Valentine Mini Oreo Hearts

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner so how about sharing these chocolate covered mini Oreos with your loved ones! This is one of the easiest to make as there is no detail to fill in – the writing is imprinted on each mold – a total of 3 molds with 6 different sayings per mold are available.

Many have heard of “Sweethearts”, the small candy hearts printed with a message. These are an American candy made by New England Confectionery Company or NECCO and are available around Valentine’s Day. I certainly don’t remember the messages being so smudged or blurry – only about 1/4 were readable from a box and even those (below) are not too clear.

Anyways, these chocolate covered Oreo hearts taste much better, you can read the message and they are chocolate after all. The colored hearts are white chocolate.

Valentine Mini Chocolate Covered Oreo Hearts

  • assorted wafers
  • mini Oreo cookies
  • mini Valentine heart molds (there are 3 sheets available and each sheet has 6 molds with different sayings)

Microwave each wafer color individually. Start out with 30-50 seconds; repeat and then only 10 more seconds if needed. I don’t let the wafers melt entirely as I will stir them with a spoon to finish melting the wafers. Some colors have a tendency to get thick and not melt good; this time it was the red and pink.

Spoon a layer of chocolate in one or two hearts at a time; gently drop in a mini Oreo; then cover completely with more of the same color. Tap the mold to remove any air bubbles. You will note that if you do not add enough chocolate with the first layer, the Oreo cookie may show through. You can see this in a couple of my cookies.

Recipe by

Linking to Angie @ Fiesta Friday and the two co-hosts  Laurena @ Life Diet Health and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook

Some more mini molds… Just search Oreos or Valentine’s Day for the bigger molds…


Fiesta Friday #1 Sliders for Super Bowl

Four years ago I joined Fiesta Friday #1 (yes, the first one) when Angie’s blog was known as the Novice Gardener. Back then there were only 23 contributors – and no I was not featured 😦  but I had lots of fun. Fiesta Friday has grown over the past four years where Angie’s blog is now known as Fiesta Friday and contributors can number over 100 each week.

I have participated in most of them except for a time or two 🙂 I have been a co-host many times and this is what helps to keep Angie’s party going, so please think of volunteering. It is fun and a good way to meet bloggers and see all of the fantastic posts, and not just recipes.  A number of friends have come and gone for various reasons but there are always new ones. I still keep in touch with some. Angie and Fiesta Friday needs your support and participation. So, if you are looking to join a blog party, think about Fiesta Friday.

The two teams playing in 2018 Super Bowl LII are the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. May the best team win! I’m not a big football fan, other than college football,  but like many others I do enjoy the commercials and half time.

Linking  to Fiesta Friday 209

This weeks co-hosts are  Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Laurena @ Life Diet Health

I am going to include Mom’s Sloppy Joes which I failed to include in the 2014 post. We four kids grew up on this recipe – makes great sandwiches/sliders and you could even use the mixture for nachos!

Mom's Sloppy Joes, Adapted

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • some onion chopped and sautéed (I added)
  • 1 tbsp. mustard, can use a honey mustard and not add the sugar below
  • 1 tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. celery salt (I only used 1/2 tsp.)
  • 1 tsp. onion salt (I only used 1/2 tsp.)
  • 1 to 1-1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 3/4 cup chili sauce
  • Sriracha sauce (I added 1/2 tbsp.)

Brown the meat and onions, drain and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on low, covered, for 30 minutes.

Recipe by

Below is my original post from  2014…

This is my first Fiesta Friday contribution to Angie’s site, The Novice Gardener, but it is actually SuperBowl Sunday.  This is the first time I have joined a “blog party”  but what a fun way to meet other bloggers.  Now, if I can just figure out what I am doing and link up to this fabulous party created by Angie.

So, what will we be doing around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 2, 2014?  Yes, eating and  watching the Super Bowl XLVIII game with the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.

