Potato Salad with Chive & Parsley Pesto

The official start of summer is still a couple of weeks off, but it seems safe to assume that, for most of us, Memorial Day has already ushered in the season. My husband, Les, and I were invited to join some of his old work friends for a backyard cookout that weekend, and our contribution was to be a side dish or dessert. We couldn’t choose, of course, so we made both! Les brought his nearly world famous chocolate chip cookies—one of these days I’ll convince him to share them here— and I picked this salad, which had arrived in my inbox from NYTimes Cooking just a few days before the cookout.

This was a flavorful twist on a typical summer potato salad!

I picked this one for a few reasons. First, I knew that there would probably already be plenty of macaroni salads and mayonnaise-based potato salads, so this would be a change of pace. The dressing here is essentially a pesto, but made with parsley and chives rather than basil. It’s a bright, vibrant salad that looks great on the plate and it “ages” well at a potluck without that greasy, broken mayo coating. There was also the matter of the large bag of baby potatoes Les had picked up at Costco the week before, and we had almost exactly the 2 pounds I needed for this salad! Green beans added a little bit of crunch that was just right, though I can imagine cut spears of asparagus would have been tasty, too. I cut the potatoes into quarters to get more surface area  to hold the pesto, and boiled them until fork tender, tossing in the green beans for the final two minutes. So easy, and all in one pot!

The recipe sounded great as written, but I tweaked it just a bit to satisfy our love for extra garlic. I didn’t have pine nuts but found that toasted pepitas worked great in the pesto and added even more pretty green color. Our parm-romano blend provided a deep savory flavor, and I used a nice peppery olive oil for even more zing.

There was quite a lot of pesto dressing, and I’m glad that I added it gradually, as the potatoes and green beans didn’t need the whole amount. But who minds having a little leftover pesto on hand? It will be delicious on some grilled fish or maybe tossed with shrimp and hot cooked pasta. Oh wait, on grilled vegetables! Mmm.

Just one more thing I’d add about this salad— serve it right away, and make it on a day that you have plenty of people around to eat it. We had a bit left over and found that it fell kind of flat after a couple of days in the fridge.

Potato Salad with Chive & Parsley Pesto

  • Servings: About 8
  • Difficulty: Average
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I only made a few minor tweaks to this NYT Cooking recipe, and it has already won a coveted spot in my summer side rotation!


  • 2 pounds baby potatoes, scrubbed and halved or quartered
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt (for cooking water)
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into short pieces
  • 1/4 cup roasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • 3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
  • 1 cup packed Italian parsley leaves
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (a bright, peppery one is perfect here)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Parm-Romano blend
  • 1 small bunch chives, snipped
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Add potatoes to a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then add salt and reduce heat to a constant simmer. Cook potatoes about 15 minutes, until they are easily pierced with a fork or knife tip. Add green beans only for the last minute or two, so they remain bright green and tender-crisp.
  2. Drain potatoes and return them to the hot pot to allow excess moisture to evaporate.
  3. Make the pesto while the potatoes and beans cook. In the small bowl of a food processor, pulse together the pepitas and garlic. Add parsley and pulse several times. Use a small spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Run the processor continuously while you drizzle in the olive oil, and puree until it is an even paste. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the Parm-Romano, lemon juice, chives and salt/pepper to taste.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the warm potatoes with about half of the pesto. Fold gently to coat and add more pesto to your liking. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve any leftover pesto and enjoy tossed with pasta or roasted vegetables. It will keep better with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil floated on top.

Tiki Cocktail Skillet Cake

On a recent grocery run, I was stopped in my tracks in the produce section by a stunning display of fresh pineapple. Their luscious fragrance caught me first, and those golden beauties were staring me in the face, just begging to go home with me. All the way home, I imagined whipping up some fun tiki drinks, one of my hubby’s favorites. I also considered making a classic pineapple upside-down cake, though I don’t have a great track record with dessert baking. It isn’t for lack of trying; rather, it’s a matter of getting into my own head in a way that messes me up. Still, I’d try it. And then, as I was putting away groceries, a crazy thought hit me.

Could it be a terrible idea to combine the two? Throw a little Comfort du Jour curveball on a pineapple upside-down cake by applying all the tropical flavors of a tiki drink? The magical combination of rum, pineapple, coconut and lime is the flavor equivalent to summer sunshine, and once the idea hit me to include them in a cake— with my good cocktail cherries, of course— well, there was no turning back!

It was every bit as delicious as it looked!

As I gathered up my ingredients to get started, I realized all at once the source of my frustrations with baking sweet treats. It’s me. Yep, it’s my own fault I’m a lousy sweets baker.

But this recipe proved I can break free of that negative self-talk. I just needed to be diligent.

My muse is frequently five or more steps ahead of my mind and my hands, and the exuberance that kicks in when I start making on-the-fly adjustments to a perfectly good recipe is exactly what gets me into trouble. I confuse myself with too many ideas for substitutions, throwing off the ratios that are so necessary for good baking results. It makes me crazy after hours spent in the kitchen on a recipe that seemed so promising at the start.

When I have a crappy result, I inevitably swear off baking— and I am using the word swear quite intentionally. Then, when my persistent muse comes around again, I repeat the whole scenario, sometimes verbatim. But for this cake, I pledged to slow down, chart my substitution ideas more thoughtfully, read the recipe (twice), and truly organize my ingredients into pre-measured amounts (not just put their pantry containers on the counter) to reduce the chances of disaster. And what do you know?— it worked!

My baseline recipe was a skillet version of pineapple upside-down cake that I found on the King Arthur Baking website, my go-to for all things baking. I imagined the wonderful flavors of a tiki cocktail and started rounding up my substitutions.

I wanted rum in the brown sugar topping, and in the cake batter itself. Sweetened flaked coconut would be great in the batter, but that wouldn’t be enough flavor so I’d swap out some of the sugar in favor of this sweet cream of coconut— the same stuff I use in a real tiki cocktail. Key lime juice would spike it with a touch of citrus, but just a touch. Almond extract would play the role of orgeat, the nutty-sweet syrup ingredient that is so distinctively tiki-ish. Our bourbon-drenched cocktail cherries felt more appropriate than the artificially colored bright red maraschinos, and it would be another touch of boozy, grownup candy goodness. And then, of course, my lovely fresh pineapple would be the centerpiece.

With my ingredients measured and in order, following the recipe roadmap was a cinch. The topping was easy, just melting together brown sugar and butter, and then boosting it with a shot of Jamaican rum. I let it get nice and bubbly, then turned off the heat and arranged the pineapple slices. The cherry halves would come later.

