Billy Boy’s Mustard


I am dedicating this post to my lovely gourmet husband, Billy. If it wasn’t for his wanting to make mustard I probably never would have tried this myself. He had been talking about making mustard for quiet some time so for Christmas I gave him a couple different kind of seeds and a bottle of fancy white wine vinegar (pretty much all you need to make mustard). Well, since I am not a very patient person, I decided one day to make the mustard while Billy was at work — it’d be a nice surprise when he got home! Unfortunately, I had to wait (did I already tell you I am not a very patient person?) as the seeds, vinegar and water have to sit in the refrigerator for a good 48 hours before you can actually make the mustard…. Well, 48 hours later I was blending up some pretty snazzy mustard!! It was all very exciting. Who knew, it did pay off to be patient after all.

The most difficult part of this recipe is getting good quality mustard seeds. I am lucky to have The Spice House just down the road who fortunately carry a nice selection of seeds. For this recipe, I used both yellow mustard seeds (whole) and brown mustard seeds (crushed). You can use just one type if you like, whole or crushed — it’s up to you. I like the combination of seeds. By using both I believe it adds texture and flavor.


Begin by adding 1 ounce of yellow mustard seeds and 1 ounce of brown mustard seeds (or 2 ounces of the same kind) to a jar. Add 2.5 ounces of good quality white wine vinegar and 2 ounces of water. Seal the jar, give it a good shake and place the jar in your refrigerator for the next 48 hours. Every so often during those 48 hours give the jar a good shaking, mixing up the liquid and seeds. Not sure if this adds anything to the quality of the mustard but it is satisfying knowing you’re doing something while you wait.


After 48 hours, pour the mixture into a food processor and blend until desired texture of your mustard — a little less if you like coarser mustard or longer if you want it creamy. That’s it! Your mustard is ready to eat. Wasn’t that easy?


One last word on this mustard: the day you make your mustard will be its spiciest. As it ages in the refrigerator it mellows. So if you like it spicy eat it right away. If you like it more sedated just wait a day or two. Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 weeks.


1 ounce yellow mustard seeds
1 ounce brown mustard seeds
2.5 ounces white wine vinegar
2 ounces water

Makes roughly one 5 ounce jar of mustard

Mandy’s Mini Mushroom Cups



When entertaining, simplicity is nice. I am a true believer in enjoying your own party. Often people think the only way to accomplish this is by buying (or catering) appetizers already made and just reheating…not always so! My Mini Mushroom Cups are so simple — the mixture can be made ahead of time and then assembled and heated right before your guests arrive. And because they are a one bite treat, there will be no crumbs for Fido…an added bonus to post party clean up!!

In a large skillet, melt butter over low to medium heat. Add the shallots, mushrooms, garlic, thyme and parsley and saute stirring the mixture often (do not let the garlic burn). After 10 – 15 minutes, slowly add the wine to the mixture and cook until liquid has reduced.  Turn off heat and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Meanwhile, arrange your mini phyllo cups on a cookie sheet. Fill each cup with a spoonful of the mushroom/shallot mixture, topping each one with a generous amount of Gruyère cheese. Bake in a preheated 400º oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is thoroughly melted and the phyllo has slightly browned. Serve immediately.


Perfect one bite wonders!!


1 tbsp salted butter
1 large shallot, minced
1 package crimini or baby portobella mushrooms, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh parsley
¼ cup white wine
Salt & pepper to taste
¾ cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
2 packages frozen mini phyllo cups (total of 30 cups)

Makes 30 mini cups

Cinnamon Applesauce


One of my New Year resolutions is to make a concentrated effort to create more basics from scratch — mustard, ketchup, maybe even mayonnaise. Applesauce fits right into that category. When my kids were much younger I would make them applesauce quite often. Somewhere along the way of busy family life I stopped. Not sure why. I suppose it is just easier to buy it at the market! Well, in keeping with both my New Year’s resolution and my need for simplicity in the kitchen, I am sharing with you my version of Cinnamon Applesauce. It’s incredibly quick and easy to make and because it is fresh the flavor is amazing! Trust me, it’s so much better than store-bought. (Oh, and my mustard recipe is coming soon. Also incredibly easy to make — who knew? — and again because it is fresh the flavor is that much more robust!)

