Eggs & Asparagus Benedict

After nearly a week of being on the Cabbage Soup–“The Miracle Soup”–Diet with my husband,  all I can think about are the dishes I had right before going on the diet…and what I’m going to have when I get off of it!  I need normal food!!

This diet is definitely not the most delicious.  I mean, look at it:

You call that “yum?!”

So, I’ve pretty much decided that even though Eggs Benedict was my breakfast the day before starting my soup diet, I’m going to make it again the day I’m off of it!

Eggs Benedict has to be one of my all-time favorite breakfast dishes…(or is it just because it was my last “normal” breakfast?)  But most of the time I can only eat so much–it’s often too rich tasting to have much of it. Last week when I made it; however, I had the inspiration to add a healthy aspect to it in the form of crisp-tender steamed asparagus…and it was yum! And it definitely broke up the richness of the sauce so that I could eat even more (why not, right–the next day I was going to start my diet!).

For Eggs Benedict, I layered a fluffy biscuit with a  fried egg and steamed asparagus, then dolloped (or globbed) 🙂 on the Hollandaise sauce (I love Martha Stewart’s–with a few added spices like rosemary or dill). Enjoy!

-Kristin (Walder) Ruck



Outing myself as a fan of The Next Food Network Star – review of Kelsey’s winning dish!


We’re seven episodes into season four of The Next Food Network Star, and although it’s a few weeks late, I wanted to share a review of a featured dish with those who may be interested. Remember the winning dish prepared by Kelsey (who, sadly, was eliminated last night) for the Red Lobster challenge? Well, yours truly tried out her creation a few days after it aired. Since I spend a little time on the message boards, I know that some people don’t have access to a Red Lobster restaurant and would like to know how her Macadamia Crusted Tilapia with White Chocolate Beurre Blanc fared. I’m happy to report: It was fabulous! Look, I’m not one to order a grilled fish fillet when I go to a seafood joint. Like many people, I’d much rather have a plate full of crustacean (when you’re on a budget like mine, this stuff is a rare treat, so it may as well be something you really want). But I was determined to try the Food Network winner, and I am SO glad I stuck to my guns. Like other viewers, I was dying to find out how white chocolate tasted fused into fish. Fortunately, with the mildness of tilapia and the subtlety of the chocolate (as the recipe reveals, Kelsey only used two tablespoons), the primary flavors of the beurre blanc are actually coconut milk and butter. And the macadamia? Fabulous! The crust, which Kelsey achieved by coating in egg before dredging in the crushed nuts, was exactly what I’d hoped – just enough crunch, yet still delicate enough not to break the fish. Now, here’s a tip for those of you who were intrigued by the rice side that Kelsey prepared alongside this in the episode: Red Lobster is not offering the entire dish, only the tilapia with beurre blanc (after all, that sauce is what helped her win the challenge). Fortunately, the new Red Lobster sides (I tried the Lobster Mashed Potatoes) are an excellent complement as well. If you try this one out before they pull it from the menu (“a limited time,” I presume, means until the end of the Next Food Network Star season), be sure to let me know!      

Lettuce Wraps

I’ve had delicious lettuce wraps a couple of times this past week–the perfectly filling, yet cool, lunch during the summer. And I’ve been desperate to find a great recipe for lettuce wraps that I can make at home. So I combined a few items, and it actually turned out just as great!


In the iceberg lettuce leafs, I put in rice, cold cooked chicken, chopped cucumber and onion, Thai sweet chili sauce, asparagus sauted with sesame oil, and peanut sauce. But experiment on your own! You could switch out the rice for couscous, and chicken for seared shrimp, and perhaps plum sauce instead of the peanut sauce. It’s delish!

Grilled vegetables – your quandries solved!


     Who doesn’t love grilled veggies in the summer? When asparagus, squash, or corn is seasoned just right and thrown over the coals, the crispness of the flesh is preserved, and the spices you’ve chosen to accentuate the flavor are seared onto the skin, resulting in an incredible texture. Nothing beats it, right?

     Unfortunately, my kids will beg to differ. Proponents of the old “veggies should be steamed, not grilled” movement, they prefer that the green on their plate has “no black marks and doesn’t taste like fire” (yes, they really say it like that). And, while I love the taste and surface consistency of grilled veggies, I too enjoy certain kinds (i.e. the squash and its many cousins) both ways. So, what’s a mom – or, perhaps a BBQ event host – to do in this situation?

     My solution: People like them both ways – so cook them both ways! There’s no rule that says you can’t serve fried chicken and roast chicken at the same time; likewise, who says you can’t serve grilled veggies alongside steamed? Check out the meal we had last night: fettuccine alfredo with chicken cutlets, paired with steamed zucchini rounds – and grilled zucchini slices (thanks to my mom’s stellar gardening efforts, we had plenty!).  You’re happy, your kids/guests/other assorted picky eaters are happy, and everyone gets their veggie quota met. It’s a win-win! Have you ever tried this? Let me know!


-Brook Flagg, 6/22/08

Serving that Huge Group of Guests

You don’t have to be a master chef to successfully prepare and serve dinner for a medium-to-large group of people when entertaining, but it certainly helps to get a few tidbits of advice from one! As the executive chef for Golden Oaks, a large elderly-living facility in California, Justin Chinchen would unquestionably have some advice on preparing meals for a crowd.

When planning a dinner party at your home, Justin firmly believes that the first step should be setting and sticking to a budget that will cover the cost of the food.

