HELP! I Need to Bring an Appetizer to the Party!

Who doesn’t love a party? It’s a mad dash for the rest of the year and there are TONS of parties. Let’s face it, we all love to be included, but when the word “potluck” comes out of someone’s mouth, you are never sure what to bring. Here, let me help you with a couple of links to easy crowd-pleasing recipes and a few of “no recipe” recipes for easy appetizers and dips. When clicking on my links, scroll to the bottom of the blog post to get to the recipe. I haven’t updated them all with the “jump to recipe” button.

Three Party Favorite Dips and Some Nuts

This Buffalo Bleu Cheese Dip is one of my most requested recipes. What’s great about it? You can use leftovers. You can make it ahead. It heats up equally well in the oven or in the microwave.

Bleu Cheese Walnut Dip – this doesn’t sound like it should work, but it is truly amazing. What’s great about it? You can make it ahead of time. It heats equally well in the oven or the microwave. You can eat it with fruit instead of crackers or crostini, so you feel a little healthier.

Really pressed for time on the day of the party? Make Deez Nuts NOW and have them ready to go! What’s great about them? You can make them up to 3 weeks in advance and store at room temp. They are everything you want in a snack – sweet, spicy, crunchy, salty. Put them in little half pint Mason jars and give them out as host/hostess gifts or hog them all to yourself.

The South has it right when it comes to Pimento Cheese. What’s great about it? Making it ahead of time only improves the flavor. You can make it as mild or as spicy as your crowd will enjoy. Packed in little Mason jars it makes a fun little host/hostess gift.

“No Recipe” Options

Photo by Sheri Silver on Unsplash
Pigs in Blanket – Photo from

I chose these because you can make them all ahead of time and reheat at the party, or serve at room temp.

  • Get the tub of Spinach Dip from Costco. Add a can of drained chopped artichoke hearts, 3 minced cloves of garlic and a healthy handful of parmesan cheese. (Yes, all of those ingredients are already in there, but it’s a little bland and lacking oomph!) Mix it all together. Take a round loaf of bread, make a hole in the middle to create a bowl. Dump the dip in (it won’t all fit – you’ll have a snack for yourself or try the simple app idea below), wrap in foil, bake at 350 until hot. Serve with Pita Chips. Can be warmed in the microwave.
  • Use the leftovers from above – roll out a sheet of puff pastry, smear the leftovers on it. Roll up starting on a long side into a “cigar”. Wrap in parchment or plastic wrap. Put in the freezer for 20 minutes until everything is firm. Slice ½” pieces, place cut side down on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 until puffed and golden.
  • Take a wheel of brie (4-6 oz) wrap it in puff pastry from the freezer section (Phyllo also works here if you have that on hand). Using small cookie cutters, cut shapes from the scraps, put on top of the brie. Brush it all with a beaten egg. Bake at 400 until golden brown. DO NOT CUT until completely cool. Serve at room temp with crackers, crostini, sliced apples or pears.
  • There is no such thing as too much cheese at a party! Cut a wheel of brie horizontally in half. Smear 3 Tbsp of jam on the inside. Raspberry, apricot, fig all work well here. Top with some chopped walnuts. Put the top back on, cut side up, and bake at 400 for about 7 minutes just to warm everything through, but not make it ooze. Serve with same dippers as above. DO NOT microwave.
  • It’s not a party without pigs in a blanket! But don’t be boring about it. Take a sheet of puff pastry, roll it out and smear it with Dijon mustard (or your fave mustard). Cut into thin strips (1/2” x 2”) and wrap around Hillshire Farms Little Smokies. Put on an ungreased cookie sheet seam side down. Bake at 400 until golden. Make them ahead and store in an airtight container in the fridge and bake at the event or bake at home and reheat until hot. DO NOT microwave.
  • Take pitted dates and wrap them in bacon. Bake, seam side down, at 375 until bacon is crispy. Cheap, thin cut bacon works fine here because you want the crispiness of the fat. If you want to get fancy and have the time, stuff an almond and/or goat cheese in the date first.
  • Pretty much anything wrapped in bacon is a good thing! Try sautéed chicken livers (check out Rumaki recipes online) or whole water chestnuts.
  • If you find a nice cantaloupe, slice it, and wrap the slices in thinly sliced Prosciutto or Jamon de Serrano. This also works great with fresh figs when they are in season for a summer party.

Happy Holidays and You’re Welcome!

My Life in Curry – Curried Chicken Waldorf Salad

When I was in my early 20’s I had one curry dish and hated it and was completely sure that I hated “curry”. And then real life happened. Friend Zam fed me these insanely delish Indian hand pies filled with curried beef after a drunken night out. Friend Babs from Jamaica made me her version of Curry Chicken. Of course, back then, I was not the cook that I am today and asked neither of them for the recipes. I honestly wish I could recreate those meat pies Zam fed me. They were like Jamaican Meat Pies in form and function but seasoned in a completely different way. Zam, if you are reading this, I need that recipe!

I honestly didn’t know that you could MAKE your own curry powder!

In culinary school I was taught that “curry” is nothing more than a mixture of spices and seasonings used to flavor a dish. Imagine my surprise when we were instructed to make Curried Butternut Squash Soup. After scouring the spice shelves and not finding curry powder, I was told I needed to make it. MAKE IT?! I honestly didn’t know that you could MAKE your own curry powder! I truthfully thought that it was like cinnamon. It sits there on the shelf and then you buy it. To be fair, even though I had to create curry powder in culinary school, and can do it if required, I usually just go to the Indian Market and buy it. Or I go to the Asian Market and buy the Thai Curry Paste that I like. If I was a true badass, I WOULD make my own, but alas I am not.

