Parmesan Hash Brown Muffins

I love potatoes, probably every kind imaginable. I do like to cook with real potatoes and I have a number of recipes on my blog but sometimes I like to use “convenient” foods  to make my life easier, especially when I am entertaining a crowd. Serve these potatoes for brunch or with a nice turkey burger like I did below.

I also like to make individual servings, or finger food, especially when I have a group to feed. Using shredded potatoes you can buy in the dairy section or hash browns in the frozen section is a quick and easy way to get a quick side to any meal. You could make 24 of these (just double the recipe) and feed quite a few people.

Parmesan Hash Brown Muffins

  • 20 oz. bag of “Simply Potatoes” or a bag of Ore-Ida frozen potatoes
  • green onions and chives to taste
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup Parmesan, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste (remember the cheese is salty and I usually add 3/4 cup)
  • olive oil to drizzle over the potatoes before baking

If you are using the frozen variety, thaw in the refrigerator overnight. You also need to get rid of any water in the potatoes by pressing them dry. The “Simply Potatoes” are dry so you don’t have to worry about any moisture.

Combine all of the ingredients except the oil. Spray or grease (I used butter) a 12-well muffin tin. Gently press the mixture in each well. Prior to baking top with a little oil and a few chopped chives.

How you bake these muffins will be up to you as I like my hash browns “crisp” and “crunchy” so I wanted to be sure they had that texture.

I started out with a 400°F oven and baked them in the center of the oven for 45 minutes. They were not done enough for me so I placed the muffin tin in the bottom third of the oven for another 15 minutes. Perfect and just the way I like them!

Cook these potatoes to your taste – I like them crispy!  I also recommend using “Simply Potatoes” as they save you a couple of steps. Do what works for you…  

Linking to Angie @ Fiesta Friday #237 and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Diann @ Of Goats and Greens

Guanajuato, Mexico 2

My nephew Travis’ journey through Mexico…

Trav's Motorcycle Trek

4/4/2018 – 6/4/2018

Guanajuato (part 2)

In the end it did take another few months to finally write another blog post, sorry for the delay!

My last two months in Guanajuato were really great. All of the teachers, administrators, and fellow students at Escuela Falcon made my time in Guanajuato really special, and I will miss them all dearly as I continue on my travels.

I also got the chance to do some really rewarding volunteer work at a local underprivileged elementary school through the Muskoka Foundation, and was even named one of Muskoka’s “Catalyst Travelers” for 2018! I’m excited to keep working with Muskoka Foundation organizations throughout my travels.

Cristo Rey

One of my weekend motorcycle trips was to the nearby Cristo Rey monument, a large “Christ the Redeemer” style statue on a mountaintop about an hour’s ride from Guanajuato. The ride there was a little slow going…

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San Blas, Tepic, and San Pancho, Mexico

The beach, crocodiles, humidity and spiders!

Trav's Motorcycle Trek

6/5/2018 – 6/17/2018
Trip Mileage so far: 4452

San Blas

Although I was sad to say goodbye to Guanajuato, I was excited to be hitting the road once again on my motorcycle. Luckily so far (knock on wood) I haven’t had any more motorcycle problems, instead it’s been nothing but smooth sailing through Mexico’s varied and beautiful landscapes.

My first destination after Guanajuato was the Pacific coast. After having been in Mexico for 4 months or so, I figured it was about time I laid around on the beach for a while. San Blas was recommended by my guidebook and by some other travelers as a chill, less touristy option than Puerto Vallarta or Sayulita, so that’s where I headed first. Looking through my photos I realize that I didn’t actually take any photos of the road to San Blas, which is too bad, but once I got there I…

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Greek Salad with a Red Wine Vinaigrette

I love Greek Salads ever since I had my first one at Panera Bread. I liked the freshness of the vegetables, the crispness of the romaine and the tangy Kalamata olives and pepperoncini. But this is not the way Greeks make their salad according to Michael Psilakis in his cookbook “Live To Eat: Cooking the Mediterranean Way”.

Traditional Greek Salads do not add romaine lettuce or pepperoncini.  The author can understand the desire to add romaine as it does provide a nice “crunch” to a salad. This vinaigrette surpasses the other vinaigrettes I tried (including Panera Bread) which I will post later. I made four vinaigrettes; Ina Garten, California Pizza Kitchen, Panera Bread and Michaels’ was the best by far!

The fresh herbs (mint, dill and parsley) I forgot to add to Michael’s Greek salad above!

