The Children’s Book that Inspired Me to Create this Risotto

The Children’s Book that Inspired Me to Create this Risotto

Occasionally, you stumble across a treasure your busy life would have you overlook. This happened to me last week when hubby forced me into the doctor’s office to get my flu shot. Whaaat… a treasure in a doctor’s office? Yup. As I was waited to get jabbed, I glanced toward the counter and saw a display of books – something to distract from the fact of my being here.

Here’s the backstory. The only reason I had time to get that flu shot was I was supposed to take grandson, Sammy for his birthday shopping trip. But, he got the flu … kinda karma isn’t it? So there I was, sleeve rolled up and nothing to do but page through the literature in an antiseptic lobby.

I spied this book.  Its animated cover drew me in, as did its title, Puppydog Blues. I picked it up, flipped through the pages, and discovered the cutest collection of childhood poems

I have read in a very long time. Nostalgia and irreverent joy overcame me. The story was so very similar to books I’d read to Sammy when he was a baby, and felt blessed to still be reading my newest grandchild, baby Josh.

Take a gander at this sweet, impertinent and intelligently clever writing from Puppydog Blues, and read it to your little ones if you still have them.  This stanza is a particularly fun one for you foodies to nosh on. It inspired the butternut squash risotto I went home and made after my doc appointment.

Eat Your Vegetables


The broccoli

Is stalking me.

It’s nothing I can prove.

I’m sure those

Aren’t “sweet” potatoes

That eye my every move.

That cabbage

Is a savage.

I think it wants my head.

The lettuce

Vowed to get us

When I’m sleeping in my bed.

The corn has ears,

It snoops and hears

It’s gone starch-raving mad.

The succotash

Is talking trash-

It’s mixed up really bad.,

This smorgasbord

Is off its gourd!

So what’s a kid to do?

The message here

Is loud and clear

Eat your veggies or, I fear,

They’ll end up eating you!


The book is written by Marshall Silverman. For more information contact There are both a paperback and hardback edition of the book. I bought them both!

Now, for a weekly recipe. Keeping up with the theme of eating your veggies, here is my recipe for a tummy-filling risotto sweetened with chunks of butternut squash. Enjoy!

Risotto with Butternut Squash

serves 2 as a main and 6 as a side dish

20 minute cuisine

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ half red onion, peeled and diced, about ½ cup

½ medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into small chunks, about 2 cups

1 teaspoon Tuscan Spice blend*, optional 

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 cup arborio rice

¼ cup dry sherry

3 to 4 cups chicken broth

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon butter

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the butternut squash. Sprinkle with Tuscan seasoning, salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes more. Add the rice and cook for 1 more minute to toast. Pour in the sherry and cook until the liquid disappears, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Pour in about 1 cup of the chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid disappears, about 5 minutes. Add 1 more cup chicken broth. Continue until all the stock had been absorbed into the rice. The rice should be creamy with just a bit of a bite. You don’t want it to be mushy! Stir in the cream, butter and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with parsley.

* I am a big fan of The Spice and Tea Exchange stores. I seriously could spend a whole afternoon sniffing and smiling in their Blowing Rock store. The great news is that you can find some of the blends on-line. If you don’t have the time to find Tuscan spice, substitute with a bit of paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and cumin. Or…. choose any of your other favorite blends. It all works!

For Mother’s Day, Why Not Experiences Instead of Things?

For Mother’s Day, Why Not Experiences Instead of Things?

I wish every day was Mother’s Day. We don’t need an excuse to honor the most special women in our lives, or bask in love ourselves. Moms come in all shapes and sizes… whether they are your Mom, someone else’s mom, a best friend who acts like your mom, a neighbor who’s mom to the whole block……Whatever the case, here is my suggestion for a better Mother’s Day:

Get mom (or persuade your loved ones to get you) an experience rather than a thing. There are so many ways to spend time together. To my mind, doing it over good food and art is the best way to go about it.

This global database of food and wine festivals is worth taking a look at. If you surprise mom with tickets for an event that’s further down the road in 2019, it’ll give you something to look forward to. You’d be amazed at how many foodie fests are happening in your own backyard. My food blog editor just went to a Mixology event in an art museum, where food and alcohol vendors had their best wares laid out around the Picassos.

As for me….I found a really cool event out in Phoenix this spring. Check out the slide show below! I will definitely go to the Nirvana Food and Wine Festival again – and I’d be over the moon (hint, hint, my children) if someone arranged to take me next year as an ahem…Mother’s Day gift???

