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Another tech related absence. This may go on for a bit but I’m hoping that the results are worth it for both you and me so please be patient, I will post as often as I am able.

Back to the food served for my mother’s 85th, we are now moving on to appetizers. I like to try to serve stuff that doesn’t tip the fat and calorie meter so that 1) there’s still room to enjoy dinner even after pigging out on appetizers and b) My brother, one of the guests that night, is a heart patient, my 85 year old mother is also a heart patient, and it is my goal to never be a heart patient. So get ready, you are going to love these for the simple reason that they are delicious as well as healthy and low on the calorie scale in comparison to the usual fare.

I made 2 dips – one easier than the other.

Ann’s Black Olive Tapenade

Black bits and red bits still visible though photo is so blurry...
Not a paste: Black bits and red bits still visible though photo is so blurry…

This is so easy you almost have to laugh.

  • 1 can black olives – rinsed and drained
  • 1 large roasted red bell pepper*
  • 1 clove of garlic – crushed through a press
  • salt to taste
  • drizzle of really good Extra Virgin olive oil

Drop the first 3 ingredients into a food processor (affectionately called “fo-pro” by Michelle over at “Thursday Night Smackdown” who is desperately trying to get that sobriquet to catch on so I thought I’d give her a boost on that as well as credit for coming up with it in the first place), and give it a few pulses while drizzling in about one tablespoon or less of the oil, until everything is in tiny pieces (see bad blurry photo where this is not visible at all) and holds together a bit. Taste, then add salt to your liking and give it one more zzhzzh in the fo-pro.

You don’t want to blend this all the way into a paste or it will be hideous. You want to still be able to see black (olives) and red (peppers) distinctively, otherwise it turns a really ugly brown that no-one will eat. Don’t ask me how I know this, I’ll burst into tears (I’ve said this more than once. Now you know that coming up with these recipes isn’t as easy as it sounds. I didn’t have me to write out these instructions and post them for me on a handy-dandy blog). I’ve garnished this plate with the leaves from carrot tops (see photo), use whatever you want or nothing at all.

You do want to press the garlic first because you are not doing a thorough blend and you don’t want to end up with large pieces of raw garlic. You want the flavor of that well blended throughout the dip. If you are averse to garlic for some reason (vampire?) you can leave it out but it is probably best you stop reading my blog now and forever. There is nothing for you here. Trust me.

* I get my roasted red peppers from the olive bar at my local Hannaford’s market. Not everyone has access to that, of course. I’ve never used the kind you get in jars, but you can give it a try, I’m sure it’s fine. Just make sure you drain it first. You don’t want any extra liquid in there.

You can also roast your own red peppers, very simply, but it does cut down on the “quick and easy” aspect of this dip just a bit. Take a large red bell pepper, and put it directly on your stovetop burner, gas or electric. Turn it as the skin blackens. The idea is to totally blacken all the skin without really cooking the pepper. When the skin is all black, put the pepper in a paper bag folding over the top a few times to seal, and let it sit. Once it has cooled, open the bag, pull out the now soggy-ish pepper and rub off all the black bits. Cut open the pepper, remove the stem and all the seeds and any white ribbing inside (this part is really indigestible) and voilá, roasted bell pepper. If you want to make a bunch of these and store them (excellent idea, they go great in everything, salads, pastas, appetizers, veg dishes, etc.) just pack them down in a glass jar and cover with olive oil. Done.

My Own Spinach Artichoke Dip

This is another one of those so easy you have to laugh things.

The Green Stuff
The Green Stuff
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained.
  • 1/2 to 1/3 bag baby spinach (do not try to use frozen variety)
  • 1 small clove of garlic
  • salt to taste
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • Optional: Top with a few toasted pine nuts and garnish with a few leaves of parsley or whatever you’ve got handy.

Again, toss everything except the oil and salt into the fo-pro and give it several pulses, stopping to scrape down the spinach so it all gets well blended. The object of this dip is a paste so you will be doing more blending with this dip than the olive dip. Drizzle a little oil down the opening as you blend, and use your own judgement as to how much. Just barely enough to help bind all this together into a paste. Taste, add however much salt you want, give it a last few zzhzzhs in the fo-pro. The result will be a bright green paste very light and fresh in flavor. Completely vegetable based, no saturated fat.

NOTE: For some reason that I’m sure Alton Brown could tell you but I can’t because I have no understanding of the chemistry of food, the garlic flavor in this particular dip just intensifies exponentially as time goes by. I recommend making this just before serving or if you have to make it in advance, use half the garlic or it will be overpoweringly strong, and the idea is that this is an artichoke-spinach dip, not a garlic dip.

I like to serve these 2 dips with crackers and or mini-pumpernickel bread as well as some crudite` for dipping. At the party the other night I had both cracker stix and the the mini-pump as well as a couple of handfuls of baby carrots and celery sticks from the heart. The visual effect is stunning and it takes almost no work. The hardest part is washing the fo-pro afterwards.