The flexibility of Curry is one of the best things about it

Curry is a vast, varied, and thoroughly tasty subject. One of the best things about it for me is the flexibility. It can be hot or mild. Nearly any protein can be added, or NOT if you are cooking for vegetarians. In many cases it is gluten free, so when my celiac suffering friends come to dinner, I can whip up something tasty to be served with rice. Several cultures have their own special blends and within a culture those blends can vary by region. Friend Natasha informed me that southern Indian is incredibly different from northern Indian. I am NOT an expert by any standard on curry (or anything else for that matter). I just know what I like.

Changing Minds with Gentle Introductions

Members of my family have insisted they do not like curry. A fact that I am happy to report I am correcting. Sister Nancy recently learned she loves Thai Red Curry when I sent her the shelf stable ingredients via Amazon to make her own and talked her through a simple process on the phone. My mom has said for years that she “hates curry”. I fixed that for her with my Curried Chicken Waldorf Salad. That recipe is below.

While variety may be the spice of life, curry is the queen of my spice world right now. I find myself slipping it in wherever I think a tried & true staple is boring. That’s how I came up with the recipe below. Curried Fried Rice? Sure, why the hell not? Curried Chicken Salad? Hell yes! As I type I am inspired to try a few other things that may or may not pan out. But experimentation is how all innovation starts.

Curried Waldorf Chicken Salad

Here is the low down on a true Waldorf Salad from the Waldorf Astoria Cookbook (copyright 1969 by Bramhall House Publishing). There are 4 ingredients in a TRUE Waldorf – apple, celery, walnuts, real mayo (not Miracle Whip – perish the thought), served on a piece of leaf lettuce. There are no proteins, no grapes, nothing else. Just those 4 things.

Obviously, we are deviating here. I cut my mayo with plain full fat Greek Yogurt. This does a couple of things. First it cuts the calories significantly. Second, the natural acids in the yogurt stop the apples from getting slimy and browning (something I discovered by accident when I was trying to reduce the calorie count), so you can store it for a few days in the fridge. Take note – the last 3 ingredients are to taste and desired texture. Start with the lower amounts and add more if you like a little more dressing or seasoning in your salad.


1 large or medium crisp red skinned apple, (Honey Crisp, Cosmic, etc.) cored, seeded, and diced in ½” pieces

1 rib of celery diced in ¼” pieces

¼ C coarsely chopped walnuts* (or more to taste)

3 oz cooked chicken breast (leftovers from a rotisserie chicken work well here), diced in ½” pieces

¼ – ½ C plain Greek yogurt

3 – 4 Tbsp real mayo (both Hellmann’s and Duke’s work well here)

¾ tsp store bought yellow curry powder – Madras curry is a good choice

A pinch of kosher salt


Put everything in a mixing bowl except the walnuts and stir gently to coat. Make sure you have enough dressing to cling to all the ingredients without it being soupy. Taste it. If you want a little more curry, add it ¼ tsp at a time until you get the desired flavor. Same goes for the salt. Keep in mind, you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. Fold in the walnuts last so you don’t further break them up into fine pieces.

*I find the best way to chop walnuts for this recipe is to lay them on the cutting board and using the flat part of a large knife, gently crush them. You’ll get nice nuggets of nut meat without pulverizing the entire nut.

Veganuary? I don’t think so!

A New Year

Like many of you, I start off the new year trying to be healthier. Don’t lie! You know you do it too! There are mantras of exercising more, eating less junk, drinking less, or cutting carbs. There are those trying a new diet, whether it be keto, Whole 30, WW or Noom. And then there are the month challenge people. The ones who make January “dry” or those that embrace Veganuary.

I can’t Embrace Veganuary

This year, I started tracking a lot of my small behaviors in an effort to improve myself and my health. I am tracking things like eating five fruits and/or veggies a day (I truthfully suck at it because I am a carbaholic). But I can’t go so far as to embrace Veganuary because it is, after all LeAnneuary*. I’d have to cut out ALL of my favorite foods and I simply cannot have that kind of restriction while I celebrate! I AM, however, trying to make at least one meal a week “mostly meatless”. And by that, I mean that I am not eliminating the umami power of anchovy paste or Parmigiana Reggiano. I am not eliminating the wonderful egg, or rendered fat of beasts for pan frying or sautéing. I am simply not making meat the focus of the dish.

For those of us that grew up with a meat, a starch, and a veg on the plate (with maybe a salad tossed on the side), changing up the way you think of dinner is a challenge. One of the challenges I have set for myself is to use ALL of the veggies from my Bountiful Baskets Co-Op purchase each week I choose to participate. This, in itself, is monumental! You really get a lot of bang for your buck with this particular Co-Op (look into what’s available in your area). We’ve been doing a lot more salads, incorporating veggies into dishes where they weren’t featured before, and making veggies the FOCUS of the dishes instead of the meat.

