Grill Some Shrimp this Holiday

boboThe dog, Bobo, and I like to take walks in the morning and evening. It helps clear my head, providing a time to sort through the day, and ideally clear the way for some meditation.

Often we walk along the banks of Walnut Creek, where I’ve watched it change through the seasons of rushing fall waters, frozen winter fury, to spring brown turmoil  to an summer clarity. Indeed, the water is so clear I can see the fish gathering in the pools under the small waterfall. I watched as fishermen literally cast into dozens of fish, which, unfortunately for the fishermen, were not biting.

This is when the details of everyday life slip away and my mind is clear enough to allow some creativity to take hold.

I imagined the case at Urbaniak Brothers, a butcher on Erie’s east side, that had been filled with shrimp. And I recalled a delicious risotto I had at Peppino’s Chop House. And I wanted red curry. They all needed to come together into a single dish.
And that is how we came to have grilled shrimp over red curry risotto. The other twist is that my daughter doesn’t like rice and I don’t like to spend the time standing over the stove cooking risotto. I’d saved several recipes that used orzo in “risotto”  into my New York Times Cooking app, so those became the framework for the dish, which takes about 15 minutes.

whole wheat orzo

I used whole wheat orzo that I found at Giant Eagle. Typically I don’t like the texture of whole wheat pasta, but this holds up to the cooking and the strong flavors. Most importantly, it tastes great.

shrimp over red curry orzo


Grilled Shrimp with Red Curry Coconut Risotto

1 pound peeled shrimp (I prefer wild-caught Gulf or Florida shrimp)
2 cups coconut milk
1 tablespoons red curry paste
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 sweet white onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 cup whole wheat orzo
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1 teaspoon (or more to taste) soy sauce
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 lime, halved

In a zip-top baggie, combine 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2 teaspoons red curry past, fish sauce and brown sugar. Marinate while you light the fire or prepare the gas grill.

While the fire is getting ready, add olive oil to a medium-sized saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and red pepper and saute until soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add orzo and cook until slightly toasted. Add 1/2 cup of the coconut milk and stir until the orzo has soaked it up, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup and stir until nearly absorbed, another 1 to 2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup of coconut milk, 1 teaspoon of the red curry paste and the chicken broth. Simmer over low heat until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Squeeze half lime over top and add soy sauce. Stir in 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Set aside.

Skewer shrimp and grill until cooked through, depending on the heat of your grill this will take 2 to 4 minutes. You want them just pink and opaque – they will continue cooking with residual heat once you take them off the grill.

Plate the orzo and top with grilled shrimp. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro. Squeeze the other half of the lime over the dishes.

Serves 4.


Memorial Day: 4 Make-Ahead Cakes

Memorial Day coincides with my birthday so I celebrate with a three-day sweet fest. My mother used to make the most creative birthday cakes, creating her own forms to cut out theme cakes (this is before Wilton made molded cake pans) and decorate them.

I was a vanilla girl. Vanilla ice cream. Vanilla cake. White frosting. That was me. Then one year, my mother made a chocolate Coca-Cola cake. I was done. I was chocolate forever after.

Here are four of my favorite recipes for cakes for Memorial Day weekend – whether you have a birthday to celebrate or a picnic.

Coca-Cola Cake, courtesy of

Coca-Cola Cake

The recipe is from the Coca-Cola website, courtesy of the Junior League of Atlanta. My mother made it pre-Internet so I’m even more impressed.

chocolate glazed tart
Chocolate tart with a caramel glaze. 

Chocolate Glazed Tart

This is a new addition to my recipe list, courtesy of It is incredibly rich. So rich, that I had to make it even more decadent by swapping out the chocolate glaze with a caramel. one. This is best made the morning of the day it is to be eaten. It’s pretty easy to make and you can either make your own caramel sauce or buy one.

Simple Salted Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put both sugars in the bottom of a medium-sized heavy saucepan with high sides over medium heat and melt sugar. Keep and eye on it so it doesn’t burn. This is where a rubber spatula with a 500-degree heat range will be your best friend. Once it has melted, carefully (because this will bubble up) add butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Use a whisk for this because you want to fully incorporate the butter. Once that is done, this takes 2-3 minutes, carefully pour in cold cream, which will also bubble up and spatter. Allow it to boil for about 1 minute and remove from heat. Whisk in salt and vanilla extract. Allow to cool. This can be stored in the refrigerator.