OK, thirdly, I served a Pinzimonio, which is a fennel salad, contrary to whatever you may read through Google results. Take it from someone who lived in Rome for 20 years. My knowledge does not come from books, a class, or Maryann Esposito, but from neighborhood kitchens in Trastevere, my old neighborhood in Rome where at the time, we were the only Americans for miles.


Pinzimonio in progress
Pinzimonio in progress
  • 1 fennel (finocchio in Italian, and close as I can write it out, pronouced “Fee-Nah-Kee-Oh”).
  • Coarse sea or Kosher salt
  • Fresh coarse-ground black pepper
  • Drizzle Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Rinse the fennel, cut off the green tops, slice off the bottom (thin slice just to remove connective heart) and cut down the middle vertically from where the green tops were, through the bottom. Rotate and make another similar cut at right angles to the first. Peel apart the layers, and you will end up with sections. Cut these down (see picture) so you have manageable sized wedges, spread them on a platter so that they can be dressed, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper. Serve. I know, that was hard. You should rest now. Have a glass of wine. You earned it.

So that’s three appetizers that take minutes, are all healthy and relatively low cal, serve up nicely, will be universally liked, and no one will miss the nachos, believe me (unless you are serving for a Super Bowl game and then I don’t even want to know how badly you get beaten to a pulp for skipping the buffalo wings and fried stuff).

Cheese board: not much was needed....
Cheese board: not much was needed….

To round out the offerings, I added some stuffed olives (from said olive bar at Hannaford’s) and 2 cheeses, a gorgonzola dolce (creamy in texture, buttery in flavor, almost too good to be true) and a chevre, both budget busters, but how many times does your mother turn 85 (only once, lets hope)? Besides, with the plethora of other stuff, not much cheese was needed, and there was even a tiny bit of each left over along with a few olives (but the rest of everything disappeared).

Appetizer plate
Appetizer plate with my olive tapenade, cracker stix, baby carrots, celery, assorted stuffed olives and Pinzimonio

Not shown on this page: Basket of mini-pumpernickel bread.

Served all this with, what else, my Limoncello Cocktail

FREE BONUS: Both the dips made here make excellent and very tasty next day sandwich spreads in lieu of mayo or other fatty spread. That is of course, assuming you actually have any left.


As with all my recipes, these are not necessarily for beginners. I don’t always give exact proportions, expecting you to be able to adjust to your liking and dietary needs. And as always, I live to hear what you made, how you liked it and what modifications or improvements you made. Feedback is key, people – use the comment box and let ‘er rip!

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Big fat “oops” last night. I made what is possibly my best chicken dish ever (other than my roasted bird, which is a recipe for another day) and did not photograph the process. I guess I should be thankful that I took notes, so I can still share it with you. This is easy enough to make without illustration, I promise.

This is very quick, inexpensive, and easy to make, and it’s one of those one pot dinners, so easy cleanup too. I was trying to decide what to make for dinner at the last minute (welcome to my world), and this recipe came out of an effort to use what I had in the house, the object being to make something a bit more interesting than the usual grilled breast. The resulting dish is a whole meal in itself.

Oh, and Ms. Thirty-Minute Rachel Ray? BITE ME! Even serving this with a salad will have dinner on the table in under 30 minutes without an army of assistants pre-washing everything or buying expensive pre-cleaned and -cut broccoli florets. And the end result is very impressive looking. But you can’t know that. Because I didn’t take any pictures. 

Chicken 2345

Cast of Characters:
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
For the marinade:
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed through a press
  • A few tablespoons of olive oil 
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • The leaves off of 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 dash peperoncino (dry hot pepper flakes)
  • Fresh ground black pepper (a few grinds)
  • 1 tablespoon “Nantucket Off-Shore” Mt. Olympus Rub*
  • 1/2 can of quartered artichoke hearts, well rinsed, sliced lengthwise to become 8ths
  • 4 tomatoes out of a can of S. Marzano tomatoes
  • 2  handfuls of broccoli spears (heads and stems, 2-3 inches total length)
  • 3 cups cooked barley (I use Quaker Quick Barley, cooks in 10 min)

*Nantucket Off-Shore Rub: I get this at my local Hannaford’s supermarket, it is just a blend of herbs, mostly rosemary and lavender, with dried (but not powdered, never powdered, OK?) garlic. It has a decidedly Mediterranean smell to it. It contains no salt. Use any salt-free herby blend or just add your own rosemary and lavender if you can and amp up the garlic by a few cloves. DO NOT ADD OREGANO or any rub with the words “Italian” in it. It will totally spoil the effect here, trust me.


Rinse the breasts, remove anything you don’t like, including any fat, and give each breast a few pokes with a fork on each side so that the marinade penetrates. If not using barley made previously (as I did last night), start boiling the water for the quick barley and prepare per box instructions.