DSC_1981 DSC_1985


Super Bowl means family/friends, food, commercials and football in that order.  I am not a big football fan except for some college football games, especially when the University of Michigan is playing.  I am an alumni and still live in the same town where I received my Masters.  Gene was an avid fan of the sport and if I could share something with him I usually  tried to join him even if it meant watching football.

Now, what is a slider?  Just about  everyone knows it is a little sandwich about 2 to 3-inches across, served in a bun.  The bread can be potato, ciabatta, brioche, challah, dinner rolls or any small bun. Generally a slider is a hamburger but it can be any small sandwich.  Does anyone out there like White Castle?  These little sandwiches were a favorite of Gene’s.  Sliders can be made with fish, ham, pork, chicken, vegetables – you name it.

This year I am using my Ham and Cheese Sandwiches, Pulled Pork Sandwiches, and Weight Watcher’s Meatballs Subs recipes in addition to the two new beef sliders below.  These are recipes that can be prepared ahead of time, even frozen, then thawed and heated when ready to serve.  Click any link and you can find the ingredients and directions for each sandwich.

From left to right; ham and cheese, meatballs, pulled pork, cheesy sloppy joes and in the back beef sliders.  Also a snack mix and some chocolate covered pretzels in the shapes of footballs and helmets.  It is a fun time where you can make anything you want – just let your imagination go!

DSC_1975 DSC_1988

I needed to try something new so I chose two ground beef recipes; one by which can be made the day before and heated in the oven and the other by Ina Garten which you can do on the grill.  Neither take very long and I did adapt both recipes to my taste.  Condiments are always optional and you can use what you want.

Cheesy Sloppy Joes

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 (1.25 oz.) pkg. onion soup mix (good way to season the meat)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 24 slider rolls, split
  • hamburger dill chips (sliced jalapenos are good too)
  • red onion, thinly sliced

Combine the beef and onion soup mix in a large skillet; cook and stir until browned and no longer pink.  Remove from the heat and drain the grease.  Place back in the skillet and add the cheese and mayonnaise; stir until melted.  Allow to cool and refrigerate.  I prepared this recipe the day before the game.

When ready to serve preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and place the bottom halves of the rolls on the foil. Spread the meat mixture over each half and cook until heated through.   Add hamburger dill slices or pickled jalapenos and a slice of red onion.  Very good, easy and kid friendly. Heating up 4 of the different sliders in the oven until the cheese melts and heated through; sloppy joes, pulled pork, meatballs and ham and cheese.

Recipe by 

DSC_1931 DSC_1973

Ina's Beef Sliders

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. thyme leaves, minced (I added more)
  • 3 tsp. garlic minced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 oz. Gruyere, grated (or any cheese of your choice)
  • 12 small slider buns
  • baby arugula (I used spinach and artisan lettuce)
  • tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced
  • condiment of your choice such as ketchup, mustard or mayo

Combine the beef with the next six ingredients and mix to combine.  Shape the meat into 12 (2 to 3-inch) patties that are the same size or use a slider press like the silver one below.  The one I have comes from Williams Sonoma and apparently they do not sell them any more, but there are a lot of other models available online.  Many family members will remember the yellow press for a regular sized hamburger that Gene always used to make his burgers.  A pet peeve of his was that he disliked fat hamburgers and would never let me make them free hand 🙂

Preheat the grill to high 15 minutes before cooking.  The weather is finally in the twenties today so I will use my outdoor electric grill to cook these burgers.  Yes, beyond the smoke that is snow!  Turn the heat down to medium, brush each slider with oil (or the grill if you prefer) and place the sliders on it.  Cover and cook for 6 minutes, turn and cook another 6 minutes or until the temperature is 165°F.  For the last couple of minutes sprinkle the gruyere on the top of each slider and close the lid.  Remove to a platter and keep warm.

Slice the buns in half and toast the halves cut side down on the grill.  Place a slider on each half, top with lettuce of your choice and finish with a slice of tomato and red onion.

