Peppadew Beef Sliders {potlucks & picnics}

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Picnics and potlucks and parties, oh my! Got to love the start of the social season. I’m so looking forward to concerts in the park, school social potlucks, pool parties, backyard parties…

For someone who cooks as much as I do, you’d think I’d have a “go-to” dish to contribute to these events, but I always struggle with what to bring. Especially since I really want to make something special but I don’t want to spend a fortune, have no time, and usually forget until the night before.

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Enter my Spanish-inspired shredded beef. Put it in the crock overnight or all day and bring to a picnic or potluck with slider or kaiser rolls. You don’t really have to keep it hot for a picnic; room temp is fine. Or, if you’re having a party at home, consider serving over saffron rice with peas.

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This uses jarred peppadew peppers and smoked paprika, both of which you can easily find at Whole Foods or online. But if you can’t easily find them, skip the smoked paprika, or sub oregano, and use a jar of peperoncini peppers instead of peppadew.

I don’t know if this will end up being my go-to dish but it’s darn good and I will be making it a few times this summer! What’s your go-to potluck or picnic dish?

Peppadew Beef Sliders

Total Time: 10 hours

Yield: 10 servings

Peppadew Beef Sliders

Perfect for potlucks and picnics, this 4-ingredient Spanish-inspired shredded beef is great for feeding a crowd!


  • 3-4 pound round roast
  • 1 14 ounce jar peppadew peppers--do not drain, you'll use the peppers and the juice for this
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • sauteed peppers and onions (optional)
  • chopped green olives (optional)


  1. Place the whole round roast, the jar of peppers--including the juice, salt and paprika in a crock pot. Cook on lowest setting for 8 hours.
  2. Remove the roast, shred using 2 forks. Leave the liquid in the crock pot.
  3. Return beef to crock pot and cook on lowest setting another 2 hours, or whatever time you have. It's really not necessary but it does let the sauce get fully absorbed by the beef.
  4. Serve on slider rolls or over rice, topping with sautéed peppers and onions and/or olives if desired.
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Asparagus Gnocchi with Scallops {spring fever}

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Yippeee! yahooo! It’s SPRING!

Why am I so excited, you may ask? Well, you probably don’t ask–who doesn’t like spring?

I am so excited because…WE GET TO LEAVE THE HOUSE. Cold, wet, grey weather does NOT mix well with young, active children. I can categorically declare that I can build just about anything with Legos and that I know every word in Frozen. It’s time to move on to outside activities.

  • Outside activity #1: Farmers Markets. They’re back! Local produce, local artisans, and scooters–our preferred mode of best-way-to-wear-the-kids-out transportation.
  • Outside activity #2: Gardening. I love having the kids help me plant plants, watch them grow, pick the flowers/veggies. We just have a small city patio and garden space but it’s still plenty to give them some exposure to what it’s like to grow your own produce and plants.
  • Outside activity #3: Playground Happy Hour. Oh come on, you’ve never taken the kids to the playground after school, met up with other parent friends, and brought a little special bevvie?

In addition to outside enjoyment, springtime fare is just the best. Some of the most delicious, and most elusive or short-lived, ingredients come to pass during spring so you’ve got to take advantage of them. Ramps, fiddlehead ferns, morels, and of course asparagus!

A friend gave me asparagus fresh-picked from his garden with a bottle of Gruner Vetliner–a perfect pairing with asparagus. So I wanted to create an easy, delicious dish that highlighted the asparagus but didn’t overpower the wine. And I wanted to use some fresh herbs from my garden. And I had a farmers market leek in the fridge.

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Herby Asparagus and Leek Gnocchi with Scallops was born. A little strategically, a little kitchen sinky, a lot deliciously.

It looks and sounds all fancy so is great for a special weekend meal, but honestly I made it on a Wednesday in 20 minutes with mostly ingredients I had on hand. So it can double as a mid-week pick-me-up. And the kids love the gnocchi, so it’s an easy sell.

I actually created this dish specifically to pair with a Lagler Gruner Vetliner that was given to me. It’s crisp enough to compliment the asparagus, but has enough body to hold up to the gnocchi and scallops.


