I was invited to participate in a blogger recipe challenge sponsored by Simply Sesame.  I was unfamiliar with the product, and definitely curious about it, so I happily accepted the challenge.  A product of Bonelli Fine Food, Inc., Simply Sesame is described as a “non-GMO snack dip and spread.”  According to information on the website, it’s all natural, with no preservatives or additives, gluten free, peanut free, vegan, has no trans-fats, and is low in calories, sugar, and sodium.  Although it has roughly the same amount of calories as my favorite peanut butter, it has 25% less fat, half the carbohydrates, and about 60% less sodium.

The company sent me 3 jars to experiment with:


This stuff is fantastic!  Its taste reminded me of something, which I finally figured out was halvah, a treat from my childhood.  Unlike halvah though, which is dry and crumbly, Simply Sesame is velvety smooth, sweet, and luscious.

Simply Sesame might resemble peanut butter, but it is definitely not peanut butter!  Like peanut butter, however, it is delicious all on its own, right out of the jar (don’t even try to pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about):

We all know you eat peanut butter out of the jar

You’ll be tempted to dish yourself up a spoonful:

Simply delicious all by itself

But eating Simply Sesame straight out of the jar isn’t really a recipe, and this was, after all, a recipe challenge.  So I aimed to create a recipe that would showcase the wonderful taste of Simply Sesame, and I came up with an easy and delicious granola. This isn’t a clumpy, stuff-your-cheeks-like-a-chipmunk granola.  Rather, this is a free-flowing granola, crunchy yet moist at the same time, and the Simply Sesame flavor shines through,  It’s great out of hand or sprinkled on fruit and yogurt (or even ice cream).

I used the Vanilla with Almond Bits variety for this batch, but any of the flavors will work in this recipe.

Recipe type: Snacks
  • 2 cups thick rolled oats
  • ½ cup wheat germ
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • ¼ cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅓ cup Simply Sesame Vanilla with Almond Bits
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together oats, wheat germ, sesame seeds, coconut, pecans, and salt.
  3. Place Simply Sesame Vanilla with Almond Bits, coconut oil, and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until ingredients are melted and thoroughly combined, approximately 3-4 minutes. Pour over oat mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined, and transfer to a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  4. Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, approximately 20 minutes (keep an eye on it after 15 minutes to make sure it doesn't burn). Allow to cool, then transfer to airtight container.

You can order Simply Sesame through its website.  Check the Simply Sesame website and social media platforms for more information and great recipes.





I was invited to participate in the Cape Cod Select Holiday Blogger Recipe Challenge, and because my family loves cranberries, I accepted the invitation.  Cape Cod Select is the retail arm of Edgewood Bogs Cranberry Growers, both of which are owned and operated by the Rhodes Family, a 4th generation cranberry grower with more than 800 acres of cranberry-producing bog in Southern Massachusetts.

Cape Cod Select sent me two bags of their frozen cranberries to create recipes with:


These cranberries are big, bright beauties:

img_8693I first used the cranberries to create a thick jam-like sauce, which was then baked between a chocolate graham cracker crust and a coconut topping.  The results were ooey gooey delicious.

Recipe type: Desserts
  • For cranberry filling:
  • 3 cups Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For chocolate graham crust:
  • 30 chocolate graham cracker squares
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • For coconut topping:
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 14-ounces sweetened flaked coconut
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. Place cranberries in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add sugar, water, orange juice, and orange zest. Cook until cranberry skins split and cranberries are soft. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Break up cranberries using the back of a wooden spoon. Set aside to cool.
  3. Prepare crust by placing graham crackers in a food processor and pulsing until finely ground. Add flour and sugar and pulse a few times to combine. Cut butter into small pieces and add to food processor, pulsing until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mix in eggs. Press mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan.
  4. Top crust with cooled cranberry filling. (Dollop it on, then spread evenly with an offset spatula.)
  5. Prepare coconut topping by beating butter and sugar together with an electric mixer. Beat in eggs. Stir in salt, vanilla, and coconut, mixing until thoroughly combined. Carefully spread coconut topping over cranberry filling.
  6. Bake until topping is golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Allow to cool for a few hours before cutting into squares.

 img_8696Gorgeous color as the cranberries cook

img_8700When the skins split and the cranberries are soft, they’re done


Chocolate graham crust


Sweet-tart cranberry filling


Coconut topping


Baked to golden brown — resist cutting until cool



You can learn more about Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries and find some great recipes on their website and social media accounts:





Find them at a store near you:


Whether you’re entertaining a crowd, or planning a quiet night in for New Year’s Eve, here are three appetizers that are fuss-free, elegant, and always popular.

