Sunday, April 30, 2017

In Mint Condition... Celebrating the Kentucky Derby

The most exciting two minutes in sports is just days away. On Saturday, May 6, horseracing’s finest thoroughbreds will take their post positions during the 143rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.

I had the pleasure of living in the Bluegrass State for 10 years, from middle school through college. This was when my love affair with the Derby began. 

As a horse-crazed tween, I soon learned that the Derby was about much more than just one, two-minute race. It’s an experience like no other with fancy hats and dresses, mouthwatering southern food, bouquets upon bouquets of red roses, and posh parties all playing an integral role.


Create a centerpiece by arranging red roses in a silver trophy bowl.

It was not until I was a freshman at Eastern Kentucky University when I was able to make my first visit to Louisville for Derby Day, which also happened to fall on my 19th birthday. 

Being my birthday, I was feeling very lucky, so I wagered all of my cash on a horse named Cousin Jen. Her performance yielded me $4.

Create wine stopper party favors by drilling holes in wine corks and then adding trophy toppers. Add a little epoxy to the holes before screwing in the toppers.

As it was a very warm day, it seemed only fitting to sample a refreshing Mint Julep. Having no prior experience in the bourbon department, I enthusiastically took a big gulp of my julep. Wrong move! 

I couldn’t seem to get the rest of it down the hatch, but I did take great comfort in knowing that I got to keep the cute souvenir glass it came in. Twenty some years later, my collection of Derby glasses has grown to 39, and my love for the Derby remains the same. Bourbon… not so much.

When planning your party menu, think southern. 

If you’re not able to make it to Louisville for the Derby, here are two essential recipes you will need to celebrate at home:

Woodford Reserve Classic Mint Julep
2 ounces Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
½ ounce simple syrup
3 fresh mint leaves
Crushed ice

Express the essential oils in the mint and rub them inside the glass. 

To the same glass, add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice. Stir. Garnish with more ice and fresh mint.
(Recipe from

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie is a decadent Derby Day dessert.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie
Nothing says southern like bourbon and pecans. Throw in some chocolate and you’ve got a decadent dessert to take your party across the finish line.

Makes 6-8 servings
½ (14.1 ounce) package refrigerated pie crusts
1 ½ cups chopped toasted pecans
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels
1 cup dark corn syrup
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ cup bourbon or water
4 large eggs
¼ cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons plain white cornmeal
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon table salt

Heat oven to 325 F. Fit pie crust into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate according to package directions; fold edges under, and crimp. Sprinkle pecan and chocolate evenly onto bottom of pie crust.

Stir together corn syrup and next 3 ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk together eggs and next 4 ingredients. Gradually whisk one-fourth of hot corn syrup mixture into egg mixture; add to remaining hot corn syrup mixture, whisking constantly. Pour filling into prepared pie crust.

Bake for 55 minutes or until set; cool pie completely on a wire rack for 1 hour.

(Recipe from

Friday, April 7, 2017

Hop to It - Set the Table for Easter

Spring has sprung, and it’s time to adorn your buffet and dining table for Easter entertaining. For inspiration, look no further than the farmstead. A few colorful, garden-themed accessories will deliver a bright and festive backdrop with a touch of whimsy, perfect for children and adults alike, not to mention Peter Cottontail.

Farmers Market Basket

Try these ideas when designing your holiday table:

Farmers Market Basket
Skip the jelly beans and peeps, and fill a rustic Easter basket with moss-covered eggs; faux veggies such as cabbages, radishes, and lettuce leaves; and toss in a few burlap-wrapped carrots.

Create the base for the arrangement by stuffing crumpled newspapers into the bottom of the basket. Arrange veggies and eggs on the top, then tuck handfuls of Spanish moss between veggies to fill in holes and hide the newspapers.
Sources: moss eggs, Hobby Lobby; carrots, Pier 1 Imports; basket, Pottery Barn. 

Very Veggie Napkin Rings

Very Veggie Napkin Rings
Add a little “carroture” to your napkins. To create napkin rings from recycled paper towel tubes, make a vertical cut through the entire length of each tube, then cut the tubes into 1 ½ inch pieces.

