..well, my husband’s made-up-just-for-me-because-he-knows-how-much-I-LOOOOVE-“Chopped” version.

Last Saturday afternoon, I get a text from my husband who is at Whole Foods: “Chopped challenge, prepare your mind.” What??!! Awesome!!

I went through a phase where I watched old “Chopped” episodes on a nightly basis, right before bed, making multiple comments, multiple times on how I wish I could compete/judge in that show.

So imagine my excitement upon reading that text!!!

So, he comes home a little later with the following 12 ingredients:


  • Cauliflower
  • Sour Cream
  • Organic dark chocolate sauce
  • Garlic herb hummus
  • Fresh ground almond butter
  • Aged cheddar
  • Pretzel buns
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Atlantic salmon
  • Raincoast crisps (bread crisps w/cranberry, nuts, seeds)
  • Organic eggs
  • Beef stick (fancy Slim Jim)

And these were his “rules”:

  1. All ingredients must be used.
  2. I had a total of 70 min to complete and plate an appetizer, entree and dessert (unlike the show where the appetizer round is 20 min, dinner 30, and dessert 20).
  3. I was also allowed to search for a cream puff recipe online, because I didn’t have time to memorize any dessert recipes give the 1 hour “heads-up”. (which I obviously would’ve done, had I been given more notice, obvi)
  4. We would be the judges. (best part)

It was by faaaaaar THE most exciting thing I have ever done in the kitchen – almost as much adrenaline pumping as that time we climbed Half Dome in Yosemite and thought I would plunge to my death… but this was less “fear-of-death” more “fear-of-the-timer”.

So, he set the timer, and I FLEW!!

Ovens on! Stove on! Every single clean pan in my cupboards out! Knives flying! Spoons stirring! It was exhilarating!!!!!

Deric got in on the action too as he played cameraman and filmed some of the action.

I had everything plated with only seconds to spare!

So, after the most awesome 70 minutes of my cooking life, here is what we ate for dinner.


Pretzel bread crostini with cauliflower & Aged cheddar hummus spread – topped with Fried paprika beef stick crumbles, chili garlic chips and shaved aged cheddar.20140719_190734

Main Course:

Baked Atlantic Salmon with a pretzel/crispbread/aged cheddar crust, Pan-roasted beef-stick Brussell Sprouts, Aged cheddar mashed Cauliflower topped with chili garlic chips20140719_190811

and for my favorite………..


Cream puffs filled with a Sour Cream & almond butter cream served with Brown sugar glazed apples, Dark chocolate cinammon sauce and topped with a pretzel/crispbread/cheddar strussel.20140719_190745(0)

And the winner is….

US! we got to eat it, and I had a blast!

My favorite course was dessert.  I will try to recreate it someday, or some version of it.

I’m pretty sure we will be doing this on a monthly basis, it was just too much fun! Next time, he will be going to the Asian supermarket….. eeeeeek!! so excited!

AAAAAND, this was the aftermath….20140719_19381020140719_193739….but no worries, my adrenaline was still pumping, so I was walking on air even as I was cleaning.

And my husband, well, he got the “BEST-HUSBAND-EVER” award :)


The week before we leave for vacation, we try not to go grocery shopping and instead try to use up what we already have.

This makes for some interesting meals sometimes.

And sometimes necessity breeds innovation, as it did in this case.

A can of black refried beans and some chicken broth make a very yummy and easy black bean soup that serves two.  Add some cornbread or tortilla chips and you have lunch!
two ingredient black bean soup -

two ingredient black bean soup

Easy 2-ingredient Black Bean Soup

(makes 2 1-cup servings)

1 can refried black beans

1+ cups chicken broth

2 Tb Sour Cream or Greek yogurt (optional)

Splash of milk (optional)

Few cilantro leaves (optional)

Empty the can of refried black beans into a pot.  Add one cup of chicken broth and use a whisk to mix together.  Add more chicken broth if you prefer your soup thinner. I didn’t add any seasoning because I found the salt/seasoning level  just right, but you can taste at this point and add more salt/pepper, or even some water if you find it too salty.

Bring the soup to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent the soup from burning.  Once boiling, remove from heat promptly.

While the soup cools enough to be eaten, you can prepare your garnishes.

I mixed some greek yogurt and a splash of milk and put it in a Ziploc bag to make the cream swirl on top.

A spoon of salsa, some avocado, or even a splash of lime would also be great in this.