Bountiful Baskets Produce
This is what one “regular” basket plus a couple of add ons looks like from Bountiful Baskets

When thinking about cooking for Veganuary or any vegan meal, try Thug Kitchen cookbooks. They are peppered with profanity and offer up some pretty tasty options. Also look at What The Fuck Should I Make for Dinner. Each day there will be a different menu – one for omnivores and one for vegetarians or those celebrating Veganuary. And get the book. Many of the recipes can be altered to be vegetarian and there are great veg mains and salads like a vegan fennel salad with citrus and avocado, or a frisee (aka curly endive), apple and lemon salad. All of the recipes in WTF are infinitely “riff-able”; for example, I made the frisee salad for a get together, and subbed radicchio and sweet apples for the Belgian endive and tart apples called for and it was glorious anyway! Oh, and try this recipe I found in the New York Times. It was more delicious than a vegan recipe had any right to be. I ended up using the left over tahini dressing on shawarma salads.

It’s not too late to celebrate Veganuary if you choose. There are 10 days left to embrace your inner veg-head. Try out this recipe. To make it Vegan – simply eliminate the anchovy paste and the cheese. It’ll still taste great, I promise! The best part of this recipe is that you can do nearly all of the prep work while the cauliflower is roasting, so there is no wasted time.

Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta and Pine Nuts

Serves 4 generously. Total time, including the roasting of the veggies – about an hour
• 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
• Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• Kosher Salt
• Black pepper
• Crushed red pepper flakes
• 6 large cloves garlic, crushed into a paste or finely minced – for divided use
• 1 lb pasta – choose a fun shape like cavatappi or campanelle
• 1 shallot – finely diced
• 1 tbsp anchovy paste (optional)
• ½ C dry white wine
• 1 lemon – zested and juiced
• 3 – 4 tbsp Pine nuts (aka pignolis) toasted in a dry skillet – do this carefully and watch them like a hawk, they will go from not done to burnt in the blink of an eye. (see notes)
• 3 – 4 tbsp capers, drained, rinsed and dried in a hot dry skillet (trust me, you’ll get more caper flavor and less brine flavor this way)
• 3 tbsp Finely chopped fresh parsley if you have it on hand – totally optional (see Notes)
• Grated Parmigiana Reggiano or Pecorino Romano for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400.
Step 1 – Toss florets with ¼ – 1/3 cup of olive oil, a tsp of Kosher salt, ½ of the garlic, and a ½ tsp each ground black pepper and the crushed red pepper. Place on a shallow rimmed baking sheet in the preheated oven and roast, shaking the pan and tossing the cauliflower frequently, for 30-40 minutes until it is dark golden brown.

Roasted Cauliflower
The florets should be bite sized. You don’t need a knife to eat this dish. And remember what Anne Burrell says…”Brown food is good food.”

Step 2 – While cauliflower is roasting, do your prep. Dice the shallot, zest and juice the lemon; and drain, rinse, and dry the capers (see pic below). Finely chop the parsley, if using. Set everything aside.

Build a flavor ladder when you cook.
These are the prep ingredients. from Top center: Pecorino Romano, juice of one lemon, anchovy paste, zest of one lemon, garlic mashed into a paste, finely diced shallot, the dried capers.
Capers get dried in a skillet for more flavor
Drain and rinse the capers. Then “toast” them in a hot dry skillet until they start to pop a little. You will get more caper flavor and less brine flavor that way.

Step 3 – Bring a pot of salted water to a boil (always remember – your pasta water should be as salty as the ocean) using HALF the water you think you should. You want the water to be super starchy because it will help make the base of your sauce. Cook the pasta until just al dente, or firm to the bite, remembering that it will cook a little more in the skillet. Remove 2 cups of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta (DO NOT RINSE IT) and leave it in the colander.
Step 4 – Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, about 3 tbsp, and heat until it shimmers. Sauté the shallots until softened, add the remaining garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the anchovy paste and continue to cook until the shallots just start to brown. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up any delicious browned bits on the bottom of the pan (this is called the “fond” and is a big part of your flavor ladder when building a sauce). Reduce the liquid by half – don’t skip this step or all you will taste is the wine; wine, like everything needs to cook to mellow out. Add in the starchy pasta water and cook until a thin sauce forms – about 2 minutes. Stir in ½ of the lemon juice (reserve remainder for another use), then add the pasta and the cauliflower, stirring to coat. If you didn’t use the anchovy paste, taste for salt and add if necessary. If you used the anchovy paste, AND you properly salted your water, you shouldn’t need any salt.
Finally – stir in the lemon zest, pine nuts and parsley. Either put into individual serving bowls or transfer to a platter for family style service with the cheese and additional crushed red pepper on the side for serving.

Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta & Pine Nuts
The finished dish. Sadly it doesn’t photograph really well, but trust me, It’s delish!

• I often get fresh parsley from the Co-Op. Adding it for color and freshness to this type of recipe is an easy way to use it up.
• You can toast the pine nuts ahead of time and store in an air tight container until ready to use
• The cauliflower can be roasted ahead of time and stored in the fridge. For example – double the roasted cauliflower one night as a side dish and make and assemble the recipe for dinner the following night using the leftovers.

*I celebrate the entire month of my birth, as my friend Deb taught me to do years ago. I know many of you will think it’s a “basic bitch” thing to do and I really don’t give a flying fuck. You celebrate YOUR birthday any way you like, or not; for me, I will have LeAnneuary.

The Best Oats You’ll Ever Eat

In all honesty I was never a fan of oatmeal. It’s a texture thing. But they are supposed to be good for you so I tried them again as an adult, and again, it was a texture thing so I started incorporating oatmeal into my diet in other ways – granola, cookies, toppings for crisps and crumbles – but those are not the healthiest options.

Several years ago while attending a wedding together, high school friend and fellow blogger Shari (she writes Life According to Somebody) tells me about steel cut oats. Now if course I had tried them before with the same result of disliking the texture. She proceeds to tell me about cooking them in cider…

WAIT! WHAT? I am a total convert!