I creamed together the butter and cream of coconut, then gradually beat in the sugar. Next came the egg yolks, the flavorings and the flour-milk-flour-milk-flour additions. Alternating those ensures more even blending without overmixing. The egg whites, which were whipped separately, were folded in at the end and I spooned the batter over the brown sugar butter mixture that held the pineapple slices in the skillet.

The baking time was true to the recipe (my toothpick said so), and I inverted the cake onto a serving platter to cool. There’s a sweet spot in timing the inversion from a hot skillet; too soon and the cake may fall apart, too long and the toppings will stick and you’ll be patching them into place. Aim for 15 to 20 minutes for best results, then immediately press the cocktail cherry halves into place while the topping is still warm and gooey. Cool it completely before serving. Waiting to enjoy it was the hard part!

I served my tiki cocktail cake with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, spiked with more booze of course, as well as a lime twist and a sprinkling of toasted coconut.

Having my cake and drinking it, too!

So was it worth the trouble? Mostly, yes. The cake was really delicious— definitely boozy, as intended— and the coconut and pineapple were solid co-stars. It had the perfect hint of almond, but the key lime was barely detectable, and next time I would probably just grate a little lime zest over the cake at serving time. The boozy cherries, as much as I love them, got lost a little bit with all the tropical flavors swirling around them, but they were still a nice little nod to a traditional upside-down cake.

The biggest victory for me was seeing the success that resulted from my planning and, for once, I didn’t swear off baking when this was finished. To the contrary, I’m already imagining my next cocktail-to-cake creation. Any suggestions? 😄

Tiki Cocktail Skillet Cake

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Average
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A few thoughtful ingredient swaps turned a classic cake into tropical tiki territory. You might say that I'm having my cake and drinking it, too!


  • 1/2 stick (4 Tbsp.) salted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. rum (I used Jamaican dark rum)
  • Fresh or canned pineapple rings, drained
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or additional all-purpose)
  • 1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. fine salt
  • 1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1/4 cup cream of coconut
  • 3/4 cup cane sugar
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup, minus 2 Tbsp. milk (see recipe notes)
  • 2 Tbsp. rum (Jamaican again)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 tsp. key lime juice
  • Cocktail cherries, halved (use as many as you have pineapple rings)

Having all my ingredients measured and lined up before beginning made all the difference in the world for my successful outcome. Separate the eggs while they are cold, but let them come to room temperature before you start the recipe.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F, with rack in center position.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, coconut, baking powder and salt. Set bowl aside.
  3. Cut unsalted butter into chunks to quicken softening. Separate the eggs, keeping the whites in a large bowl to be whipped. This will be added to the batter just before baking. Combine milk and 2 Tbsp rum in a measuring glass and set aside.
  4. While all the ingredients are coming to room temperature, prepare the pineapple topping. Melt salted butter in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add brown sugar and whisk until combined and just beginning to bubble. Turn off heat and stir in 2 Tbsp of the rum. Give the skillet a few gentle shakes to settle the mixture evenly in the skillet. Arrange the pineapple slices as desired.
  5. Cream butter and cream of coconut together in the bowl of a stand mixer, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides. When mixture is lighter and somewhat fluffy, gradually add sugar, beating and scraping down sides as needed.
  6. Use an electric hand mixer to whip the egg whites until light and airy but not broken. Set aside.
  7. Add one egg at a time to the batter, beating until well combined after each. Beat in vanilla, almond and lime juice.
  8. Alternate addition of the flour mixture and milk as follows: 1/3 flour mixture stirred in until smooth. Next, 1/2 milk mixture. Then 1/3 flour mixture, remaining milk, remaining flour mixture. Scrape down sides and blend as evenly as possible without overworking the batter.
  9. Give the egg whites a quick whisk again, then gently fold them into the batter, taking care to mix only until the whites are not distinguishable in the batter. Gently spoon the batter over top of the pineapple topping. Use a spatula to smooth out the top.
  10. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for about 15 minutes.
  11. Run a knife or offset spatula around edges of the skillet to loosen the outer edge of the cake. Invert onto a plate or serving platter. Immediately place the cocktail cherries into the topping, pressing gently to set them into caramelized sugar.
  12. Cool cake completely. Cut into wedges and serve with a dollop of whipped cream, spiked with cointreau or coconut rum. Sprinkled with toasted coconut.

Copper Pennies

As much as I love experimenting in the kitchen, there are times that I crave a classic. These copper pennies were a dish that I learned to make during my short stint at A Pinch of Thyme, an upscale catering business in Greensboro, North Carolina, during the 1990s. I suppose if they were to have given me a title, I might have been a “food prep specialist” or some such thing, but I basically just did a whole lot of chopping of fresh vegetables for crudité, salads and other recipes.

One of the most important lessons I learned in the “Pinch kitchen,” as we called it, was that simple dishes tend to be everyone’s favorites. You didn’t have to make grand gestures to impress people with food—it just had to hit their palates with balance and sometimes a bit of nostalgia. No wonder these copper pennies were popular with our clients for catered lunches—they cover both!

Copper pennies started appearing on American tables in the 1940s or so (the history on this is tough to track down), and most vintage cookbooks I’ve seen call for Campbell’s condensed tomato soup in the marinade. That’s the nostalgia part, I suppose, but we were having none of that in the Pinch kitchen. Our clients expected the food to be prepared from scratch, and that’s how I’ve made them here as well. In the spirit of full disclosure, the recipe I’m sharing today did not come from Pinch, but from a Junior League cookbook that was gifted to me many years earlier.

When I ran across the recipe, my mouth instantly began to water, as I recalled the tasty and vibrant copper pennies I had made so many years ago. The recipe builds on a small can of tomato sauce, and I tweaked it a bit for my own taste, cooking the marinade to deepen its flavor as well as cook off the tinny taste from the can. Here’s a glimpse of the rest of the ingredients. See? simple.

The onions and green bell pepper are standard, and I backed off the sugar in the Junior League recipe and added a splash of dry vermouth to elevate the marinade flavors. Dry white wine would be a perfect substitute, but I never have a bottle of that open and, after reaching for vermouth in its place one day, I found the complexity so appealing that I never looked back. If you’re a fellow martini lover, with a bottle of dry vermouth in the fridge, give it a try in a few recipes and let me know what you think about it in place of wine. I whisked in olive oil when the marinade was nearly finished, and sprinkled in celery seed for an herbal note.