Recipe by 

DSC_1938 DSC_1947

DSC_1939 DSC_1940

DSC_1941 DSC_1942

DSC_1965 DSC_1966

DSC_1969 DSC_1982

DSC_1963 DSC_1972

Emeril’s King Cake Tres Leches

The Big Easy turns 300 this year – yes, New Orleans is celebrating it’s Tricentennial. The city has a diverse heritage which includes Mardi Gras falling on February 13th this year.  New Orleans represents a strong influence of French, Spanish, African Americans, Cajun and Creole  and people from many parts of the world which have had a profound impact on its culture.

While deciding on what to make for this special occasion I ran across a recipe by Emeril Lagasse. Many of you know who Emeril is;  the “bam” guy or another famous phrase Emeril makes “kick it up a notch”.  He first came to New Orleans in 1982 to replace Chef Paul Prudhomme  at the famous Commander’s Palace. After 9 years as head Chef he opened his own restaurants in New Orleans.

Meril is Emeril’s 4th restaurant that he opened in New Orleans and is named after his youngest daughter. This King Cake Tres Leches is one of the popular desserts served at Meril.

This dessert is a combination of King Cake (colored sugars and “babies”) with a Tres Leche Cake. This cake is said to come from a Latin American country and is a light, airy sponge cake soaked with a mixture of three milks; evaporated, sweetened condensed and heavy cream. The restaurant Meril adds a special touch by spooning the reserved milk mixture around a piece of cake for more decadence. I did this and we all loved it. There is nothing better than this cake and really is to die for!


Emeril's King Cake Tres Leche, Adapted

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup plus 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1-1/3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp. whole milk
  • 5 oz. sour cream (little over a 1/2 cup – I used a heaping 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1-1/2 tsp. Vietnamese cinnamon
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • King Cake babies for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.

Whip the egg whites to medium peaks and set aside. I always chill a metal bowl along with the beaters when I plan to whip egg whites or make whipping cream.

Using a paddle attachment of your stand mixer, combine the sugar and dark brown sugar and mix to blend. Add the oil and egg yolks and continue to mix.

Next add the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt to the batter and mix. Add the milk, sour cream, vanilla and cinnamon and mix, scraping down the bowl as you go along.

Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until combined. This means removing the bowl from your stand mixer and gently folding the whipped egg whites with a spatula. Pour the batter in the greased baking pan.

Bake for about 35 to 45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean; my cake only took 35 minutes. Set aside to cool.

While the cake is cooling, whisk together the condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream.

Once the cake is cool, poke holes all over the cake using a skewer or chop stick – try not to get too close to the edges. I used the bigger end of a chop stick  and the smaller end might have been better – you want the holes big enough for the milk mixture to be absorbed. I probably overdid the number of pokes but once with tiramisu cupcakes I used a fork and that didn’t work so well, so…

Slowly pour 3 cups of the milk mixture evenly over the cake. I think 2 or 2-1/2 cups would be better – the cake seemed a tad soggy. The mixture is supposed to go down the sides and under the cake acting like a sponge. However, I spooned the rest of the milk mixture around each piece of cake when I was ready to serve it so it got enough moisture.

Cover and place in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled, about 3 to 4 hours; I like to refrigerate it over night. Refrigerate the remaining milk mixture until you are ready to serve the cake.

The cake up to this point can be made a few days in advance and kept refrigerated.

I chose to cut each piece of cake, place on a plate, add sweetened whipped cream on top, spoon milk mixture around each piece of cake and sprinkle with the purple, gold and green sugars. Garnish with a King Cake baby (s).

Sweetened Whipped Cream: 

  • 1/2 pint or 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Chill the bowl and  beaters. Combine the above ingredients and frost with this sweetened whipped cream. Sprinkle with colored purple, yellow and green sugars. Garnish with a King Cake baby!

Decorator’s Whipped Cream:

Use this whipping cream when you pipe it through a pastry bag. The cream of tartar and sugar stabilize the whipped cream. Refrigerate after decorating or serve right away.