I served the salads with dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and mini pita bread. Dolmades can be found fresh at Whole Foods in their deli section, in tins at Trader Joes or better yet make your own. I hope to make my own dolmades and pita bread – some time in the future!

What sets Michael’s recipe apart from all others is the red wine vinaigrette made with garlic puree (see recipe) and Dijon mustard. These two ingredients give the vinaigrette great flavor and wonderful body. Michael thinks of “it as a condiment that can give almost any dish an unmistakable spark. Its bright acidity breathes life into a roasted piece of steak, fish or chicken. You can also add a wonderful layer of flavor to a dish with a final drizzle”. He provides 13 recipes where he uses this delicious vinaigrette…

Greek Salad with a Red Wine Vinaigrette

Red Wine Vinaigrette: 

  • 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. shallot, finely diced
  • 2-1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2-1/2 tsp. Garlic Puree (I highly recommend homemade but you can buy this at the store)
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh black pepper, ground
  • 1-1/2 cups canola oil
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients except the two oils in a blender and puree until smooth. With the blender running, slowly add the canola and olive oils until the vinaigrette is thoroughly incorporated. Store in a large container with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate. It keeps for weeks…

On its own the vinaigrette is acidic and mellows when it is used to dress vegetables or as a dressing for a salad; add a little extra virgin olive oil before serving. If it is too mellow add a squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice.

Makes 3 cups


Combine tomatoes, red onion slices, Kalamata olives pitted, yellow pepper slices, English cucumber peeled and sliced, fresh herbs (parsley, mint and dill), feta cheese cut into cubes, and salt and pepper to taste. Maybe add some dried oregano and a few tsp. of extra virgin olive oil to finish.


Place a layer of romaine on a salad plate and add cherry tomatoes cut in half, red onion slices, English cucumber peeled (if desired) and sliced pepperoncini, cubed feta cheese, sliced sweet peppers, fresh herbs (parsley, mint and dill) and extra virgin olive oil for drizzling. The modern version can be any way you would like!…wine-vinaigrette/ 

Look at the star of this vinaigrette; fresh garlic and pureed garlic

Traditional Greek Salad (without romaine and pepperoncini): Yes, I remembered the fresh herbs…

Modern Greek Salad: I removed the olives and added the pepperoncini and romaine. A modern version can be anything you want – what is important is the vinaigrette which is by far the best I have ever tasted. This time I remembered to add the fresh herbs – they do make a difference!

Linking to Angie @ Fiesta Friday #236 and Julianna @ Foodie on Board and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes

Garlic Confit and Garlic Puree

My search for a typical Greek salad with an excellent vinaigrette led me to Michael Psilakis, “Live to Eat: Cooking the Mediterranean Way”. This excellent cookbook not only has a traditional and modern Greek Salad but includes a recipe for a very important ingredient in his Red Wine Vinaigrette . See Greek Salad with a Red Wine Vinaigrette.

Michael makes his own garlic confit which has almost replaced his use of butter (he even uses it instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich).  Then the author often blends it into garlic puree which he uses in many recipes including his vinaigrette for his Greek Salads.

I could have bought garlic puree at the grocery but decided this recipe was so easy that I would start from scratch if I wanted the best Greek salad I could make. I don’t usually have my oven on this long during the summer (use my grill,  slow cookers, bread machine, Breville counter top oven, rice cooker, etc. – I do have a lot of appliances) but I felt this was a necessary step and besides I love garlic! Usually I will just roast a head of garlic I need for a recipe but this way I will have a supply for a month (it only keeps for 1 month in the refrigerator). You can always make garlic puree and freeze!

I will post my versions of the best Greek Salad soon by Michael and Panera Bread.

One reason I really like this cookbook is that the author provides ways to use these ingredients in recipes throughout his book. For the garlic confit Michael shares 7 recipes; and the garlic puree Michael lists 32 recipes in his cookbook. I have made his Greek Salads (modern and traditional) and will post soon. I was not happy with the garlic sauce I made and will continue to work on that recipe.

Garlic is one of Michael’s “magnificent seven” ingredients in his pantry and I totally agree. I just love garlic and using it in so many healthy ways. Garlic has many health benefits and is an important ingredient in the Mediterranean diet and a healthier approach to eating.

Garlic confit is peeled cloves cooked slowly in seasoned oil. This process removes their acidity and sharp heat and concentrates their sweetness. These delicious, braised cloves of garlic keep for up to a month so you can always have a ready supply on hand.

