Maple Dijon Sloppy Joes

I love that it has become trendy for even the most upscale restaurants to offer mac and cheese on the menu. And I love that we have more ‘gourmet’ burger joints in our town than we do gas stations. And I extra love that the gastro-pub we dropped into yesterday for lunch had ‘Grandma’s Green Bean Casserole’ as a special. I am thrilled that all of the delicious, nostalgic, homey foods from my childhood are being reinvented, and enjoyed all over again.

Chefs seem to have tackled and upgraded everything from tater tots to oatmeal cookies. But you know what has been totally overlooked in this comfort food overhaul? Sloppy Joes.

Is there any dish that screams ‘Kid Food’ more than the humble Sloppy Joe? I’ll admit that not all sloppy joe memories are happy ones. The soggy school-lunch sloppy joes were fodder for elementary school nightmares. But sloppy joes CAN be delicious. I recall a fantastic summer camp sloppy joe served on a perfectly crusty pretzel bun. And another, spicier version that a neighbor’s mom made with leftover chili. The thing about sloppy joes is that there are no rules. Anything goes. Which is why they are ripe for reinvention.

A little bit messy, a little bit sticky, these Maple Dijon Sloppy Joes are all the sloppy joe was meant to be. Sweet, tangy, hearty and full of flavor, this is kid food that I love even more as a grown up. I’m a big fan of maple syrup in savory dishes. With the ground beef here, it provides just enough sweetness and plenty of rich flavor. Be sure to use good quality maple syrup (the real stuff!) and good Dijon mustard too.

This recipe makes plenty for four big sandwiches, but if you have leftovers, they actually freeze well. Or, you could get creative and reheat leftovers with a bit of hoisin sauce, a dash of soy sauce and some chopped water chestnuts and serve in lettuce wraps for a whole new Asian-inspired meal.

Maple Dijon Sloppy Joes
Serves 4+

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cop finely chopped carrot
2/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 pound 85% lean ground beef
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1/2 cup maple syrup
salt, to taste

To serve:
4 whole wheat rolls or buns, toasted
4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
Thinly sliced crisp apple

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery and pepper and sauté until the veggies are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ground beef, and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until no pink remains (if the meat starts to stick, add a few tablespoons of water). Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the ketchup, Worcestershire, paprika, mustard, and maple syrup. Stir well and simmer about 10 minutes. Add salt to taste. To serve, spoon the sloppy joe mixture into the buns and top each with a slice of cheese and a slice of apple. Pass around plenty of napkins!

Check out for more information on pure maple syrup and Think Outside The Griddle recipes.

Published in:
  • Fall
  • Mains
on October 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: cooking, dinner, easy, food, kid friendly, maple syrup, recipe

Spice Cake and a New Bundt Pan

I’ve been sitting here, trying to think of a way to explain to you why I adore spice cake.

I’ve come up with about 25 different adjectives, but the truth doesn’t have anything to do with flowery language. The truth is pretty darn simple. I love spice cake because I can get away with eating it for breakfast.

Cake for breakfast. It’s my dream. Which is why I adore my grandmother’s sour cream coffee cake in muffin form – anything in a muffin tin qualifies as breakfast, right?

As I mentioned back when I shared that coffee cake muffin recipe with you all, for many years my kitchen has been lacking a bundt cake pan. I have more bakeware than any woman should reasonably own. In fact, Jeff had to build me an extra set of shelves in the basement to hold my mini doughnut pan, my Madeleine pan, my candy molds, my petit-fours kit, my mini tart pans… you get the idea. But for some reason, I never got around to buying the basic bundt pan.

I was at my aunt’s house for dinner a couple weeks ago, and after we were so thoroughly stuffed with brisket and potatoes we thought we would never eat again, she brought out two of the prettiest bundt cakes I had ever seen. Yes, two. She’s like that. At her table, I have never been served less than two desserts, and usually more.

Her cakes were beautiful, with their pretty fluted edges. And after one taste, I realized that the shape was not just for show – all those ridges (all that extra surface area) make for plenty of extra buttery crisp bits. I love that buttery crisp cake edge!

I oohed and ahhed over those cakes, bemoaning my lack of bundt pan, whining to my cousin even as I devoured a mega slice of each.