Fuss-free appetizer #1:  duck rillettes, cornichons, and french mustard

Serve with crostini. (To make crostini, slice a baguette into 1/4″ thick slices, place on baking sheet, and brush one side lightly with olive oil — bake at 350 degrees until dry and crispy).  In a pinch, you can serve with sturdy crackers.  This goes well with any kind of wine.


Fuss-free appetizer #2: caviar, crème fraiche, and mini pancakes

The caviar is a splurge, but Costco has it this time of year at a significant savings off the regular price.  Traditionally, caviar is served with buckwheat pancakes (blini), but I couldn’t find them locally, wasn’t about to make them, and ordering them was prohibitive because they had to be shipped on ice.  But then my boss introduced me to H-E-B mini pancakes, and they are just perfect.  This goes well with champagne.


Fuss-free appetizer #3:  cambozola and sweet crisps

Cambozola is a triple cream, brie-style blue cheese (think camembert and gorgonzola).  Sweet Crisps are sold at Corner Bakery, and are thin slices of raisin pecan bread, brushed (I assume) with butter or oil, sprinkled with coarse sugar, and baked until crispy (there are loads of “copy-cat” recipes on the interwebs).  Although cambozola is perfectly delicious on a plain ol’ cracker, it is divine on a sweet crisp.  If you are lucky enough to have a friend who sends you her homemade sour cherry jam, by all means, dab a little on top of the cheese!  This goes particularly well with red wine.

img_8683None of these appetizers will take you more than 5 minutes to put together, and I promise you, they will disappear almost as quickly.


I was invited to participate in the Stirrings “Stir It Up Holiday Blogger Mixology Challenge,” in which bloggers were challenged to create a holiday cocktail using select Stirrings products.  Stirrings carries a variety of premium ingredients for creating “simply better cocktails,” including 12 cocktail mixers (2 of which are low-cal), 5 rimmers, simple syrup, grenadine, blood orange bitters, and olive brine for dirty martinis.

Participating bloggers were sent two cocktail mixers and two rimmers of their choosing to use in creating an original holiday cocktail.  For this recipe I used the Blood Orange Cocktail Mix and the Lemon Drop Martini Rimmer.  (I also received the Pomegranate Mixer and Cosmopolitan Rimmer — you know, for further experimentation.)


Here on the Gulf Coast, it’s kind of a big deal when the temperature drops enough to justify lighting the fireplace.  I look forward to it all year, and the smell of wood-burning fireplaces permeating the cool air conjures up all kinds of happy holiday visions.  No fire is as wonderful as the first fire of the winter season, which is the inspiration for this spicy little cocktail.


Adding a little jalapeño heat to the cocktail, and a touch of sweet heat to the rim, makes this an exciting cocktail to sip by that first fire.

Recipe type: Beverage
  • 3 ounces Stirrings Simple Blood Orange Martini Cocktail Mix
  • 1-1/2 ounces vodka
  • 3 slices pickled jalapeño, plus 3 for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons Stirrings Lemon Drop Martini Rimmer
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun spice
  1. Mix Lemon Drop Martini Rimmer and Cajun spice together in a small bowl, then spread out on a flat plate. Moisten the rim of a martini glass by running a wedge of orange or lime around the rim, then dip into the mixture and rotate the glass until the rim is evenly coated.
  2. Combine Blood Orange Martini Cocktail Mix, vodka, and pickled jalapeño with lots of ice in a cocktail shaker. Cover and shake vigorously. Strain into rimmed glass, garnish with skewered pickled jalapeño slices, and serve.



You can find Stirrings products at 1st Colony Liquors, Total Wines & More, 34 Wine & Liquors, 6S Spirits, ABC Liquors, and 82 Liquor.  To learn more about Stirrings, including great recipes and entertaining ideas, visit their website and check out their social media sites:








I found this vintage mussel dish on ebay.


It’s kinda ugly in an interesting sort of way.  I believe it was made in France in the 1950s by Vallauris.

