Tortellini and Sun-dried Tomato Salad

Tortellini Pasta Salad

“Nothing is better than a picnic.” – Zooey Deschanel

Picnics have have become quite a frequent event in our house this year. A moment to get outdoors for a lunch date together or dinner with our family beneath the trees.  Dining at park or just a pretty spot on the lawn makes me forget about the worries of the world.

This fall my husband and I have enjoyed getting out together for a picnic lunch date when my girls are at afternoon school. We love to pick up lunch and at a local restaurant then find a beautiful spot. There is a local family owned cafe called The Village Gourmet that makes the best sandwiches and salads that are perfect for a picnic. One of the dishes on their menu that caught my eye was a colorful tortellini and sun-dried tomato salad. So, I decided to create my own version of this pasta salad.

My tortellini and sun-dried tomato salad is a quick lunch or dinner that takes just ten minutes to pull together. The flavors in the sun-dried tomato pesto are delicious and it can be made ahead of time. It’s wonderful served either hot or cold which makes it a great picnic dish. It is hearty enough to make a quick weeknight meal. But it also wonderful as a side dish with a parmesan breaded chicken, a grilled fish or even burgers. Everyone needs a quick and delicious pasta salad recipe like this one.

Tortellini and Sun-dried Tomato Salad

Serves 4 as dinner or 6 as a side 

  • 1 large (20 oz) container of fresh cheese tortellini (I like Giovani Rana pasta)
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry or heirloom tomatoes chopped
  • 1 cup (8oz) fresh mozzarella pearls
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 8 basil leaves, julienned

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoons capers, drained
  • 1 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the cheese tortellini according to the pasta’s instructions, about 3 to 4 minutes. Then drain the pasta and place in a large mixing bowl.

Next make the sun-dried tomato pesto. In the bowl of a food processor combine the sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, capers, salt and pepper. Blend them together until almost smooth.

Finally, chop the tomatoes and cut the basil into thin ribbon like strips. Then add the tomatoes and mozzarella pearls to the tortellini. Next pour on the sun-dried tomato pesto to taste and then sprinkle on the parmesan cheese and the basil.

Serve it immediately or refrigerate it and have it ready for your picnic or dinner.

It has been an extraordinarily beautiful fall week here in Chicago. So as I was outside planting tulip bulbs my daughters were busy setting up their own picnic snack. It seems like we just can’t get enough picnics in our house. We are taking in all the sunshine and good weather while we can. However, as the saying goes sometimes picnicking is a state of mind. So even as the air turns chilly next week, I know we will continue to picnic indoors with all of our favorite dishes like my tortellini and sun-dried tomato salad.

Planting Tulips and Hope for Spring

I have always found gardening to be an act of great hope, because planting requires a gardener to believe that in time beautiful things will grow.

Every gardener has their favorite plants and seasons. I happen love spring and tulips. I think one of the keys to gardening is knowing your yard’s best seasons and then investing and planting around them. The truth is spring is my garden’s small chance to shine. My yard has lots of mature trees and spring gives me an opportunity to plant flowers in parts of my garden that normally get heavy shade. So when fall comes I look forward to planning for spring.

This past April, I was especially grateful to see all the beautiful flowers begin to appear. There is something so hopeful about all those bright green leaves and colorful blooms. May in Chicago is an amazing time. The parks and the downtown streets are overflowing with tulips and spring plantings. This year since the gardens and parks were all closed I really loved and appreciated all the homegrown flowers in my neighbors’ gardens.

Late October and early November is bulb planting season in the Midwest. We have already had a couple of snow flurries, so I have been clearing out my flowerbeds and getting ready for spring. This year one of my plans is to create more bulb planters. I love how a flowerpot or two can brighten my front door or back porch.  The thing I like about container planting is that it doesn’t take many bulbs to create something beautiful. Three bulbs in a small pot and five to seven bulbs in a medium sized pot are enough to make a statement.