While the sauce simmered, I got to work slicing my carrots, and I purposely selected larger, fatter carrots for this recipe. My mandoline came in handy for this, as I was able to get perfectly round, even slices, but you must be careful using a mandoline. You see the large carrot “heels” I had leftover after slicing? That was because I stopped when my hands were getting too close to the blade. If you have never used a mandoline before, may I suggest you circle back to my post from two years ago, A Quick Flick of the Wrist, to see firsthand how dangerous it can be to ignore the safety features of this versatile kitchen gadget. If you’re more comfortable slicing by hand, that’s fine, too.

The only thing left to do was steam the carrots, which I did for 8 or 9 minutes, until a carrot slice tested to al dente firmness. I transferred them directly into the tangy tomato marinade, along with the onions and peppers, then tossed it all together before cooling it down in the fridge. 

This is a great option for make-ahead side, when you want a chilled salad that isn’t carb-heavy the way pasta or potato salad might be. You can serve it as is, or dress it up a bit by serving it over a bed of greens. One of the tricks I learned in catering is that serving a marinated salad over greens allows for the excess liquid to run underneath, keeping the main part of the dish nice and crisp.

Copper Pennies

  • Servings: 8 to 10
  • Difficulty: Average
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Tender-crisp steamed carrots and a tangy tomato marinade make this vintage recipe a keeper! It's perfect to make ahead for any kind of summer gathering.


  • 2 pounds fresh carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 8 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 medium sweet onion, sliced thin from top to bottom
  • 1/2 medium green bell pepper, cut into thin strips and then cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/3 cup cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or vermouth)
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. celery seed
  • A few handfuls washed baby greens, for serving


  1. Combine tomato sauce, vinegar, Dijon, sugar and worcestershire a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add white wine (or vermouth) and cook until mixture begins to thicken slightly. Stir in celery seeds and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and allow sauce to cool to room temperature.
  3. Prepare to steam carrots by placing a steamer basket or pot over a pot with approximately one inch of water. Heat until water maintains a consistent gentle boil. Add carrots to basket and steam for 8 or 9 minutes, until tender-crisp. No stirring is necessary during steaming.
  4. Transfer carrots directly into cooled tomato sauce. Add onions and bell peppers and toss gently to combine. Cool and then refrigerate overnight to meld the flavors. Serve copper pennies over a bed of baby greens, if desired.

Easy Pickled Shrimp

Every region has its favorite foods. You know, the things that you can expect to find multiple variations of at a potluck, family picnic or church social. In the South, that would be a relatively short list of ham biscuits, pimiento cheese, collard greens, deviled eggs, pulled pork bbq, banana pudding and sweet tea. 

If I could add one item to that list, it would be this pickled shrimp. It’s a quick and easy way to serve up everyone’s favorite shellfish, without frying it or burying it in sauce. If you can boil water and slice an onion, you can make this, and you’ll find it incredibly versatile.

I found this recipe on Pinterest when I was looking for— wait, what was I looking for? Who cares, because I stopped scrolling when my eyes caught the name on this recipe clipping: Pat Conroy.

The name Pat Conroy may not ring a bell for you, but I’ll bet you know some of his work. The late American novelist wrote numerous books, fiction and non-fiction, including The Prince of Tides, which he adapted into a screenplay for a Barbra Streisand-produced film that earned seven Oscar nominations.

Pat Conroy had a thing for the South, especially South Carolina, where he is buried. I first learned about him when I visited Hilton Head many years ago and dined at a restaurant that carried his name. Conroy’s—now permanently closed— was an elegant-meets-coastal-casual place inside the Marriott hotel, and its she crab soup made such an impression that I dined there three times over the course of a week, even though I was not a guest at the hotel. The rich and creamy seafood bisque was said to be one of Pat Conroy’s favorites, and I decided then and there that he was my kinda guy.

So when I saw this recipe for pickled shrimp, straight from Conroy himself, I knew it would be a winner. The ingredients are straightforward— onions, garlic, capers, crushed red pepper, spices, vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil— and as I blended these things together, it occurred to me that you could substitute any number of things for variations of this delicious mix. Why not use pimientos instead of capers, or jalapenos instead of crushed red pepper? Couldn’t you put a Greek spin on it with some oregano and chopped kalamata olives? Oh, the possibilities!

I added a spoonful of sugar, just because it’s the South and well, it’s what we do here. That little touch of sweet is a nice balance to the acidity of vinegar and lemon. Then, I dipped the shrimp ever-so-briefly into simmering water before spilling them into the pickling liquid. The prep and cook time are minimal in this dish, and the rest of the magic happens in the fridge when the mixture melds and mingles overnight. I doubled the weight of shrimp in my recipe and found that the marinade was sufficient. If you do the same, plan to give the mixture a stir every few hours.

This pickled shrimp is tangy, briny, fresh, herbal, spicy and altogether perfect for spring or summer. For sure, it’s a Southern thing that I have only made twice myself, but that is going to change, especially now that my mind is set on swapping in other flavors. We served this shrimp on the hors d’oeuvres table for Kentucky Derby, in a large bowl tucked inside an even larger bowl filled with crushed ice— so easy! Our guests raved about it, and what little bit was left over turned a simple pile of arugula into a weeknight dinner salad that was as delicious as it was effortless.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to begin my search for the perfect she crab soup recipe. I’m sure Conroy has one out there somewhere!

Easy Pickled Shrimp

  • Servings: About 10
  • Difficulty: So Easy!
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This easy recipe is a good one to have in your pocket for a brunch, potluck or any summer gathering. For best results, use fresh, never frozen shrimp.


  • 1 medium sweet onion (preferably Vidalia), cut into thin, lengthwise slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 ounces non-pareil capers, drained and lightly chopped
  • 4 dried bay leaves, crushed into small pieces
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (zest, too)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • Several twists of freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp. celery seed
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup good quality, extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds fresh large shrimp, peeled and de-veined


  1. Combine all ingredients except shrimp in a large bowl fitted with a lid.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt to the pot and stir to dissolve. Reduce heat to medium to keep water at a consistent simmer.
  3. Using a spider strainer or other mesh-style scoop, add shrimp, about 1/2 pound at a time, and cook only until shrimp is bright pink and slightly curled (60 to 90 seconds). Transfer immediately to the bowl of pickling liquid and toss gently to coat the shrimp in the liquid. Repeat until all shrimp are cooked.
  4. Let the shrimp cool for about 20 minutes, then cover bowl and transfer to the fridge to chill for 6 to 8 hours. Give it a gentle stir every few hours and just before serving.
  5. Serve in a large bowl, with pickling liquid, inside a larger bowl filled with crushed ice to keep it cold.

