use during the summer, they are a fixture at potluck gatherings and sports parties year-round.

If time is money, and many people think it is, the slow cooker remains an amazing economic asset. Not only is preparation time cut to a fraction, but the slow cooker responds best to those cheaper cuts of meat that require long, steady heat: stew, shoulder, round, etc. A fine filet mignon is bred and cut for quick grilling or sautéing. Drowning in a crock would only cause ruin, leaving it tough and juiceless. Preparation can easily be done the night before, the stoneware crock chilled overnight in the fridge, and plugged in first thing early morning. Fortunately, a whole host of dishes were made for perfection using the slow cooker, and here is but a sampling:
• Swedish Meatballs
• Cheese dip for nachos
• Soup
• Chili
• Spaghetti sauce
• Beef , pork or lamb stew
• (Tip: for optimum flavor, brown meats in a skillet prior to adding to the crock.)


Use chicken only if you are around to control the cooking process. Chicken, especially white meat, cooks very quickly and can become dry & stringy if left in the crock too long. Legs, thighs & wings lose their skin & they become slimy strands in the sauce. Shredded, flavorless meat is unappealing. The meat should still have some texture remaining to it.


Disadvantages of Slow Cooking

If there is a common complaint lodged against slow cooking, it is that many dishes seem to taste the same. Legitimately, this result comes from the popular use of canned soups to provide the sauce or “gravy” in which the meat cooks. Popular recipes for the slow cooker has often involved the use of canned soups (cream of mushroom, chicken, celery, etc.) to provide a sauce for the meat or poultry to cook. While they do emit some flavor, over the hours, the similar ingredient contents often cause the end result to end up tasting like nothing much. Plus, the sodium content is through the roof. In using a packaged soup, consider trying the newer, low-sodium packaged gourmet soups or broths on the market as a foundation in the slow cooker. The results will taste more individual and will be healthier.


Other Options for the Slow Cooker

Remember why Mr. Naxon invented the original Beanery All-Purpose Cooker: he wanted tender ingredients with a maximum flavor component.
So, while you sleep or work, let the slow cooker work these miracles for you:



Before you toss these ingredients in the garbage, consider what can result in a full-flavored broth if you relax and let this appliance do the heavy lifting:
• Chicken parts (discarded wing tips, hearts, gizzards),
• Beef, pork or lamb (gristly trimmings)
• Onion, garlic, leeks (toss in the crock before you throw them out, for extra mileage)
• Mixed fresh herbs (even those “going to seed”)
These can be tossed into the crock with a half-and-half solution of water and a purchased broth to simmer all day (or night) to produce a beautiful flavoring for future dishes. Simply strain off the contents and freeze in jelly or olive jars and you have a full-flavored broth at the ready for soups, stews, sautés, or virtually anything you want to prepare.


A Cautionary Tale

Fresh vegetables do not fare well long-term in the crock; frozen ones turn instantly to mush. Fresh veggies should be added in the last hour of cooking to retain their color, crunch and nutrient value.


Finishing the Slow Cooked Meal

To freshen up the long stewed meal consider these finishing touches:
• Add more fresh herbs
• Add a splash of port, sherry, Madeira or Marsala
• Add more broth to thin the sauce or gravy
• Add a stream of heavy cream
• A few tablespoons of salsa, for heat and color
• Color the gravy to a more caramelized hue with a splash of Kitchen Bouquet
• A squeeze of lemon or lime juice
• Add heat: Tabasco, Worcestershire, hot sauce, dried red pepper, diced jalapenos
• Top with minced, colorful raw vegetables
• Garnish with toasted slivered almonds, pecans or cashews for crunch and texture
It’s safe to say the slow cooker is no longer a recurring fad, like the Fondue Pot or the split-pan Omelet Maker. Through its evolving improvements and permutations, the crock is here to stay. It makes sense in today’s modern world, yet recalls that human desire for comfort, flavor, hearth, warmth, family and home, just enough, to ever go away.