DSC_7004Have a mason jar handy to store your applesauce in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Begin by peeling, slicing and chopping 8 apples into cubes (I use Granny Smith because I love their tartness but you can use whatever kind of apple you prefer). In a large pot, add the apples, ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1½ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring often. Your apples are ready when they are very tender (not quite mushy). Remove from heat and put in a food processor. Blend until desired consistency — some like it a little chunky, others like it totally pureed.


In our house we add applesauce to a lot of things: on top of cake instead of ice cream, along side pancakes instead of syrup. But our all time favorite is in a bowl with crunched up Oreos.
(Don’t say yuck until you try it — doesn’t look pretty but it tastes delicious!)


8 apples (whatever kind you like)
½ cup water
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg

Makes four servings.

Tomato Basil Bisque


For many, 2014 started off really cold. Who ever heard of a polar vortex? Chicago being labeled Chiberia? I was fortunate enough to have missed the brutally cold air but the mere thought of it made me retreat to the warmth of my kitchen and make soup — a staple on a normally chilly day but especially welcome during a deep freeze. Being a new year with all those typical New Year resolutions, I wanted to make a hearty yet super healthy soup that would prevent frost bite on a nippy day. Tomato Basil Bisque was my answer! It has incredible health benefits from both the tomatoes (lycopene, vitamins A,  C and K and beta-carotene to name just a few perks) and the fresh basil (Vitamins A and K, iron, and many essential minerals and oils). And by using fat-free half and half instead of full fat heavy cream, I reduce the fat and caloric intake helping to recede the waistline (New Year resolution perhaps?). However, adding the grilled cheese croutons might not help reduce the waistline….oh but indulge yourself!

In a large soup pot begin by sauteing the onions, garlic and fresh basil in 2 tbsp of olive oil. Cook for roughly 10 minutes. Add the white wine and continue cooking on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Next, add the tomatoes and their juices along with 1 tsp of salt and pepper. Bring to a rapid boil. Turn off heat and, using your hand immersion blender (or a regular blender if you don’t have an immersion one), puree the soup so there is just a slight tomato texture left. With the soup still off the heat, slowly add the cream, stirring to blend well. On a low flame, heat the soup for 10 minutes (do not bring to a boil). Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. Ladle into bowls, garnish with grilled cheese “croutons” and freshly chopped basil and enjoy your healthy bisque by a warm fire!


Garnish each bowl with freshly chopped basil and a few grilled cheese “croutons” . Serve immediately.


2 tbsp olive oil
½ yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
4 tbsp fresh basil, torn in pieces
½ cup white wine
8 cups canned diced tomatoes, with juices
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup heavy cream (or fat-free half and half works great too!)
chopped fresh basil, for garnish
grilled cheese croutons, for garnish

Serves 6-8

* Recipe adapted from Cristina’s of Sun Valley.

Stuffed Peppers


The holiday season is upon us and with that comes lots and lots of entertaining. Whether it’s a dinner party you are hosting or a pot luck you were invited to, getting creative in the kitchen becomes so much more festive this time of year! Fancy china is dusted off to take its place at the elegantly set dining room table.  Decorations are dug out of boxes for their yearly show.  And, if you are like me, you want to entertain with ease — not having to spend too much time in the kitchen away from all the festivites. Stuffed Peppers allows you just that! Make the peppers ahead of time, toss in the oven 15-20 minutes before serving and go join the party!


Begin by slicing off the tops of each pepper and cleaning out the insides of all seeds and flesh. Rinse out with water and place upside down to dry.  While cooking the rice according to the packages directions, saute the onion, celery and garlic in olive oil for 5 minutes. Next, add the mushrooms, salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence and saute for an additional 10 minutes. When the rice and the mushroom mixture are both done, combine them in a mixing bowl stirring in the parmesan cheese. Generously stuff each pepper with rice mixture and top with a slice of cheddar cheese. Place in baking dish and cook at 375º for 45 minutes.