If you don’t know what Pinterest is, be warned – you may not want to know… explore at your own risk.

I have to admit, I’m on almost daily, usually pinning one or two things a day. Sometimes more.

….especially since I’m in the middle of a bathroom remodel, pregnancy and an indeterminately long adventure in stay-at-home-motherhood.

Last week I found this pin:

A gorgeous black door, with gray wall and white trim. I loved the way the black door looked in this room.
There were several more beautiful examples on the nestegg blog.

My walls are gray, trim is white, just needed a black door!
The painters came on Monday of this week to paint the nursery, guest room, and some other unfinished doors. They finished on Wednesday, and I got a beautiful, shiny black door.

Not bad, eh?! The black even makes the brass doorknob bearable! almost likeable! (sorry I don’t have a really good BEFORE picture. It was the same buttery cream that was on all of the trim in the house.)

Only problem: I now want to slather black paint on every door in my home… which was not approved by the hubby. Maybe the front door??

and as much as I LOVE my black door, the real Pinterest success story lies in the following recipe.

We received organic arugula in our last two Urban Acres co-op bins and I needed some new ideas for what can be a very bitter/spicy green.

Arugula, Apples & Manchego in Cider Vinaigrette

I ran across this recipe on Pinterest a couple of weeks ago. We’ve had the salad a few times, but the vinaigrette really is the star!

I make mine with equal parts vinegar and oil because I don’t think it needs the extra oil. I’ve had the dressing everyday for the past 5 days, sometimes twice a day.

My new fave combo: Mixed greens, sliced peaches, fat-free feta, plus the apple-cider vinaigrette. Yum!

I’ve also put it on a mixed green, cherries, manchego cheese and red onion salad – or when the veggies ran short at the end of the week, some bibb lettuce and orange segments. Seriously, you cannot go wrong!

So 2 successful Pinterest attempts in 2 weeks, not bad! makes up for a few of the fails…

Rainbow chard is one of my new favorite greens!  It’s packed full of goodies and so easy to prepare.

I made a variation of this recipe as a pasta dish a few months ago when I first joined my local veggie co-op.

I have several variations for special diets and will include the changes at the end.

Start with your ingredients:

      • 2 large or 4 medium chicken breasts
      • 2 bunches rainbow chard
      • 1/2 large yellow onion
      • , sliced

      • 4 slices turkey bacon
      • , chopped

      • a few dashes of red-wine vinegar
      • Salt & pepper

Chop and wash your chard. Don’t worry about drying off too much – the extra water will create steam in the oven and help it become nice and tender.

Add chopped onions, turkey bacon, a few dashes of vinegar and any additional salt and pepper. Mix.

Season chicken breasts. I use Tony’s, yum! If you’re a purist, use just salt & pepper.

Coat a 13×9 casserole dish with olive oil spray. Add chard, and place chicken on top. Cover with Foil.
Bake for 40min at 350 F.
After 40 min, uncover, stir chard a little, and let bake another 10-20min until chicken is cooked through.

This is how it will look when it’s all done. The chard will cook down quite a bit, but it will be oh so tender!
And the smokiness from the turkey bacon combined with the sweetness of the onions will make you a chard believer!

Vegetarian option: omit turkey bacon & chicken, try replacing with smoked soy-sage or smoked tofu. Cooking time will decrease due to lack of chicken.

TSFL Lean, Green Meal: omit onions, add only 1 slice of turkey bacon. Replace onions with onion powder and count as condiment.

Low-sodium: Add only 1 slice turkey bacon, use salt-free seasoning on chicken.

See this collection of cookbooks?

Most of the time they are ignored, unappreciated, used as eye-candy on my hutch…

But every now and then I remember they exist, and I will read one… like a novel, seriously, start to finish… my eyes glazing over when I get to the end (hello dessert section!!)…

This particular day I was reading one of my favs “mediterranean: food of the sun” by Jacqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow.

And on the front it has this description:

… a culinary tour of sun-drenched shores with evocative dishes from southern Europe” GAH!!! drooooool…. yes, I do want to go on this culinary tour with you Jacqueline & Joanna!

And I have done just that many times!  I have read this cookbook start to finish at least 10 times… and I have only made one recipe from it.. shame…

But it was a perfect storm (extra time and all ingredients on hand)  that inspired me to make one of their appetizers…

If you are even the tiny-est bit interested in cheese,  this one’s gonna make you weak in the knees!