Food Nirvana happened the last week of April, so for me, it was kindof a belated birthday treat.  Attending was a happy accident. I happened to be staying in the hotel where Food Nirvana was taking place. As part of our reservation, I received complimentary tickets to one of the events. I chose the Rosé Parté, an event housed in the famed Wriggly Mansion overlooking the city of Phoenix on one side and Camelback Mountain on the other. The views were breathtaking, even in 100° plus heat!

The festival featured all types of vendors with tastings of rosé wines and champagne. Local restaurants offered delicacies that included foie gras mousse wrapped in cigarette shaped tortillas, displayed in what appeared to be a garden of grass with edible flowers on the end of each roll.

There were individual deconstructed blood orange cakes, pastries of all shapes and sizes, and a Bloody Mary bar that rivals any I’ve ever seen. The Nirvana version of a charcuterie board was assembled on a gigantic dining table (which had to seat 20 or more) and laden with cheeses, meats and the most gorgeous loaves of bread I’ve ever seen. I tasted the Pâte à Choux, filled with salmon and topped with caviar and the tri-colored beet terrine. Oh, so special!

Yes, I saw celebrity chefs! Robert Irvine is cute, and as well-muscled in person as he is on TV! His dish consisted of a corn husk laid onto a plate, topped with beef short rib, splashed with the sauce and topped with what looked like an avocado cream and crunched tortilla chips.

Foie Gras Mousse with Edible Flowers

Pâte à Choux served on beet, carpaccio style

Blood orange cake with a sweet glaze & lavender ice cream

Nirvana version of a charcuterie board

The most epic Bloody Mar Bar you have ever seen

The pictures say it all. I had a blast and encourage you (with or without your Mom) to attend a food and wine festival if you get a chance. It is a HAPPENING! But, seriously… Mom is really the most special person on Earth, and if you need any food or entertaining advice helping her realize that, I am here. Email me at and I will reply before May 12th!


My Recipe for Hushpuppies is Too Good for Your Dog!

My Recipe for Hushpuppies is Too Good for Your Dog!

I’ve been cooking and craving Southern food from the Carolinas. Among my favorite things are those delicious cornmeal fritters known as hushpuppies. You can find hushpuppies in every diner worth its salt – the appy is served right from the fryer, into the paper-lined basket. You see them at every church fish fry, and on every barbecue buffet. No longer just a southern thing, you can find some version of hushpuppies on fast food menus across the country and around the world.

The lore behind the name has variations of the same tale. Confederate soldiers, Southern mamas and even nuns were said to use a deep-fried concoction of cornmeal, egg and seasonings to throw to the barking dogs to quiet them down. But, if we look back through America’s early written history, we can find references to fried cornbread that predates these stories.

Southerners have been eating fried cornmeal for a long time. Early writings refer to Red Horse Bread which was famously made by a well-known South Carolina fisherman. He served fried fish with all the fixins from his shack along the river; not only to locals but to prominent gentlemen and politicians from far and wide. An early newspaper columnist wrote, that Red Horse Bread was made by “simply mixing cornmeal with water, salt, and egg, and dropped by spoonful’s in the hot lard in which fish have been fried”. As it turns out Red Horse also refers to the type of fish caught and then fried.

How Red Horse Bread evolved to hushpuppies, is still a question for historians, but one theory is that these tasty cornbread fritters are used to hush the dogs howling in your your grumbling tummy.

This is my own version of that South Carolina fisherman’s special recipe. The great thing about it, is – you don’t have to follow it precisely to get a tasty result. Be as creative as you want with add-ins and sauces. I only ask one thing…. Please don’t feed them to the dogs!

Hush Puppies

With Spicy Remoulade sauce

serves a crowd

30 minute cuisine

These fritters are rich and doubly corn-full! They are really easy to prepare and a great appy for your Southern barbecue!

For Hushpuppies:

2 cups Hushpuppy Mix (like House-Autry brand)

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup frozen corn, thawed and chopped

¾ cup prepared chunky salsa

4 green onions finely diced

1 teaspoon creole seasoning

For Sauce:

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

2 tablespoons chili sauce

Juice of ½ lemon, about 2 to 3 tablespoons

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (like Frank’s)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 green onions, finely diced, about 1 tablespoon

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat vegetable oil in a fryer or deep pot to 350°. You need only enough oil to fill about 3 inches of your pot or pan. Stir together the hushpuppy mix, eggs, corn, salsa and creole seasoning. Allow the batter to rest for 3 to 5 minutes and then stir it again. Carefully drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. (Do this in batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan.) Use a wire basket to gently turn the hushpuppies in the oil so that they are golden brown on all sides, about 2 to 4 minutes.