Seelbach Cocktail

When I mention Kentucky Derby and cocktails in the same sentence, there’s a very good chance that a mint julep pops into your mind— and for good reason. The refreshing bourbon and mint drink piled high with crushed ice is ubiquitous at Derby festivities everywhere, including Churchill Downs. But not everyone loves mint, and some of us like to change things up just for the sake of change. 

I consider myself an explorer in the world of cocktails, and when I ran across this one in a little gift book, Tiny Bubbles, I bookmarked it for this year’s Derby. Author Kate Simon describes this drink as the one “for your bourbon-obsessed friend who thinks he doesn’t like bubbly cocktails,” and goes on to describe the drink as being like a “fizzy Old Fashioned.”

I can’t attest to the drink’s ability to win over a non-fizz drinker— my husband certainly would not be swayed, and most people don’t announce their dislike for something with a secret hope of being convinced otherwise— but I do think this cocktail has an elegance and flair about it that is quite nice, especially because it is made with easy-to-find ingredients. If you’re looking for a change, maybe this is the one.

This lovely libation is known as a Seelbach Cocktail, so named for the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville where it is said to have originated in the years before Prohibition. As with so many cocktail backstories, there have been a few objections to the declared history of the Seelbach, and even the bartender who supposedly revived it in the 1990s “from an old hotel menu” fessed up to having conjured the story for his own glory. 

But I say, who cares? The drink is fun without being too fussy, and a little change of pace is a good thing once in a while, even for an event as steeped in tradition as the Kentucky Derby. I don’t mind that the backstory is pure fiction, as long as it tastes good.

Bourbon (I used Elijah Craig Small Batch) is paired with Cointreau, an orange liqueur that mimics the expressed orange in a typical Old Fashioned. The cocktail is heavy on the bitters (two kinds, traditionally), which is a nice balance to the sweetness of the Cointreau, and a brut Champagne makes an entrance to provide the fizzy part. A cherry sits on the bottom of the glass as a sweet, last-sip reward, and an orange twist garnish gives it a fancy photo finish. I made my “twist” extra frilly, and as it sits perched on the rim of the chilled flute, it reminds me of the flashy fascinator hats that will be worn by the ladies at the Kentucky Derby.

Whenever I’m making cocktails, I like to get my ducks in a row— or horses, as the case may be for this weekend’s event. There’s no joy in realizing after you’ve started mixing that you forgot to wash the orange, for example, that will be used for garnish. And hopefully you’re doing that. Don’t ever cut up your fruit straight from the grocery store, as any variety of junk and pesticides will have taken up residence in the peel. Line up your tools and ingredients, and ice down the champagne flute so your drink stays chilly after it’s poured.

As many of my blog followers know, I have trouble sticking to the rules and rarely make a recipe exactly as written, so I’ll explain my “swaps” from the original Seelbach recipe, beginning with the mixing vessel. The Tiny Bubbles recipe suggests using a shaker, but I tried it and had trouble straining it from the shaker top neatly into the small opening of my flute glass. The rule of thumb in mixology is to use a shaker if you are combining ingredients with widely different viscosity— the thickness or simple syrup and watery nature of citrus juices will blend with alcohol better in a shaker. But this drink is all alcohol, so a mixing glass is my choice for easier dispensing. Use what works for you.

As for the bitters, the original recipe calls for both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, the latter of which has a lovely pink color but a strong anise flavor. I tried it that way, but didn’t love it. The combination doesn’t fit my perception of Kentucky Derby elegance, and I’ve been looking for a way to use these Hummingbird bitters, which combine rose and citrus essences. The Derby is literally the “Run for the Roses,” and I liked that tie-in for this frilly-meets-fizzy drink. It worked beautifully! If the Hummingbird bitters are not an option for you (I found them online but it’s a bit late to order them for the Derby), I personally think orange bitters would be a better fit than the Angostura-Peychaud’s combination. Experiment to find what tickles your fancy.

To get started on my cocktail, I made my orange peel garnish first by stripping off only the bright orange part of the fruit, leaving the bitter white pith behind. Use a sharp paring knife to trim it into clean lines, and make cuts as follows— a long, thin cut in the center of one end (this is where you’ll attach it to the rim of your glass), and several lengthy cuts on the other end, almost like fringe or a feather.

Wrap the orange peel snugly around a chopstick or wooden spoon handle and hold it for several seconds to coax it into shape. When it seems to be holding its own, begin making your cocktail.

Combine the bourbon, cointreau and bitters in an ice-filled cocktail mixing glass, and stir the drink for about 20 seconds to chill it down. If you’re using a shaker, have at it for about the same amount of time, until the shaker becomes uncomfortably cold.

Add a Luxardo cherry to the bottom of the flute, and don’t worry at all if a bit of the luscious syrup goes with it. Pour in about half of the specified champagne (this helps ensure the drink is well-mixed), then strain the cocktail over the glass and top it off with the rest of the bubbly. Perch your frou-frou orange garnish on the edge of a glass like a fascinator, and enjoy in moderation. Fair warning: the effervescence in this drink will go straight to your head, so it might be a good starter before you switch to something more mainstream. A mint julep, perhaps? 🙂

Seelbach Cocktail

  • Servings: 1 drink
  • Difficulty: Average
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With the flavors of an Old Fashioned, and the fizziness of Champagne, this Louisville-based cocktail will be a lovely option for a Kentucky Derby watch party.


  • 1 oz. bourbon (I used Elijah Craig Small Batch; it’s smooth and 94 proof)
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
  • About 7 drops Hummingbird bitters (available online, or substitute orange and/or Angostura)
  • 3 oz. brut Champagne or other sparkling wine, chilled
  • Ice for shaking/stirring and chilling glass
  • Good quality cocktail cherry, such as Luxardo
  • Strip of orange peel for garnish


  1. Fill champagne flute (or white wine glass) with ice to chill it.
  2. Fill a shaker or mixing glass halfway with ice. Add bourbon, Cointreau and bitters and stir or shake for about 20 seconds.
  3. Empty ice from flute and place cocktail cherry in the bottom.
  4. Pour about 2 oz. of the Champagne into the glass. Strain the cocktail into the glass and top it off with remaining Champagne.
  5. Garnish with orange twist.

Turkey & Black Bean Stacked Tostadas

South-of-the-border flavors have been a mainstay in my diet since I was in the first grade. I spent a few of my formative years in southern Colorado with my mother, so cooking and eating Mexican food feels like a homecoming for me. The foods of that region had so much flavor and complexity, and the fact that the earliest Mexican foods I ate were homemade means the bar is set pretty high for me.