Yogurt Cheese:

The process starts with drying out your yogurt for 2-3 days in cheesecloth… I used non-fat plain yogurt for my first batch….
I think Greek yogurt will work better because it has a lower water content and will give you more cheese…

Then you roll the cheese into balls…. and place in sterilized jars (I used a jelly jar) along with rosemary, thyme, red pepper flakes and garlic- flavored olive oil.

Isn't it a sight?!

Then you spread on bread..

drizzle extra olive oil and watch it slowly drip onto the bread………. oh my……

take a BIG bite! creamy, tangy, garlicky… ohhhh

Have for breakfast, lunch and dinner! (do not let hubby know about this… blame the half-empty jar on cheese-loving baby)
p.s. would also make GREAT gifts for hostess or friends.. or heck, the cheese alone is an occasion!

…here’s a peek at the recipe….

Inside this beautiful cookbook

Aren't the pictures fabulous?!

Oh Barcelona, you delighted and disappointed in the same bite!

As the Euros were quickly being depleted, we found ourselves eating in more often.

We went to the supermarket and even bought some canned goods (my choice, Deric was wary).
I grew up on many a canned delight – corned beef hash, Spam, ravioli, Beefaroni, Spaghettios, Campbell’s Noodle Soup, etc., so occasionally, in moments of weakness, I will turn to the humble can.

Luckily, these cans put their American counterparts to shame!

We had vegetarian beans,

and canned chicken meatballs.

pair those with some chorizo, rice, and a simple salad with lemon vinaigrette and you have a surprisingly amazing dinner!

Deric didn’t care much for the chorizo, said it was too greasy. I loved it! It tasted like the Hungarian smoked sausage that my dad would always bring home when we lived in Chicago. He would also have people ship it to him when we moved to Portland. Even my pickiest siblings would eat this sausage when paired with feta cheese and the softest french bread.

Luckily, Luke has apparently inherited my sausage gene – a bond I hope we will always share. He walked around the entire apartment, chorizo in hand, happily smearing orange grease all over.

Another supermarket delight included this ice cream confection that tasted mildly of cappuccino and custard.

After visiting Park Guell, we saw this window display, and I stopped in my tracks… and asked Deric to go get one. They were called Rocs de Gaudi, and were these really sweet almond meringues. We took a few bites, decided to finish it later with coffee, forgot about it, it smashed into a bazillion crumbs, and ended up in the trash; tragic.

And then there was the great Paella hunt.

I was determined to find the best paella on a conservative budget – not meager, just slightly limited. So I googled it. And I found a blog, which I will leave nameless, in which the author called herself an obsessed with paella. And since it appeared she had tasted several paellas in Barcelona, I decided to trust her… eh… wish I hadn’t. I was recommended a restaurant that served an 18 euro/per person seafood paella. Eh… it was okay. Just okay. It was rice, that tasted like seafood, served in a paella pan.

Maybe it was my weakened taste buds due to a sinus problem.. but the paella did not taste like what I expected paella to be. I had watched numerous Food Network shows that showcased paella, and how it’s supposed to be creamy, yet have a crust on the bottom… and it was that crust that I missed in this paella. Was it a good rice dish? Sure. Was it great? No. Will I have food blog trust issues from now on? Yes.

So, in my disillusionment, I vowed to find an “el cheapo” paella that could satisfy me. So we found one for 8 euros. And it was bland. But it did have the “crust” I was looking for!

In the end, I have decided to end the search for great paella. After all, how good can paella be? It’s just rice, and saffron. And I doubt it could stand up to the intense flavors of Thai cooking, which I would prefer any day to Mediterranean flavors.

But let’s end this on a positive note!

Best food I had in Barcelona:
Patatas Bravas! Fried cubed potatoes topped with a creamy yummy chili sauce! So good! In fact, it erased every bad memory of paella. It’s typically served as tapas, and we had it twice! Had we tried it earlier, I would’ve had them every day, maybe twice a day!

Some other yummy tapas included:
Tomato bread; bread smeared with garlic, olive oil, and crushed tomatoes

Shrimp patties; shrimp and herb patties, yum!

Beef skewers; beef skewers marinated in a chili sauce

And on that note, I bought a tapas cookbook and plan to someday throw a tapas dinner party, and maybe – if I run out of everything else to do, I might even try to make my own paella that will rival that of Barcelona.