The Foods We Love to Hate: Come on, Give ‘em a Chance! – Part 2

As we explored in Part 1, many lists of the most hated foods in America include the following contenders:


  • Spinach
  • Mushrooms
  • Broccoli
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Liver
  • Eggplant
  • Lima beans
  • Okra
  • Oysters
  • Spam®
  • Anchovies/Sardines
  • Mayonnaise
  • Kale



A generation of children was prompted to consume spinach because of what it did for the cartoon character of Popeye. Its properties made the happy-go-lucky sailor bulk up, get strong and beat up the bad guys threatening Olive Oyle. Even so, those dark green, limp, skinny, slimy strands that came out of cans in the 1950s and 60s were hardly attractive to anyone, let alone children. You could add butter and squeeze fresh lemon juice over it, but it still resembled something out of a long-neglected vase of cut flowers.

It wasn’t until fresh spinach became so prevalent in the market that people, especially women, realized its endless permutations. It can be used in virtually any dish; baked, sautéed, wilted or chopped raw—it adds color, texture and loads of vitamins A and C.



The market has mushroomed in recent decades, providing a host of unusual varieties for any kind of dish. Mushrooms are a great example of an ingredient that tastes totally different when cooked; much like carrots. Many people complain that raw mushrooms taste just like the dirt they were yanked from. But fear not: there are lots of choices. Dried shitakes can be rehydrated in broth or sherry, and then chopped fine for interesting soups and sauces. Large portobellos can be stuffed with crabmeat or grilled like a steak, then topped with an interesting sauce. The best way to change the mind and palate of the mushroom hater is to sauté sliced mushrooms in garlic butter with thyme or rosemary and add a splash of port once they are browned. The most incredible aroma will fill the kitchen, and when these are ladled over a sizzling grilled rib eye, well, closed minds can be changed.



The little green “trees” are delightful when cut into florets and dotted with pats of herbed butter. Season with kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. Pop them into the microwave and add a few toasted, slivered almonds and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice at the end. Leftover trees can be chopped fine and added to a salad for the next day’s lunch. Homemade Broccoli Cheese soup is another way to sway the naysayers.



We didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, but we know that those homely root vegetables are lovely flavoring for a stew or crockpot slow-cooker meal, as are their cousins, parsnips. They can also double as potatoes and benefit from baking and mashing in the same way.



Yes, they have a suspect color guaranteed to mortally stain anything white, and an unsuspecting taste and yes, they do bleed over everything, especially a salad. However, beets do have their place. They lend a delightful magenta color when added to hard-boiled eggs with wine vinegar, sugar and pickling spices. And they are the crucial ingredient in any decent borscht.




It is slimy, drippy and causes one to remember what the liver’s function is in the body; then it’s all over for a lot of people. Liver got a very bad rap in the 1950s and 60s when our mothers fried it to a dry, juiceless death. But liver does have some fine selling points: it’s cheap, flavorful, full of iron as well as vitamins A, and C, and quick to prepare. Chicken livers can be processed into paté with brandy and cognac, or dusted with flour and fried to a lovely crisp in peanut oil. Calves liver is transformed into an elegant meal when salted and peppered, dusted lightly with flour and sautéed in garlic herb butter. When browned, add a shot of dry red wine, port or Marsala and let it sizzle for a minute or two. The liver should still be pink inside. Lift your liver from the pan and place it on a plate. Bring to a boil the drippings in the skillet, then add a dollop of Dijon mustard and a drizzle of heavy whipping cream. Whisk until thickened, and pour over your warmed liver. As elegant meal as the French would prepare.



Full-size eggplants are awkward and unwieldy. Try the little beautifully purple Japanese eggplants for a switch. They are small, easy to manage, and cook quickly. Peel, then slice them lengthwise. Try them brushed with toasted sesame oil and soy sauce for a light vegetable with chicken. Or baste with mixed-herb butter and a bottled balsamic glaze. They have a mild flavor and if cooked just right, will not have that brown, spongy texture found in the larger varieties.


Lima Beans

Admittedly, they are an acquired taste. However, those children who were served them with Mom’s meat loaf and roasted potatoes eventually come around. It may not be until their 20s, but they do come to appreciate these beans with the lovely, light green color, that taste like they are good for you and have amazing versatility. Thawed baby limas can be tossed into hot cooked rice with a sprinkling of fresh dill for a healthy side dish. They can be mashed into a flavorful, calorie-free dip. Limas can also be sautéed with onions, corn, and bell peppers in butter, and then sprinkled with shredded cheese for a warming, comforting skillet treat.