Lay each tube piece on a 6-inch piece of burlap ribbon. Bring the sides of the ribbon up and around the tube and secure with hot glue. Overlap ends of tubes and glue together. 

To hide the seam, hot glue on silk flowers, mini cabbages, twine-wrapped carrots or other veggies.
Sources: burlap ribbon and mini carrots, Hobby Lobby.

Farm-Fresh Decorating Accents

Green Accents
Add some texture to your table by arranging a few potted plants, mosses or grasses between serving dishes. 

Whether you prefer fresh or faux greenery, it’s your choice. There’s no wrong way.   
Source: faux grass pots and ceramic pots, IKEA.

Garden Bunnies Centerpiece

Garden Bunnies Centerpiece
Fill a large box, bowl, tray or basket with crumpled up newspapers to give your display some height. Cover newspapers with Spanish moss. If you want to add candle holders into the arrangement, place them in before the newspapers. Just be sure to use battery-operated candles for safety.

Arrange Easter decorative items such as bunnies and chicks, carrots, and Easter eggs over the moss. 

An oversized twig birds nest was tucked in to the arrangement for additional texture. Fill in any empty spaces with additional moss.
Sources: wooden box, The Butter Barn; bunnies, Pier 1 Imports.

Farmers Market Basket

More Farm-Fresh Decorating Ideas

Serve water and juices from vintage milk bottles.

Line a galvanized bucket with a plastic insert and use as an ice bucket.

With garden twine, tie a new gardening spade onto the bucket handle to serve as the ice scoop.

Corral silverware in terracotta flower pots.

Use recycled grocery store berry containers to hold cut veggies, crackers or nuts.

White or neutral-colored serving dishes allow the food to take center stage.  

Drape a moss-covered runner over the buffet to brighten the background of your display.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Eat Your Spinach...Morning, Noon and Night

There seems to be a special day for everything these days. You know where I'm going with this... Sunday is National Spinach Day! That’s a good thing because it gives me the opportunity to share a few recipes for using this glorious green.

Spinach Breakfast Frittata

Spinach is not only versatile in cooking, it’s really good for you. One of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, spinach is low in calories and high in vitamins. 

It gets even better; according to the USDA, spinach is fat free, saturated fat free, cholesterol free and high in dietary fiber. In addition, those dark green leaves are high in vitamins A and C, high in iron, high in folate, and a good source of magnesium. What’s not to love?

Here are a few recipes to help you enjoy your spinach at breakfast, lunch and dinnertime.

Spinach Breakfast Frittata
Like a quiche without the crust, frittatas are a versatile dish that can be modified for all tastes. With lots of veggies, plus eggs and cheese, a frittata will give you the nutrients and protein you need to get your day off to a great start.

Servings: 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
2 medium carrots, shredded and chopped
8 large fresh mushrooms, chopped
5 ounces fresh spinach
6 eggs, beaten
2 cups shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese blend
(or any combination of cheese you like)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

Heat oven to 350 F. Spray a deep-dish pie plate with olive oil spray. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onion, bell pepper and carrot until they begin to soften. Add mushrooms and then spinach. Cook until spinach wilts. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add sautéed veggies and mix well. Pour mixture into pie plate. Bake for 35-40 or until frittata has set.
(Recipe by Jennifer Ruple)

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette
This bright and colorful salad is wonderful on its own, or give it an extra boost of protein by adding sliced grilled chicken or steak.

Servings: 4
½ cup walnuts
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup strawberries, thinly sliced
8 ounces baby spinach

1 shallot, peeled and quartered
¼ cup Champagne vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a blender, add vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt and pepper. Pulse until mixture is smooth. Slowly stream oil into mixture and pulse until blended. Refrigerate leftover dressing.
(Vinaigrette recipe adapted from

Greek Spinach Pasta
This pasta dish is loaded with fresh spinach, and you can control the amount of feta that you use, making it healthier than lasagna or other cheesy pasta dishes. Don’t shy away from the cinnamon in it though. It gives the dish just enough sweetness to balance the tartness of the spinach and feta.