Stir the ingredients together to make the sauce. Serve warm hushpuppies with the sauce on the side!




4 Killer Snacks for Your Last Minute Halloween Party!

4 Killer Snacks for Your Last Minute Halloween Party!

Here are a couple of last minute tricks you can use to make some tummy-filling treats for your Halloween crew; whether it’s a block party filled with kids, or just adults at an office Halloween bash. Because there are going to be as many individual tastes as there are costumes, I created a menu that is universally loved – from the six-year-old dressed like Dracula, to the middle aged couple decked out like Anthony and Cleopatra.

Honestly, these buffet style recipes are good no matter what time of year it is. Pull out these easy party recipes again for an Easter or 4th of July gathering, and everyone will still want more!

Mummy Dogs has REAL DEAL KETCHUP recipe!

Roll out a sheet of puff pastry. Cut it into 1-inch lengths. Wrap one strip of puff pastry around one hot dog. Continue with as many dogs as you like. Bake at 425° until the puff pastry is golden, about 20 minutes. Offer ketchup and mustard for dipping!

Chili Rolls

Who ate one of my chili rolls?!

Roll out a sheet of puff pastry. Cover with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Spread left-over chili (or chili-seasoned cooked ground beef) over the top. Douse with more cheese. Roll up the pastry over the filling, like you would a cinnamon roll. Cut into 1 ½-inch slices, and place cut-side up in a baking dish sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Place them a bit apart from each other to allow the puff pastry to cook all the way through. Bake at 425° until the pastry is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Skillet Nachos

Line a skillet with nacho chips. I used a large, cast iron skillet for this. Cover with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Place re-fried beans (15-ounce) can into a pot over medium-low heat. Stir in a little chicken or beef broth. This will thin the beans enough to make them spoonable. Cover the cheese with half of the beans. Top the beans with chili-seasoned cooked ground beef. Repeat the process so that you have two layers of chips, cheese, beans and meat. Top the skillet with more cheese. Bake at 400° until the cheese is melted, about 20 to 30 minutes. You can place the skillet under the broiler to really toast the cheese; after it has melted if you like. Top the nachos with your favorite toppings, like sour cream, salsa, chopped avocado, green onions and cilantro.

Chicken Fingers

Melt butter and stir in grated Parmesan cheese. Any amount works for this. The cheese is a salty component for the fingers. Mix panko bread crumbs with seasoned breadcrumbs. Season chicken fillets with salt and pepper. Dip the fillets into melted butter and then into breadcrumbs. Place each one onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Bake at 425° until the crust is golden and the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Happy Tricks for Treating!!!

From Tomatoes to Supper in No Time Flat

From Tomatoes to Supper in No Time Flat

Or should I say “splat” –tomatoes, especially from the farmer’s market, are extra juicy this time of year. As we sweat out the last of the summer, I’m sure there’s nothing better than a sweet tasting, ripe tomato – just look at all the varieties for sale right now – tomatoes in every size and color!

Heirloom, Roma, or standard, I love tomatoes on everything from sandwiches to salads, from breakfast to supper, from January through December.

I love them most right now. Something about the taste of heirloom tomatoes brings memories of those last days of sun-filled warmth; gets you ready for the crisp change in the air that’s soon to come.

This tomato tart takes advantage of every size, shape and color tomato you have ripening on your counter top. Then we take it over the top by adding cheese! Here’s my creation, a few minutes before it goes into the oven…

Since we are all about the tomato here, it’s okay (well, it’s maybe, sort of a crime…) to ignore the homemade pie crust portion of this recipe and use store-bought. Do give this crust a try if you’re feeling up to it! So far as pastry goes, it’s easy, rich, flaky; just the thing you need to elevate this dish into the perfect dinner. It’s an upscale version of a tomato pie, and a great way to hold onto summer just a little bit longer in every bite…

Let me know what you think!

