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massage your kale

One of my favorite Valley chefs, Kevin Binkley, was the teacher at Les Gourmettes this week. I’ve mentioned Kevin and his stellar restaurant, Binkley’s, many times before on this site.

Chef Kevin Binkley


Kevin was able to do something that no one else has done, make me a kale salad lover – as long as it’s this salad! I could eat it every single day for lunch and dinner and be a happy camper.

dinosaur and curly kale

Kevin calls it a crushed kale salad. It is the same technique you’ll find all over the internet, only they are calling it massaging the kale instead of crushing it. One thing he does differently is to tear the kale into bite-sized pieces instead of cutting it into ribbons or chiffonade.

In this video, I’m holding the camera with my left hand and only using my right to massage the kale. You’ll use both hands.


So why crush or massage the kale? Because doing so helps break down the very strong cell structure of the leaves. After a couple of minutes, you’ll notice a visible difference as you massage the kale; the leaves darken, they shrink and wilt and become quite silky, and most importantly, palatable. Raw kale is bitter and tough, massaging or crushing is key to enjoying it uncooked.

roast walnuts

One big take-away for me from the class was the way Kevin toasts nuts. Instead of spreading them on a dry baking sheet, like I usually do, he tosses the nuts in a little oil and salt. If you’ve ever toasted nuts before, you know that when they are done, they are dry. So dry that salt, sugar, or spice won’t stick to them. Tossing them in the oil and seasoning before toasting is so much better!

Two points I need to make: You’ll notice the recipe calls for raspberries, I didn’t have any, but they are a beautiful, colorful and yummy addition to the salad. Also, be sure to buy bunches of kale, not the bagged chopped up variety. The bagged stuff has the center ribs included, you don’t want the ribs. I used one bunch of dinosaur or black kale and one bunch of curly kale. A mix is a nice way to go.

Oh, and if you’re interested in learning more about Kevin Binkley – enjoy this great documentary.

Binkley's Crushed Kale Salad

Binkley’s Crushed Kale Salad

Toasted Walnuts

  • 1 cup raw walnut halves
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • Egg yolk from 1 small egg (or 1/2 yolk from a large egg)
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and diced shallot
  • 1/4 cup olive oil


  • 2 bunches kale (a mix of dinosaur, curly, and/or red)
  • 1 ½ cups finely shredded Parmesan, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 navel oranges
  • 1 container raspberries

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April 29, 2016   1 Comment

family pasta night

jeff marissa

Marissa and Jeff were in Mexico this past weekend for a wedding and came back through here Sunday and Monday on their way back to Austin. I decided a big pasta dish was just the thing to satisfy everyone for our Sunday dinner.


The dish uses six garlic cloves. Four are peeled and sliced and 2 are left whole. If you hate mincing a bunch of tiny garlic cloves, like I do, this is the perfect way to use those little pains. Gather them up and estimate how many make up a large clove and use them as the whole cloves in this recipe. See, I got rid of eight little ones in one fell swoop.


Meyer Lemon Spaghetti with Parmesan Chicken


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Italian seasoning
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil


  • 2 Meyer lemons, well washed
  • 3 tablespoons turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 6 large peeled garlic cloves, divided; 4 thinly sliced, 2 left whole
  • 3/4 cup Panko
  • 2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 bunch of Italian parsley, leaves and tender stems, minced

pounding chicken

Chicken: Use This Method to pound out the chicken breasts.

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April 26, 2016   3 Comments

around the yard


The weather is quickly heating up around here, so I thought it might be nice to share a few quick photos before everything turns, well you know, brown and dead.


Later this week I’ll tell you about an experiment I’m in the middle of with my pomegranate blossoms, like the one above, to try to actually get some edible pomegranates from my tree this year.






This is one of the few plants that will still look this good come July and it is my favorite image here. Proving, I really am a desert girl at-heart.

potato vine

Postscript: In a comment below, Betsy asked for a list of the plants pictured, I’ve not only added that in the comment section in response to her, but also at the end of the post. Thanks for asking Betsy!

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April 25, 2016   2 Comments

a cake made of cheese

Ever since I started this blog, coming up on 7 years now, in August, 2009, there has been one aspect of posting that I’ve been terrible at keeping up on.


It is the task of putting all new recipes over there into the Complete Recipe Index that you see in the left column of the page. It’s not that it is a hard thing to do, it’s just something that I consistently forget to do.