Portuguese food reminds me a great deal of Romanian food.  It is primarily a meat and potatoes cuisine, rich in pork and seafood. Vegetables are eaten, but usually “cooked within an inch of their life”. And the seasonings are mild to say the least.

However, there is something very satisfying and comforting in the simple things.  Like the ham and cheese sandwiches that I had almost daily.

Now for the picture tour:

WARNING! The following pictures are not to be viewed on an empty stomach! May cause severe growling!


Whole grilled Dorado with pickled cabbage, boiled potatoes*, green salad, and boiled carrots.
*per my tour book, fish must always be served with boiled potatoes! asking for fries might result in deportation!*

Deric had a traditional Portuguese sausage, which is a combination of various ground meats and bread (alheira)which has an interesting history. He said it was ok. The texture is very soft, almost mushy.

I also had a pastry that resembled what we Romanians call, Cremeș. Basically a puff-pastry shell with a rich fluffy custard filling… this one also had a small dollop of lemon curd in the center. Yum! Sorry, this is the only picture I have of it! It was that good!

Not pictured: A dish of boiled octopus in green sauce with boiled potatoes. Not worthy of picture. I love seafood, but even I couldn’t stomach the boiled octopus prepared by what I presume to be an amateur. Otherwise I’m sure I would’ve loved it!


In Lisbon, we rented a flat, and did some cooking of our own. And we ate it on a cafe table overlooking a small balcony on a quaint cobblestone street.. just lovely.

Cooking in our Lisbon kitchen.

Steak salad balcony-side anyone?

Steak salad with fresh lemon vinaigrette made in our little kitchen.

We also cooked a lot of eggs using the local cheeses and hams. And A LOT of bread!

And I can’t refuse a gyro. On our way back from the castle in Lisbon, we passed this tiny cafe that was selling kebab sandwiches. Had to have it! It reminded me of the kebab sandwiches we had in Paris 2 years ago. This might become a tradition; to seek out the kebab sandwich in every town we visit!

On our last day in Lisbon we both had sandwiches.

I had one called the “Big D”, seriously. It was a basic hamburger, with a huge hunk of local cheese and a fried egg. ‘nough said.

Deric had an omelette sandwich, hmmm.. might be recreating those here in the states.

Grocery store finds:

For 5 Euros and a trip to Portugal, you too can take home a skinned, whole, ready-to-cook rabbit! Yikes! Just a normal selection in the local grocery store!

Also from the grocery store deli counter, a popular local dish, Arroz de Pato (Duck Rice) with Porco a alentejana (Pork with clams). Very tasty!

Another grocery store find: Queso Fresca… I guess it’s fresh cheese, served in yogurt-type container. It is smooth, silky, sweet; just perfect smeared on some fresh local bread.

A new favorite of ours, the local Port. Just had a shot-glass full, but it was sweet and lovely. Perfect end to a good meal.

And the melon! they have this dark green melon, that reminds me of a honey-dew melon, but so much sweeter! I tried to find its name online… and I think it’s a Christmas melon.


Belem is the western neighborhood of Lisbon. It is famous for its Pastel de Nata. And the best place to get one is at a local bakery, Pasteis de Belem that had been there since 1847! I even had to wait in line to get one. And it was worth it. It’s a small, tart-like dessert, with a buttery, flaky yet chewy crust, and the most creamy custard filling, so delicious!! And they were right, their Pastel de Nata was so much better than the ones we tried earlier in the week!

If you look closely, you can see all the luscious layers in the crust.

The inside of this lovely confection.

We also had more ham sandwiches in Belem. Cheap, filling and yummy.
Deric had a panini style one, and mine was cold on a ciabatta-like bread.


Sintra was a town 45 minutes away from Lisbon. The most beautiful place I saw in Portugal. I would say it was the Provence of Portugal. Just magical with its collection of castles. It was here that I sampled a bacalhau (salt-cod) dish for the first time.

It was so good! It appeared that the dried salt cod was chopped and pan-fried with shredded potatoes and served with olives.

Deric opted for an oldie but a goody: pork chops with french fries.

For dessert he had their “apple pie”. It was more of an apple tart with raisins and a struesel topping: So good!

And I had a piece of chocolate cake. It looked really anemic when it arrived, a pale brown; not the dark rich brown of the american chocolate cake. But when I tasted it, it was so incredibly moist, almost wet like a tres-leches cake… just chocolate. More than good!

Stay tuned for the Spain edition!

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