Strange-looking and slimy when not prepared right; they are a curiosity to many living north of the Mason-Dixon Line. By all accounts, the sliminess disappears for the most part when they are fried, Southern-style, with cornmeal.



Another example of something that changes dramatically when it is cooked or baked. Raw oysters on the half-shell are a religious experience for many gourmands. For the first timer, it is not something they will like; however, some nugget of a pleasurable experience will remain in the brain, and once tried, only the circumstances remain to set things right. A squeeze of lemon juice, a drop or two of Tabasco, a dollop of cocktail sauce, a hearty slurp down the open gullet, and somehow, the world is set right again. Accompanied with crusty French bread slices and washed down with cold white wine, it is a meal for the gods.  Just read Ernest Hemingway. He was very emphatic about oysters when he described his sidewalk café meal in A Moveable Feast.



Forever scorned, Spam® still tastes pretty decent when Armageddon strikes. Or in the cold wilderness of a lowbrow camping trip. A true combination mystery meat, this long-lasting product comes in handy when hunger strikes with storm, hurricane or earthquake. And maybe if you top it with sweet-hot mustard and serve it on pumpernickel with dark ale, well…..Enough said.



Europeans love them. They sauté them in olive oil, load their whole bodies  onto toast or just mash them up in…anything. Even Americans have learned to tolerate the hint of anchovies in their Caesar dressing. It’s just a matter of adjusting and opening your palate, and understanding that a little…goes a very long way.



People either love it or hate it. Not much middle ground here. Mayo is nothing to be afraid of. It is simply eggs and oil combined. Perhaps it’s the pale, lifeless color or the greasy texture that turn people off. Mayonnaise is the one bottled product that you should buy top shelf. Bottom shelf brands do not measure up .The lovers praise it spread on cucumber, turkey and cold meat loaf sandwiches. Brush a thin layer on a piece of chicken or fish before grilling and you will enjoy a unique, moist boost. The difference between bottled, commercial mayo and what you can whirl up in your blender at home are like night and day. Homemade mayonnaise is the simplest and most elegant thing you can concoct, and there are tons of variations to experiment with.  Try adding Dijon mustard or hot curry powder or bottled hot sauce or fresh avocado and lime juice for a twist.



These mysterious, large, healthy leafy greens are becoming a favorite. Cook kale in a large saucepan with chicken or vegetable broth until tender, then drain and sprinkle with seasoned rice vinegar, soy sauce or Worcestshire sauce. Serve it as a side dish or over pasta or over grilled meat as a warm relish.


Brussels sprouts

Beaver’s favorite! Fortunately, smart manufacturers are now shredding this stubborn, dense veg, making it easier to absorb flavor and eat. No more cutting those tiny cabbs and have them spinning all over the plate and onto the floor. Tossed with garlic and olive oil then sautéed or microwaved with a finishing splash of balsamic vinegar, these sprouts can be transformed. Try sautéing them in butter with mushrooms and pine nuts or dried cranberries, and old eating patterns might be changed forever. Consider chopping the shreds fine and dusting them over a salad. Their sweet bitterness also lends an interesting crunch over cooked rice, legumes and grains


There you have it; suggestions for making the most unappetizing foods at least worth a try. And that’s the key. Try it, as your mother said, just once. If you don’t like it, you never have to eat it again…Until two decades later and some small voice in your brain says, try it again; one more time.


That’s all it takes.

Apples: The Ultimate Comfort Fruit

They have a pleasing spherical shape; come in many colors and sizes, and are plentiful year-round. Their perfume is intoxicating, they actually spit their freshness back at you, and Eve changed the whole of Biblical history when she was unable to resist one.


We are talking about apples.


Fuji, Gala, McIntosh, Empire, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith – they all have their special uses and properties.


Apples speak of the fall season in volumes. Even the consonants of the word trip crisply off the tongue.


They are inexpensive, portable, compact, easy to eat on the run and they can effectively stave off hunger, making them the perfect afternoon snack at work.


Children learn to like them early on, which is a great selling point.