Garlic Confit and Garlic Puree

Garlic Confit:

  • 3 cups peeled garlic cloves (you can buy garlic already peeled at your local grocery store)
  • 1 fresh bay leaf or 2 dried
  • 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F. I would place the bay leaf, fresh thyme and peppercorns in cheesecloth before cooking. Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pot. I used one of my Le Creuset pans. Cover and bake for about 50 minutes. The cloves are done when they are pale gold and you can smash them with the back of a spoon. Cool to room temperature.

Pour the cooled cloves and oil in a clean jar with a lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

I then made garlic puree and froze 2 tbsp. in each ice cube well.

Garlic puree is the smooth and spreadable version of garlic confit. 

  • garlic confit

Transfer the garlic cloves stored in the oil using a slotted spoon to the bowl of a food processor, or you could mash the cloves with the side of a knife. Process until smooth. Add a little oil if needed to make the mixture a better consistency. Save the oil to use in other recipes as there is a lot of garlic flavor. 


Linking to Angie @ Fiesta Friday #236 and Julianna @ Foodie on Board and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes

Fennel Risotto with Parmesan and Beef Stock

Yes, this risotto has beef stock instead of white wine/chicken stock giving it an unexpected flavor. The wine may be missing but there is lots of butter, Parmesan cheese (I doubled the cheese and it was thicker but cheesy) and  beef stock.

The beef stock (versus broth) gives the risotto a darker color and makes it thicker but it is so creamy  and the rice still had a little bite. You could always use vegetable stock instead for a milder flavor. Of course there is the fennel which takes this risotto over the top by adding a little sweetness. No, this is not your typical risotto but absolutely delicious!

This risotto is Skye McAlpine’s idea of comfort food that she grew up with since moving to the town of Venice, Italy when she was six.  Her cookbook, “A Taste of Venice”, contains 100 recipes on cooking the Venetian way or her version of home cooking. She adapted this risotto recipe from Mariu Salvatori de Zuliani’s classic Venetian cookbook, “A Tola Co I Nostri Veci”.

Update: August 5, 2018

I just got around to reading Issue No. 11 of Cherry Bombe and Skye is one of the featured women in this issue (along with Nigella who made the cover and others).

Cherry Bombe is a biannual indie magazine that celebrates women and food. Each issue is packed with features, profiles, recipes, photos, and artwork from some of the most talented writers, chefs, food stylists, photographers, and illustrators around”. A very high quality publication that I recommend to all you foodies (or anyone), who are interested in what some creative women in this world are doing with their lives!

My hubby and I visited Venice,  this unique and romantic city, on my birthday many years ago. It was part of a two week driving vacation  through this beautiful and historical country (yes, we had to take a boat to get to Venice). The gondola rides, amazing architecture, strong coffee and walking tours on flooded streets. Some areas we had to walk on boards.

Some call it the “city of love” (Paris actually claims that fame), but in fact it is floating in a lagoon of  water, reeds and  marshland. The transport system are interconnected canals – amazing to see these canals everywhere. Venice is certainly one of a kind…

Nowadays, people are calling Venice the “sinking city” as it has sunk 9 inches over the past 100 years. Global warming certainly plays a part…

Fennel Risotto with Parmesan and Beef Stock, Adapted

  • 6-1/2 cups good quality beef stock
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large (or 2 small) fennel bulbs, finely sliced (I chopped them into pieces)
  • generous pinch of salt
  • heaping 1-1/2 cups Carnaroli rice (said to be harder to overcook than Arborio rice)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated (I added 1 cup)

Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat and keep at a simmer. I have never made my own beef stock before but have made chicken and vegetable stocks. Melt about 2/3’s of the butter in another saucepan. Add the onion, fennel and salt. Cook, while stirring, for 10 minutes. Add the rice and increase the heat to high, stirring for about 3 minutes. Add a soup ladle of the stock and cook, stirring constantly, until all the liquid has been absorbed before adding more stock.

Stir constantly while adding the stock a cup at a time until it is all absorbed for about 15-20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes. Vigorously stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan which is called mantecare (the final step) and is what gives the rice that incredible creaminess.

You do need to eat this right after cooking as the risotto loses its creamy texture the longer it sits. You can reheat it by adding more broth until the rice warms up. Better yet use the leftover risotto to make fresh mozzarella stuffed arancini or risotto cakes. 