  • 3 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 pint or 2 cups of cold heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Chill the bowl and beaters. Mix the sugar and cream of tartar. Whip the cream using your electric mixer on high just until it begins to thicken. While the mixer is running, add the sugar mixture, vanilla and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat or it will curdle.

Use the tip of your choice to decorate.

Recipe by

Linking to Fiesta Friday 209 and the two co-hosts Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Laurena @ Life Diet Health

You can see the egg whites are not stiff otherwise the end would be sticking straight out. This is about medium for the cake


My most popular post for Mardi Gras is Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls King Cake which has received almost 3500 views especially during the months of January and February. A can of cinnamon rolls and colored sugar and you have a festive breakfast treat.

The baby (I’m sure everyone knows) should never be baked in the cake; insert one after the baking is done!

A recipe for King Cake Scones from Louisiana Cookin is also a good choice to make – they taste more like a cake than a scone!

A third recipe is King Arthur Flour King Cake Cupcakes which are always great for a kid’s party. A granddaughter helped me make these in 2013.

I might as well include Parade Punch for Mardi Gras


My Nephew Travis’ Motorcycle Trip

My nephew Travis has started his year long motorcycle trip. So many adventures he is going to have – hopefully all good! Such is the technology available to him as he can document his entire trip and upload pictures and drone footage on his WP blog. He also has a GPS tracker to see where he’s been and then of course he will be able to text and email.

This is so fascinating to me to be able to join Travis in his adventure of a lifetime. He did suggest I get a side car and come along with him. LOL!

In Travis’s own words: “I’m a 28 year old guy that decided to quit the rat race for a little while and go see a bit of the world. I’m planning on taking somewhere on the order of a year off of work to travel by motorcycle from Washington DC to Argentina”.

2018-01-29 13.39.09

My rough plan is to zig zag across Mexico and all the countries of Central America on my way down to Panama. From there, I’ll ship my bike to Colombia and make my way down the west coast of South America to Chile, where I’ll cross back over towards the east coast to explore for a bit before finally ending up in Buenos Aires and shipping me and (hopefully) my bike home.

Hope you enjoy the blog, I’ll mainly be posting pictures & drone footage along the way (until my drone inevitably gets stolen), with updates on my travels as well I’m sure.

Stay safe Travis and love you ❤

Linking to Fiesta Friday 208.

Gene’s Saltine Appetizers or Fire Crackers

I recently ran across a recipe which reminded me of one of Gene’s favorite snacks. This is an appetizer he could make without my help as I always had the ingredients on hand and it was very simple to throw together. You just take saltine crackers, drizzle with Italian Good Seasons Dressing, sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano and broil lightly under the broiler until the cheese melts. Go figure, but he loved them!

This recipe from Food and Wine (originally in Southern Living by Sheri Castle) is a little more complicated, has more ingredients, packs a little punch and takes more time to make. They are called Fire Crackers, or Alabama Fire Crackers.

Of course you can use any crackers you would like!

Fire Crackers

This recipe can be easily reduced.

  • 16 oz. pkg. of saltine crackers (4 sleeves of crackers)
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 tbsp. (2 pkg.) ranch dressing mix
  • 3 tbsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 cups olive oil

Fill a large gallon Ziploc bag with the olive oil, seasonings and spices. Close the bag and shake to mix the ingredients.

Place all 4 sleeves of crackers in the bag, re-seal and gently turn the bag over several times to coat the crackers. Let the bag sit overnight.

Preheat the oven to 250°F. Lay out the crackers on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes.

Use different spices or even different crackers. The South serves these as party snacks and can be casual or fancy. Serve them alongside soups, chilies or salads. Or just make them as a snack like my hubby did!

Recipe by

Gene's Saltine Crackers

  • saltine crackers
  • Good Seasons Italian Dressing
  • Parmigiana Reggiano

Place desired amount of saltine crackers on a parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle with  Italian dressing and sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano. Broil until the cheese melts.