And a week later, when UPS delivered a beautiful bundt cake pan to my door, I was baffled for only about two seconds. My cousin is so thoughtful – and had been so shocked that my over-stocked kitchen could be lacking such a necessary staple – that she turned to Amazon that very night.

So I made spice cake. And I’m loving all those buttery crisp edges and intense flavors this morning with my cup of tea. This cake is wonderfully moist and lovely on its own, but also fantastic with some barely sweetened whipped cream. And if, like me, you save a slice for breakfast, a smear of cream cheese is pretty great too.


Spice Cake
(adapted from this Spiced Applesauce Cake recipe)

3 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups applesauce
powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bundt pan. Stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together until very fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well. Then stir in half of the flour mixture, all of the applesauce, and then the remaining flour mixture. The batter will be a bit stiff. Spread it into the bundt pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool before removing from the pan.

Published in:
  • Fall
  • Sweets
  • Winter
on March 10, 2013 at 11:15 am  Comments (8)  
Tags: applesauce cake, baking, bundt cake, cooking, easy, food, recipe

Pantry Pasta with Celery and Parmesan


Sometimes the washing machine breaks and floods the basement with sudsy water. Sometimes the heel of your favorite black leather ankle boot breaks off as you’re walking up the stairs to your office. Sometimes a jagged pebble on the interstate bounces up and cracks your windshield. Sometimes, all of these things happen on the same day.

And at the end of a day like this, simple, unfussy food can feel so, so good.

There was a time when the more exotic ingredients a recipe had, the more desperately I wanted to rush out and buy every single one. I would lock myself in the kitchen for hours, emerging triumphant, elaborate concoction in hand, anxiously awaiting oohs and ahhs. And every so often I still get the urge to flex some culinary muscle.

But these days, I fully appreciate the basic beauty of a quick, easy, tasty and healthy recipe.

Quick. Easy. Heathy. It’s the holy grail of weeknight cooking. I used to think that simple was boring – a cop out. But the truth is that simple is elegant, sophisticated. Kind of like my favorite black leather ankle boots were before that six-inch heel bit the dust.

But back to the food.


The thing with simple food is that each ingredient matters. Good pasta, fresh celery, and the very best cheese you can find turn some simple pantry staples into a pretty delicious dinner. Assuming that, like me, you have a thing for cheese, you might even have all of the ingredients for this deceptively basic dish in your kitchen right now. And if you don’t, well, make this pasta once and I promise you’ll start keeping anchovy paste and wedges of parmesan on hand at all times.

This pasta takes all of 10 minutes to make, is full of flavor, and is ultimately comforting. If you think you aren’t a fan of anchovies, I don’t blame you. Neither was I. Until I tried melting down anchovy paste in plenty of fruity olive oil. When cooked, the anchovy paste imparts a deep, rich, salty flavor to the pasta that is frankly addictive. And if Jeff, the consummate fish hater, asks for this pasta on a weekly basis, then there really has to be something to this anchovy business. As for the celery, well, I use it because it’s always in my fridge. Why do I buy celery every week? I honestly have no idea. But I do it. And I’m always looking for ways to use it up. Go figure. I suppose that you could elevate this dish by using a bit of sliced fennel and some fennel fronds instead. But the humble celery works just fine. It’s lovely, actually, and pretty underrated.

The real star here, though, is the cheese. Which means you should spring for good cheese. And no, good cheese does not come in a shaky can. I’m not actually sure that stuff is cheese at all. What you want is a nice wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano. And a good grater.


Pantry Pasta with Celery and Parmesan
Serves 4

1 13.25 ounce box of whole grain linguine
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons anchovy paste
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped celery leaves

In a large pot of boiling, well salted water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Be careful not to overcook. Meanwhile, in a very large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in the oil, stirring often, until the garlic starts to brown slightly. Add the celery, oregano and red pepper and continue to cook until the celery is soft, about 5 more minutes, and then reduce the heat to low. When the pasta is done, drain and reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the skillet with the celery mixture, along with one cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the sauce, along with half of the cheese. Cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes, adding additional cooking water to loosen the sauce if needed. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with the celery leaves and the remaining cheese.