Have you ever heard the saying “some days you’re the pigeon and other days you’re the statue?”  How about “some days you’re the dog and other days you’re the hydrant?”  Well, I’ve got another one for you — some days you’re the seagull and other days you’re the mussel.  Seagulls have a taste for mussels and other shellfish.  To get at the meat inside the shell, they carry the mussel high in the air, and then drop it on rocks below.  They do this over and over until the shell finally cracks open, and then they feast.  (A nice video of this, with some sea lions as an added bonus, can be seen here.)

After certain unpleasant and entirely fascinating recent events in American politics, I think we all might feel a little mussel-like, as if we’d been repeatedly dropped on sharp rocks until a seagull can come and pick our innards out.  This feeling, together with the mussel dish, is the inspiration for this recipe for Spicy Mussels in White Wine.

On Fridays and Saturdays, the Costco near me has a sort of pop-up seafood shop, and they almost always have 3-pound bags of beautiful Prince Edward Island (“PEI”) mussels   — rarely a broken shell in the whole bunch.  In researching mussels, I learned that the size of the mussel varies with the season — they are largest in October and smallest in March.  If a batch of mussels appears to be different colors, don’t worry — pale white meat indicates a male mussel, and a warmer, more orangey colour, a female.  (Yep, another step closer to being Cliff Clavin.)

This recipe is quick and easy, and is  a delicious light meal any time of year. Crusty bread is, of course, mandatory for sopping up the broth.  For times when you are perhaps feeling mussel-like, a soothing, steaming, savory bowl of mussels in white wine will help you feel like you are soaring with the seagulls in no time, at least momentarily.

Recipe type: Seafood, Main Courses
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2¼"-thick slices of lemon
  • 2 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded (discard any broken shells or that won't close)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup chopped seeded tomatoes
  1. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt, and saute until onion is golden, approximately 4-5 minutes. Add wine and lemon and bring to a boil over high heat. Add mussels and cook, covered, until mussels open, stirring once to rearrange mussels, approximately 6 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to individual serving bowls. Boil liquid remaining in pot until reduced to 1 cup, approximately 3 minutes. Season broth to taste with salt and pepper. Pour broth over mussels. Sprinkle with parsley and tomatoes, and serve hot.
  2. (Note: Have lots of crusty bread on hand to sop up the broth.)



It’s not that we don’t have seasons in Houston — it’s just that they tend to not be very dramatic.  It’s been unseasonably warm this fall — too warm for the leaves to turn color — and the signs that Thanksgiving was approaching were subtle.  One clue was the ripening pecans hanging in clusters, which made the squirrels very happy:



Another clue was the appearance of acorns.  I pass some kind of oak tree on my way to work that had the BIGGEST acorns I’ve ever seen:


There was an occasional colored leaf:


Soon, turkeys started going on sale at the grocery store, along with canned pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and Pepperidge Farm stuffing, leaving no doubt that Thanksgiving was nearing.  And that meant it was time for my son’s Boy Scout Troop’s 2nd Annual Thanksgiving Day Luncheon for senior citizens living in and around our little community.


When my son was working on his Eagle project (a fence around utility structures in a neighborhood park), a city employee suggested that the Troop might consider hosting this luncheon, which had been abandoned 5 or 6 years ago by the group that had previously hosted it.  Sure, why not?

Last year we had 19 guests, but this year word spread and we had close to 50.  Through donations of ingredients and dollars, we were able to provide a mostly home-cooked meal (meats and pies were purchased) of roast turkey with gravy, smoked ham, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, Southern-style corn, green bean casserole, fresh cranberry relish, vanilla cranberry sauce, rolls and butter, and assorted pies with whipped cream.

We did most of the cooking two days before, using Senior Services’ well-equipped kitchen.

img_3821The day before, Troop volunteers set up the activity room.  Working within our budget and the fact that we had to use paper and plastic tableware, I think we managed to make the room look worthy of our guests.

Our guests started arriving about 30 minutes before the start of the meal, and it gave us an opportunity to visit with them.  They were excited to be joining us, and many came elegantly dressed.  The room was buzzy with happy chatter.

The scouts did a great job of serving up the meal and interacting with the guests:

We sent each guest home with leftovers, for later in the day (because really, it isn’t Thanksgiving without leftovers):


Each guest also received a festively-wrapped loaf of homemade Pumpkin Ginger Bread or Cranberry Orange Bread, for snacking on later in the day:

I’ve previously posted the recipes for Pumpkin Ginger Bread and Cranberry Orange Quick Bread.  These are such great little loaves — fragrant and moist, not too sweet.