Recipe by 

Linking to Fiesta Friday #208


Great with my lentil soup

Balmy Sunset Cocktail

Besides my wine I enjoy an occasional fruit flavored drink, especially in the summer time. Even though it is winter in Michigan right now (the oranges are especially delicious this time of the year) I thought I would bring a touch of “sunshine” to everyone.

This cocktail comes from Susan Belsinger and Carolyn Dille, who were two of the first “herbalists” I came to enjoy way back in the 1980’s when we first moved to our 75 acre “farm”. I was all about gardening and growing herbs and lots of veggies. The kids like this beverage too – just leave out the rum! This recipe is 30 years old and I figured it was about time to include it in my blog. It first appeared in Gourmet Magazine in 1980.

Balmy Sunset Cocktail, Adapted

  • 1-1/2cups unsweetened pineapple juice
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3/4 cup dark rum (I used only 1/2 cup)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. Grenadine
  • few dashes of Angostura bitters (I used regular but Orange bitters would be good too)
  • 4 lemon balm sprigs (I used 2 sprigs of mint and a slice of lemon)
  • sparkling water or seltzer (optional)
  • cherries to garnish

Muddle the lemon balm sprigs or rub them with your fingers to release their fragrance in a pitcher.  As it is in the middle of winter I only had mint to use which I grow under lights. I also added a slice of lemon. Add the first five  ingredients and allow to blend for 3 hours or overnight.

Remove the sprigs of lemon balm (mint and lemon slice). Rub the rims of four chilled glasses with a lemon balm leaf or use a lemon. Serve on the rocks and garnish with more lemon balm leaves (I added cherries) and a splash of sparkling water or seltzer if needed.

Recipe by

Linking to Fiesta Friday #208

Mini Football Oreos Covered In Chocolate

Are you ready for some football – maybe all the great commercials at least!  Superbowl is not too far off; February 4th, and I wanted to share this new mini mold with you.

Back in 2012 I posted the larger version of these tasty cookies.


Then came out with this new “mini” version. It’s perfect and I have found that many people prefer the smaller cookies – you can always have two or three! You can see I used milk and dark chocolate – I have family who request different chocolates. Also, you can keep it really simple by not adding the white laces.

Linking to Fiesta Friday and the two co-hosts Lily @ Little Sweet Baker and Judi @

If you want to see the many, many Oreo cookies I have made just search “Oreos”. You’ll find gardening, holiday, and many odds and ends molds – both regular size and mini.


The picture below shows the difference in sizes. They are a two-bite (maybe one for some) chocolate delight. I couldn’t find a small snack package of the large Oreo cookies to show the difference better, but I think you get the idea.  I just didn’t want to buy a whole bag of them because then I would have to eat them! You know it is one of the very few store bought cookies that I love! I just kick them up a notch by covering them with more chocolate.

Meatballs With Pureed Onions and Two Cheeses

I love meatballs of all kinds and have a few different recipes on my blog including my favorite to serve over pasta with my marinara sauce. If you would like a spicy recipe to use as an appetizer check out David Lebovitz’s recipe.

I recently looked through Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s “My Perfect Pantry” cookbook and ran across his meatball version with pureed onions. With my love for onions I had to try his recipe, plus the ingredients include two cheeses! Geoffrey also uses a combination of veal and pork and no beef which I later found out was a mistake in terms of flavor.

I used his ingredients except I cut back the water amount when pureeing with the onions/garlic. The meat mixture would have been too sloppy otherwise and not hold together. You could also boil, roast or bake the onions instead of using raw ones like Geoffrey did.

Our recipes are similar but different at the same time. I did change the method of cooking. Geoffrey fries his meatballs and finishes them off in the oven or marinara sauce. I always bake mine – just don’t like the idea of messy, fried meatballs – besides it’s healthier! Then I finished cooking in my marinara sauce.