Meanwhile, whisk the marinade ingredients together in a bowl large enough to accommodate the chicken and the artichokes. Add the chicken, turning to coat with the marinade and let sit (not in the fridge) for about 10 minutes turning occasionally. Then add the artichokes to the bowl, mix them in and let sit another 5-10 minutes or so. 

In a deep skillet, (hot hot), add the breasts to the pan, leaving the artichokes behind in the bowl with the marinade, and sear the meat on both sides on high heat. When just nicely browned on both sides, turn the heat down to medium, toss in the rest of the marinade with the artichokes and cover the pot. Let that cook a few minutes, then add the canned tomato draping one over each piece of meat. Cover again and let the chicken cook through.

Just before the chicken is done**, toss the broccoli in on top of the pan contents, cover, let cook another 2 or 3 minutes, until the broccoli is just tender, and then serve the chicken over the cooked barley (if the barley was made in advance, you will want to reheat it first) pouring the pan juices and whatever solids over the top of the whole thing.

**I’ve warned you before, my recipes are not for beginners. I have no idea how long the chicken takes (10 – 15 min?), I just know when it’s done.

This dish turned out so well, that even though I was full to bursting, I had to get out some bread to sop up every bit of juice from my plate. And then, as I was cleaning up afterwards, I couldn’t stop myself form picking at the leftovers. I’ll definitely make this again.  Meanwhile, I’m having the leftovers tonight, and because I really really really want you to see it, even if it is a day old and reheated, here it is:

Day Two: Broccoli didn't quite make it but was still tasty

Day Two: Broccoli didn't quite make it but was still tasty

Yeah, the broccoli (the grey stuff on the right) doesn’t look quite as appetizing as it did last night, and its day-two texture did leave something to be desired. But it tasted great. Everything was still delicious, reheated in the oven in its juices and served over barley again. Yum.

Meal and budget suggestions:

You can add a salad and a nice crusty whole grain bread to round out the meal, but between the broccoli and the barley (which is really filling) you really shouldn’t need to. You could stretch the budget a little by using thighs instead of breasts. My budget busting tip for those of you like me who don’t like dark meat: I get my breasts when they go on sale about 6 times a year at my local supermarket, I buy 20-25 lbs at a time, and then freeze them. I never pay more than $1.90/lb. Approximate cost of this meal for 4? About $2.29 per person (excluding marinade ingredients, which for me are pantry staples). I dare you to beat that!

As with any of my recipes, if you need clarification (writing recipes is not as easy as you’d think), have any questions, or even if you need help with substitutions, please leave a comment asking your question and I’ll get back to you with an answer. If any of you make the dish, please let me know how it turned out, if you think it can be improved, or what modifications you made. I live for this stuff!

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You have to forgive my prolonged absence (just 4 days!) from the blogosphere recently, I haven’t been feeling so well and was not making much sense in writing (or in any other medium either). As a favor to you, dear loyal readers, I decided not to subject you to my crazier than usual rantings – which is a nice way of saying, GET OFF MY BACK ALREADY! But, as long as I’m here……….

When I first moved to Maine, I was regaled with all sorts of useless advice from a whole cross-section of people “from away,” as if they had anything worthwhile to contribute on coping with life in this remote northern corner of these United States.

The one piece of useful advice I did get was from an older brother who lives in upstate New York. He told me that I absolutely without fail had to buy myself a Subaru Forester if I were going to survive Maine roads in the winter. Not that he’s an expert on Maine, far from it, but he does live and drive in the snow in winter and he happens to have lots of experience with just about every car there is.

In his opinion the Forester, which is All Wheel Drive (as are all Subarus), is the best possible snow car, better than any vehicle for any amount of money, domestic or imported (not that “any amount of money” was in my budget, but you get the idea).

I did some checking upon arrival in Maine, having donated my barely functioning California vehicle into the open arms of Father Joe’s Villages,* and found I could not get a four wheel drive hybrid – so with “green running” off the table, safety and survival became key. Off to the Subaru dealer I went.

I found and bought a barely used (300 mi) silver Subaru Forester, LL Bean model – what else? VW has Karmann, Lincoln has Bill Blass, Subaru has Bean. Price couldn’t be beat, all was well, and I bought the car.

First trip to a rather large Hannaford’s supermarket with the new car, I go inside with my list, do my shopping for the week, come out with a cart full of groceries, and…….Uh oh!

You see, it appears that my dear brother is not the only one who knows that the Forester is the best snow car.

All I can say is thank goodness for remote door locking/unlocking with attendant beeps and light flashes or I’d still be wandering around that parking lot looking for my car, and my groceries and I would all be frozen solid by now!

Who knew that Maine had a state car?


*Father Joe’s Villages (St. Vincent de Paul) will take your unwanted vehicle as a donation. Go to http://www.fatherjoesvillages.org/donations.html for more information

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