An apple is one of the most versatile fruits a home cook can have at his or her disposal. Too often its sweetness reserves it for dessert uses but apples have a firm place in savory dishes as well. They provide a magical texture when diced onto a tart salad and their cider makes some of the best salad dressings.


The almighty apple’s uses go on and on: crushed and filtered into juice, pureed for applesauce, boiled down into jelly, fermented into brandies and liqueurs and used as a garnish in the vodka-laced Appletini cocktail.


Consider the following uses for apples:

  • Diced into coleslaw
  • Baked into pies, crisps, cobblers and tarts
  • Combined with cranberries for a relish
  • Sautéed sliced or diced with pork chops
  • Combined into stuffing for pork loin, chicken or turkey
  • Combined with bananas, onion and coconut milk for curry sauce
  • Added to caramel sauce and served over ice cream
  • Sliced and dipped into Greek yogurt for a healthful breakfast
  • Stirred into oatmeal
  • Mix apple jelly, rum (or orange juice) and Worcestshire sauce into a quick basting glaze for grilled chicken or pork.
  • Drizzle apple liqueur over vanilla ice cream
  • Mixed with raisins and nuts for a crunchy topping over pancakes
  • Spread apple butter over cinnamon raisin toast


Apples are a terrific way to start the day.  For a speedy, healthy morning meal, try adding a few bits of chopped apple to your favorite cold breakfast cereal and use orange juice instead of milk.


Cooked apples go with waffles and pancakes like peanut butter goes with jelly. These Quick Apple Breakfast Waffles will easily hold you until lunch.


Quick Apple Breakfast Waffles

  • Two frozen waffles
  • One apple, cored and sliced thinly (not peeled)
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Dash cinnamon
  • Dash brown sugar (or white sugar, to taste)
  • Dash ground cloves
  • Plain or flavored Greek yogurt (optional)

Place apple slices in small microwaveable bowl. Add unsalted butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, and cloves. Cover and microwave several minutes until soft. Toast waffle in toaster. Spread hot apple mixture over waffles. Top with a spoonful of plain or flavored Greek yogurt, if desired.


TIP: Prepare three apples this way in advance. These cooked and seasoned apple slices will keep all week in the fridge and can be simply heated up and loaded onto a hot waffle or a bagel half right out of the toaster.


The flexibility of the apple keenly fits the long history and symbolic lore associated with the fruit. New varieties are developing all the time and if we can just remember to use the apple where it’s not expected, we just might be in for an aromatic, sweet, crunchy and healthy surprise.

Making a Meal out of a Baked Potato

Baked potatoIt’s a staple food worldwide and in American kitchens too.
While we are familiar with only a handful of potato types, there are actually about 4000 varieties, many of which have been bred into the few hybrids we see today: russets, whites, yellows (or Yukons) and purples. Each kind has its culinary niche which largely depends upon its properties of waxiness.
The strongest and most robust of the clan is the russet. It’s a tough vegetable that can withstand a lot of handling and abuse. Most often used in soups, stews and baked; its coarse skin becomes crispy and flavorful when rubbed with a little olive oil prior to baking.
Many people rely on the microwave to bake a potato. This is a fine method if time is a factor. A baked potato, however, is best when rubbed with oil and placed in a 400 degree oven for one hour. The flesh is soft and fluffy and the skin has durably roasted to the point where it can hold just about anything.
This article is more about what to do with the potato shell after you’ve eaten the filling.
We’ve all enjoyed the potato skins served by chain restaurants as appetizers. Nature abhors a vacuum, so viewing that empty potato half as just another healthful, eatable container will cause many ideas to surface.
Baked potato shells have a natural reservoir crying out to be stuffed with something tasty. On the simplest level, most leftovers can be stuffed into the hollowed-out skin. This can include bits of meat, vegetables and a sprinkling of grated cheese. Topping the ‘tater with a garnish or sauce can recycle that ordinary tuber into a quick, appetizing meal.