Chicago winters get cold, so winter container gardening can have its challenges. A few years ago I was determined to find a way to create my own spring planters without a greenhouse. So I began planting some of my bulbs in recycled plastic nursery pots that I bury in the ground. The ground keeps my bulbs insulated from the cold and safe from squirrels. It also takes very little maintenance once you get them planted and covered with soil and mulch. Mother Nature keeps them protected so I don’t have to worry about them. Then in spring when they grow and flower buds appear I dig the containers up and transfer them to my more decorative pots.

The key thing when planting bulbs is to make sure that they are planted to the correct depth. Generally speaking tulips and daffodils can be grouped close together in a pot but the depth is what keeps them happy. They need to be planted six to eight inches deep depending on the bulb size. I plant to the deeper end of the range here in Chicago so that when the temperature plunges my bulbs will be safe.

In warmer climates, garden zones 7 to 10, you may need to refrigerate your bulbs before planting them in December or early January. Colorblends, a bulb wholesaler that I like has lots specific information about planting times for each part of the country.

I love looking to other gardens for ideas. This cluster of light pink tulips with a few pansies and violas is a simple but pretty spring flowerpot. Add some willow branches to a similar arrangement and you have what looks like a beautiful spring basket.

This blue flowerpot is from my front walk this past spring. I loved the botanical gardens tulip pots so much that I created by own using a blend of pink and red tulips. Bedding plants were hard to find this past spring due to all the pandemic shutdowns so I was happy to have a few extra pots that I had grown.

This gorgeous planter at a historic home in my neighborhood is overflowing with spring bulbs. I love their mix of daffodils, early blooming tulips and hyacinths. It’s like a whole miniature spring garden in a flowerpot.

Eight months into this pandemic I think I understand why so many people have begun to garden: planting a garden is an act of great hope. Hope and believing that beautiful things will grow again is more important than ever. It may be fall, but I am already thinking about spring. This year I have big garden plans I am planting bulbs in both my yard and at my daughters’ school so I have a busy week or two ahead of me. Even if you don’t have time to plant an entire flower bed of tulips or daffodils, planting a few bulbs in pots is a simple way to add some flowers to your garden this spring. So here’s to a more hopeful and colorful spring! Happy planting!

Pretty Pumpkins, Porches and Planters

There’s a chill in the air, the fall gardening season is in its full glory here in the Midwest. As the summer leaves and plants are starting to fade, the trees are putting on quite a show. I love seeing the vibrant ochre, orange, crimson and gold leaves. Porches and gardens are overflowing with pretty pumpkins, mums, cabbages and kale. So this week I am sharing a few of my favorite fall garden ideas.

Grouping Small Pots Can Make a Dramatic Statement

This house is one of my fall favorites. Look at those urns overflowing with color and trailing grasses. I love how the clusters of small terra-cotta pots and pumpkins below create such a dramatic impact and the small pots make it easy to plant and arrange. This reminds me of a beautiful European styled potted garden.

A large grouping of mum and kale create a colorful border that adds a pretty accent to this front stoop. The staggered stages of chrysanthemum blooms will make this fall color last longer.

Think About Adding Texture

Bittersweet branches, ruffled cabbages, feathery grasses and red missile peppers add layers of texture and interest in this autumn planter.

A trio of purple, red and orange mums brighten a perennial bed of peonies and ornamental grasses.

Asymmetrical Arrangements and Trailing Vines Add Interest

This garden gate planter creates quite the impact. I like how the asymmetrical planter arrangement has trailing ivy and creeping Jenny. The planter draws you into garden and the boxwood hedge.

A Few Fall Plants Can Anchor and Add Color to Your Garden Beds

A cluster of fall flowers mixed in with some vibrant summer flowers creates a pretty mix for the short midwest fall season.

This garden arbor is simply stunningly the fall colors and overflowing beds welcome you inside.

Pumpkins and Gourds Are Pretty in Pots and Planters Too

This small pumpkin adds a pop of pretty orange color to this arrangement.