You see, it can’t be done when the post is being written. It can only happen after the post goes live. Therein lies the problem. Once a post goes live, I’m already on to the next post, the next recipe, the next day. Out of sight – out of mind.

get er done

Then, once I’ve gotten far behind, it really does become hard to do and even harder to catch up.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I’m very proud of myself. I am all caught up! I updated the Menu Ideas page while I was at it. And it only took me … three days. Really, I’ve been working on it since Monday morning, off and on, but still, three damn days! I hope you’ll check it out.


The last recipe I had entered into the Index was from early March 2014. There have been more than 300 posts since then. It makes me grateful that I took that 7 month hiatus for Marissa’s wedding, otherwise that number would have been much higher!

Cheese Layers

Besides getting it done, the upside is that while I was doing all that work, looking over every single post from the last 2+ years, I realized that I never posted about Marissa & Jeff’s Wedding Brunch. This Sunday, will be their 6-month anniversary, so I guess this is as good a time as ever.

Here is the sad part. I don’t remember much about the brunch at all! I was in a complete fog and haze. I don’t know what I served or how it was set up.

Ultimate Cheese Cake

I only remember that I had a pretty great Bloody Mary & Mimosa Bar on my cute French buffet on the back patio. There are no photos of it but I do recall that Jonathan Vento was the voluntary master-bartender and was whipping out Bloody Marys like nobody’s business.

I remember that all the kids’ friends and bridal party were hanging out on the far east side of the patio and seemed to be having a grand old-time.

Cake of Cheese

I distinctly remember that my wonderful friends and family helped me A LOT! I had not slept a wink on the wedding night. I never even put my head on the pillow. I was up cooking and setting up the entire time from when we got home and unloaded from the wedding until my girlfriend, Mary, showed up to help and as others arrived early and pitched in.

I can’t remember even one dish that I served, not one! If any of my family, friends, or Marissa’s friends who were there remember, I’d love to know. Seriously, I would!

And I remember that after all the friends left, and only family remained, I had to excuse myself and go to bed and pass out. I didn’t wake up until hours later, long after everyone had cleaned it all up and left. What a haze it was and still is.

Layered Cheese Cake

But the one thing that I will never forget is this gorgeous Cheese Cake that I assembled for my girl. She had seen something like it on Pinterest – long before her engagement – and she wanted one so bad.

We had thought about having it at the wedding, but the cost was prohibitive. Having a venue or restaurant do this would be crazy-expensive. To do it yourself, still not cheap, but totally worth it.

Cheese Cake

Even though I could barely put together a cohesive sentence or keep my eyes open during the brunch, this beautiful presentation and the joy on the many faces, especially my beautiful girl’s face, when they lay their eyes on it – that made the sleepless night seem like nothing.  It was the perfect wedding brunch.

That, I remember.

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April 21, 2016   2 Comments

Dad’s Lemon Pie

Meyer lemon bunch

This is the recipe for the lemon pie that my dad requested as his birthday dessert. The recipe for the second, a bananas foster pie, can be found HERE.


I used Meyer lemons for his pie. Once Meyer lemon season has passed, regular Lisbon lemons can be used. I give you that variation in the NOTE at the bottom of the recipe.

Meyer juice

I wasn’t sure how many Myer lemons I’d need for the juice, so I picked four off my tree. My Meyers were so large, I only needed 1 and 1/2 lemons for 3/4 cup of juice! Depending on the size of yours, you might need 2 to 3 Meyers. I know the ones they sell in grocery stores are not nearly as large.

Since the Meyers were huge, I used small lemons of my Lisbon tree for the sugared lemons, either variety will work, just use lemons on the smaller side.

TIP: Since the pie is blind baked, you’ll need to cover the edge with foil to prevent it from over-browning when the lemon filling is being cooked. That is traditionally done by cutting long strips of foil and covering the edges with the strips. It’s harder than it sounds, since the strips are difficult to keep intact.

10 inch

There is an easier way – if you have a 10-inch tart pan you can use this new tip I devised while baking this pie:

tart pan

Remove the ring from a 10-inch tart pan and turn it upside down.

tart ring cover

As you can see, it sits perfectly on top of the pie crust, but it needs some foil strips added to really cover the crust.

slip over crust

The advantage is that the strips hold together easily when attached to the ring. It can then be easily slipped right on top of the pie. It holds together so much better than the old method. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy!