The second step should be to decide on a theme for decoration and menu, that’s determined by the current season and functionality. Justin feels that the meal is “beyond the food–it is also about the decoration and set up. The host or hostess has to be a little bit artistic.” If your dinner party is in December, for example, it makes sense to focus on a Christmas theme.

Decor also extends to the table seating. If you’re having a party where the majority of the guests are couples, then seat them beside each other; but it this is a singles crowd, then merely stagger the men and women.

When it comes to deciding on your menu, Justin has some more advice. First off, think about how the dish will hold up for the size of your party. While you may be able to get away with cooking up a succulent and scrumptious dinner of halibut for your family of four, that same dish will dry out before you are finished serving it to all of your guests. And a plate of sauteed shrimp will most likely lose its heat by the time people start forking it in.

What’s on the menu also depends on the reason for the function. “Is it for a birthday party? Then plan your menu around the ‘pickiness’ of the birthday person–your guest of honor.” Or if you simply want to entertain people in your home “just because,” pick a few of your favorite dishes to prepare–but skip the new recipes; cook what you do best so that you are sure to impress.

Finally, decide on how you will serve the delicious meal to your guests. Will it be family style? Individually plated up? Buffet? Try to keep in mind the amount of guests, how long it will take to serve with each different style, and what would be easy on you as the host or hostess–since you will be cook, server, and entertainer all at once.

And as for not becoming “stresserated” (Justin’s five-year-old daughter’s word for stress and frustrated)?–that comes with experience and plenty of preparation. Learn to always be thinking about the next step in your meal preparation. Timing is everything. “If your pork roast needs to be in the oven for two hours…put it in! Don’t be chopping up your lettuce for your layered salad instead of popping your meat in the oven!”

Scheduling, as well as planning your budget, menu, and theme, are all crucial; down to the last dish going on the table.

~Kristin Walder, 4/26/2008

Wit and Wisdom from a Recipe Contest Vet

If you’re a novice cooking contest hobbyist, you may be able to learn a thing or two from Ronna Farley. As a previous winner, and frequent qualifier, of both recipe entry and cookoff-style contests, Ronna has no doubt earned her place in the figurative Cooking Contest Hall of Fame. With another Pillsbury Bakeoff fresh in the can until 2010 (the contest was on April 15 and is held every two years), what better time to speak with a two-time past finalist of this American institution?

It should be noted that Ronna’s competitive accomplishments aren’t limited to the Bake-off (referred to as “PBO” on the contest circuit). She’s participated in numerous challenges over the course of three decades, ranging from the very minor to the very renowned. Check out my recent Q&A with Ronna:

TM: Ronna, how long have you been entering recipe contests? Can you give us a brief history?

RF: I started entering the Pillsbury Bake Off as a young bride around 1973. I don’t remember what my first entry was, since it is so long ago. It probably wasn’t very good anyway! Then, I (was chosen as a finalist for) Bake Off #26 in San Francisco in 1975, with the recipe “Ham and Cheese Crescent Snacks.” After that, I toyed around with entering over the years, but nothing happened.

TM: We know that you enjoyed additional success with PBO later on, but did anything happen in the meantime?

RF: Around 1976, I was in a local contest – a Chun King Wok Cook Off, with my Oriental meatball recipe. They showed some of it on local TV. For awhile, that was pretty much it for cook offs. I have won some smaller prizes like wine glasses, salad bowls, and cook books.

TM: And then…

RF: In the summer of 1999, I was asked to participate in Pillsbury Hall of Fame Contest to celebrate 50 years of the Bake Off. My Ham and Cheese Crescent Snacks was voted 1st out of 3 recipes in the category, so I got to go to the Bake Off in San Francisco in 2000, and I could bring a guest. I brought my mom, since she always had an interest in the Bake Off, and we had a great time!

TM: Your most notable accomplishment is your third Bake Off experience. Tell us about that.

RF: I found out I would be in the 43rd Bake Off in 2006, and I won the Snack category with my Choco-Peanut Butter Cups. The prize was $10,000 and a GE Trivection oven.

TM: Since you were unable to enter (due to winner limitations) this past contest, what have you been up to for the past two years?

RF: I participated in the Crisco Country Cook Off in June 2007. It was a one-week trip for two to the Country Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, including all concerts. My husband and I loved it, and I placed second in the appetizer category. I also participated in the National Oyster Cook Off in St. Mary’s County, Maryland in October 2007. There were 4 categories and I placed 3rd, winning $150. I hope to be included in that once again this year, since it was only 1 1/2 hours from my house.

TM: Finally, what tips do you have for novice contestants?

RF: Well, how many recipes I enter depends on how busy I am, but if I get inspired, I’ll enter as many as a dozen! I think I’m better at creating dessert recipes than main dish recipes, so (what you choose to enter) should depend on that, and also on what kind of recipes they are looking for.

I find it discouraging when I don’t win in a contest, but, I just shrug it off, and start to work on another contest. There are so many that I think we all “hit” with something eventually. I suggest not giving up, and just keep trying!

Stuffed Jalapeños

For those who like a little spiciness (make that a lot!) in their appetizers, this quick recipe is for you. But those who have sensitive taste buds should probably avoid this dish!

  • Use jalapeños that have been canned whole. Slice them in half (I recommend wearing gloves), and scrape out the seeds.
  • Stir up a mixture of cream cheese, shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, and garlic salt, all to taste.
  • Fill the jalapeños with the mixture; place on baking sheet.
  • Broil in the oven for roughly 10 minutes.