Published in:
  • Mains
on March 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: cooking, easy, food, parmesan, pasta, recipes, weeknight

Butternut and Feta Omelet With Fresh Mint


I love brunch.  Brunch at home, brunch at restaurants, sweet brunch, savory brunch – I love all of it.  But recently, in my brunching, I have begun to notice that there is a lot of omelet snobbery out there in the world.  From arguments over the merits of adding a splash of milk to debates over whether or not to flip, people tend to be passionate about their omelet preferences.  In fact, omelet eating seems to inspire a level of intensity akin to wine drinking. No, none of my friends have yet attempted to determine the terrior of the eggs from a single bite of Sunday brunch, but such nonsense wouldn’t actually shock me.

I have to admit that I am as picky about my omelets as anyone out there.  I like a splash of milk for volume, but not too much.  I like a slight bit of browning, but no crisp edges.  I hate a runny center, but don’t want my omelet overcooked.  And most of all, I detest a filled rolled omelet.  I like plenty of fillings but want them cooked right into the egg, not sandwiched in pillowy egginess.

So yes, I’m picky.  But just as with wine, I don’t think omelets are about right or wrong, it’s just about figuring out what you enjoy.  Sure, a true, traditional French omelet has no filling and a runny center.  But I’m not a fan.  I probably shouldn’t admit this, but to me, the best part of ordering an omelet in France is that it usually comes with fries.  Actually, for years I thought I hated all omelets, but it turns out that I just had to do a little experimenting.

And I’ve even found a few local brunch places that make my kind of omelet, but I still like my own home-cooked omelets best of all.  Particularly because they are a great way to use up leftovers lingering in the fridge.

I had a bit of leftover squash and a few wilting mint leaves to use up this weekend, so an omelet was born.  I love the combination of sweet butternut squash and salty feta cheese.  But the best part of this omelet is the unexpected burst of fresh earthiness from the mint, which cuts through the richness of the egg and the tanginess of the cheese.

This recipe makes one omelet – my way.  If you happen to like your omelet thinner, use a larger pan.  If you prefer a filled omelet, just cook the egg and then toss in the butternut and feta af the end.  If you want to simply skip the fuss and go for a scramble, it will taste just as lovely.  But don’t skip the mint.  It really is worth a try – trust me.


Butternut and Feta Omelet with Fresh Mint

Serves 1

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 tablespoon sliced garlic

2 extra large eggs

2 tablespoons milk

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided

1/3 cup cooked cubed butternut squash

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Heat the oil in an 8-inch omelet pan over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic and saute until just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.  Meanwhile, beat the eggs, milk, salt and pepper with a wisk until very well combined. Add half of the mint to the egg mixture.  Reduce the heat to low and add the egg mixture to the pan, making sure to distribute evenly.  As the egg begins to cook on the bottom, sprinkle the cooked butternut and the feta cheese over the top of the omelet. Continue to cook the omelet until the top is no longer runny (you can cover the pan to speed this process, if you like, but it will change the texture slightly). Using a spatula to lift the edges of the omelet from the pan, slide the omelet carefully to a plate.  Top with the remaining mint and serve hot.

Published in:
  • Breakfast/Brunch
  • Fall
on January 7, 2013 at 7:55 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: cheese, cooking, easy, eggs, fast, food, herbs, recipe, squash

Green Tomato Relish


At the end of the season, there always seem to be green tomatoes left clinging to the vine. Over the weekend I went to my mom’s house on the shore to help ‘batten down the hatches’ before the hurricane. During summer, she had the most bountiful tomato plants with the sweetest tomatoes. But with a massive storm surge on the way, it was time to salvage what we could, and say goodbye to the plants.  So I came home with a pile of green tomatoes.

I spent Sunday night cooking up a storm, in preparation for the hurricane. As it turned out, we were extremely lucky and never lost power, but I had baked bread, tossed pasta salad, and made meatloaf. And I began the great  green-tomato-relish-experiment.  Not only had I never made green tomato relish, I had never even tasted green tomato relish.

It turns out that green tomato relish is really easy to make, and also really tasty.  However, after an evening of experimentation I determined that the type of vinegar is really key here.  Although many recipes call for cider vinegar, I really liked my batch with white balsamic best.  Of course, white balsamic is quite sweet, so you don’t need as much sugar as you might see in other green tomato relish recipes.