Comment: I made these meatballs awhile ago and before I had a chance to post this recipe I learned something new. I already was suspicious of the reason for the lack of flavor in the meatballs. After reading Kenji’s “Food Lab” I found out “beef provides robust flavor, pork provides a good amount of tender fat and veal provides plenty of gelatin to help retain moisture”. These meatballs did not have any beef and the veal definitely diluted the meaty flavor! Thank goodness for my delicious marinara sauce.

Forget the “meatloaf mixture” – buy beef and pork separately the next time you make your meatloaf. Don’t bother with the veal!

With this in mind it is better to use a combination of beef and pork and add gelatin in place of the veal. Kenji suggests adding 2 tbsp. unflavored gelatin hydrated in a bit of chicken stock and cooled until dissolved.

I have noted the changes in the recipe below…

Meatballs With Pureed Onions and Two Cheeses, Adapted

  • 1 large onion, cut into chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup water (I cut back to 1/2 cup – add only enough to get a good consistency)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 lb. ground veal (substitute beef)
  • 2 tbsp. unflavored gelatin hydrated in a bit of chicken broth until dissolved (optional)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated and more for serving
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, freshly grated
  • 1-1/2 cups unseasoned fresh bread crumbs (see Homemade Fresh Breadcrumbs)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • additional seasonings such as basil or oregano (optional)
  • serve over a pasta of your choice (bucatini is my favorite)
  • 1 recipe marinara sauce

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Process the onion, garlic, and water in a food processor and puree until very smooth. Don’t add too much water, only enough to achieve a good consistency.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork, veal, eggs, parmesan, romano, bread crumbs, parsley, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Add only enough onion puree and with your hands, mix until just combined.

Form  into 24 meatballs. Normally I use a stainless steel scoop but because the mixture was soft I used my hands. Don’t overwork the mixture as the meatballs should be light and soft.

I read somewhere that you can microwave meatballs for 5 minutes to set the exterior and keep them from falling apart. Precooking also renders some of the fat.

You can fry the meatballs for more flavor but I chose to bake them.

Place meatballs on a rack (spray first with cooking spray to prevent sticking) on a large baking sheet. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes prior to baking. Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until the meatballs are almost cooked through. Either cook longer in the oven or simmer in a marinara sauce for an additional 30 minutes.

Recipe by

Linking to Angie and Fiesta Friday #207 and the two co-hosts (yes – me again)  Lily @ Little Sweet Baker and Judi @


Bang-bang Chicken Salad from Sichuan Province

How about starting the New Year with a chicken salad that has a “bang” to it. This chicken is a well-known Sichuan dish and the name means “chicken beaten with a wooden stick”. A theory is if you beat the poached chicken it will expose the fibers in the breast meat so they can absorb the delicious dressing. This recipe suggests smashing the chicken with a wooden spoon and then tearing the chicken meat to shreds. No – I did not beat or smash the chicken but I did tear the meat to shreds with my fingers and worked in some of the dressing – that made sense! I have, however, smacked a cucumber.

This is the best chicken salad you could ever want – there is no mayonnaise, celery or apples. There are layers of flavor beginning with the poached chicken breasts in a garlic/ginger broth and then shredded and tossed with a flavorful sauce made with homemade chili oil, rice vinegar, toasted Sichuan peppercorns and tahini. Sliced English cucumbers give a crispy texture and color and the peanuts provide something crunchy. Just a delightful layering of flavors; salty, sweet, sour, hot and numbing (if you use the Sichuan peppercorns).

This recipe is adapted from Sichuan Chicken Salad by Dawn Yanagihara found in Christopher Kimball’s new magazine “Milk Street” which is his third magazine. Some of you are familiar with America’s Test Kitchen, Cooks Illustrated and Cook’s Country.  I have bought some of the cookbooks and subscribed to the magazines in the past but I really like the new format and recipes in this new publication. It is not so “technical” or scientific and is a lot easier to read and understand.

As Christopher states “At Milk Street we introduce a fresh new approach to cooking – the new home cooking. Together, we explore a lively way to cook that’s both simpler and smarter, yet familiar. The new style of cooking is more about layers of flavor, contrast, and combining ingredients in new ways.” This Sichuan Chicken Salad does have all of those qualities.