When you cook steel cut oats in cider or apple juice something magical happens and now I love oatmeal in the morning. The oats don’t get that slimy texture that I find off putting, and they are chewy and toothsome when cooked in the cider. It’s almost like eating hot granola because of the flavors and textures. I have not tried this technique with rolled oats, but if you do, let me know how it comes out.

Try this the next time you are in the mood for something sweet-ish that will stick to your ribs and you can feel healthy about at the same time. Steel cut oats are often found in the bulk department of some groceries, so you don’t have to buy an expensive container of oats to find out whether you like this recipe or not, just buy a little bit. Additional Bonus – you can customize it anyway you want. See notes at the bottom.

Here’s what you’ll need to make the Best Damn Oats you will ever eat

Cidered Steel Cut Oats

Total time – 30 minutes

Serves 2

2 C apple cider or juice (filtered clear cider works best for this dish)

½ C steel cut oats

3-4 Tbsp dried fruit such as currants, raisins or cranberries

Pinch of salt

¼ tsp pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon

2 Tbsp coarsely chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds)

2 Tbsp flaked unsweetened coconut (optional)


In a small non-stick saucepan, combine cider and fruit. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat. This allows the fruit to rehydrate and get plump again.

Stir in oats, salt and spices. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently until the liquid is absorbed and the oats are tender to YOUR liking (see notes).

Divide between 2 dishes and top with the nuts and coconut. Enjoy!

Demerara sugar gets a blast from a torch to burn and melt the sugar making the oats “brûléed”



  • Stir frequently! The natural sugars in cider make it stickier than the water usually used, and as you cook, the cider will become syrupy. And DO use the non-stick pan rather than stainless. Clean up will be easier and the oats won’t stick to the pan as easily.
  • You can add literally ANY dried fruit you like. I choose the small fruits because I like the texture after they have been cooked in the cider. Try dried cherries, blueberries, or different varieties of raisins. If you are going to use dried apricots or something else that is already plump or large, cut them up and stir them in at the end.
  • If you like your oats really soft as opposed to al dente, or if you like your oats soupier, you may need to add more liquid. You can add water instead of more juice. Taste test for doneness and add liquid as necessary no more than a ¼ cup at a time.
  • If you want a higher fruit to oat ratio, increase your liquid because the dried fruit will absorb some of the juice and you’ll end up with undercooked oats.
  • You can also top this with fresh berries, sliced banana, or sliced fresh peaches
  • If you want to get fancy, before adding your toppings, sprinkle with demerara sugar and blast it with a torch (like in the photo above) caramelizing the sugar to brûlée the top. Allow to cool until the melted sugar is crunchy, about 15 seconds, and then add the toppings.
  • It can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight, and zapped in the microwave, but the texture is best the day you cook it. It will thicken up over night.

That Damned Instant Pot Craze!

Moment of Truth – I am NOT an “early adopter”. Of anything. I wait it out. I listen to others’ commentary, successes and failures. I read reviews online. I read articles, and I research. So when this Instant Pot craze started a couple of years ago, I waited. One person I know sent theirs back. One person I know let it sit and gather dust before actually using it. And several people told me they couldn’t live without their Instant Pot. I was mainly interested in trying it out because I am curious about pressure cooking and I’d heard RAVES about how fast, efficient, safe, and easy pressure cooking was in the Instant Pot. And frankly, after listening to some wild stories about pressure cooker explosions I was scared to death to use my stove top model. Novice cooks and intermediate skilled cooks were getting awesome results and a few of my chef pals weighed in and said they loved theirs too. Needless to say, I didn’t want to BUY one just to find out if it lived up to the hype. In late October I borrowed Friend Kristie’s Instant Pot. She told me, “I suppose I can live without it for a week, but no longer,” those were her exact words. That comment intrigued me. How can one appliance become so indispensable to a household? I was about to find out.

Just to give it a quick run through, I decided to make some lamb stock (using the “soup” setting) because I had bones in the freezer. All kidding aside, it was fucking amazing! No worrying about the stock coming to a boil and ending up cloudy, no skimming and constantly watching the pot. And what normally took a couple of hours was reduced to about an hour including my prep time. A fluke perhaps? Next I made fish stock, again because I had the stuff on hand. Same damn results! Crystal clear stock in a fraction of the time, nearly completely hands off.

So…in early November I bought myself an Instant Pot 10 in 1 Ultra 6 quart model, on sale with additional percentage off (I paid $138 including tax and free shipping – at the time the retail on it was $179 plus tax). And I have put it through its paces. Soups, braises, hard boiled eggs, rice, all came out with varying degrees of success due to my learning curve.

The Good

• SUPER fast pressure delivery on recipes that usually take a long time.
o My Pot Roast (using a chuck roast) took less than half the time including prep, pressurization and depressurization of the device.
• The “Sauté” feature allows you to brown meat, sauté onions and garlic before the pressure cooking starts to build your flavor ladder. So, when making a braise using the slow cook features you have one less pan to wash.
• Push button cooking that even a novice can master with great results.
• Easy clean up because its stainless steel interior pot can go in the dishwasher.
• There are TONS of blogs with recipes, a Facebook community with ideas, recipes and tips from fellow users, and the Instant Pot website is packed with info.
• I was able to give away my standard sized Crock-Pot, my rice cooker and my stove top pressure cooker.
• Comprehensive recipes on the Instant Pot website that are easy to riff on if you are an intermediate to highly skilled cook.