It will be hard to buy caramel sauce after you taste this.


One-Pan Chocolate Cake

I found this recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website and my daughter and I make it all the time. I love the intense chocolate flavor, which I think differentiates this recipe from a lot of other chocolate pan cakes. I love King Arthur’s triple cocoa blend (this is not a paid post). If you are using regular Dutch process cocoa, the addition of the espresso powder (found usually in the coffee aisle or international aisle of your grocery story) is a wonderful enhancer. I add it to almost all chocolate recipes. Add some sprinkles and it can be very festive and holiday appropriate (and who doesn’t love a few sprinkles on cake?).

This salted peanut tiramisu just needs to be finished off with a dusting of cocoa.


I have had really good tiramisu and really bad tiramisu (and made both).This salted peanut recipe from rocked my tiramisu world. I, too, missed texture in my tiramisu. I wanted a little crunch. Transforming regular salted peanuts into with a simple sugar glaze, rocked. The  peanuts from the Virginia branch of the family were particularly good (who knew there could be such a difference in peanuts). Indeed, I had to make extra because I kept nibbling at the sweet and salty nuts.

I will be experimenting with tiramisu more now – next up might be making some brittle and adding it. The only thing missing, for me, from the recipe, was some chocolate. So either dust with some cocoa powder, or, drizzle some chocolate sauce on top.

If you want a more traditional tiramisu, follow Mario Batali’s recipe. 

If you have a picnic this weekend, any one of these recipes will serve you well. They are best made in the cool morning and refrigerated for later in the day or made the night before and refrigerated.

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Rhubarb and Strawberries perfect pair

strawberry rhubarb

The French almost spoiled rhubarb for me forever. There are very few foods on my “do not eat” list, and rhubarb was on there. I couldn’t fathom why anyone wanted to eat what I perceived to be a tart version of celery. I only eat that when it is chopped finely like a mirepoix. No ants on log in this house.

But I like to test my dislikes every now and again. So on a trip to Paris a few years ago, I gave it a try as a dessert choice during prix fixe three-course meal. Stewed. That should have given it away. It tasted like tart limp celery.

Fortunately, the relentless press of rhubarb recipes in the late spring caught my eye a year ago and I gave it a try again – chopped finely and paired with strawberries in a crisp or crumble. The fine chop eliminates my texture issue, while the tart flavor pairs deliciously with strawberries.

Now, when it comes into season I buy it. I don’t always know how I am going to prepare it, but I buy it anyway. It keeps for a bit, like celery, so you can wait for inspiration. In my case, it came in the form of Tuesday night dinner. My beau was coming over and he has a sweet tooth (as do both my daughter and I). I temporarily exhausted the chocolate category for his birthday.

Borrowing a recipe from Food52, I chopped up 1 pound rhubarb, 1 pound strawberries and added them to a pot with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and let it sit for an hour. Then I brought it to a boil and simmered for about 20 minutes, until it was nice and thick. I put into into jars, add lids, and refrigerate until ready to use. I dollop spoonfuls in my yogurt in the morning and put it on ice cream at night. It’s strawberry jam at the next level.

For our dessert, the strawberry rhubarb jam topped a fluffy cheesecake baked in a Mason jar, a recipe I adapted from Martha Stewart. I made a few minor alterations.

I can tell you I converted two rhubarb haters into lovers, both asking for some extra jam to top their cheesecakes as they dug in.Cheesecake an a Jar

This seems like a lot of eggs compared to my normal cheesecake recipe, which calls for 1 egg per 8 ounces of cream cheese. The eggs make it fluffy instead of dense, which is perfect in these jars.


  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 ounces mascarpone or sour cream (1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon fruit preserves or jam
  • 6  6-ounce jars


  • 4 chocolate or regular graham crackers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar


Heat oven to 325 degrees. Fill a small pot or a teakettle with water and get it ready to boil. You are going to bake these cheesecakes in a bain marie (water bath) to keep the temperature even.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and mascarpone (or sour cream) until smooth with an electric mixer. Add sugar and beat until it is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Mix in salt (1/4 teaspoon), lemon juice and vanilla.

Divide batter among six 6-ounce jars, filling each about half full first then using any remaining batter to even them out.

Put a baking dish large enough to hold the jars, a 9×9 square dish will work, on the middle rack in the heated oven. Place jars in the baking dish. Fill the dish with boiling water until about halfway up the side of the jars.