Heirloom Tomato Tart

serves 6 to 8

20 minute cuisine, plus 50 minutes baking

For Crust:

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus ½ teaspoon for tomatoes

12 tablespoons, cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, 1 ½ stick

2 large egg yolks

¼ to ½ cup chilled water

For Tart:

4 to 6 heirloom tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices

1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, about ½ cup

1 bunch fresh basil, about ½ cup

1 bunch fresh dill, about ¼ cup

3 large garlic cloves, peeled

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup Dijon-style mustard

¾ pound Gruyere cheese, grated, about 3 cups

¼ pound Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1 cup

Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the chilled butter pieces. Pulse to form crumbs. Add the egg yolks and pulse to combine. Add some of the water and pulse to form a dough. Add more water as needed. Pour out the dough to your lightly floured work surface. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Place the slices of tomatoes onto a platter or into a shallow bowl. Place the parsley, basil, dill and garlic into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to finely chop the herbs. Season with salt and pepper. With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Spread this herb-olive oil over the tomatoes.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Pull the dough from the fridge and place between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll out the dough to about ¼-inch thick. It’s your choice to shape the dough as you wish, either a rectangle or circle. Use the plastic wrap to transfer the dough to a baking sheet. Remove the wrap. Use your finger to form a crust around the edges. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray (so it doesn’t stick) and gently push it down and over the dough. Use pie weights or dried beans to hold the foil in place. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil (with the pie weights) and bake until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes more. If the pastry puffs up during baking, use a fork to gently pierce the bubbles. You want it to be a flat tart. Remove the tart from the oven and cool to room temperature.

Lower the oven temperature to 375°. Brush the mustard onto the bottom of the tart. Place half of the Gruyere cheese over the mustard. Arrange the tomato slices over the cheese. Top the tomatoes with the remaining Gruyere and the Parmesan cheeses. Place the tart back into the oven and bake until the cheese is melted, about 20 to 30 minutes. Serve the tart warm from the oven or at room temperature.




Cookin’ with Love for Boone, NC!

Cookin’ with Love for Boone, NC!

I’m front row, left: this is at Linville Ridge Country Club where we cook for Hospitality House.

Twice this summer, residents of Linville Ridge will invade our Chef’s kitchen and cook dinner for over 100 clients of Hospitality House. This past class, we had over twenty-five participants (including a much loved, precocious 9-year old), and man did we do it up!

The menu included dense cornbread smothered in a cinnamon and honey-butter glaze, a tortellini pasta salad that has been my summer picnic go-to for decades, my (award-winning) chunky pork and butternut squash chili, and a nutty, chocolatey biscotti cookie for dessert! You can find all of these recipes in Sunday Best Dishes and at

Here it is plated:

This is how we do it. First, I organize the cooking into stations; one station for each dish. Because we’re feeding so many, it’s easy to find enough chores per dish to include five or six people at each station. My secret is to take everyone out of their comfort zones. I find out who loves to bake, and scoot them over to the salad station. Those who love to sauté move right over to that bad-ass mixer. The idea is that everyone learns a little something new to play around with at home. Everyone samples the meal and takes home the recipes. There are aprons and cookbooks as party favors. I am always overwhelmed by the generous donations.

They are necessary! We’re about to embark on a new project: helping Hospitality House upgrade their kitchen into one that is not only functional, but that can support teaching culinary skills and perhaps even help feed others in our community. It’s ambitious…. so, I’ll keep you posted!

Here is the tortellini recipe I made with my class. Enjoy as a light supper, or as a satisfying side dish. Easy preparation allows for all of the ingredients to be tossed with the vinaigrette and chilled until you are ready to serve.

Pasta Salad with Southwestern Vinaigrette
serves 6 to 8
45 minute cuisine

For pasta:
1 pound cheese tortellini
½ pound hard salami, cut into ½-inch chunks
½ pound sharp white American cheddar cheese, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 (7-ounce jar) roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
For vinaigrette:
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 medium lime (about 2 tablespoons)
¼ small red onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh cilantro
¼ cup fresh spinach leaves
¼ to ½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

Cook the tortellini according to the package directions. Rinse in cold water and place into a large bowl. Add the chunks of salami and cheese, and the roasted pepper and tomato halves.

Place the red wine vinegar, lime juice, red onion, garlic, honey, cilantro and spinach leaves into the bowl of a food processor and blender. Pulse to combine. Add the olive oil through the feed tube, a little at a time. The vinaigrette should be thick and completely emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour ¾ of the dressing over the pasta and toss to combine. Chill the salad until you are ready to serve.

Bring to room temperature, and toss with the remaining salad dressing for maximum flavor explosion!!!