The Bad

• It takes up a LOT of space in a cabinet or you have to leave it on the counter. Friend Nancy says she intentionally leaves it on the counter so she KNOWS she’ll use it often. I have enough shit on my counters, so it’s taking up some real estate in a cabinet.
• If you have been following along, you know that The Hubs has a rule for me regarding the kitchen. I am not allowed to bring anything new in unless I have a space for it. So there was THAT challenge.
• The recipe book and owner’s manual that come with it are crappy, vague and not really helpful other than getting you started.

The Ugly

• It’s pretty pricey depending on what model you get.
• There are so many to choose from, knowing WHICH one is best for YOUR household can be tricky. I opted for less volume (6 qt over 8 because we are a small household) and lots of options for more flexibility. For more info on which model might best suit you and your household, check out this article with plenty of details on ALL of the models.
• The inner silicone seal in the lid that allows for the pressure cooking takes on the odor of whatever you cooked last. It doesn’t matter how you clean it. I’ve tried baking soda soak, vinegar, hot water…nothing worked. The odor doesn’t transfer to what you are currently cooking, but it’s there when you start. I worry about cooking curry in the Instant Pot because we all know how that odor lingers in the air.
• It offers a “delay” feature to set up and start at a later time. I worry about use of this when cooking proteins because of food born bacteria that will cause food poisoning. I SUPPOSE they could be killed during the pressure cooking, but I don’t want to take that chance and frankly neither should you.

After several trials, I have come up with this recipe that is changeable to meet your needs. See the notes at the bottom for tips and changes noted with *. There are no pics because this really doesn’t photograph well, but trust me, it’s delish. Read through the recipe and notes before you start so you have a handle on timing, procedure and substitution options.

Chicken and Wild Rice Instant Pot Recipe

Serves 4 with leftover rice
About an hour total time – 30 minutes active
Gluten free and dairy free
Skill level – EASY!

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 Bone in, skin on chicken thighs*
Kosher salt and pepper
½ C dry white wine*
1 small onion, diced finely
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
3 – 4 garlic cloves, minced
2 C brown and wild rice blend*
2 ½ C chicken or vegetable stock
4 – 6 oz button mushrooms – sliced if large, quartered if small
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried thyme or 2 sprigs fresh
2 tsp ground marjoram

1. Liberally salt & pepper the chicken. Using the sauté feature, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Working in batches, brown the chicken (skin side down first). When they release easily from the pan, it’s time to flip or remove. If you WAIT (not my strong suit) they will be beautifully golden browned. If you don’t, the skin will stick to the pan and come off the chicken.

2. While the chicken is browning, prep your vegetables as indicated, keeping them separate from each other because they will be added to the pot in the order listed above.

3. When chicken is browned, remove from the Instant Pot and set aside on a plate.Deglaze the pot’s bottom with the wine, scraping up the fond (the little delicious browned bits sticking the bottom of the pan). Reduce the wine by half. Add the onion and cook until translucent, then add celery and carrots. Cook a minute or two and then add garlic, again cooking another minute. Salt your veg and stir.* DO NOT add the garlic with the other veg as it cooks a lot faster and you will end up with a bitter burned taste…Remember you are building a flavor ladder.

4. Stir in the rice so it is well incorporated to the veg mixture and coated with the oil and wine. Salt your rice and stir*.

5. Add the chicken stock and spices, stir well. Top with the mushrooms and finally with the chicken, skin side up. (The above procedure should take about 30 minutes. Coincidentally, that is the preset time for the sauté feature on the Instant Pot).

6. Select “Pressure Cook” and set the timer for 22 minutes on high. Once the device reaches proper temp, the timer will start to count down. Because the pot is already hot it will take less time than starting it cold. You can walk away at this point and do something else.

7. When the timer goes off, set a timer and wait 5 minutes. Hit your quick release button and vent the device avoiding the steam so you don’t get burned. When the pressure button drops, open your Instant Pot and serve.

• You can substitute boneless, skinless thighs or breasts, but it won’t have as much flavor and it will not be as moist. Bonus – the bone-in thighs are usually cheaper. If you do go with a skinless option, add another Tbsp. of oil to compensate for the moisture loss. Do not reduce the pressure cooking time because the rice takes 22 minutes.
• You may sub additional chicken or veg stock for the wine
• Find brown and wild rice blend in the bulk dept. of your grocery store. You CAN use regular brown rice, but the texture is better with the blend
• When I say “salt your veg” or “salt your rice” I mean add a HEALTHY pinch of salt – about 3 fingers worth (index, middle and ring finger with your thumb). Trust me. If you add salt AS you are cooking your food will not taste salty, it will just taste like you know what you are doing. Adding all the salt at the end of a recipe is what makes it taste salty.
• If using fresh thyme, pick out the stems before serving.

Do share your successes and questions here or on my FB page. And subscribe so you don’t miss a spoonful!

Deez Nuts – Perfect Cocktail Party Snack

I can make a meal out of appetizers and snacks and I am always on the lookout for something different. These nuts fit the bill! Sweet and slightly spicy, these nuts hit all the right notes. Incredibly easy to make and simply addictive, they are perfect any time of year, but are really fantastic during the holidays.

Our old neighbor in South Carolina, Mackenzie Sholz, gifted me with these delightful mouthfuls in 1994 and I begged for the recipe. The original called for walnuts and corn oil, but Mackenzie used pecans so I have always made them that way. I switched up the corn oil with coconut oil and the flavor is even better than the original. I do caution you, however, as Mackenzie did me, “Make two batches at once because you’ll find yourself digging in while they are cooling.”