Enjoy the Stuffed Peppers as an elegant side dish to any meal.


1 box long grain and wild rice (cooked according to package directions)
½ red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
6-8 mushrooms (any kind), diced
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
Dash or two of salt and pepper
4 peppers (any color), tops cut off and deseeded
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
4 thick cut slices of cheddar cheese

Makes four servings.

Herbes de Provence

If you are fortunate and live near a spice store, you should be making your own herb and seasonings mixtures. You will notice the difference in your cooking immediately as the fresh herbs and spices add so much more flavor than store brought versions that have been sitting on shelves for who knows how long.  My local spice shop is The Spice House, an amazing store that imports and sells the finest and freshest herbs, spices and seasonings from across the globe. The varieties you can get are also amazing. For example, I love the flavor rosemary adds to recipes but I don’t like the long, hard needles. At the spice house they sell crushed rosemary — a powder form that is a perfect solution to my needle dilemma! And because I love collecting little jars and containers, I always have something in which to store my concoctions! (The particular jar I use for my Herbes de Provence was a lovely gift from my daughter which she brought home from her travels through France.)

In a small bowl or jar, add all the ingredients and mix well. (I use a jar with a lid and shake to blend herbs.) Pace in a container and enjoy your Herbes de Provence!


3 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp dried marjoram
3 tbsp dried thyme
3 tbsp dried savory
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried rosemary

Though herbs don’t go bad, they do lose their freshness. For optimum results,
I suggest to use them within 6 months of purchase.


Tomato Black Bean Soup


As the Fall time change makes the evenings grow dark earlier, the need for hearty soups grows stronger. Tomato Black Bean Soup fills that niche perfectly!  Being high in fiber yet low in fat, it is a very satisfying soup that makes a terrific meal. You may certainly serve it with a dinner salad or garlic bread but, to be honest, it is filling all on its own. You can be creative, however,  by topping off your bowl of soup with such things as a sprinkling of cheese, a dollop of sour cream, chunks of avocado, or diced tomatoes (to name just a few ideas). Someone may want to add shredded cheddar cheese for a rich and creamy taste yet you may have an inkling for sliced scallions that add a mildly spicy bite. However you eat your soup, you will certainly enjoy this heart healthy, satisfying soup. And, like every good soup, it tastes even better as leftovers!!

To begin, using a large soup pot, saute the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Cook for roughly 8-10 minutes on medium to low heat. Add 2 cans rinsed black beans and 2 cans diced tomatoes (with juices). Slowly stir in the oregano, parsley, black pepper, salt, cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce heat to low and cook for 10 additional minutes. Remove the pot from the heat source. With a hand immersion blender, puree roughly ½ of the soup. This makes it “creamy” without adding any fatty cream while still leaving many of the tomatoes and beans whole. Return soup to stove top and heat over a low flame until ready to serve.


I added feta cheese to my soup. Everything tastes “beta” with feta!


2 tbsp olive oil
½ red onion, finely diced
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cans (15 oz) black beans
2 cans (15 oz) diced tomatoes, liquid included
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Serves six

Perfectly Plump Pumpkin Muffins

It’s getting cold out there so I think it’s time to bust out some muffin tops (baked ones of course! Keep your shirts on!). And because everyone loves pumpkin spice, from lattes, to candles, to pies, I thought I would share with you my favorite fall standby, The Perfectly Plump Pumpkin Muffin.  Once these little lovelies start cooking, you can say goodbye to pumpkin scented candles — the aroma wafting from your house will bring your family running home with hungry bellies. A perfect treat on a crisp Fall day.


Try adding walnuts pieces or perhaps chocolate chips to the batter before baking. Or maybe walnuts and chocolate chips!! Who says you can’t combine both!! Hmmmm, I’ll have to try that next time.


Or, for a festive wintery look, sprinkle with powdered sugar.