This relish is tangy and sweet and wonderful on meatloaf.  It also happens to be great on grilled cheese.  And I spooned a bit over my scrambled eggs this morning, which was lovely. Of course, it would be great on a hamburger or hot dog too!

I hope you all made it through the storm safe and sound!


Easy Green Tomato Relish

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups chopped green tomatoes

2 cups white balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup of water

3 tablespoons sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a saucepan, saute the onion, pepper and garlic in oil over medium heat until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, the vinegar, the water and the sugar. Simmer gently over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated – about 20 minutes (plus or minus depending on your tomatoes). Add the salt and pepper to taste.  Cool the relish and serve or store in the fridge for up to a week.

Published in:
  • General
on October 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: balsamic, chutney, cooking, easy, recipe, sauce, vegetarian

Sausage Stuffed Bread


I have a terrible tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be.

When I was a kid, my mother would buy these lovely sausage and veggie stuffed baguettes from a local bakery to slice and serve as a dinner party hors d’oeuvre. I adored the crusty outsides and rich, meaty interior.  Mom learned to buy an extra loaf just for me and my brother.  I’ve been wanting to recreate them for ages, but the whole processes seemed, frankly, like a pain in the butt.  I’d have to make bread dough, then stuff, form and bake while hoping that the whole thing wouldn’t explode.  So I never did it.

But, of course, I was making the whole process so much more complicated than it needed to be.  Yes, the real deal would involve a lovely yeasty french bread dough and a whole lot of effort.  But the slap-dash version turns out to be pretty darn delicious!  A good store-bought baguette, some pre-cooked sausage, and a bit of aluminum foil, and you have a wonderful stuffed bread.

I used chicken apple sausage, peppers, and gouda.  But you could certainly play around with the flavors.  I think that a sweet Italian sausage and some chopped broccoli would be lovely with provolone.  Really, you can’t go wrong with sausage, bread and cheese, can you?


Sausage Stuffed Bread

Serves 8-10 as a starter

1 plump french baguette

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 links (about 6 ounces) pre-cooked chicken apple sausage, chopped

1/2 cup diced green bell pepper

1/2 cup diced onion

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/2 cup store-bought garlic herb cheese spread

3 ounces gouda cheese, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Slice into the baguette lengthwise, but do not slice all the way through – as if you’re making a very long sandwich.  Carefully dig out as much of the soft interior of the bread as you can, while leaving a solid exterior to encase the filling without collapsing.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the sausage, pepper, onion, and garlic and saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.  Let the sausage mixture cool slightly.  Meanwhile, spread the garlic-herb cheese over the interior of the bread. Lay the gouda evenly in the interior of the bread. Carefully spoon the sausage mixture into the bread cavity, as evenly as possible. Wrap the bread in foil and bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the bread is warm.  Cool slightly and then unwrap and slice to serve.

Published in:
  • Hors D'oeuvres
  • Sides and Salads
  • Uncategorized
on September 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: breads, cooking, easy, entertaining, recipe

A Duo of South African Inspired Dips


I probably spent half of my six-month stint in South Africa in the grocery store.  Well, maybe not just the grocery store.  Outdoor markets, farmstands, and roadside cafes too.  But you get the idea. And when I left Cape Town, my suitcase was jam-packed with rusks and biltong and rooibos. 

Six years later, my friend Patrick continues to feed my South African food obsession with bi-annual care packages filled with everything from sachets of spices to cans of ostrich pate.  My own dear Patrick is Patrick Ashworth, of Ashworth Africa Tours and Safaris.  Patrick develops tailor-made tours and safaris in Southern Africa and is passionate about sharing all that is South African.  As such, my care packages usually include not only a heap of food, but a healthy dose of cultural education too.  From CDs to history books to recipes, I never know what I’ll find. 

What my months in Cape Town and my friendship with Patrick have taught me is that thing about South African cuisine is that there is no ‘thing’.  In Cape Town in particular, the food is a varied woven amalgamation of cultures and peoples and history.  It’s fusion cuisine unlike anything you’ll find on even the trendiest New York restaurant menu. 

Which makes it wonderfully fun food to stretch, create and reinvent.  You know, of course, that I can never leave well enough alone, that strict recipes make me feel hemmed in. So I adore South African influenced dishes for their adaptability. 