The luncheon was a great success, and I enjoyed it as much as our guests.  As one of our guests was leaving, he called me over and said “I only have one complaint — everything was so good that I have nothing to complain about.”  He gave a little chuckle and said “That’s my joke.”  That’s the kind of complaint I love to hear!  I hope you got lots of “complaints” this Thanksgiving as well.  🙂



This morning I attended a special holiday event at the original Houston location of La Madeleine County French Cafe, located at 10001 Wertheimer, in the Carillon shopping center, featuring some of the restaurant’s new offerings.  This bright and spacious location is one of my favorites.

La Madeleine’s first location opened in Dallas in 1983, and since then has grown to approximately 70 locations nationwide.  The restaurant’s casual atmosphere and French-inspired dishes make it a relaxing place for a leisurely meal, or to savor a cup of dark French roast coffee with a freshly-baked croissant or pastry.

We were ushered into a private room, where orange juice and champagne were waiting at each place setting for guests to make their own mimosas.



What a great way to start the day!

We were told that we were going to be served three courses — breakfast, lunch, and dessert — in order to sample a variety of La Madeleine’s new holiday dishes.  The invite should have read “Dress — stretchy pants.”

First up was the new Country French Brunch from the catering menu, which included Egg & Cheese Croissant Bake, Cheesy Potato Gratin, an assortment of mini croissants (plain, almond, blackberry, and chocolate), and Fresh Cut Fruit Salade.  If you have it delivered, the restaurant will set it up like this:

You can also pick it up packaged and ready to bake at home (350 degrees for 20 minutes, I believe) (this is a more economical option, if you have an oven available):

The two hot dishes were rich and cheesy and just plain delicious.  Even though we all knew there was more coming, there were a lot of members of the Clean Plate Club.  If you need a dish to bring to a holiday potluck, or something special for a holiday weekend brunch, or just don’t feel like messing up the kitchen yet again this holiday season, the Country French Brunch is your answer.  The fruit salad, prepared fresh daily, was a nice complement to the rich dishes, and looked pretty on the plate.

Next up was the Holiday Cafe Sampler, which included the new Turkey and Cranberry Puff Pastry (also referred to as a friand), with a side of the restaurant’s famous Caesar Salade and a cup of the equally-famous Tomato Basil Soup:


The sandwich, which also had gruyere inside, was accompanied with a side of gruyere cheese sauce, just in case there was a button on your pants that hadn’t popped open yet.  The sandwich, with everything it had going on, was a meal in itself, although that didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the soup and salad.  The cranberries in the sandwich provided a nice tart contrast and a bit of color, and definitely felt Thanksgiving-ish (or maybe day after Thanksgiving-ish).

As you might guess, at this point, there wasn’t much room for dessert, so we were invited to pack a to-go box to enjoy later.  The desserts, in true La Madeleine style, were beautiful and worth every calorie.  There were 3 creme brulee creations — caramel creme brulee, creme brulee cheesecake (cheesecake with a layer of creme brulee on top), and a gingerbread creme brulee tart.  There was also pumpkin pie, pecan tart, sacher torte parfait, and a fruit and cheese danish.

You can check out pricing and order online here.

Before we left, we were given a gift bundle, prettily packaged for holiday giving, which included a 12-pack of k-cups of La Madeleine’s french roast coffee, a cheerful coffee cup that said “joie de vivre,” a giant heart-shaped linzer cookie, a jar of La Madeleine’s tomato basil soup, and a soup bowl decorated with tomatoes that said “Bon Appetit.”


I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be as thrilled as I was to receive one of these great bundles for a gift.  For that person who is difficult to buy for, or maybe just for someone you really like, keep this in mind.

I get invited to events like this from time to time.  Sometimes, if I’ve previously been to the establishment and was not impressed, I decline.  Sometimes it conflicts with my day job.  And sometimes I go and end up not writing about it because if I can’t, in good conscience, enthusiastically recommend an establishment, I won’t post about it — too many other places to find negative content on the internet.  This was one of the nicest events I’ve been invited to.  The staff was warm and welcoming, the food was wonderful, and everyone had a good time.  My family has been going to La Madeleine for decades — the sachertorte and strawberry napoleon have been desserts at many a special dinner here, I craved their blueberry scones when I was pregnant, and we always have a bag of their croutons in the refrigerator for Caesar salad.  I expect that the Country French Brunch is about to become a new holiday tradition for my family.