What I Miss & Perfect Pairs


Yesterday was William’s 29th birthday. Cheers to my boy. His birth was truly one of the best days of my life. Missing him more than I can express I celebrate him in the best way I can. In the garden planting seeds and in the kitchen creating a few recipes inspired by him he continues to be a bright light in my heart. I’m thankful for my hobbies and my passion to want to learn and try new things. Getting through tough times? It’s all about the distraction. Cooking, baking and gardening do it for me. How do you do it?


I have been practicing my food photography with a new camera and have already received some very exciting feedback from some recipe/food sponsors. Can’t reveal what that is right now, but it sure made me feel good about trying something new and difficult. These days’ recipe contests require quite a bit of work. I miss the old days when all I had to do was create a recipe, write it down and mail it in. Now, in addition to preparing an original recipe, I am required to be a food stylist, food photographer and a creative writer. My poor husband. He knows he is not allowed to eat anything in the house until I have photographed it…on many a day we eat the food cold.

Probably one of the more wonderful things that have been on my plate lately is teaching two really smart and joyful young ladies, ages 11 & 9 how to cook. Sharing what I know about cooking and baking with the younger generation is quite fun and exciting. We are cooking our way around the globe and just finishing up Mexico with a Mango Tres Leches Cake. I think I was channeling my favorite teachers of Mexican cuisine Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Too Hot Tamales. I miss those cooking shows that really taught me and helped build my knowledge in the kitchen.


Mango Tres Leches “Celebration” Cake is perfect for a birthday or Cinco de Mayo

Are there any famous chefs that you have learned from and would like to meet? Wouldn’t it be great fun to travel  to the 2017 Vegas Uncork’d Expo food & wine event happening next week? Take a look at that celebrity chef schedule. Famous chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Giada de Laurentiis will be preparing their dishes alongside perfectly paired cocktails. There are a few I would love to learn from, but if I could only pick one my heart still belongs to Mary Sue & Susan as they opened up a whole new world of Mexican cuisine and especially cheeses to me.


queso fresco on scrambled eggs makes a perfect pair

Speaking of cheese and back in my own kitchen I have been working on some new recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches. After a hard day in the garden cooking up something like a grilled cheese and dining out al fresco on the deck is an easy and delicious way to end the day. Heading into the warmer weather we often enjoy a cool glass of rosé wine with a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s a rustic perfect pairing, but who says wine has to be fancy? Rosé matches quite well with just about any cheese and bread. It’s not as elaborate as some famous celebrity chef dishes, but it works.



Here is one of my winning cheese sandwiches from yesteryear. The salty bacon and olives with the sweetness of fruit, peppery arugula and luscious burrata pairs perfectly with a glass of Rosé.

Burrata & Bacon Ciabatta, Oh My

3 slices thick cut bacon

¼ cup apricot jam

1 (4-inch) ciabatta roll, toasted

2 tablespoons Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Homemade Style Basil Pesto

¼ cup arugula leaves

2 Mezzetta Sweet Cherry Peppers, seeded, diced

1-ounce burrata cheese (1/2 of a 2 ounce ball)

1 ripe apricot, sliced

4 pieces Mezzetta Sliced Greek Kalamata Olives, chopped

1-teaspoon balsamic vinegar syrup

Heat oven 400F. Line bottom of broiler pan with foil. Coat both sides of bacon with jam; place on broiler pan rack set over foil-lined bottom. Bake 30 minutes; transfer bacon to a plate. Spread bottom half of roll with pesto. Layer with arugula, cherry peppers, bacon, burrata, apricots and olives. Drizzle with balsamic. Cover with remaining bread slice.



Building Relationships & Flavor & A Give Away

chicken mole with fresh avocado and grape tomatoes

chicken mole quesadilla with fresh avocado and grape tomatoes

Let your mind be open to the notion that you will feel joy again. Take little bits of joy at first. See how it feels? It’s OK. Take some more. Those bits of joy are building your heart back together. Then when you least suspect it, on what you think is your very worst day, your heart starts beating again.

diploma in hand he couldn't wait to graduate so he could break another school rule

diploma in hand he couldn’t wait to graduate so he could break another school rule

Recently, I had a change for the better with my grief. I’d say it was a giant leap forward. Something seemed to go “PING” in my brain with the news of two of William’s best friends getting engaged. “Mrs. Keys you are the 3rd person we called with the news”…..my heart is so full as I listen to all the details of the proposal….”and we can thank William for bringing us together”…..PING!

congratulations Whit & Marisa

congratulations Whit & Marisa

If writing this blog has taught me one thing it is that my son will never be forgotten due to the amazing relationships he built. From prep school to the military and right in his own backyard he made people feel like they mattered. He gave his undivided attention to you and to me and that has made all the difference.

And I am ever grateful for each and every friend who has invited me into their intimate relationship with my son. You have memorialized him with donations to charities and scholarships. You have named your newborn babies after him and you have even honored him with pretty cool tattoos. You toast him and think about him when you are at a crossroads. “What would Will do?” Every story is a gem and a bit of joy.

symbolic of her love

symbolic of a loving friendship

Truthfully, I know I can never get off the roller coaster of grief, but there is a new found confidence that the future holds less twists and turns.IMG_5545

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, “people never forget how you made them feel” and because of that I know my William will never be forgotten. He built beautiful relationships with loving people and in that I am so very blessed. To all you kids out there who have never hesitated to call or write or share or remember……your actions have spoke volumes in healing me.DSCN0893

Time to build some flavor. Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce. It has very complex flavors thanks to a long simmer of the million and one ingredients that usually go into it. My simpler version of mole uses typical pantry ingredients and gets a well-developed flavor from a short stew in the pressure cooker.*chicken mole

Shredded Chicken Mole

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1-tablespoon ancho chili powder

1-tablespoon chili powder

2–tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, seeded

½-teaspoon cinnamon

1/8-teaspoon ground cloves

2 ½ cups beef broth

¼ cup water

1 (14.5 oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1 cup diced dried plums (aka prunes)

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

5 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed

1 onion, sliced ½-inch thick

1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat 1-tablespoon oil in pressure cooker pot over medium heat. Add both chili powders, cocoa powder, garlic, chipotle, cinnamon and cloves; cook, stirring for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add broth, water, tomatoes, prunes and peanut butter, stirring well and scraping up bottom of the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Puree in a blender. Add remaining oil to the pot. Add onions and half the peppers; cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir sauce back into pot. Season chicken with kosher salt and ground black pepper; add to pot. Lock pressure cooker lid into place following your manufacturer instructions. Bring to HIGH pressure, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 25 minutes. Quick release pressure and remove lid directing the steam away from you. Transfer chicken to a cutting board. Remove the meat and discard the bones. Add remaining red peppers to the pot; simmer for 10 minutes or until tender. Add chicken and cilantro. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Serves 6 to 8

Delicious served over rice with traditional chili toppings or wrapped in a warm tortilla.

*If a pressure cooker freaks you out then feel free to try this recipe in a slow cooker–maybe 6 to 8 hours

And now for the give away. Leave me today with a happy thought in the comment section and you will be entered to win this most wonderful dish towel from Penzey’s. Thanks for hanging out with me. I will pick a winner on Wednesday, May 6th.

from Penzey's

from Penzey’s