Servings 4 
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons minced garlic
15-ounce can tomato sauce
½ cup dry red wine (optional)
8 ounces penne pasta
A few handfuls of fresh spinach
Crumbled feta
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, brown ground beef and onion. Drain well. Add oregano, cinnamon, garlic, tomato sauce and wine to beef mixture. Simmer over low heat.
Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Stir pasta and fresh spinach into beef mixture. Simmer until spinach wilts. Add crumbled feta to taste. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. 
(Recipe by Jennifer Ruple)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Host the Perfect Pasta Party

When it comes to feeding a hungry crowd, there aren’t a lot of foods that fill the bill as well as pasta. Loved by kids and adults alike, pasta is one of those versatile foods that can be customized to satisfy all tastes including meat lovers and veggie lovers. Why not plan a party where your guests can create their own masterpieces with a build-your-own pasta buffet? 

From choosing the shape of pasta and the type of sauce to their favorite toppings – it’s all about personalization. Here are some ideas to help you plan the perfect pasta party.   

It’s all about the base. Serve two types of pasta – one long-stranded pasta such as spaghetti, linguine, fettucine or bucatini and one shaped pasta such as penne, farfalle (bowties), rigatoni or conchiglie (shells). Cook the pasta to al dente, which is Italian for to the tooth, meaning the pasta should be cooked until tender, but slightly firm. Drain the pasta, place into a serving bowl and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.

The sauces. Include two or three types of sauce on the buffet to choose from such as a marinara, a tomato-based sauce; an Alfredo, a creamy sauce made with butter and Parmesan cheese; and a pesto sauce, which is generally made with fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. A bottle of good, quality extra-virgin olive oil is a nice addition to the buffet for guests who prefer no sauce.   

The accoutrements. The sky’s the limit here. Include a couple of meats such as meatballs, crumbled Italian sausage, or grilled chicken. Set out bowls of toppings - chopped fresh basil leaves, sun-dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, boiled shrimp, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and sautéed bell peppers and onions.

The drinks. A variety of beverages such as S. Pellegrino sparkling water with lime wedges, fruity Italian sodas, and a couple varieties of wine will ensure there’s something for all tastes.

The décor. Fill large baskets with market goodies such as loaves of crusty bread, packages of dried pasta, canned Italian tomatoes, fresh herbs and wine bottles. A red-checkered table cover and classic candle in a Chianti bottle will set the mood.

Marinara Sauce 
¼ pound pancetta (Italian bacon), diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Two 28-ounce cans Dei Fratelli crushed tomatoes 
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil, chopped 
Fresh oregano, finely chopped
Pinch of sugar (optional)

In a large saucepan, cook the minced pancetta until browned, but not crispy. Add the onion and the garlic and cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the canned tomatoes and about ½  can of water. Cook over low heat for about 45 minutes. Add the fresh herbs. Continue to cook for 20-25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. If sauce seems slightly acidic, add a pinch of sugar.

At this point, you have two options. If you like a thicker, chunkier marinara, you can leave it alone. If you want a smother marinara, process Quickly in a food processor or with an immersion blender. 
(Recipe by Liz Donaldson, assistant chef at Walt Churchill’s Market, Maumee) 

Alfredo Sauce
1 stick butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1 ¾ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
½ cup fresh Italian parsley, minced

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter and the sauté the garlic. Add the cream and heat through on medium-low heat. When hot, add the cheese. Heat for about 10 minutes until it thickens. Add the parsley.
(Recipe by Liz Donaldson, assistant chef at Walt Churchill’s Market, Maumee)

Basil Pesto
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup flat-leaf parsley
¾ teaspoon garlic sea salt
¼ cup pine nuts
¾ cup Parmesan cheese
¾ cup basil-infused olive oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
To prepare the pesto, pulse first five ingredients in a blender or food processor. Slowly add basil olive oil.
(Recipe from Ashleigh Tresso, owner of Bumble Olive Oil Company)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cooking with Flavored Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegars

Flavored olive oils are becoming increasingly popular – showing up in tasting shops, boutiques and specialty grocery stores. That’s good news for home cooks as well as the health conscious. “Olive oil is good for you, and it is extremely versatile in cooking,” said Ashleigh Tresso, owner of Bumble Olive Oil Company.