With Cinco de Mayo coming up this week, I wanted to share a fun meal that is as versatile as it is delicious. Though most of the Mexican food my mom made at home was some version of ground beef tacos, she occasionally dabbled into more involved recipes, and at some point when I visited her as an adult, she made something she called “stacked tostadas.” I loved them! With crunchy tortilla shells, warm ground meat and melty shredded cheese, they satisfied all my texture cravings, and the authentic flavors took me back to my younger years.

This recipe is not quite the same as what my mom made, and I doubt she even worked from a recipe but from whatever she had on hand at the time. A few of the ingredients are necessary, including the corn tortillas and cheese, but the other fillings are subjective. The thing that really makes this dish is the red sauce— it’s bold and flavorful, but not tomato-based. Rather, it is built on ground chile peppers.

For as long as I can remember, one of the staple seasonings in my mother’s arsenal was a pure chile powder that came in a generic looking cellophane packet with a white label and red lettering. It was made by a local, southern Colorado company, which had a whole line of other products as well, but I most remember the“chile molido puro.” Unlike most commerical brands of “chili powder,” which usually include various other seasonings, additives and a ton of salt, this stuff was just pure ground chiles—the exact literal translation of chile molido puro.

I have not seen those cellophane packets in many years (I’m sure they’re only distributed regionally), and until a few days ago, I couldn’t even remember what the brand was called, but it’s amazing what one can find on the internet with only a few keywords in a search bar. Here’s one of the images the web found for me when I asked for “chile seasonings Colorado company:”

This is the REAL deal!

Just seeing the package made my heart giddy! It’s funny that whatever made you fall in love with a particular food becomes the standard, and I guess that’s what comfort food is all about! If you want to try something fun and new for Cinco de Mayo, give this recipe a try, either as I made it with ground turkey, or by substituting whatever sounds delicious to you.


I haven’t been able to get my hands on a package of the Fernandez seasoning just yet, so I’ve substituted ground ancho chile powder for my enchilada sauce. Always read the labels to see whether your seasoning includes other ingredients, and if you find that you have one labeled “chili powder,” with cumin, oregano and garlic, that will cover most of the flavors you need. If it also contains salt, adjust your salt and pepper accordingly.

My recipe for the sauce is very similar to what’s offered on the back of the Fernandez label, which recommends making a basic oil and flour paste, with garlic and seasonings for flavor and water to thicken (though I used a low-sodium veggie broth). If you find the flavors of your sauce too intense, you can tame it by adding a few tablespoons or up to a small can of tomato sauce. We crave intensity at our house, so I went the other direction and added a spoonful of pureed chipotle with adobo. We had some in the fridge because my hubby had just made a batch of his awesome smoky guacamole, which was perfect on top of these tostada stacks.

For the filling, I cooked up some ground turkey with onions and red bell peppers, a few shakes of my favorite Mexican spices and some black beans. Want more heat? Swap the red bell pepper for diced jalapeños. My mom always used ground beef, but turkey lightened this up a bit without sacrificing flavor. Ground chicken would also work, or you could skip the meat altogether in favor of additional beans or perhaps roasted sweet potatoes for body and texture. For a little pop of sweetness, I also added a little fire-roasted sweet corn, which we almost always have in the freezer.

Use whatever kind of Mexican melting cheese you like— cheddar, Monterey Jack or pepper jack work nicely, or Colby is good if you want really mild flavor. For best results, buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself. The stuff in the bag is coated with cellulose powder to keep the cheese from sticking, and the melting quality suffers. I promise, it’s worth the extra effort.

Store bought corn tortillas are fine for this, but if you want to go all out for Cinco de Mayo, consider making a batch of easy handmade corn tortillas. Give them a brief dip in hot oil to make them nice and crispy, then start layering! Filling mixture goes on first, then cheese and sauce. Second verse, same as the first.

After a third layer, finish the enchilada stack with a handful of shredded lettuce, a dollop of sour cream and fresh guacamole. And though tostadas are typically a handheld item, the stacked and sauced method here requires that you use a fork.

Turkey & Black Bean Stacked Tostadas

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Average
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Cinco de Mayo is a great excuse for me to celebrate the flavors that I've loved since early childhood.

It’s best to prepare the chile sauce first, or perhaps even a day ahead so the flavors can mingle overnight in the fridge. The sauce can be rewarmed while you make the turkey-black bean filling.


  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. pure ground chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • A pinch of oregano (preferably Mexican)
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) broth
  • 1 Tbsp. pureed chipotle with adobo (optional; substitute tomato sauce for milder flavor)


  1. Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and saute garlic briefly, just until it begins to bubble.
  2. Add flour and whisk to combine. Let this cook until bubbly, then add seasonings and broth.
  3. Whisk constantly until mixture begins to thicken.
  4. Stir in chipotle with adobo (or tomato sauce) and reduce heat to a simmer while you prepare the tostada filling.

Any other ground meat may be substituted for the ground turkey. If you prefer to keep the tostada stacks meatless, swap the ground turkey for refried beans. Swap other ingredients as desired, but aim to incorporate flavors and textures that will complement each other, such as roasted sweet potatoes and sauteed mushrooms.


  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup fire-roasted sweet corn (frozen is fine)
  • 12 regular size corn tortillas
  • Vegetable oil for frying (peanut or canola oil are good)
  • Shredded lettuce, sour cream and guacamole for topping


  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, then sauté onions and bell peppers until softened. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
  2. Push the vegetables to the outer edges of the pan and add turkey, half at a time, to the center of the pan. Cook until browned and then add remaining turkey to finish cooking.
  3. Add seasonings, black beans and corn. Stir and cook until heated through. 
  4. Reduce heat to keep mixture warm while you prepare the tortillas.
  5. Place a second skillet over medium heat, and add oil to about 1/2-inch depth. 
  6. Fry tortillas, one at a time, until crispy (about 2 minutes) and blot on paper towels.
  7. Create stacks, beginning with a tortilla base, topped with turkey-black bean mixture, cheese and sauce. Follow with two more layers.
  8. Top finished stack with a handful of shredded lettuce, sour cream and guacamole.

Benedictine Spread

How do you know when a dish is a winner? Is it compliments received or perhaps a request for the recipe? Maybe it’s no words at all as the eaters enjoy each bite in blissful silence. It could be any of the above, but in my experience, an empty plate tells no lies!