1½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup white sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
15 ounces pumpkin puree
⅓ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs

Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients and blend well. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until creamy. Fill greased muffins cups ¾ of the way with pumpkin mixture. Bake in a preheated 350º oven for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins

Savory Seasoning Salt


In the world of salt, there are many varieties: table salt, kosher salt, rock salt, sea salt just to name a few. Each is unique in their own way with equally unique benefits.  By far my favorite is sea salt. There are many kinds to choose from each with their own taste, texture and color.  I have experimented with many different types and cannot pick a favorite.  I love the traditional fleur del sel but then there is a pink Himalayan salt and a black Hawaiian salt or perhaps the grey Celtic salt….as a chef, having this many choices to pick from is a good problem to have!! For this recipe, you can use whatever sea salt floats your boat (hehehe that is a terrible pun!!).  I tend to use a finer grain salt as its uses are more versatile, but a chunky sea salt can add an amazing punch to any dish as well. Try this recipe a few different times and see which salt you like the best. If you are like me, each time you make your Savory Seasoning Salt, you will use a different type of sea salt. That is the fun of homemade!

In a small mixing bowl or jar, add all the ingredients and mix to blend. (I actually put all the ingredients in an old jam jar, put the lid on and shake like crazy — mixes the spices very well!) Store the Savory Seasoning Salt at room temperature in glass spice jar or a ceramic salt box.


4 tbsp good quality sea salt
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp dried savory
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder

Not Your Kid’s Mac & Cheese


CAUTION: You are about to consume an ultra-cheezy post…

There is a famous slogan out there…Porsche, there is no substitute. Well, I believe it could be altered to read Mac & Cheese, there is no substitute! I don’t mean out of the box, orange powder mix mac and cheese. I’m talking about a fresh, gourmet dish. Once you make your noodles and your cheese sauce (mind you the cheese sauce is made with freshly grated robust cheese), you can add a huge variety of “mix-ins” to create a very grown-up version of mac and cheese. I recently brought crispy bacon, sautéed leeks and garlic Mac & Cheese to a pot luck dinner. A few nights later my kids wanted me to make mac and cheese for dinner and I kept it vegetarian by adding a sautéed mixture of peas, wild mushrooms and scallions combined with a medley of fresh herbs. I even drizzled a little truffle oil over my serving though my youngest daughter thought that was too rich for her liking…kids!! The variety of mix ins are endless — let your imagination and taste buds guide your way! In any event, you need to give mac and cheese another try. Hey, you loved it as a kid, why can’t you enjoy it as an adult?

Begin by cooking the pasta according to package’s directions. While the pasta is cooking,  grate both the cheddar and gruyere cheeses and set aside.DSC_6461
In a medium-sized pot, melt 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat.  Quickly whisk in 2 tbsp flour and heat for 1 minute.  Next, add 2 cups of milk.  Whisking often, heat the sauce until the mixture thickens, roughly 10-15 minutes.


Once thickened, remove the sauce from the heat and blend in the shredded cheese until thoroughly melted. Season with 1 tsp of sea salt and 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper.


Your basic cheese sauce is now ready. Here comes the fun part…what are you going to mix in to make your mac and cheese “grown-up”? Perhaps sautéed shallots, garlic, fresh tomatoes and chopped spinach? Oh, but fresh peas, scallions and ham sound delicious too. You can always keep it simple and make it a four cheese sauce. However, if you really want to make your mac and cheese all grown up, simply mix in chunks of fresh lobster meat…makes for an amazingly exotic dish!! Like I said before, the ideas are endless and totally up to you.

Once you have made whatever it is you are going to mix in to your mac and cheese, it’s time to assemble the dish. Begin with adding the noodles to a 9 x 13 baking dish. Next, stir in the cheese sauce and mix to coat the noodles. Now add your mix ins and stir to evenly mix all the ingredients. Top the noodles with a sprinkling of paprika, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and finally a few pinches of parsley. Cover with tin foil and put in a 375º pre-heated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove the tin foil for the last 10 minutes of baking so the topping gets nice and browned. Let sit for a few minutes before digging in…if you can!!



Package of noodles (penne, elbows or the like)
2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk (I use skim milk)
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper

Your ‘mix in” ingredients

For topping: 2 tsp paprika, ½ cup bread crumbs, ¾ cup parmesan and 2 tsp parsley.