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April 20, 2016   1 Comment

the master crimper

I made two pies for my dad’s 85th birthday dinner on Sunday. He requested a lemon pie and then Connor and I decided on a banana pie. Not any old banana cream pie, but a decadent Bananas Foster Pie – a custardy caramely luscious pie!


A little history here: Even though I hate to bake, I’ve always made my pie crusts from scratch. I guess it’s some sort of cooking instructor-pride thing. Now that I think of it, it’s stupid. I also almost never use cake mix either – nearly always making cakes from scratch. Again – kinda idiotic!

I mean, IF I loved to bake, then it would make sense to go all out, but since I don’t, what the heck?!?

crimp one

Anyhow, Connor works in the pantry station at a high-end casual restaurant – meaning he makes the salads, condiments, the Charcuterie Boards, the desserts, etc. When he was over a couple of weeks back and we were talking about Dad’s birthday dinner, I mentioned the pie. He asked me if I wanted him to do the crust. What? YES! Of course, I do!

pie crusts

So Connor came over mid-week to help me with the two pie crusts. It turns out that at his work, they use Pillsbury’s roll out pie crusts (2 to a package) from the refrigerator case.

Who Knew? The fillings for the pies are made from scratch, but not the crusts. I put aside my snobbery and in doing so, discovered that they were excellent, much more consistent and reliable than mine and “easy as pie” to use. And who was the genius who made up that saying? It’s stupid too!

Let’s change that saying to  – “they were easier than pie!” Not “easy as” but Easier!

Can you tell that baking makes me crabby?!?

master crimper

The best part? Connor is a master crimper. Way better than me. Call me impressed. I’m very proud and pleased with my boy and his pie crimping skills! It’s fun discovering all he’s learning and finding out what I can get him to do for me!

Something else – I’ve decided to try to add a video or two to this post. Not sure how well it will work or if you find it helpful or not, so let me know what you think and if you’d like me to add more video content to future posts.

dad and his pie

So back to this pie. The crust is blind baked, which can be done a couple of days before, wrapped well in plastic and refrigerated.  Also, I forgot to sprinkle the top with the pecans. You should make sure you don’t forget. Finally, it should be topped (sweetened whipped cream, caramelized bananas AND pecans) at the last-minute and you might want to enjoy it with a fun rum cocktail! That last part is just an extravagant suggestion and up to your discretion. Enjoy and Happy Birthday, Dad! xoxo [Read more →]

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April 19, 2016   1 Comment

El Alma inspired rellenos

I can’t stop thinking about the chiles rellenos I had at El Alma, while visiting Marissa and Jeff in Austin last week.

el alma rellenos


At the time, I posted about it on Facebook and my high school friend and blog follower, Cynthia said, “I just want you to come home and start making some of those recipes.”

Great idea, Cynthia!

I did. I shared it not only with my family but also with my dear friend, Tram.

So here it is!

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April 14, 2016   3 Comments

chicken tinga for Tram

Tram’s birthday was three weeks ago and we had not yet had time to get together and celebrate. Not until this past Saturday, after the twins were down for the night and Steve was at a Diamondbacks game.

Tram and fam

She had texted me the night before to see if Saturday would work and if it was OK if we stayed in and had take-out. The staying in part was perfect but the take-out … not so much.

chicken tinga

I decided to make my slow cooker version of Chicken Tinga. Chicken breasts and slow cookers aren’t something that always go together. We are so accustomed to cooking with boneless skinless chicken breasts that we sometimes forget how wonderful bone-in and skin-on chicken can be. For this recipe, the bones and the skin are a must – don’t worry – they are both removed and discarded before being served.

The bones and the skin keep the white meat from turning to shoe rubber and being dry and tasteless. They are essential for this long and slow cooking process.

tiny bones

The most important part of this recipe is to take extra time and precautions to find any and all bones and bone fragments that may be left on the meat or in the sauce. See those tiny bones and bone bits on the bottom edge of plate in the photo above? That’s what I’m talking about. Since the chicken cooks a long time, the bones get very brittle and break easily, so follow the recipe on how and when to search them out and discard them. How terrible it would be if someone choked or cracked a tooth!

drain tomatoes

Also be sure to drain the canned tomatoes well. Plenty of juices are given off by the meat and the vegetables during the cooking process. The liquid that remains already needs to be reduced, so having all that extra tomato liquid will make the process take twice as long. Plus I’ll be posting a fabulous recipe later this week where you can put the tomato juice to good use, so save it. Or freeze it and add it to your next batch of soup or pitcher of Bloody Marys.