When Kentucky Derby rolled around last year, my husband and I were invited to join some friends for an afternoon of snacking, sipping and generally feeling fancy with gussied-up hats and minty bourbon cocktails. I offered to bring an appetizer and though it isn’t really my style to share a straight-up classic, I decided on Benedictine, a cream cheese-based spread developed by an early-20th century Louisville caterer.

As Wikipedia tells it, Jennie Carter Benedict served this concoction to her catering clients and later to guests in her tea room, though at that time it was more of a silky dip than a spread, made with the juices of cucumber and onions and sometimes a few drops of green food coloring for effect. The combination of cream cheese and cucumber is cool and refreshing and makes Benedictine a delectable filling in pretty cucumber sandwiches. Its popularity continues all these years later, with a few modernizations. There will be plenty of it served up at Kentucky Derby gatherings alongside mint juleps and hot brown sandwiches, and probably even at Churchill Downs itself when the riders take their positions on the first Saturday of May.

Benedictine is made with very simple ingredients, requires no cooking, and can be made a day ahead and stored in the fridge until post time. And, as I mentioned, the empty plate I brought home after last year’s Run for the Roses was proof that this appetizer was a clear winner.

This recipe for Benedictine is inspired by the original, but follows my own general formula for a cream cheese-based dip. As with my tzatziki dip, I salted and drained the grated cucumbers to ensure the shreds would not turn the spread soupy. I did the same with the onions, swapping new paper towels over the mixture until they no longer felt soaked. I did this part of the recipe first, and let the cukes rest in the fridge for a couple of hours before proceeding. I used Persian cucumbers because they have fewer seeds and the skin is tender enough for some of it to be included.

The creamy base was a blend of light cream cheese, sour cream and a bit of mayonnaise. Rather than drops of hot sauce (mentioned in the Wikipedia article), I gave my Benedictine a little zing from a bourbon barrel-rested Worcestershire sauce made in Louisville—that seemed apropos for a Derby Day recipe and it was a pleasant, savory complement to the freshness of the cucumbers. This sauce also happens to be vegetarian, as it omits the usual anchovies.

If I were in a hurry or making cucumber sandwiches, this would have been ready as soon as the drained cucumber and onion shreds were mixed in, but I wanted to serve my Benedictine on a platter with fresh veggies for dipping and some toasted mini brioche squares, so I pressed it into a bowl lined with plastic wrap and gave it some fridge time to set up for prettier presentation.

When I inverted it onto a lettuce-lined platter a few hours later, it occurred to me that fresh herbs would finish it nicely. Unfortunately, all I had in the fridge that day was cilantro (not the best match here), and it was too late for a last-minute dash to the store, so I had to concede to using dried dill leaves. The flavor was still very good, but fresh dill would take the win—by a nose. 😉

Benedictine Spread

  • Servings: 6 to 8 as an appetizer
  • Difficulty: Average
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  • 2 Persian cucumbers*, cleaned and partially peeled (a little of the tender peel is fine and adds lovely color)
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 8 oz. brick light cream cheese (or full-fat)
  • 1/4 cup stirred sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt)
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (mine was aged in a bourbon barrel, available in specialty stores or online at https://bourbonbarrelfoods.com/product/bourbon-barrel-worcestershire-sauce/)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh dill leaves, chopped

Persian cucumbers are usually about five inches length and they have fewer seeds and more tender skin than typical “slicing” cucumbers. Consider peeling and seeding other types of cucumber. This recipe requires about 1 cup of grated cucumber. I peeled one of my Persians, and kept the other intact.


  1. Use a box grater to shred the cucumbers and onion. Place shreds in a bowl or plate, lined with layers of paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then wrap in the paper towels; refrigerate a couple of hours to draw out as much excess moisture as possible.
  2. By hand or with a stand mixer, combine cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise until smooth and fluffy. Stir in Worcestershire. Cover and refrigerate until ready to combine with cucumber mixture.
  3. Use clean paper towels to blot away any lingering excess moisture from cucumber-onion shreds. Blend evenly into cream cheese mixture.
  4. Transfer Benedictine spread to a small bowl lined with plastic wrap. Press and smooth the mixture so that it assumes the shape of the bowl with no air bubbles. Cover and refrigerate a couple of hours to firm up.
  5. Invert Benedictine onto a lettuce leaf-lined serving plate. Remove plastic and sprinkle with fresh herbs. Serve with fresh vegetables, crackers, crostini or toasted brioche squares.

Green Shakshuka

Breakfast for dinner is one of my favorite meal categories, and now that I have discovered the joy of shakshuka— the Mediterranean dish that combines vegetables and sauce with gently cooked eggs— there seems a world of possibilities beyond the standard rearrangements of eggs, bacon and pancakes. 

Shakshuka, which is very popular in Jewish culture, is typically made with a tomato sauce base and any variety of vegetables. The ingredients are stewed together in one pot, and eggs are simmered on top until set. It’s quick, hearty, simple and inexpensive (depending on egg prices, of course). My husband and I have enjoyed many versions of this dish since I first learned to make it in 2017, including last summer when I made a Ratatouille Shakshuka that was so, so good.

This time, however, my shakshuka is missing the bright red color of tomatoes because I have swapped them out in favor of hearty green ingredients.

Tis the season to be green!

In Spring, it’s only natural that cooks everywhere would begin to lean into the freshness of green vegetables. This past week, I opened my email to find a Green Gumbo, posted by my blog buddy Maylee at Beyond Gumbo. I had never heard of “green gumbo,” made with ham and every leafy green under the sun, but if this is what they’re doing with food in Louisiana, then I’ve got to get down there as soon as possible!

We are still some time away from harvesting the tender vegetables of spring, but consider all the cool-weather vegetables that can carry us until then— broccoli, kale, collards, spinach, leeks and bok choy would all be very easy to incorporate into shakshuka, which is a cook’s choice kind of dish anyway. The main consideration is knowing how long your chosen vegetables need to be cooked so you can plan your time accordingly. The rest is subjective, so find what you like and get cooking!

I like a dish to be texturally interesting, so I went with cauliflower, which I pulsed down into “rice” in the food processor, collard greens, also processed into smaller bits for quicker cooking, and shiitake mushrooms for a little bit of chewy, almost-meaty goodness. Onions and garlic, of course, and some sliced cooked potatoes, just because I had a few left over from another meal. They were a good addition. For kicks, I also tucked in a spoonful of the crazy-hot habanero chili crisp that I picked up at Trader Joe’s. They are no longer selling it, but if you bought a jar, you know that it keeps for a long, long time, and it adds a serious punch of spicy flavor to a dish. I’m still looking for ways to use it and it worked here, but you could sub in any other kind of seasoning you like.