The ingredients and getting ready to core the fennel bulbs…

Adding the rice and the beef stock slowly, one ladle at a time…

Adding the rest of the butter and Parmesan and the finished fennel risotto…

I have another recipe, or rather two, Risotto Milanese Two Ways – one in my Breville Rice Cooker and the other is a Weight Watcher’s recipe.

Linking to Angie @ Fiesta Friday and the two co-hosts Mara @ Put on Your Cake Pants and Hilda @ Along the Grapevine

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Laying Her Eggs

This lovely Black Swallowtail Butterfly has been flying around my deck all day long – especially the parsley. This is a female as she has a band of iridescent blue on her hindwings while males have a band of yellow. See how the lower part of her body is curved in as she lays her eggs? See one of her eggs next to the “c” in cooking in the lower left corner? Smaller than the tip of a sharpened pencil…

Sure enough here are some of the very tiny eggs she laid on my curly parsley. I will be seeing caterpillars soon if the predators, such as spiders, don’t eat them all!

You can visibly see 3 eggs; two are in the middle of the photo on the left and right, and one below the left egg in the photo. She laid each egg in a different part of the parsley.

My curly parsley, thyme, violas, little gem marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias! I guess if I was a butterfly I would want to lay my eggs here among such pretty flowers and herbs. Lots of good parsley to munch on  when they become caterpillars  🙂

Linking to Angie @ Fiesta Friday #234 and Jenny @ Apply To Face Blog and Deb @ Pantry Portfolio

Hummingbird Moths

What a pleasant surprise to find this visitor in my garden. While watering my plants I noticed something flying around and at first I thought it was a hummingbird hovering over my flowers. But after watching this busy “creature” for a short time I knew it was the “hummer look-alike” moth who has fast beating wings and moves just like a hummingbird.  Take a close look at the photos as he is furry just like a bird but in fact is an insect.

There are 4 species of hummingbird moths in North America. The one I saw is called the Snowberry Clearwing Moth, a rather large moth from the Sphinx Moth Family. Adults average 2 inches long and from a distance some say they look like a big bee. In the north where I live, specifically Michigan, these moths only have one brood as the season is short. In the south they have two broods; mid spring and midsummer into late fall. Unlike hummingbirds these moths are late risers, waiting until the sun warms their wings. I saw this little guy mid afternoon.

Some of their favorite flowers include bee balm, phlox, honeysuckle and verbena. Keep this in mind if you would like to attract these special moths to your garden. He sips his nectar like hummingbirds with his long tongue (see picture below) and are said to sound like hummingbirds. Because of their very long tongues (that they keep rolled up under their chins) they can reach the nectar inaccessible to many other flower visitors. They do pollinate flowers similar to hummingbirds. Did you know that long proboscis (tongue) sucks nectar like a straw, where as hummers lick?

One special difference though was the fact I was able to get up real close to this little guy – he was not bothered by my presence either and did not fly away like the skittish hummingbird does. My camera was loaded with my “up close” lens and I had to get very close to it to get a clear and focused picture.  Unfortunately, I did not get a good side picture of him as he was flying. He did not budge but in the pictures does it look like he is “peeking at me” with those big eyes that are on the top/back of his head? Hmm – first the Cope’s Gray Tree Frog, Peek-A-Boo and now this beautiful moth!

So, if you’re lucky to have these moths visit your gardens, welcome them with open arms and marvel at their beauty…

Linking to Fiesta Friday #234 and Jenny @ Apply To Face Blog and Deb @ Pantry Portfolio

Garam Masala Grilled Salmon with Avocado, Tomato and Cuke Salsa

Salmon can be cooked in so many ways and grilling is one of the methods you can use. Our temps were in the 90’s when I made this dish making fish an ideal dinner for hot weather. Salmon is a healthy alternative to high protein meat such as beef and pork and can have very few calories like this recipe. It’s a complete meal with a fresh avocado/tomato salsa and naan bread on the side.

This recipe is adapted from the Food Network Magazine.

I love garam masala which  is a combination of many different spices depending on the cook’s preference. I have used it in a few dishes but decided to make my own and chose the spice mixture from Serious Eats, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipe. See recipe below…

There are so many versions of this wonderful spice mixture and all I can say is do your research and look at the ingredients if you buy it at the store or be creative and make your own. I feel the more spices the merrier when it comes to garam masala and that is why I chose J. Kenji’s recipe. You will not be disappointed and will find other uses for it.