Suggestions for stuffing your spud:
• Leftover beef stew, spaghetti sauce, shrimp scampi and rice, chili, beef stroganoff.
• Cooked broccoli florets, Craisins and slivered almonds browned in butter.
• Scrambled eggs with maple ham, bell pepper, herbs and cheese.
• A cold salad of chopped spinach, kidney beans, carrots and broccoli slaw.
• Leftover taco meat, green chiles, cheese and sour cream.
• Bits of smoked ham or Polish sausage with mushrooms and onions browned in butter.
• Tuna salad.
• For a vegetarian treat, try lentils or lima beans, dried cranberries and rice.
• Teriyaki-glazed chicken with chopped pineapple and water chestnuts.
• Italian sausage, spinach, red bell pepper and mozzarella cheese.
• A cold vegetable salad with green beans, cauliflower, carrots and ripe pears or minced apple.
• Potato salad with bits of chopped celery, green olives, capers and red bell pepper.
• Poached salmon with capers in an aioli sauce.


To make the stuffed potato even more special, try the following toppings for garnish:
• chopped green onions
• chopped tomatoes
• chopped bacon or pancetta
• grated carrot
• guacamole or chopped avocado
• crème fraîche or sour cream
• crumbled tortilla chips
• toasted, diced macadamia nuts
• Sun-dried tomatoes
• Wasabi peas/Wasabi roasted almonds
• Candied pecans


The possibilities are only as endless as the imagination permits. Whatever the filling, stuffed potatoes are a quick and economical lunch to take to work or a creatively nutritious and filling dinner. And…you’ve made the best use of your leftovers imaginable.

Sauces for dipping!

Instant Saucery… Right from your Kitchen




Everyone is dipping these days.


Many fast-food chains and restaurants feature condiment islands set up to accommodate the myriad of tastes out there, be it burgers, tacos or quick pan-Asian.


Teens have turned dipping pizza “Brooklyn style” in Ranch dressing into a national ritual. Even onion rings are now offered with blue cheese and ranch dressings on the side.


We have always loved to dip at social gatherings; beginning with ruffled chips in onion dip then evolving to tortilla chips and salsa, now the nation’s most popular snack. Even though the concept of the fondue pot dinner goes in and out of popularity every other decade or so, the required dipping sauces are what make it fun and unique.


Sauces can be quickly whipped up from ingredients most people have in their refrigerator and cupboard. From any of the following– olives, mustard, mayo, jam, lemons, balsamic vinegar, fruit juice, oil, dried herbs and spices– you can make a killer dipping sauce.




Here are a few ideas:


For salmon or shellfish:

Mix mayonnaise, sweet/hot mustard (or Dijon), and curry powder together then add a squeeze of fresh lime juice to taste. Garnish with a mint leaf.


For beef:

Combine sour cream (or crème fraiche), capers, Worcestshire sauce, Tabasco, horseradish sauce and chopped chives.


For pork:

Thin fig jam or orange marmalade with brandy, rum or orange juice; add ground cloves to taste. Garnish with grated orange peel.


For Asian dishes:

Stir together Plum sauce, soy sauce, hot Chinese mustard, a splash of rum and a few drops of toasted sesame oil.


Boosting prepared sauces is also creative fun and you really can’t go wrong.


Cocktail sauce:

Purchased cocktail sauces are often too sugary. Empty a jar of prepared cocktail sauce into a bowl. Add more horseradish, Worcestshire sauce, lemon juice and Tabasco. Stir to mix, refill the jar and you will always have “kicked up” cocktail sauce at the ready. This same method can be used to improve bottled barbecue sauce.


Even a bottled pesto sauce can be mixed with mayonnaise to create a beautiful and interesting enhancement to grilled chicken or fish.

Dipping sauces displayed on the plate in pretty, tiny condiment dishes make the meal appear more exotic, bountiful and colorful.

So, start experimenting and have fun discovering the wealth of flavors that can be created with the staples you already have on hand.

The Maligned Mushroom

The Maligned Mushroom


Mushrooms have always gotten a bad rap, but it is not entirely unearned.


They are, after all, a homely, spore-bearing fungus that, when unearthed, look like something unnatural that probably should have remained in the ground…Just the sound of the name tripping off the tongue is not especially pretty.


Indeed, many people feel that raw mushrooms, no matter how clean they are, still taste like dirt.


The fungus remains, however, a necessary component to great cooking and the mushroom world is endlessly prolific in the varieties it produces: criminis, whites, enokis, shitakes, portobellos….