Cover with foil that has had 4-6 large slits cut into it to vent. Bake until set in the center, about 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate overnight to set.

You can serve these the same day, as I did, by gradually changing the hot water to cold once the cheesecakes are baked.  When you remove them from the oven, place the hot pan in the sink. Remove foil. Add tepid water to the dish to gradually lower the temperature. Once the dish has the tepid water in it, gradually add ice cubes to chill down the cheesecakes. Go slowly – don’t dump a bunch of ice all in at one time, or you risk cracking the baking dish and the cheesecake jars. Add ice as it melts. They should be ready to eat in about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, turn graham crackers into crumbs in either a blender or food processor (or buy crumbs). Add sugar and pulse several times to combine. Then add melted butter and process until just incorporated. Spread onto a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes.

When cheesecakes are ready to serve, spoon some preserves on top and sprinkle with graham topping. Place any extra preserves and topping in separate bowls and serve along with the cheesecakes so guests can replenish as they scoop out the cheesecake.

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Tea Time with Violets

Sarah Crosby, half of the, introduced me to violet tea. We were talking about her kombucha-making adventures with her partner, Jesse Horning, and she said one of her favorites was a violet lemonade combination. The season for violets is fleeting (check your yard now).

As a girl, a friend and I would pick and eat violets because they were sweet. Crosby told me they are loaded with vitamin C. They also contain some salicytic acid (natural aspirin) and have been credited with healing powers in both the flowers, leaves and roots. You can read more at Mother Earth News.

I grabbed a small canvas bag  and set out on my urban foraging mission to pick a bag of violets. They like loamy soil and some shade. I knew the perfect spot and the homeowners. There are a couple of rules when harvesting from nature. The first is to ask permission if you are on someone’s property. The second is to respect the plants, so watch your step and leave intact flowers behind to preserve the beauty of the landscape. The third is to use a gathering basket or bag made of natural materials that breath, so your harvest doesn’t mold.

Once you pick the violets, you can make your tea immediately with fresh flowers and/or you can dry the flowers for later use. If you choose to dry, place them in a basket made of natural fibers and with plenty of ventilation.

violet tea brewing
Steeping the violets in the teapot.

I put a couple of spoonfuls in my teapot, which has a tea strainer, and poured boiling water in. I allowed it to steep for about 5 minutes and then poured a beautiful cup of blue-green tea. I added a squeeze of Meyer lemon (also in season), which somewhat diminished the color, and a little maple syrup at the suggestion of Crosby, a photographer who worked in Erie and has since moved to western Massachusetts.

The unfinished tea went into the refrigerator for iced violet lemonade the next day. What a delightfully refreshing drink.


violet tea glass
The tea turns a pretty violet color. If you add lemon, it will change the color to a pink.

Crosby is an experienced kombucha brewer, so she is quite creative with her recipes and ingredients, including using the violet tea. You can check out her blog for recipes. I’m still in the beginning phase, so I stick to the basic recipe of green, white or black tea as the base.

Until I become more practiced in the art of kombucha, I made a violet syrup that can be used throughout the spring to infuse teas and lemonade. It is quite simple, but requires a fair amount of sugar.

Here is the recipe I used, which is adapted from several websites, including UseRealButter, LavendarandLovage, InJenniesKitchen.

violet syrup

Violet Syrup

3 to 4 handfuls of violets

2/3 cup boiling water

1 1/2 cups sugar (some recipes call for white sugar, some like natural cane sugar)

Put violets (stems removed) into a glass bowl that can fit over the top of a pot (creating a double boiler) or a sterilized Mason jar. Pour boiling water on top of violets and stir. Cover and let steep for 24 hours at room temperature.

Pour the mixture into a nonreactive pot over low heat and bring to just below a simmer (never boil), add sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Or you can create a double boiler by putting your glass bowl on top of a pot filled halfway with boiling water. Keep the water at a high simmer or low boil. Add the sugar to the bowl with the water and violets and stir until the sugar dissolves. This may take awhile, but assures you won’t burn your violets or scorch the sugar.

Use a strainer to collect the violets as your pour the liquid into a clean sterilized glass container. Some people add a squeeze of lemon juice now, which will change the color of your liquid to a pink. Refrigerate for up to a year.

Can be used to sweeten teas, frostings or any drink calling for simple syrup.