This window box has a few of my personal fall favorites, pumpkins, purple heuchera and pansies which add lasting color.

A quick pumpkin tip: I have found that the squirrels tend to leave my orange pumpkins alone when I spray them well with acrylic spray. Then before the spray fully drys I sprinkle on some chili powder on so it sticks. However, if your squirrels and chipmunks are especially cheeky then stick with white pumpkins they have a bitter taste that keeps them away.

Add Height and Interest With Branches and Berries

The English styled home above has one of my favorite planters. This year I happened to be passing by when the gardener was out planting. Although dried bittersweet is pretty it can be brittle. So in this planters they cleverly used very realistic faux branches. The wired branches allowed them to get his curved crown like shape.

The willow branches and small pumpkins become the stars of these planters adding fall color and interest.

As my gardening year in Chicago comes to a close, I am savoring this blissful, but short autumn season. I love seeing all the pumpkins and planters. I particularly like all the fall flower pots and container gardens. They are like gorgeous little fall bouquets for your garden and front door.

Creamy Avocado and Romaine Salad

Endive and Avocado Salad

Have you ever searched for a lost recipe? One you used to love until suddenly it went missing?

I had a pear and blue cheese salad recipe that I adored. It was a little too gourmet to be an everyday recipe, so I used to make it for special occasions. It came from a cooking class I took with the chefs at a long gone, but much celebrated Houston restaurant called Aries. Then when I moved to Chicago, I suddenly couldn’t find the recipe. I looked through all of my files, I called my mother and I searched online but no luck. The recipe was gone and although I could remember parts of it I just couldn’t recreate it.

Southern Living had a story about a woman who had gone on her own recipe search. She had lost her mother’s prized apple pie recipe. Her mother had passed away and somehow the recipe had couldn’t be found. Her recipe search lead her to call old family friends. She even made signs looking for the recipe which she posted all over her hometown. She had hoped that her mother had shared the recipe with someone. Although she never found her mother’s exact recipe, she received so many great responses that she created her own version.

I too found a few good things on my missing recipe search. While I was looking online I found another avocado salad from Aries chef Scott Tycer. This creamy avocado and romaine salad has become a new favorite. My recipe is an adaptation of his salad, but I love his creamy and tangy avocado salad dressing. This salad is great for a simple dinner at home, but the salad dressing flavors are so good that it would make a great veggie dip too.

Creamy Avocado and Romaine Salad- serves 4

Homemade Croutons

  • 2 cups French bread or sourdough bread, cubed into bite sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

Creamy Avocado Salad Dressing

  • 1/2 Hass avocado
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon shallot, minced
  • 2 teaspoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cracked pepper

Avocado and Romaine Salad

  • 1 Hass avocado, sliced into thin bite sized pieces
  • 2 small heads of baby romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 2 endives or radicchio, chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 cup sliced chives or thin green onions
  • 4 slices of applewood smoked bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)

First make the croutons. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium skillet on medium heat. Add in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the garlic powder, salt and pepper and then add in the bread cubes. Stir them well to make sure they are evenly coated in the seasoned butter and olive oil mixture.

Toast the croutons over medium low heat until they turn golden brown and crispy on both sides. Then set aside to cool.

Next make the salad dressing. In the large bowl of a food processor add in the avocado half, the white wine vinegar, buttermilk, shallots, parsley and garlic.

Blend the ingredients together on high speed until creamy. Then through the top shoot of the food processor slowly drizzle in the oil while blending. Then season the salad dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Finally assemble and toss the salad ingredients together in a large bowl or platter. Mix together the lettuce, endive or radicchio, chives, bacon and croutons. Then before adding the avocados mix in or drizzle on the creamy avocado salad dressing. Then add the avocado pieces so they hold their shape.

This side salad is a real scene stealer. It’s the kind of salad that has you wanting seconds from the first bite. The creamy avocado dressing is a mix between a really good ranch dressing and a tangy Caeser salad. The homemade croutons and bacon make it irresistibly good.