“Olive oil is rich in polyphenols, a class of antioxidants, which are good for the joints and can help with arthritis and inflammation. They can also help lower blood pressure, boost good cholesterol, and enhance cancer medications,” explained Tresso.

In addition to olive oil, Bumble offers a large selection of flavored balsamic vinegars such as Blackberry Ginger, Neapolitan Herb and Cinnamon Pear.

When it comes to flavored oils and vinegars, Tresso pointed out, “You can’t be afraid to experiment with flavors. Some of my best dishes have happened by accident. There’s no limit with what you can do.” 

Pesto with Mozzarella and Roasted Tomatoes
For a beautiful presentation, spoon the pesto onto a serving plate, top with slices of fresh mozzarella, add a bit more pesto and roasted tomatoes. Basil pesto is also delicious mixed with pasta or as a sauce for pizza.

1 cup basil leaves
1 cup flat-leaf parsley
¾ teaspoon garlic sea salt
¼ cup pine nuts
¾ cup Parmesan cheese
¾ cup basil-infused olive oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 fresh mozzarella balls

To prepare the pesto, pulse first five ingredients in a blender or food processor. Slowly add basil olive oil. Set aside.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a pan and sauté tomatoes over medium heat for approximately eight minutes. Or roast them at 425 F for approximately 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Bumble Appetizing Bread
Garlic lovers will swoon over this cheesy and spicy appetizer. Just be sure to save room for dinner.

1-pound loaf white bread, unsliced
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Romano cheese
6 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dried red chili pepper flakes

Heat oven to 300 F. On a large, oven-safe serving dish, place bread loaf. Cutting only half way down the loaf, make eight slices. Sprinkle cheeses, garlic, parsley, and half of the oil over loaf.

Spread peppers around base of bread. Bake approximately 15 minutes or until cheese has melted, but not browned. Remove from oven and cover with remaining olive oil.


Balsamic Vinegar Cocktails
Be bold and experiment with flavored vinegars to create your own signature cocktails. Here are two of Tresso’s favorite combinations.

Apple Vodka
2 ounces vodka
2 ounces apple vinegar
Sparkling water or soda water
Apple slices

To a glass, add vodka, vinegar and crushed ice. Fill with sparkling or soda water. Garnish with apple slices.

Cranberry Pear and Champagne
2 ounces cranberry-pear vinegar
Dry champagne
Pear slices

To a glass, add vinegar. Fill with champagne and garnish with pear slices. 

Bumble Classic Hummus Dip
To serve this classic dip, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on a bit more paprika and chopped parsley.

2 cups canned chickpeas, drained, reserve liquid 
½ cup tahini (sesame paste), optional, with some of its oil 
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ tablespoon ground paprika, plus a sprinkling for garnish
Juice from 1 lemon
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

In a food processor, combine all ingredients, except parsley, and begin to process. Add the chickpea liquid or water as needed to allow the machine to produce a smooth puree. Taste and adjust the seasonings. 

To read the full article in the Sylvania AdVantage, visit Sizzle Simmer Sauté Sylvania 02.07.17 « Sylvania AdVantage

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Cookbook Aims to Stir Up a Cure, Texas Style

If you’re looking for some delicious and hearty dishes to serve at your upcoming Super Bowl party, or any party, take a cue from the Cavenders, and help stir up a cure at the same time. 
Chicken Enchiladas with Red Sauce

As the Spur Stirs - The Art of Bringing A Western Family, Friends and Food Together is a beautiful, Texas-sized cookbook by Jacqueline Skeens Cavender of the Cavender family, famed for founding Cavender’s Western Outfitters. 

The family-owned and operated western wear retail chain, based in Tyler, Texas, has over 75 locations throughout the southwest.

Twenty years in the making, the cookbook was a labor of love for Cavender, an idea she came up with when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. 

In 2015, with the help of four close friends, Cavender published and released As the Spur Stirs to help raise funds for the American Cancer Society and Cystic Fibrosis research.
Raising funds for a good cause is only part of the book’s allure though. “A cookbook seemed like it meant something more, something people could walk away with,” said Cavender. “People tell me things like, ‘I gave this to my friends, or I cooked this with my mother.’ It’s really a gift that continues to give.”