Massive Portobellos are especially flexible:  they can be grilled like a burger for vegetarian barbecues, stuffed with crabmeat and cheese or sautéed like a steak and drizzled with a creamy green peppercorn sauce.


Mushrooms also have a quality of danger about them. That some can be deadly poisonous is part of the equation. So, add dangerous to dirty and ugly and the poor mushroom is constantly fighting for redemption.


But…something glorious happens to mushrooms when sautéed gently with butter and herbs. They take on a lovely browned tone and the harsh earthiness is replaced by a soft, subtle flavor. The aroma of mushrooms bubbling in butter is sublime.


How to Get Kids and Picky People to Eat Mushrooms


The key to introducing any new food is to mince it into tiny pieces so it provides color and texture and in no way resembles its gnarly former self. Kids and picky adults will not notice.


Sautéed mushrooms are a splendid topping for grilled steak. These can be sautéed ahead of time with chopped onions and a splash of port wine or Jack Daniels. Freeze ½ cup servings in baggies and you will always have a quick topping to use on a pork chop or chicken breast.



  • Clean whole mushrooms with a damp paper towel or a soft mushroom brush, manufactured just for this purpose. Never soak mushrooms in water. They are like a sponge and will absorb any liquid and lose texture.
  • Rehydrate dried mushrooms in beef, chicken or vegetable broth. When plumped up, remove and drain. Pat dry and chop finely or use whole.
  • Try ordering a pizza with just mushrooms. With the ‘shroom isolated, you will discover a light, lovely, subtle flavor when it is uncluttered by other ingredients.


The poor, homely mushroom deserves a chance.

Cooking Tip – In a Pickle: The Hard Boiled Egg Gets a Makeover

In a Pickle: The Hard Boiled Egg Gets a Makeover


This months cooking tip is all about the Hard boiled egg; they are so versatile!

They are healthy, handy, portable, cheap and surprisingly filling; perfect for a light breakfast or lunch snack.


At their simplest, they are delightful served halved and sprinkled with celery salt, lemon juice and course black pepper….or with peanut butter, sour cream and raisins. There’s no limit to the range of quirky toppings the bland egg will tolerate.


For a beautiful, flavorful option, try pickling hardboiled eggs in beet juice and vinegar. The result is a gorgeous magenta/purple hue that gracefully permeates the inside of the egg and adds piquant flavor. Combining the eggs and pickling mixture while both are still warm allows for better color penetration.






Pickled Eggs


10-12 extra-large eggs, hardboiled and shelled

1-15 oz. can shoestring beets

1 cup red wine vinegar

1 tbsp. pickling spices

Orange peel

3 Tbsp. sugar


Hard boil eggs, cool and shell while still warm.

Combine beets, vinegar, pickling spices, orange peel and sugar in saucepan. Heat and simmer 5 minutes. Allow to cool to just warm.

Pour unstrained mixture into container with lid. Place warm, shelled eggs in pickling mixture and refrigerate overnight.

Pickled eggs can be topped with:

  • Guacamole
  • Hummus
  • Chopped tomato
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Salsa

Waste Nothing

 Part 2

•Jars that once held olives or pickles can be recycled to serve as containers for mixing your own salad dressing.

•Any tin can, (soup, vegetable) and even frozen juice containers can be used for storing pan grease. Freeze and throw away when full.

•Apple peelings can be frozen and added to a finishing sauce for extra flavor when preparing pork loin.

•That annoying, unreachable half-inch of mayonnaise that lies deep in the big jar can be turned into a quick salad dressing by adding lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper and a sprinkling of an herb. The same goes for nearly-empty Dijon mustard and horseradish jars.

•Anything that comes in a jar or can should be rinsed out with some liquid that will add flavor, tossed into whatever you are presently cooking and leave you with a clean container to either keep and reuse or toss: Apple or orange juice for barbecue sauce, port wine for bottled marinara sauce, sherry for cream of mushroom soup.

•Herbs, lemon slices, onions and garlic that are in a decline can be used to create a court bouillon for future fish or chicken poaching. Simply add these to a half-broth/half water mixture, boil five minutes, cool, pour into a clean jar and freeze.

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