An easy approach to shakshuka

The easiest way to approach shakshuka is to build it in layers, starting with a quick saute of the firmer ingredients and aromatics. Next, I added my mushrooms and chopped collards and steamed the mixture down in a half cup of vegetable broth, plus a squeeze of lemon to balance the slight bitterness of the greens. I spread the potato slices out over the top with a little more broth, and then slipped the eggs into the mixture. This stage of the recipe can be done in the oven, but I have found it simpler and quicker to put a lid on it and keep it stovetop. The eggs cook within a matter of a few minutes, and the meal can be served straight from the pot.

Feta crumbles and fresh chopped dill were a nice final flavor touch to this twist on a classic. We enjoyed our green shakshuka with one of our final pieces of store-bought matzo left over from Passover. We are always so glad to see it go. 😉

What creative twists would you like to see in shakshuka, or which have you already tried? I love reading your comments and I’m always up for a challenge, so please let me know what you think below the printable recipe.

Green Shakshuka

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Average
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  • About 2 cups of fresh cauliflower florets
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tsp. spicy chili crisp (mine was Trader Joe’s habanero)
  • 1 small bunch fresh collard greens, cleaned and rough-chopped
  • 3/4 to 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
  • Juice of 1/2 small lemon
  • 1 cup cooked sliced potatoes
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • Crumbled feta and fresh dill, optional for serving

This dish can be made with any number of vegetable substitutions. Consider the cooking time for each vegetable you plan to use and add them to the pot accordingly. Chopping the vegetables into very small bits will significantly shorten the cooking time, and is a good way to get this dish on the table in a hurry.


  1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the cauliflower into small bits. Heat oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot or skillet. Add cauliflower, onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper. When onions and cauliflower are softened, add the mushrooms and chili crisp and saute to cook off some of the moisture.
  2. Pulse the collard greens in the food processor to the size of cereal flakes; this will help them cook quickly and will prevent the shakshuka mixture being too chunky. Add greens to the pot and toss to combine. Pour in about 1/2 cup of the broth plus the lemon juice and reduce heat to simmer, until the greens begin to tenderize (about 5 minutes).
  3. Arrange potato slices all over the top of the mixture and pour over additional broth as needed to just cover them. Cover the pot with a lid and steam until potatoes are hot.
  4. Use the back of a large spoon to create four indents in the shakshuka mixture. Carefully slip an egg into each of the indents. Season with salt and pepper and cover the pot with a lid. Steam for about 10 minutes, or until the eggs are set to your liking. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and fresh chopped dill and serve immediately.

Spicy Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs

Every home cook has an arsenal of “go-to” dishes, tricks or final touches to elevate their menus in a given situation. One of mine is deviled eggs—who doesn’t love them, right? It’s a staple at potlucks and family get-togethers for good reason. This simple but universally loved finger food is one that I consider a blank canvas for interesting variations. With just a few ingredient swaps, you can turn a basic deviled egg into something flavorful and unexpected, and that’s what happened with these pimento cheese deviled eggs only a few weeks ago. 

Go ahead, grab one!

When my husband’s adult son, Alex, announced in February that he would be visiting from Europe for a few weeks, my mind went racing about all his favorite tastes of home I would need to make while he stayed at our house. Like his dad, Alex has a very short list of foods he doesn’t enjoy, and pretty much everything else is fair game, especially if there’s spicy heat involved. He likes spice so much, in fact, that the hostel he co-owns in Budapest is literally called Spicy Hostel! It is apparently the place for young, adventurous people to stay when visiting the capital of Hungary.

That’s Alex, on the bench!

The hostel keeps Alex very busy, so we try to make the most of his infrequent visits home, and I was ready to cook whatever he requested! On the first day of his visit, I invited him to join me on a journey to one of our supermarkets, where I quickly realized that the “taste of home” he missed the most was not any home-cooked meal at all—nope, he wanted junk food! I watched in awe as he piled cans of Spaghetti-Os, Spam and chunk light tuna into the shopping cart. These are all things he cannot easily find in Budapest, so he spent the first week or so satisfying those cravings. He was also pretty excited about York peppermint patties, which he loves so much that he smuggled a multi-pack onto the plane for his trip home.

By the end of his three-week visit, though, we had treated Alex to many home-cooked meals, including the Hot Italian Sausage and Cherry Pepper Pizza that was inspired by our 2021 visit to New Haven’s Modern Apizza. We tossed some burgers on the grill, with American cheese—something we take for granted around here—and he loved it. He also requested fresh seafood (not much of that in Hungary, either), and I was happy to oblige with a panko-crusted halibut, as described in my post about Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Miraculous Mayo Marinade. Finally, Les fired up the bullet smoker at the end of his visit and made a veritable feast of smoked meats, including a pork shoulder, brisket, several artisan sausages and a gorgeous side of fresh salmon.

This smoker holds enough to feed a hostel-ful of hungry travelers!

For that smoked feast, Alex invited a couple of local friends over for dinner, and we enjoyed a great meal that started with a smoked salmon spread that Les makes—I will insist that he make it again this summer and share it here on Comfort du Jour—and these pimento cheese deviled eggs.

This is about to become a flavor explosion.

I had picked up this very spicy pimento cheese in the cold pantry section at the butcher shop where I purchased the meat for the smoker. The spread was quite heavy on the mayo (not really our thing), so rather than serving it just with crackers, I decided to mix it with the egg yolk filling for a batch of deviled eggs. There was so much heat and flavor in the pimento cheese that no other seasonings were necessary. I only needed a little dab of extra mayo to loosen the filling and some finely minced shallot for crunch. As usual, I grabbed a small zip-top bag to use as a makeshift piping bag for filling the split egg whites. It’s easier and less messy than spooning it in.

Let me tell you, Alex and his friends devoured these deviled eggs in no time flat, and you can bet this treat will be coming up in the rotation again this summer. Come to think of it, deviled eggs are great for both Easter (this Sunday) and Passover, which starts this evening at sundown. I might be convinced to make another batch this weekend!

Spicy Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Here come two of the South’s favorite all-time foods, combined into one tasty little two-bite appetizer—let’s just call this a win-win!


  • 6 large or extra large chicken eggs
  • 1/2 cup prepared pimento cheese, on the mayonnaise-y side
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
  • A few tablespoons additional mayo, as needed to loosen yolk filling
  • Salt and pepper as desired

There’s no “right” amount of pimento cheese or mayonnaise to add, as it depends on the texture of the egg yolks and pimento cheese. Adjust each ingredient to suit your fancy.