A new magazine to try for a year…

Tahini and I are not familiar with each other so I spent a little time looking at 6 or more versions at one of my local groceries. Apparently, I bought an unpopular variety even though it was organic and pricey but I did my research after-the-fact! So, I got a little curious about this ingredient and realized the brand could make or break your recipe.

I found an interesting article on Saveur and read that there are two kinds of tahini; light and dark. I am certainly not an expert on tahini – I just like to share my experiences while cooking and the information I find along the way.

Light Tahini is best used in preparations where their pure flavor can shine through and won’t be overpowered by stronger ingredients. “They’re great whisked into classics like hummus, baba ganoush, and halva, as the main component of a sauce for seasoning roasted vegetables, fresh cold salads (like tabbouleh or chopped cucumber, tomato, or bell pepper based dishes), for topping falafel, or for drizzling on grilled or baked fish”. Soom  appears to be one of the best examples of a light tahini and sources all their sesame from Humera in Ethiopa.

Dark Tahini often has a heartier, coarser texture, a more pronounced bitterness, and more robust flavor. “Use them in baked goods or chocolate confections, brownies, chocolate truffles or hot chocolate, or mixing it into chocolate chip or shortbread cookie dough – or for drizzling on grilled meats, roasted potatoes, or atop spicy dishes”. Al Arz is the recommended tahini by professional chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi.

Apparently, tahini is one of the latest culinary crazes, according to Zingerman’s Bakehouse. I recently received an email that one of their new classes is “Baking with Tahini”. They source their tahini from Turkey but do not list the brand. All the recipes are desserts so I am assuming a “dark tahini” will be used. Should I sign up for the class as there is one offered every month for the next four months?

Bang-bang Chicken Salad from Sichuan Province, Adapted

  • 2 (10-12 oz. bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts)
  • 6 scallions, white parts chopped, green parts thinly sliced on a bias, reserved separately
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger; cut into 4 pieces and smashed
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2-1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry (optional – I usually add any “optional” ingredients)
  • 2 tbsp. chili oil (start with 1 tbsp.; taste and add more if desired)
  • 2 tbsp. tahini (read info above)
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. white sugar
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns (optional) – toasted and finely ground (add to taste)
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced crosswise on a bias
  • 1/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped

In a large saucepan place the chicken skin side down and add the ginger, garlic, scallion whites, and 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Add the water and sherry to fully submerge the chicken. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat and let sit until the chicken registers 160°F 15 to 20 minutes. After 20 minutes my chicken breasts registered 140°F so I boiled them a few minutes more. Uncover the pan and let the chicken cool in the liquid for 30 to 45 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the chili oil, tahini, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, 1 tsp. salt, Sichuan peppercorns, if using and cayenne.

Remove the chicken and discard the skin and bones and transfer to a large bowl. Add 2 tbsp. of the chili oil mixture, then use your fingers to shred the chicken while working it into the dressing.  Add the cucumber and 3/4 each of the peanuts and scallion greens. Toss with the remaining dressing until evenly coated.

Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining peanuts and scallions.

Recipe by

Linking my salad to Angie @ Fiesta Friday and the two co-hosts Diann @ Goats and Greens and Shinta @ Caramel Tinted Life

Sauce ingredients…

Hasselback Potato Gratin with Gruyere and Parmigiano Reggiano

These potatoes are creamy with a crispy edge and were a  perfect side for my holiday ham dinner. For some time I have been wanting to make “hasselback” potatoes or a fancy way to make baked potatoes. Hasselback potatoes were first created in 1953 by Leif Elisson  who was a trainee chef in Stockholm and are a  popular way to serve potatoes.

The potatoes are cut through 2/3 way into thin slices and they were first served with butter, breadcrumbs and almonds added in between and on top of the potatoes. The potatoes have changed through the years as different twists/ingredients are added to these special potatoes; like cheese and heavy cream!