Asparagus Gnocchi with Scallops

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Asparagus Gnocchi with Scallops


  • 1 pound packaged gnocchi?
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • ?1 Tablespoon olive oil?
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, washed thoroughly and thinly sliced?
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus?
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped mixed herbs (I used a mix of chives, parsley, tarragon, oregano, basil)?
  • 1 pound fresh sea scallops?
  • salt and pepper


  1. Boil the gnocchi according to package directions. While you’re bringing the water to a boil, prepare the sauce. 
  2. Trim the asparagus where the tough, woody stem naturally breaks off. Then cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces.
  3. Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and cook just until tender but not brown--5 minutes or so.
  4. Add the asparagus and cook just until crisp-tender, only about a minute or two. Toss in herbs and drained gnocchi. Cover and set aside. 
  5. In a clean large skillet (I just wipe clean the skillet I just used for gnocchi), melt 1 Tablespoon butter and 1 Tablespoon olive oil over medium high to high heat (you want to get it really hot, but not smoking or the butter will burn). Pat the scallops very dry and season with salt and pepper. When the butter begins to sizzle, place the scallops into the pan with at least an inch of space between them.
  6. After 2 minutes, flip. Outside of the single flip DO NOT TOUCH the scallops. After another 2 minutes, remove.
  7. Place the gnocchi on a plate and garnish with scallops. Serve with a seasonal green salad.
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***this was updated from an original post in May, 2013, with new photography. Like it?

Shrimp and Grits {food obsessions}

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You know that movie “Conspiracy Theory” with Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts where every time Mel sees a copy of Jack Kerouc’s “On the Road” he is compelled to buy it?

Yeah, so, that’s me and Shrimp and Grits. Every time I see it on the menu I pretend that I’m considering other options but every single time I order Shrimp and Grits. Creamy grits, topped with a spice sausage gravy, and sweet shrimp, who could resist? So obviously I had to figure out how to make it using what I like best from the many, many, many versions I’ve tried.

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Now that I’ve perfected my own recipe, I make it for a weeknight dinner sometimes and everyone loves it. But it’s happiest at brunch–my favorite meal of the week. If you want to feed a crowd–which is how brunch should ALWAYS be served–you can put the grits in one crock, the gravy in another, and let the shrimp basically be the garnish. Fun!

So, enough about my food obsession, here’s my recipe. What’s your food obsession?

Shrimp and Grits

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Shrimp and Grits


  • 4 cups water, divided
  • 1 pound U25 shrimp, shells removed and reserved
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 pound andouille* sausage, diced into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 small onion, finely diced. About 1/2 cup
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 celery stalk, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 Tablespoon blackening season
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup coarse ground grits (also called polenta)


    Make the sauce:
  1. Heat 2 cups water in a small saucepan until simmering. Add shrimp shells and cook 10 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove sausage to a plate, leaving the grease in the skillet.
  3. Saute onion for 2 minutes with 1/2 teaspoon salt, then add peppers and celery, sauté for another 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook just until fragrant.
  4. Add flour and stir until it's made a light roux (until all of the flour has been incorporated into the grease).
  5. Whisk in shrimp stock until smooth.
  6. Add back in sausage and simmer until cooked down and sauce coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes.
  7. Make the grits:
  8. Bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  9. Whisk in grits and turn down heat to medium. Add milk.
  10. Cook grits for 20 minutes, whisking nearly constantly, until thick and creamy.
  11. Make the shrimp:
  12. Toss the shrimp with the blackening season.
  13. Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Saute the shrimp until just cooked through: 3-5 minutes.
  14. To serve:
  15. Spoon 3/4 cup of grits in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Top with 3/4 cup of sauce. and 5-6 shrimp.


*if you can't find smoked andouille sausage, use another good smoked spiced sausage like kielbasa.

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{Weekend Roundup} I LOVE this week

Love is in the air…I really like the idea of reserving a day to remind your loved ones that you, well, love them. This week, in addition to Valentine’s Day, it’s our anniversary so it’s generally a lovely week for us!


This is us 7 years ago.

Dan and I have never really been a big Valentine’s Day couple. Flowers aren’t actually in season. I don’t especially need a bunch of heart-shaped jewelry. And with kids, sitters are expensive and date nights out are rare, so we don’t want to waste that precious time when restaurant’s are crowded and the service isn’t great. Plus, if Valentine’s Day is all about spending time with your sweethearts, I’d like to include the kids in that!