I am happy to report that four years after it went missing, I finally found that missing salad recipe. It was wedged inside another cooking magazine. Truthfully, I am kind of grateful that my original recipe went missing. Because the recipe search lead me to find other dishes, like this delicious creamy avocado and romaine salad.

Homemade Soft Pretzels

Homemade Pretzel Recipe

It was a gray cloudy Saturday and my girls were complaining in chorus that they were bored. So I decided that it might be good time to do a little fall baking. I had been cleaning my office a bit this week and I found a recipe for homemade soft pretzels that one of my daughters had brought home from preschool a couple of years ago. So I did a little quick research on pretzel making and then we began creating our own. The end results where so good and fun to make that I thought I would share them with you.

Homemade Soft Pretzels- makes 12

  • 1 package of yeast
  • 1½ cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 4 cups of flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 to 2 tablespoon rock or coarse salt, for sprinkling on top

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Next, in a glass measuring cup or small bowl dissolve the sugar into the warm water. Stir in the yeast and then let it sit until it blooms, about 5 minutes.

Then mix together the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl. Mix together 3 cups of flour and the salt.  When the yeast is ready for it in and add the melted butter. Blend at a low speed or stir and knead the dough until it comes together. If it is sticky add about 1/4 of a cup of flour at a time until the dough is less sticky and slightly shaggy. I found that I only needed to add an additional 1/4 of a cup of flour.

Cover the bowl with a bowl or plastic wrap and let it rise for 10 minutes.

While the dough is rising make a water bath for the pretzel dough. Pretzels need to be briefly boiled in an alkaline water mixture to give them their signature chewy crust. The baking soda and water mixture controls the pretzels rise and it gives them their signature brown color and texture.

Boiling Water

  • 8 cups water
  • 1/3 cup baking soda

Pour the water in a large sauce pot and mix in the baking soda. Then bring the water to a boil.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

After the dough has risen for 10 minutes knead and divide it into four equal portions. Take each quarter of the dough and then divide it further into three smaller balls of dough. Take the smaller dough portions and roll them into long rope like pieces. Keep rolling and stretching them until they are about 18 inches long.

My baking assistant helps me roll and twist the pretzels. This recipe was easy to make with kids because the dough doesn’t require a long rise. My girls really enjoyed rolling and shaping the pretzels.

Shape the pretzels by taking the ends and draw them together so the bend of the dough forms a circle. Then twist the ends and flip them over to create a traditional pretzel shape. I found it was easier to use half of the dough at a time and make them in two batches of six. Form all of the pretzel shapes for one batch.

Then using a slotted spatula or spider strainer individually dip each pretzel in the boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds. Hold the pretzel up over the water to make sure that it is dry before placing it on the baking pan. Then sprinkle them with the rock salt.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. So here is a step by step picture guide to shaping your pretzels.

Continue boiling, drying and sprinkling each pretzel with salt. Bake the pretzels for 12 minutes until golden brown.

These homemade soft pretzels are easy and fun to bake. They have a golden crispy crust with a soft and chewy center. Pretzels are a Midwest favorite, however my favorite way to eat them is with a Southern twist. I like to serve my pretzels with a side dip of pimento cheese. So as soon as we made a batch I ran out to store to pick some up. They would also be good as a side with soup or as an appetizer for fall dinner. But, no matter how you serve them homemade pretzels are a delicious treat to share with family and friends.

The Dream House

“A house is made with walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every home has a story to tell. We live in an orange brick 1960’s colonial revival. Our Relator affectionately called it the “Leave It to Beaver House.” Our house was well loved, but it took time it to really feel like it was ours. A few months after we moved in, I realized that I had severely underestimated how long my painting projects would take with two preschoolers in tow. My house dreams were beginning feel a bit deflated. I was worried that my daughters might never nap enough to allow me to fully unpack and finish.