I first saw a gratin form of these potatoes while I was co-hosting Fiesta Friday,  and Jasmine’s post was one of the recipes: Then right before Christmas I received an email from NY Times Cooking which included these very cheesy potatoes. I came to find out that the author is Kenji Lopez-Alt, managing culinary director of the food website Serious Eats.

I have used his website for recipes but did not know about Kenji or the book he published “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science” back in 2015 (an updated version is in the works). He is no stranger to the scientific community of foodies having worked in the Cook’s Illustrated Test Kitchen and then moved on to a more challenging job at Serious Eats.

I found many of the Test Kitchen recipes were a little too “far out” and hard to understand. Kenji is more down to earth, very entertaining and I learn something new on each page – and yes, there are almost 1,000 pages of information and absolutely fantastic recipes including these potatoes. What better reading material during one of the coldest and snowiest winters.

This gratin is one of the recipes in his cookbook and I won’t go into why these potatoes are so good and how Kenji created the recipe. All I can say is he woke up in the middle of the night with an idea, tried to get his wife to join him and made the first batch of these delicious potatoes – a funny story! You will have to look on the internet or buy this 1,000 page cookbook/reference to get more details. Better yet, make this recipe as you will not be disappointed.

Kenji admits to being a nerd and says he is proud of it. I love his witty and easily accessible writing. He focuses on the science behind many American dishes and that often conventional methods don’t work that well and newer and simpler techniques can achieve far better results. You’ll find sections on “Science of Breakfast”, “Science of Vegetables”, “Science of Roasts”; there’s even a section on sous vide! Lots of color photos is always a must for me in any cookbook!

These potatoes are different from scalloped potatoes as they are placed on their edges in order to get crispy, browned edges. The potatoes remain soft and creamy but with a lovely crispy edge.

There is a lot of prep work slicing the potatoes and some use a mandolin to get thin and even slices. You could even use just a sharp knife. I found this neat gadget for cutting one hasselback potato at a time and no danger of nicking a finger. The gadget is indented with 2 spikes to hold a potato while you slice it. I do have a mandolin but prefer not to use it – sharp instruments and me do not get along even with a protective guide.


Hasselback Potato Gratin with Gruyere and Parmigiano Reggiano, Adapted

  • 3-4 oz. Gruyere, grated (you can use another Swiss cheese but it won’t be as good as Gruyere)
  • 2-3 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • fresh thyme leaves (to taste) or chives, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (be generous)
  • 5 lb. bag of russet potatoes (you won’t need them all), peeled and sliced (even though I like to leave the peel on it was suggested that you get a cleaner crunch from peeled potatoes)
  • softened butter to grease your 2 quart casserole dish

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Combine the cheeses in a medium bowl; remove 1/3 of the cheeses and set it aside. Add the cream, garlic and thyme leaves to taste to 2/3 of the cheese mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I used my hasselback potato slicer to cut all the potatoes.  After cutting each potato with a chef’s knife I removed each potato and finished cutting the slices through.  I next added the slices to the cheese mixture and coated both sides well. Then I followed the same procedure with the rest of the potatoes.

Grease a 2 quart casserole with butter. Pick up a handful of potato slices while organizing them into a neat stack. Lay them in the casserole with their edges aligned vertically. I was able to get three rows in my dish. You want the potatoes packed. Don’t worry about getting the slices lined up perfectly as to size  as the potatoes will turn out fine once they have cooked.

Pour the excess cream/cheese mixture evenly oven the potatoes until the mixture comes halfway up the sides of the dish. You will probably have a little left over.

Cover the casserole with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cheese and bake for a final 30 minutes or until the potatoes are a deep golden brown and crisp along the edges.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes.

Comment: I like cheese and garlic so I usually add extra with a casserole like this.

Recipe by

Linking to Fiesta Friday and the two co-hosts this week Mollie @ The Frugal Hausfrau and Petra @ Food Eat Love