When Patrick visited last weekend, we celebrated his first trip to Connecticut, and the lovely warm weather, with some friends and some cocktails in the back yard.  Quick and easy snacks, like these two African-inspired (but certainly not authentic) dips, along with a big pitcher of Jeff’s mango-rooibos rum punch, and we had ourselves a party!


I love chips and dips for parties.  Easy to grab, fun to munch on, and perfect for making in advance. This peppadew hummus couldn’t be easier to make. The hardest part may be finding peppadew peppers. Peppadews are a native South African pepper, bright red, and both sweet and hot at the same time. My local Whole Foods carries them (next to the olives), but in a pinch you might substitute pickled jalapenos. Peppadew hummus may not be traditional, but it always seemed to me that Cape Town’s cooks threw peppadews in just about everything, so why not hummus?

As for the Cape Malay curry dip, it’s even easier than the hummus.  The curry dip, though, is really best made in advance, so let the flavors develop overnight in the fridge. Just as I never saw peppadew hummus in South Africa, I never had a yogurt curry dip in Cape Town either.  But Cape Malay curry is one of my all-time favorite South African dishes.  The Cape Malay community in Cape Town dates back to the 17th Century and has its roots in Southeast Asia.  Centuries of fusion have resulted in  mild, sweet, and flavorful curries that smell like heaven. 


Peppadew Hummus

2 1/2 cups homemade or store-bought hummus (I like this basic recipe from Ina Garten)

1/4 cup chopped peppadew peppers

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine the hummus and the peppers.  Drizzle with the oil and serve with chips, crackers or cut vegetables.

Mild Cape Malay Curry Dip

3 cups fat free plain Greek yogurt

1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon mustard powder

pinch of ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

In a medium-sized bowl stir together all ingredients until very well combined.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.  Serve garnished with some fresh herbs, if desired.

Published in:
  • Hors D'oeuvres
on April 18, 2012 at 6:36 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: cape town, cooking, curry, dip, easy, hummus, peppadew, recipe, south africa

Miso Pork Chops


You know what’s wrong with pork chops?  Well, for most people, absolutely nothing.  They are juicy, tasty, and quick to cook.  What could be wrong? 

Here’s what’s wrong: they are ugly. You’ve probably never noticed, but pork chops aren’t the most photogenic subjects.  So I’m attempting to distract you with some beautifully bright green veggies – look at the shiny emerald objects! Is it working? Probably not.  And that’s fine, because ugly or not, these pork chops are fantastic. 

These quick and flavorful pork chops are a perfect weeknight dinner, but they are exciting enough to serve to company, and also make for fantastic leftovers.  Reheated, sliced and tossed with some rice and steamed veggies, they may be even be better the next day. Of course, they are awfully tasty straight from the oven, served alongside some sauteed sesame-sprinkled green beans.

If you haven’t use it before, don’t let miso paste scare you.  It is lovely, salty, earthy, and intense – not to mention healthy! Miso is fermented soybeans (sometimes with rice or barley as well), and generally sold as a paste.  There are many varieties of miso, but I’ve found white and red miso paste are most common in my local grocery stores. In general, the deeper the color, the more intense the flavor of the miso paste.  I threw together this recipe to use up the remnants of a tub of miso paste, and have used up another tub of miso paste making it again and again. But if you find yourself with some extra miso and need some inspiration, check out this recipe for saucy soba noodles with ground pork: Pork Noodles. 


Miso Pork Chops

Serves 4

3 tablespoons red miso paste

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 teaspoons sriracha (chili sauce)

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

4  boneless center cut pork chops (each about 1 inch thick)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Wisk together the miso paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, sriracha, ginger, garlic, and 1 tablespoon of oil.  Arrange the pork chops in a shallow dish and drizzle with the marinade, turning to coat both sides.  Cover and  marinate for 20-30 minutes. Grease a rimmed baking sheet with the remaining oil. Arrange the pork chops on the baking sheet (they should be well coated with marinade; discard any excess marinade) and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Be careful not to overcook, but do cook to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.  Serve right away.

Published in:
  • Mains
on December 4, 2011 at 8:34 pm  Comments (13)  
Tags: Asian, cooking, easy, fusion, quick, recipe, weeknight

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