The many spices of Garam Masala, toasting the seeds and cinnamon and the finished powdered form…


Garam Masala Grilled Salmon with an Avocado, Tomato and Cuke Salsa

  • salmon fillets, skin on (center cut or the tail like I used)
  • garam masala (rub on to your taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • vegetable oil to brush on lemon halves, naan bread pieces and your grill
  • 3 lemons halved
  • naan bread
  • 2 large tomatoes peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1/4 sweet onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt and a few twists of fresh black pepper
  • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 avocado, diced

You can combine the  cucumber and  onion ahead of time but wait to add the rest of the salsa ingredients. This salsa does not keep well and you want to assemble it right before serving.

Preheat your grill to medium high. Lightly brush the grates with oil. Brush oil on the lemon halves and both sides of the naan bread. Rub the flesh side of the salmon with the garam masala and season with salt and pepper.

Grill the salmon flesh side down  (if using fillets). With the tail part I did not turn it and let it cook probably around 10 minutes or so. If you are using the center cuts of the salmon you will need to turn.  The time will vary on the thickness of the salmon and also the heat of your grill. At the same time grill the lemon halves until nicely charred and the naan bread until toasted.

Add the tomatoes, avocado, ginger, 1/2 tsp. salt and a few twists of fresh black pepper to the cucumber and onions. Squeeze 2 grilled lemon halves over all and gently toss.  Garnish the salmon with a  grilled lemon half and a couple wedges of naan bread.

Garam Masala – J. Kenji Lopez-Alt:

  • 8 green cardamom pods, husks removed
  • 2 tbsp. whole coriander seed
  • 1 tbsp. whole cumin seed
  • 1 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. fennel seed
  • 1 (3-inch) stick of cinnamon
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg from a whole nutmeg

Combine the first 8 ingredients in a skillet over medium heat. Cook, tossing frequently, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Cool and transfer to a spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Add the ground nutmeg and grind again.

This mixture will keep in an airtight container for up to 6 months.…o-and-cuke-salsa/ 

The first two pictures were taken inside…

The rest of the following pictures were taken outside around 6:30 pm.

Linking to Fiesta Friday.

Shrimp with a Garlic Chili Tomato Sauce

Shrimp is the perfect dish to serve when the weather is hot and you don’t want to heat up the kitchen too much because it doesn’t need a lot of cooking time.  I can’t always grill outside so this dish is ideal for serving during hot and cold weather alike.

This is a tomato-based shrimp recipe which gets its kick from the chili garlic sauce that can be added to your taste.

I have over 25 recipes using shrimp; many are stir-fries, some appetizers, some salads and one Indian recipe. I like to bake, roast or grill these tender shrimps and could easily eat them every week 🙂

This recipe comes from which I have adapted.

Shrimp With A Garlic Chili Tomato Sauce, Adapted

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • fresh parsley, minced to taste
  • fresh oregano, minced to taste
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced (serve the other half, cut into wedges, on the side)
  • 1 tbsp. garlic chili sauce or to taste
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (I added the rest of the 15 oz. can and added more garlic chili sauce)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 pound shrimp (I used extra-large, or 21-25 size)
  • 1/2 lb. pasta, angel hair cooks really quick (or you could use rice)

Combine the first 10 ingredients in a small bowl. Measure 1/2 cup of the sauce and pour over shrimp; marinate for an hour or more – I did for 2 hours. Save the remaining 1 cup sauce to use later.

Cook the pasta according to directions; drain and set aside.

Heat a skillet and add the shrimp; saute for a few minutes. As they are just starting to curl add the reserved sauce. The cooking time will depend on the size of the shrimp. Stir to combine for an additional 5-8 minutes; do not overcook! Remove from the heat, add the pasta and toss. Adjust the seasonings and garnish with fresh parsley, chopped and a squeeze or two of fresh lemon.

You can grill the shrimp but since I was making the pasta anyways I just cooked it inside.…ili-tomato-sauce/ 

Size of shrimp chart:

  • small  – 51-60
  • medium  – 41-50
  • medium-large – 31-40
  • large  – 26-30
  • extra-large  – 21-25
  • jumbo  -16-20

Marinating the shrimp for about 2 hours and cooking just a few minutes in a cast iron skillet.

There was a little too much oil for my taste (see left picture) so I will reduce the amount to 1/4 cup next time I make it.  This is why I added 7 more ounces of tomato sauce to help absorb the excess oil and I probably cooked more than 8 oz. of pasta!