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April 11, 2016   1 Comment

not perfect, but still perfectly beautiful

CL Cake

I spotted this cake all over the Internet in the weeks leading up to Easter and I knew it was the dessert for me. It has so many things I love!

  1. Coconut – check
  2. Malted milk – check
  3. Malted milk balls – check
  4. Cuteness Overload – check and Yes Please!

Now, I could just send you to the LINK at Country Living from where the recipe came. But then I couldn’t tell you all of my little trials and frustrations with it and pass along a few hints and tips that might make it easier for you in case you decide to make it.


First, let’s review the differences between the various liquid coconut products available:

  • Coconut water is the clear natural juice found when you crack open a coconut.
  • Coconut milk has the consistency of dairy milk and is made by simmering one part shredded coconut with one part coconut water.
  • Coconut cream is much thicker and much richer than coconut milk. It is made by simmering four parts shredded coconut in one part coconut water. If there is a bit of cream that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk – it is also considered coconut cream.
  • Cream of coconut is a sweetened coconut cream. It has a thick almost syrupy consistency and is most often used in desserts and mixed drinks, such as a Piña Colada.

not coconut cream

The frosting calls for cream of coconut. I accidentally pulled out a can of coconut cream, took photos with it along with the rest of the frosting ingredients, opened it and only then realized I had grabbed the wrong product.

cream of coconut

Here you can see the difference in the look and consistency of coconut cream vs. cream of coconut. Happily, once opened, coconut cream will keep, transferred to another container, covered and refrigerated, for about a week, so I used it to make a chicken curry a few days later. If you can’t find cream of coconut in the baking section of the grocery store, look in the liquor area or just ask.

CL Cake

Next, let’s once again look at the lovely photo from the Country Living website for this beautiful cake. My frustration in trying to get my frosting to look like my robin eggs was tremendous. Just look at how perfectly their frosting coloring and speckling match their eggs. Seriously, it’s as if they are cut from the exact same cloth.

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April 8, 2016   6 Comments

tablescape or dessert

Today and tomorrow will round out the posts from Easter. The problem is, I can’t decide which to do first, the dessert or the tablescape. So while I’m thinking about it – I’ll begin with this, the last entry from my Austin trip.

Austin Aqua Bikes

First there was our boat cruise on Lady Bird Lake to watch the bats, then we got on the lake once again. This time on WaterBikes.

Austin Water Bikes

It’s an easy and fun way to cruise down the river and you’re just about guaranteed to stay dry. It would take some real effort to tip one of these over or fall off. I like staying dry! Plus, look at that gorgeous view of downtown Austin. Totally worth it!


We had a good variety of meals while I was there. I already told you about the Gospel Brunch at Stubb’s BBQ. We also enjoyed wonderful seafood at the very cute and quaint Clark’s Oyster Bar where we, of course, had oysters.


Our high-end night out was at Lenoir Restaurant, a farm to table – prix-fixe menu, sort of place.

Lenoir plates

What I enjoyed most about Lenoir was that they let you choose your three prix-fixe items from any part of the menu you wish. Generally, you must pick one dish from each category; let’s say one from Field, one from Sea, one from Land and/or a dish from Dream. Here, you can have all three of your selections from Sea if that’s what you want to do. Nice!

Clockwise from the Top we had: Tuna Crudo, Cashew Ginger Soup, Braised Pork, Smoked Duck, Herb Stozzapreti, and Almond Crusted Snapper. I think this was Marissa’s favorite meal of the weekend.

el alma

My favorite was at a place much more casual, El Alma, which is walking distance from the kids’ apartment. Marissa had the vegetarian Enchiladas Placeras, while Jeff and I had the Shrimp and Crab Relleno. The best relleno I’ve had in a very long time! I’ll be dreaming about it until I get my fix the next time I visit!

That wraps up Austin. And posting that helped me decide that today it would be best to share the Easter tablescape with you. The dessert, a cake, has so many photos to go along with it, that I’ll save that for tomorrow when I have no more travel photos to share.

holding pattern [

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April 7, 2016   1 Comment