Then one day, I was pulling out of the carpool line when I heard a small voice from the back seat. “Mom are we going somewhere?” It was my youngest daughter Alyssa who is perpetually hoping that we will go somewhere new. However, before I could answer her question my oldest daughter Gabby chimed in, “We are going somewhere. We are going to the dream house, right mom?”

Her response surprised me. Perhaps my girls have seen a few too many Barbie episodes on Netflix. However, the idea that they consider our house the “dream house” gave me pause for thought. Before that moment, although I liked our house, I had never pulled in my driveway and thought “dream house.” As I reflected on our conversation, I realized that my daughter was right. Great houses come in all shapes and sizes.

I still fondly remember the 1930s home where I grew up and the converted attic bedroom that my sister and I shared. Childhood homes have a way of shaping us like few other places do. Maybe that’s why they are often remembered with such love and nostalgia.

A picture of my childhood home. When I was writing this column I looked our old house up online. It was interesting to see that although much has been remodeled small things like the old 1930’s black and white tile bathroom are still there.

Now in the craziness of 2020, our house has become more than just a home. I find myself cherishing our house more as I watch it take on so many new and unexpected roles. The kitchen doubles as a school room and the basement has become the office, a greenhouse and a gymnasium. The back yard has been transformed into a camping site, a fashion show runway, a waterpark and a sports field.

On any given day there are papers, markers, art projects, pillow forts and Lego creations happening everywhere. One week this summer I even let my daughters turn the dining room into Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The costumes and paper decorations made quite a creative mess, but our dining room looked more magical than ever.

Sometimes I wonder what stories my daughters will tell about this time. Spending so much time at home certainly has its challenging moments. Then in the middle of this stuck-at-home craziness, I remember that moment of carpool line wisdom. What I learned from my little back seat drivers is: sometimes a “dream house” is more of a perspective. Now, more than ever I am grateful for our home and the all dreams it inspires.

In addition to writing this blog I also write as a contributing columnist for The Hinsdalean, who this week was named the number one midsized newspaper in the state of  Illinois. The editor, Pamela Lannom and the staff writers are certainly deserving of this wonderful award. My piece “Dream house” is in the eye of the beholder was for my column this week.

Mini Apple Cinnamon Donuts

Apple Cider Donut Recipe

There is nothing like a warm apple cinnamon donut and the heavenly smell that fills my kitchen. I have been getting ready for fall. Half day school started back for my girls, so I wanted to make something fun for a back to school Saturday family breakfast. These sweet mini apple cake donuts are tender and topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. The mini size makes them easy to make and quick to bake. They are perfect for a weekend breakfast treat. Serve them with a big cup of coffee, if you are a coffee lover like me or a cup of hot chocolate or warm apple cider. These cake donuts are so tender and delicious that I think they would also make a delicious dessert too.

Mini Apple Cinnamon Donuts- makes 18 small donuts

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon all spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1¼ cup apple cider (Martinelli’s or another good all juice based cider)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice and salt. Then add in your apple cider, melted butter and egg. Stir until the batter is well combined.

Next prepare the donut pans by spraying them with a flour based baking spray like Baker’s Joy.

Then once your pans are ready pour or spoon the donut batter into a 1 gallon zip top bag. Then snip a small hole in the bottom corner of the bag. The plastic bag will work like a large pastry bag which makes filling the donut pans much easier. Fill the donut tins about three quarters of the way full, which is about two quick turns or circles of batter for each donut.

The key thing with mini donuts is to not overfill the tins. This is why I love using a plastic bag or pastry bag to pipe in my batter. It helps you make the cute little donut shapes every time.

Bake the donuts for 15 minutes. Then while they are baking make your cinnamon sugar topping.

Cinnamon Sugar Topping

  • 5 tablespoons butter melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a shallow bowl or plate mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Then melt the butter in a bowl or small skillet. Once the donuts have cooled for about five minutes quickly dip one side of the donut in the butter and then the cinnamon sugar.