So we’ve still always done something special together, usually at home, with a really good meal and a really good bottle of wine. And since we went ahead and got married a couple of days before V-day we will go out for a date night to celebrate that!

Here are some ideas for a sweet, special Valentine’s day in with all of your special Valentine’s.

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Recreate the Lady and the Tramp scene with a decadent pasta dinner:

spaghetti and meatballs kids cooking collage
Spaghetti and Meatballs made by the kids
Pasta Carbonara with Leeks and Lemons from Alexandra Cooks
This Linguini and Clams recipe from Cooking with Books

Center a kid friendly meal around a special bottle of wine for the grown ups:

Salmon pot pie complete
Salmon Pot Pie with Chateau Montelana Chardonnay while watching Bottle Shock.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Cannelini Beans from Food and Wine mag with a right bank Bordeaux
Pair a great bottle of Champagne with Pizza made by the kids.

Have the kids help you make a delicious decadent dessert:
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries from Savory Simple
Chocolate Whiskey Bundt Cake with Whiskey Caramel Sauce from Love and Olive Oil
Lighten things up a little with Eat, Live, Run’s Strawberry Cheesecake Squares

What are you doing to celebrate (or not) Valentine’s Day?

Embrace your bitter side: a holiday cocktail guide

cocktail guideI don’t know about you but I think that the end of the year flurry of activity is enough to make your stomach turn. Between work reviews and budget reforests, school concerts, holiday shopping, holiday cards, cookie making, holiday party planning and attending, and maybe a birthday, wedding or anniversary thrown in there and the logistics alone are enough to invest in some extra Tums. Add to that planning family visits or travel and a lot of rich food to consume and you’re in for a serious case of indigestion. [Read more…]

A legendary party

1211 legendary party introWhat do you put on the birthday menu for the guy that’s been kickin it strong for 70 years? Whatever the heck he wants.

My father in law loves filet mignon. He loves shrimp cocktail. He loves all things Italian. And he loves great wine. Pretty good taste, right?

So for his 70th birthday party we did a soiree at his place with all his favorites. And despite a late afternoon presentation to senior executives, a mad dash to the market to pick up the heirloom carrots special ordered for me, and an hour drive to get to their place, it truly couldn’t have been easier. This would work great for an easy holiday gathering as well, either as a sit down menu or a buffet.  [Read more…]

Happy Thanksgiving!

brining turkeyHappy Thanksgiving all!

I am so thankful for my amazing family and friends and all the wonderful things that life has brought us. This year we’re keeping it low key at home since we have another amazing celebration to look forward to this weekend–my brother-in-law is getting married!

I hope you’re Thanksgiving is filled with wonderful family, friends, and food! Here’s what we’ve got on our “plate” for tomorrow: [Read more…]

Grilled Pizza

Pizza with KidsFeatured Recipe: Grilled Pizza
Featured Wine: Chianti, or if you’re feeling sassy: Champagne.

A dab of flour on noses, oops! a little juice spilled. Cooking with kids, what a delightful mess and such fun, say paper towel companies.

More like, splat! there went a dozen eggs. No, you can’t eat raw bacon. How did spaghetti sauce wind up on the ceiling?

So, cooking with kids. Delightful and fun? Yes. A mess? Definitely!

Despite the mess, I started inviting N to help me in the kitchen when he was about 3 years old. He’s going to be there anyway, so he may as well help out! Plus bringing kids into the kitchen teaches them math, science, following instructions, being independent, and self-sufficicient. And if they’re involved they’re less likely to complain about whatever is for dinner.

Just little things at first–mix this, pour that in there. By 4 he was doing more to make meals like brunch than me–making the bacon (using my baking technique), cracking and mixing the eggs. I just put things in the oven and stir them on the stove.

Yes, he makes a giant mess. But he gets better with practice, and anyway who does’t make a little mess while cooking?

One of the easiest cooking activities to introduce him to was the art of assembly. He loves making and building things (think Legos), and can quickly see his efforts rewarded with a finished product. Plus he felt like he had decision rights on what goes where. Sandwiches were good. Salads are easy. And pizza is great.

I like to grill individual pizzas since the grill can get hotter than my oven–I think it makes it a little more authentic. Pizza dough that is partially cooked on the grill, combined with prepped toppings, everyone gets just what they want, with sauce on the ceiling and flour on the nose to prove it!Grilled Pizza