  1. Boil the eggs, following your own preferred method. Here’s mine: Bring a pot of water to a full, rolling boil, then lower the eggs in on a slotted spoon. Set a timer for 12 minutes, then use the same spoon to transfer the eggs directly to an ice water bath for about 30 minutes. Peel under cold running water. Works great every time.
  2. Cut the eggs lengthwise, and empty the yolks into a medium bowl.
  3. Add pimento cheese, onion and additional mayo (if needed) to the yolks, blending to a smooth, creamy texture. Adjust seasoning to taste. Spoon the mixture into a quart size zip-top bag and seal.
  4. If working ahead, chill the filling and the egg white halves (covered, of course) until just before serving. Snip a small triangle on the corner of the zip-top bag and pipe the filling into the egg white halves. You will probably have some filling left over; enjoy it on crackers or fill a couple of celery sticks. Or, if nobody is watching, squeeze the bag directly into your mouth. 🙂

Homemade Matzo

First things first, this matzo is not kosher for Passover, and honestly not even kosher at all. I know this because, for starters, I am not Jewish and I don’t keep a kosher kitchen. After that, there are probably at least a dozen other reasons that my matzo is not kosher, but none of that is important right now because I have big news.

Passover starts on Wednesday, and I have finally done my DIY matzo challenge, moving it to the done column of my culinary bucket list. To me, this is worth celebrating!


When I first met my now-husband, Les, I had a lot of questions about his Jewish heritage and especially the foods. Though Les has never kept the dietary kosher rules, he does avoid leavened bread during the eight days of Passover. That first year we were together, he shared some of his matzo with me and, well, what can I say— blah. The standard boxed matzo— unleavened bread— is like the worst, most bland, boring cracker you can imagine. But, you know, tradition!

The Jewish tradition around matzo is a remembrance of the enslaved Hebrew people, who had a moment’s notice to pack for the Promised Land when Moses was called to lead them out of Egypt. They didn’t have time to make their usual bread, so they mixed the flour and water, rolled it out and baked it on the spot without fermentation or leavening. By kosher rules, it all has to happen in under 18 minutes, start to finish. No wonder it tastes so bland— and does such a negative number on the digestive system (it ain’t pretty).

But Les chokes down this dry stuff every Passover, subbing it in for his usual morning half bagel, using it as a canvas for his tuna salad, and sometimes just laying a schmear of butter on it as a snack. Anything to use up the box! I’ve been threatening for at least five years to make matzo from scratch, and between the internet and my Jewish recipe books, I had done a lot of research. I was confident about getting it done, so I set up my matzo-making station with all my ingredients, tools and even my iPad to keep me on track for the 18-minute limit. How hard could it be? Turns out, I still had a lot to learn, and no “Bubbie” (Jewish grandmother) to walk me through it.

I had things set up and ready, hoping to beat the 18-minute buzzer!

Making matzo is a full 180 from my usual sourdough bread baking, which relies on long, slow fermentations and higher hydration doughs. My breads bake up light and airy, not flat and dry. Matzo is nothing but flour and water in its most traditional state (in other words, boring). But we have already established that my version would not be kosher, and I wanted to bend the rules a little further, adding a sprinkle of sea salt and maybe even some everything bagel seasoning to jazz it up a bit.

I found a recipe on NYT Cooking that included salt for flavor, olive oil to make the dough more workable and a swap-in of some whole wheat flour, so I was on board for the ingredients, but I ditched the rest of the recipe. It called for rolling out the matzo dough with a rolling pin (a challenge with such a hard dough) and would have produced four dense, tortilla-like flatbreads— nothing like the thin sheets of matzo we usually pick up from the store. I set up my trusty pasta machine to roll the dough out thin, like the matzo we are used to, and kept a close eye on the oven because they baked quickly on my preheated baking stone— so quickly, in fact, that my first batch was burnt to a crisp. I was not deterred!

Oy vey, that didn’t go well!

Moving forward, I rolled the dough a little bit thicker and called out to Les to find out which Yiddish word for “crazy” was appropriate for my situation (it’s meshuggeneh). I put him in charge of the oven, and the subsequent batches turned out great. We ended up with enough matzo to fill a large Rubbermaid container, and, of course, we still have a box of the grocery store matzo, just in case. 🙂

My matzo challenge is complete, and I will probably change things up a bit next time— less salt on top for sure, and I might play around with different types of flour.

Eighteen minutes is a tough time goal, though, and probably best accomplished in a kosher kitchen full of Jewish bubbies who actually know what they’re doing. I gave up on beating the buzzer when I was pulling the burnt ones from the oven.

Homemade Matzo

  • Servings: About 15 pieces
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Print

With Passover right around the corner, I'm finally able to move homemade matzo into the 'done' column of my culinary bucket list!


  • 1 3/4 cups (about 235 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (about 50 g) white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (113g) lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt and everything bagel seasoning, optional

This dough is very stiff and requires a heavy hand for rolling. If you have one, set up a pasta rolling machine, as it makes the process much quicker. I rolled my dough to the thinness of the second-to-thinnest setting, and baking time was 4 minutes. For thicker dough, adjust baking time accordingly.


  1. Preheat oven and baking stone at 500F for at least 30 minutes from the time it reaches temperature. Prepare a pizza peel or back of a baking sheet by dusting lightly wtih flour. This will be an aid for easy transfer of the matzo dough into and out of the oven.
  2. Combine flours and salt in a large bowl. Add warm water and olive oil all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture resembles a shaggy dough.
  3. Turn dough out on to a counter and knead by hand for a few minutes until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Use a knife or bench scraper to divide dough into four equal quarters. Use plastic wrap to cover three of the dough sections.
  4. Use your hand or a rolling pin to flatten the first dough section into a disc. Cut the disc into two pieces and flatten each into an even thinner disc. Run the dough through a pasta roller, reducing the thickness after each pass until you get to the second-to-last notch on the machine. You will need to cut the dough in half at some point, as smaller pieces are easier to work with.
  5. Arrange two pieces of matzo dough on the pizza peel or reversed cookie sheet. Sprinkle each with sea salt or everything bagel seasoning and lightly roll with a rolling pin to adhere the seasonings. Prick each piece of dough all over with a fork.
  6. Slide matzo onto the preheated baking stone and bake for 3 to 4 minutes (watch the clock closely). Matzo is ready when it has air bubbles and is lightly golden brown all over. Use tongs to pull the baked matzo from the oven. Cool on a baking rack. Repeat with remaining dough.

When matzo is completely cooled, stack the sheets in a sealable container or zip-top bag and store on the counter for up to a week (if it lasts that long).