These mini apple cinnamon donuts were a hit in our house. I got these mini donut pans for my birthday this year and I have had so much fun baking with them. The batter for this recipe doesn’t require a mixer so it’s perfect for little ones who love to help. I think my six year old said it best as she was dancing around the kitchen, “These donuts are so yummy!”  So if you are looking to do a little fall baking then try these mini apple cinnamon donuts.

Grilled Pound Cake with Grand Marnier Strawberries

Berries and Grilled Pound Cake Recipe

Grilling is great for more than just savory meats and vegetables. It also happens to be a fun way to cook dessert. So after sharing a dinner that was all on the grill I though I would add a dessert to the menu: grilled poundcake with Grand Marnier strawberries.

A few years ago my husband and I went to one of Steven Raichlen’s grilling courses where he created a grilled pound cake with a strawberry, lime and jalapeño salsa.  After experimenting with pound cakes, including a homemade version or two, he found that the texture of Sara Lee cake (from the frozen dessert section) stood up best when grilled.

Wanting a slightly sweeter dessert I decided to create my own strawberry shortcake like topping. The warm cake with the creamy ice cream and the orange strawberries is magic. I made this one up on the fly a couple of weeks ago and my husband was wishing I had made more. So here is a simply delicious summer dessert perfect for any dinner on the grill.

Grilled Pound Cake with Grand Marnier Strawberries – Serves 4

  • 2 cups fresh strawberries stemmed and halved
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grand marnier
  • 8 approximately ½ inch slices Sara Lee pound cake (thawed)
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 4 scoops vanilla ice cream (My midwest favorite is Hudsonville creamy vanilla)

First prepare the macerated strawberries. In a small bowl mix together the strawberries, orange zest, sugar and grand marnier. Let them sit in the fridge. They will create their own delicious sauce.

Next prepare you grill and pound cake. Set your grill up for direct grilling at a medium heat. Brush each side of the pound cake slices with the melted butter. Then grill the cake slices for 1 to 2 minutes a side.

Finally, assemble the strawberries and cake. Place one to two cake slices on a small plate or in a bowl. Then spoon ½ cup of the strawberries on each dish. Top it with a scoop of vanilla cream and spoon a little of the strawberry sauce on top.

This dessert may be simple but the flavors are extraordinarily good. So this holiday weekend leave the grill going for a memorably delicious finish to your meal.

Steak Tacos with Roasted Corn Salsa

Grilled Steak Tacos

Grilling is one of my favorite ways to cook because it brings everyone together. Head outside to grill and company follows. My husband, my girls and even the dog love to be apart of making dinner when grilling is involved.  The sizzle, the smoke and the smells are exciting. It makes dinner an event that everyone gets to experience and be a part of. So I thought I would share a late summer meal where everything is cooked on the grill. These steak tacos with roasted corn salsa are a quick and flavorful dinner that our family loves.

Steak Tacos with Roasted Corn Salsa -Serves 4

  • 1½ to 2 lbs thinly sliced strip steaks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Spice rub (recipe follows)
  • 3 ears of corns
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 green onions
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 ripe avocado, chopped
  • 1 medium tomato or 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 flour or corn tortillas, warmed

Preheat the grill for direct medium high heat.

Steak Spice Rub

  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Create the spice rub and season the steaks. Mix ingredients in a small cup or bowl. Rub the steaks with the olive oil. Then generously season the steaks with the spice rub on each side.

Prepare the corn for the grill.  Rub the corn ears with butter and then sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.

Next get the corn and steaks grilling. Place the corn ears on the grill first because they need to cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Rotate the ears of corn so they cook evenly and turn a bright yellow. Then add the steaks to the grill. Cook the steak for 3 to 4 minutes a side for medium doneness. Finally, open the grill and cook the green onions with the top open until just charred about 2 minutes. Let the steak rest for 5 minutes.

The other thing I loved about dinner on the grill is no pots and pans are needed so clean up is quick.