1 lb pecan halves

1/2 c sugar

2-1/2 T coconut oil

1/2 t salt

1/4 t pepper

1/4 t cayenne pepper

1-1/4 t ground cumin

1/4 t coriander

1/2 t ground ginger

1/4 t ground cloves

1/2 t chili powder (pick your favorite – I’ve used Ancho, Aleppo and “regular” chili powder all with success)


Preheat oven to 325.


Mix oil and sugar in a large bowl that has a lid. It will look like a paste.


Blanch nuts in boiling H2O for 1 minute and drain well.


While nuts are still hot, dump into the lidded bowl with oil and sugar and stir or shake well to coat the nuts.. Cover and let stand 10 minutes.


Arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet (wash the bowl and dry it, you’ll need it again).  Bake 30-45 minutes depending on your pans (heavier pans require longer baking time), stirring every 10- 15 minutes. The nuts should look dark golden brown and all of sugar syrup should be crystallized.


While the nuts are baking, blend the spices. I use whole spices whenever possible and grind them freshly for each batch. It really makes a difference. If you want to go the extra mile, slightly toast your whole spices in a dry skillet and allow to cool before grinding to release even more flavor.


When nuts are brown and crispy, put into the lidded bowl with the spices.  Put the lid on the bowl and shake to coat the nuts.


Spread nuts in a single layer to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks – if they last that long.

Curried spiced pecans are easy to make, and disappear quickly.

Upside-down Peach Coffee Cake

There are very few fruits I enjoy more than a “freestone” peach. They have a very short season, so we grab them every time we get the chance. Unfortunately, they usually aren’t labeled so I never know if I am getting a freestone or a cling peach. We were so lucky to find them at our local Costco, but sadly the last batch seemed to have been exposed to too much refrigeration (almost as if they had been partially frozen) and while the flavor was great, the texture was horrible and they sucked to eat raw. I hated to toss them out…so I cooked them and made them all better!

Notice how the pit comes away cleanly from the flesh? That's the beauty of a freestone peach

Notice how the pit comes away cleanly from the flesh? That’s the beauty of a freestone peach

If you know me at all, you know I am not a coffee drinker, but that never stopped me from enjoying a good coffee cake! My mind wandered to pineapple upside down cake and how my Mom used to make it in a cast iron skillet and then I thought, “Why couldn’t I do a coffee cake like that?” In my mind, a coffee cake shouldn’t be overly sweet and this one isn’t. It’s perfect for breakfast or snacking and loaded with caramel and peaches. It’s dense and moist, so you don’t need a huge piece.

When I made this recipe I used a Lodge 12” cast iron skillet. It’s great for everything! I wouldn’t recommend a stainless pan for this recipe – hello, caramel – but an oven safe non-stick pan would work if you adjust the baking time as indicated. A couple of quick notes about the recipe:

  • No need to peel the peaches – BONUS!
  • I made it without the nuts in deference to the Hubby, but I bet it would be great with chopped nuts, so I included variation instructions
  • You can sub regular (not fat free or reduced fat) cream cheese for the mascarpone if you can’t like, but it will make the batter a little tangy
  • This recipe would work well with apples too
  • Cloves and peaches really work well together, so if you like that flavor, make your “pinch” a bit heavier. Same goes for apples.

Upside-down Peach Coffee Cake

serves 12 -16

active time 20 minutes – baking time 40-45 minutes

3 C all-purpose flour

1Tbsp baking powder

¾ tsp sea salt

¾ tsp cinnamon

Pinch of ground cloves

Pinch of nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)

3 large peaches sliced ¼” thick – use more if you want

¾ C packed brown sugar

¾ C unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks)

¾ tsp cinnamon

¾ C chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

¼ C plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temp

1 1/8 C packed brown sugar

3 oz mascarpone cheese

3 eggs at room temp

1 ½ C buttermilk

1 Tbsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350

Combine the dry ingredients in a 1 qt bowl and whisk to blend. Set aside.

In a 12” oven safe skillet melt the butter, add the brown sugar and cook over medium flame until it starts to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Top with sliced peaches in a spiral pattern or something decorative. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Set aside.

Cream together butter, brown sugar and mascarpone until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in thirds, alternating with buttermilk. Stir in vanilla. Mix well.

Pour cake batter onto the prepared peaches, gently spreading the batter to the edges of the skillet. It’s ok if you see a little melted butter around the edges of the pan.

Bake at 350 for about 40 – 45 minutes for cast iron, a bit less for a non-stick pan. Either way, check it at 30 minutes to see how much more time you will need. Top will slightly crack and bounce back when touched lightly and the edges will be dark golden brown.

Allow to cool in pan 10 – 15 minutes, then flip out on a large serving platter. Be CAREFUL, the melted sugar will burn the shit out of you if you get it on your skin. If you wait TOO long to flip it out the caramel won’t run down the sides of the cake and will glue itself to the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool at least 15 minutes after removal from the pan before serving to set the caramel and peaches. Tastes great warm or at room temp.




Five Years and Lemon Bars

For five years I have been sharing my thoughts about food, family, entertaining and all manner of things food related. And you, dear reader, have followed along for the ride. I have taunted you on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with notes and pics about Lemon Bars. And I have posted tons of pics of food, chefs, silliness and fun. And you have all stuck with me. I thank you.