The 272-page cookbook features a collection of recipes Cavender gathered over the years from her mother and mother-in-law’s kitchens as well as from inside the cupboards of close friends and celebrity supporters including Grammy-award winner Celine Dion, First Lady Laura Bush, country singer Pat Green, “King of Country” George Strait, model Kathy Ireland and actor Dennis Quaid, to name just a few.

The book is also about stories of loved ones and honoring them. “This is not just a cookbook, it’s like a novel about people and their struggles,” explained Cavender. “We wanted to create a treasure that people would pass down through their families and their legacies would live on through that.”

In little over a year, about 18,000 copies of the book have been sold. “It has been a journey and a joyful experience for us. People share stories about their family and how much they appreciate our putting this book together for charity,” said Cavender. “It’s a bit of therapy for me. I lost my mom at such a young age. It’s a way to continue to stay close to her.”  

As the Spur Stirs can be purchased at or Net proceeds benefit The American Cancer Society and research for Cystic Fibrosis. Here is just a sample of the fabulous recipes that are included.

Mini Lobster Tacos with Mango Salsa

Mini Lobster Tacos with Mango Salsa
Serves 8
Vegetable oil for frying
8 corn tortillas, cut into 2½ -inch diameter rounds
2 limes
1 mango, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons coconut oil
½ small red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 lobster tails, steamed and chopped
Chopped jalapeño chile to taste
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Add vegetable oil to a heavy skillet to 1-inch depth. Heat the oil to 365 degrees over medium heat.

Add one tortilla round and fry for 15 seconds. Turn the tortilla over and fold in half using tongs. Hold the shell in place using tongs and fry for 15 second or until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tortilla rounds.

Grate the zest from the limes and set aside. Juice the limes into a bowl. Add the mango, salt and pepper and toss to mix.

Heat the coconut oil in a skillet. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Add the lobster and jalapeño chile and sauté until heated through.

Fill the taco shells with the lobster mixture and top with Mango Salsa. Sprinkle with lime zest and cilantro. (Recipe by Jacqueline Cavender, As the Spur Stirs)

The Most Delicious Margaritas

The Most Delicious Margaritas
Serves 12
3 cups good-quality tequila, such as Tres Generaciones or Patron
⅔ cup Grand Marnier
1 large bottle Jose Cuervo margarita mix

Combine the tequila, Grand Marnier and margarita mix in a pitcher and mix well.
(Recipe from Billy Bob’s Texas Restaurant, As the Spur Stirs)

Su Dip

Su Dip
Serves 10
2 pounds Jimmy Dean mild or hot bulk pork sausage
32 ounces cream cheese
2 (10-ounce) cans tomatoes with green chiles, undrained

Brown the sausage in a skillet, stirring until crumbly; drain. Heat the cream cheese and tomatoes with green chiles in a saucepan over low heat until the cream cheese is melted, stirring frequently.

Stir in the sausage and cook until heated through. Remove to a bowl and serve with corn chips. (Recipe by Susan Davis, As the Spur Stirs)

Chicken Enchiladas with Red Sauce

Chicken Enchiladas with Red Sauce
Serves 8
6 or 7 dried red ancho chiles
2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 garlic cloves
Vegetable oil
1 package corn tortillas
1 chicken, cooked, boned and shredded
½ onion, chopped
Shredded cheese

Combine the chiles and water in a blender container and let stand for 5 minutes. Add the salt and garlic and process for 5 minutes. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve into a shallow bowl. Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet. Dip one tortilla into the sauce, being sure to coat both sides of the tortilla with the sauce.

Fry the coated tortilla for 30 seconds per side and remove to a serving plate. Place one-eighth of the chicken over one end of the tortilla. Top with one-eighth of the onion and roll up. Sprinkle with cheese. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, sauce, chicken, onion and cheese. Garnish with sour cream, pico de gallo or guacamole and serve.
(Recipe by Jacqueline Cavender, As the Spur Stirs)

Jacqueline Cavender