Prepare the corn salsa. Cut the corn kernels off the cob and slice the green onions thinly. Next in a medium sized bowl mix together the corn, green onions, avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, kosher salt and garlic powder.

Finally, assemble the tacos. Slice the steak across the grain into thin strips. Place the steak in the warm tortillas and top them with the roasted corn salsa. Add a side of black beans and dinner is served.

On a side note: if you happen to have any leftover steak it makes wonderful steak and egg breakfast tacos the next morning.

So fire up the grill and make cooking dinner fun! These steak tacos with roasted corn salsa are filled with the fresh delicious flavors of summer.

Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

Sometimes running out of an ingredient like cocoa powder makes room for the serendipity of something even better like chocolate fudge frosting. This week I was well into baking chocolate cupcakes with my daughters when I discovered that there wasn’t enough cocoa powder left for my traditional chocolate buttercream. The thought of a last minute store run these days comes with so many other worries that I decided to check my baking stash. As luck would have it I found two chocolate bars. I improvised and added the melted the chocolate to my frosting, which created a delicious fudge like flavor. The results of my substitution were so good that it just might be my new go to chocolate frosting.

So I smiled when I read The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday food column by Bee Wilson. She too had been improvising from her pantry trying to avoid an unexpected trip to the store. As she was reflecting on her own off the cuff cooking, she made an interesting observation about how these pandemic inspired substitutions just might change how people cook. Maybe she muses it will cause us to experiment more. Maybe we will all become slightly more adventurous cooks who add more of our own personality to the recipes we make. As I found this week, sometimes an unscripted substitution can inspire some surprisingly delicious results like outrageously good chocolate fudge cupcakes.

 Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes – Makes 16 standard sized cupcakes

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (Since I am talking about substitutions, if you don’t have buttermilk then don’t worry add 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar to the milk and let it sit for a minute or two.)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 TSP salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat to oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your cupcake pans by lining the cups with cupcake papers and lightly spraying the cups with cooking spray.

Then in a saucepan combine the butter, water and canola oil and set over medium heat until the butter is just melted.

Meanwhile in a large bowl of your mixer add together the sugar, cocoa and flour. Then pour the butter mixture into the sugar and flour mixture and beat until smooth. Whisk in the eggs one at a time then whisk in the buttermilk. Next add the baking soda, salt and vanilla all at once and mix until fully incorporated.

Finally fill the cupcake liners about three quarters of the way full. Use a large cookie  dough scoop to make filling the cups easier.

Bake the cupcakes for 20 minutes and let them cool before frosting them.

Fudge Frosting

  • 3 oz semisweet dark chocolate (My favorite is Scharffen Berger chocolate)
  • 3oz bittersweet dark chocolate
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, well softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

First break your chocolate in small pieces and place them in medium sized microwave safe bowl. Heat your chocolate for one minute then stir. Then continue heating it at 30 second intervals stirring well in-between until the chocolate is fully melted and shiny. It takes 2 minutes total in my microwave, but microwave strength can vary so keep a close eye on it.

Then in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl using a hand mixer beat your butter and salt until creamy about one minute. Add in the vanilla, milk and powdered sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy. Finally drizzle in the melted chocolate and beat on med high speed taking care to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times to make sure that the chocolate is fully incorporated.

The melted chocolate makes this fudge frosting irresistibly good.

Finally using a pastry bag with a large star tip pipe a circle around the outside edge then create a second swirl in the center.

Now the fun part decorating them. Top them off with some chocolate sprinkles or for a festive touch add a mint sprig and a raspberry.

Over the years, I have found that the best kind of kitchen creativity is often inspired by necessity. These chocolate fudge cupcakes are so irresistibly good that they just might eclipse my old standby recipe. The cake is light and moist and the chocolate frosting melts in your mouth.

So have you found yourself cooking a little more off the cuff? I would love to hear how in these uncertain times perhaps cooking has changed for you? Cooking has always been a source of great comfort to me, especially in times of change. Because there is a certain soulfulness in creating and sharing something that is deeply delicious.