I have tried to be my authentic self, knowing that I won’t appeal to everyone.

Across those five years I have shared glimpses into restaurants, interviews with chefs, rants and pet peeves. And still you like me. Go figure! I have tried to be my authentic self, knowing that I won’t appeal to everyone. I am not trying to. I know that the “Susie Creamcheese” people who are offended by foul language, sexual innuendo and snarky behavior will never like me, so I am not trying to please them. I am just sharing what makes me tick with anyone who wants to come along for the trip.

As a gift to you dear reader, because so many of you have asked…

In five years I have also shared a smattering of recipes. I keep promising to do that more and I fail. It’s not because I don’t WANT to share them with you, it’s because I forget to take pics of the process and finished product. As a gift to you dear reader, because so many of you have asked…here is the recipe for Aunt LeAnne’s Famous Lemon Bars. I know I promised I would never share it, but I have decided to break that promise. My main reason for not wanting to share it is this: if everyone knows how to make them, no one will invite me to make them. Whenever I am in doubt about what to bring to a chef’s house, THIS is what I make. I know they will be perfect and they will get eaten and many of the chefs I know hate to bake, so they appreciate a dessert. Because I cut them into triangles most of the time, Chef John Courtney says they aren’t bars…whatever.

Aunt LeAnne’s Secret Recipe Lemon Bars

What I love about this recipe is that it has the perfect crust to filling ratio for me and my family. Not too thick, and just the right sized bite once cut into squares or triangles. I specify a metal baking dish because the recipe works best with metal.  I have tried glass and stoneware, but metal creates the best crust.  Lining the pan with foil allows you to lift the bars out all at once and move them to a cutting board for cutting.

Makes 36


1½ C all purpose flour

½ C confectioner’s sugar

1½ sticks (3/4 C – 6 oz) unsalted butter – very cold, cut into small pieces


4 eggs

2 large lemons

1 ¼ C sugar

3 Tbsp flour

¾ tsp baking powder

¾ tsp salt

Confectioner’s sugar as needed

Preheat oven to 350

Line a 9×13 metal baking dish with aluminum foil.  Spray with non stick cooking spray.

Combine all the ingredients for the crust and cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse sand (to speed up this step, you can use a food processor and pulse until correct consistency is reached).

I use a food processor and pulse to get this texture. The French butter from grass fed cows is what makes it so gorgeously yellow.

I use a food processor and pulse the blade to get this texture. The French butter from grass fed cows is what makes it so gorgeously yellow.

Press into bottom of prepared pan.

I use a bench scraper to push the crumbs into the corners and flatten it out evenly.

I use a bench scraper to push the crumbs into the corners and flatten it out evenly. Just lay the bench scraper onto the crumbs and press straight down, flattening each section as you go.

Bake 15 minutes or until the edges JUST start to become golden.

See how the edge is just barely browning? yeah...that.

See how the edge is just barely browning? yeah…that.

While the crust bakes, zest both lemons and juice them to equal ½ C of juice.

Using an electric mixer, beat eggs until thick and lemon colored.  Add sugar, juice and all of the zest. Whisk together flour salt and baking powder.  Immediately before pouring onto the hot crust, add flour mixture to the egg mixture (If you add it early in the mixing time the mixture becomes too foamy).

Pour filling onto hot crust and return to oven for 15 minutes or until filling is set and just lightly golden brown around the edges.

Remove to a wire cooling rack and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.  Cool completely.  Cut into bars or triangles.

Cut into squares and then diagonally across each to make triangles. I use a moist pizza cutter to glide through.

Cut into squares and then diagonally across each to make triangles if desired. I use a moist pizza cutter to glide through. Wash it off if it gets clumpy and start again.

Lemon Bars

TIP – If you want them less tangy, use less lemon zest.


And remember, I don’t monetize my blog like so many others. The payment I get is when you share it and invite your friends to read, follow me on social media and post your comments. What I’d really love is if you make the recipe and post pics of your results on my Facebook page or tag me on Instagram when you make them!

Maybe on the 10 year Anniversary I will share Nettie’s World Famous Chicken Salad…probably not.

The Best Damn Bloody Mary Mix? Make It At Home!

Happy New Year! All through the blogosphere, writers are sharing how to be a better you and ideas for New Year’s Resolutions. Quit Smoking. Clean Eating. Exercising. Learning something new. Being a better homemaker. Eating less. Drinking less…Yeah. Okay. That’s fine for THEM, but my readers expect something else, so…here is a little something to whet your appetite for the New Year. Drink more Bloody Marys! They have vegetables; that means they are healthy! The recipe for the best damn Bloody Mary mix you can make at home is at the end. There are some incredibly over the top versions out there with bacon, sliders and shrimp cocktail attached to the rim of the glass in addition to, or in place of, the traditional garnish of celery. I actually like pickled veggies with mine. Olives, asparagus, okra, string beans, caper berries and cornichons all have made appearances on my cocktail skewer. As Friend Danielle says, “It’s like a salad in a glass!” I’m healthy that way. Friend Lynn says she doesn’t need “the salad” and opts for just a cornichon or olives.

The Bloody Mary, the hangover cure of choice and brunch staple started out simple enough but has changed and morphed into so much more. The first time I saw a Bloody Mary bar I giggled with glee. They are quite common here in Vegas, but sadly the best one has disappeared with the closing of Kerry Simon’s joint at The Palms. If you have never been to a brunch Bloody Mary bar, here is the gist of it: the house pours your vodka on ice and you saunter up to a buffet of ingredients to make your Mary the way YOU like it. Think hot sauces, horseradish, lemons, limes, veggies and tomato, V8™ and Clamato™ juices. At Simon it was a “bottomless” add-on to your brunch, but most places it is priced per drink.

This is easy to do at home for a get together. Recently Friend Lillian and I hosted a baby shower for fellow blogger Apryl and had a Mary & Mimosa bar. In our house we love pint glasses for everyday use because they are sturdy and we “borrow” logoed ones from bars (See the photo above? It’s a Modelo glass). The bonus is that each one has a different logo, so the glass itself acts like a “wine charm” so you know which glass is yours if you set it down someplace.

For the holidays I have discovered that I like to gift folks with something made by me if they are local (shipping is not my forte and I often send digital gift cards to out of towners so I don’t have to deal with the Post Office or other shippers). This year my Posse received Bloody Mary Gift bags, complete with handmade gift tags, a bottle of vodka, cocktail napkins, homemade Bloody Mary mix and house pickled veggies. All were canned by me (except the vodka…duh!) including the Bloody Mary mix (recipe follows with instructions for canning).

Everything was made by me except the Vodka - DUH! (L - R - Pickled Padron Peppers, Mary Mix, Pickled Curried Cauliflower)

Everything was made by me except the Vodka – DUH! (L – R – Pickled Padron Peppers, Mary Mix, Pickled Curried Cauliflower)

The original recipe was created by Chef Michael O’Donnell of T.W. Garner, the makers of Texas Pete™. He designed it to be used for Bloody Marias where you replace the vodka with Tequila. I have tweaked it a smidge to MY liking. FYI – it tastes great on its own too.


  • When using the Mary mix, you can choose vodka, gin or tequila as your booze of choice and it will taste great no matter what.
  • The recipe doubles and triples easily and if you are canning it, you really want to double or triple it because the main recipe makes about 6 cups.
  • When choosing your salsa, go for medium, you can always add more hot sauce to your glass. Whatever salsa you choose will slightly change the flavor of the final product (DUH!). For my gifts this year, I used Texas Pete™ commercial salsa (no, you can’t buy it in stores, so yours will not taste EXACTLY like mine).
  • I love horseradish in mine, but I wasn’t sure how it would work out in the canning process so I add it at time of service.
  • For your vegetarian friends, they do make anchovy free Worcestershire sauce. Most “store brands” are vegan, just read the label. No need to pay a ton for vegan sauce.


The Best Damn Bloody Mary Mix 

Basic ingredients for the Mary Mix

Basic ingredients for the Mary Mix

Serves 6 – about 6 C

Your favorite salsa                                                      2 cups or a 16 oz jar

Vegetable juice cocktail (like V8™)                        4 cups

Worcestershire sauce                                                 2 Tbsp

Lemon juice, freshly squeezed                                  2 lemons

Lime juice, freshly squeezed                                     2 limes

Celery salt                                                                     2 tsp

Texas Pete™ Garlic Hot Sauce                                 2 Tbsp

Put everything except the vegetable juice in the canister of a high powered blender. I use a Blendtec®. Process until smooth. If using the Blendtec® choose “Whole Juice” option. You can also do this with a hand blender.

Combine vegetable juice with the mixture from the blender. Chill and serve or proceed with canning.

To Can: follow the basic “hot water bath” canning instructions HERE. Process for 30 minutes. NORMALLY you process tomatoes for 45 minutes, however since all of the products have been canned before AND there is high acid thanks to the citrus, you can safely process for a shorter time.

Chilled mix keeps about 5 days in the fridge and canned will last 6 months in a cool dark place. Shake or mix well before serving.



Perfect Pecan Pie

I love a pie. I especially love pecan pie (and for the record I say PEEcan, not puh-khan). Frankly too often pecan pie is really sugary and way too sweet. Soooo, I reworked an old recipe to reduce the sugary-ness and increase the flavor and each time I serve it, it’s a hit. With the baking season upon us and potlucks galore, enjoy this. The end result LOOKS way more complicated than it is. This is a recipe that doubles easily so you can make 2 at the same time. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or drizzle with cold heavy cream. Each slice (1/8 of a pie can be warmed in a microwave oven in about 15 seconds) prior to serving.

Pecan Pie

makes one 9” pie

3 Tbsp unsalted butter – DO NOT substitute margarine.

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

¾ C sugar

3 eggs

¾ C dark Karo® corn syrup

¼ C molasses (either regular or robust – depending on your taste)

2/3 C chopped pecans

A heavy pinch of salt

Pecan halves to decorate the top

1 unbaked 9” pie crust


Preheat oven to 450. Roll out pie crust and have it ready to go.

Using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat first 3 ingredients until light and fluffy. It will not look like the beginning of cookie dough; it will be more granular. Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time until well incorporated, scraping bowl as necessary. Reduce speed again and gradually add first the corn syrup and then the molasses, scraping bowl as necessary. Fold in chopped pecans.

Pour into pie crust and bake for 10 minutes at 450. A crisp shell will develop on top while the middle stays syrupy. CAREFULLY remove from oven and reduce temp to 350. Decorate the top of your pie with the pecan halves. They will sink into the filling a bit as it continues to cook.

Return to oven and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes or until set. Cool completely on wire rack before cutting. If you cut it while hot it will ooze all over the place. It needs to cool completely to allow the sugars to set up.

See how the top is puffed up? It will sink down and flatten out as it cools.

See how the top is puffed up? It will sink down and flatten out as it cools.