Pear, Pecan, and Blue Cheese Salad

FullSizeRender-1The bite of blue cheese paired with the sweetness of candied pecans* and fresh pears make for a myriad of flavors in this salad. When pears are in season, it’s a great way to use up a stash that’s all ripened at the same time. (Anyone else have that happen? Green, green, green…oh no! They’re all ripe NOW!) And where did I get this winner? From my friend and co-worker Tom, a single guy who claims to not know how to cook, and who has been my number one blog fan (but not in a creepy “Misery” kind of way…). His Mom shared the recipe with him, which she’d found in the November 2015 edition of It was touted as the perfect first course at a Thanksgiving dinner, but my friend Marylee and I made it for lunch on a hot, June day, and it was juuuuuust right. I did make a few adjustments—doubled the amount of pecans (but not the sugar), upped the Dijon mustard, and added some cukes to the salad. They suggested using Roquefort cheese,* as it’s supposed to have the best flavor, but I couldn’t find it at Costco on my weekly trek. So I used run-of-the-mill blue cheese, and it was simply delicious.

Makes 4 main dish, or 6 side salads

For candied pecans:
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup pecans

For dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
Dash course-ground black pepper

For salad:
1-2 heads romaine lettuce, julienned (about 8-10 cups)
3-4 pears, cored and cubed
1 cucumber, sliced and quartered into bite-size pieces
1-2 avocados, diced
4-6 scallions, sliced thin (aka: green onions)
6 ounces Roquefort or blue cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Combine sugar and pecan halves in small skillet on medium heat. Stir gently until sugar has melted and caramelized and adhered to the pecans. Transfer nuts to a piece of tin foil and set aside to cool. (Try to break up nuts as you place on foil.)

In clean glass jar—or whisk in a bowl—combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon, garlic, salt, and pepper for dressing. Set aside.

Layer lettuce, pears, cucumbers, avocados, scallions, and blue cheese on a large platter or 4-6 individual plates. Drizzle with dressing. Break up cooled candied pecans, and sprinkle on top just before serving.

*NOTES: If you don’t have time to make the candied pecans and let them cool for your salad, you can purchase Planters honey roasted peanuts, and sprinkle those on top of your salad(s). The snack pack size is perfect for an individual salad. The candied pecans or honey roasted nuts really are an essential ingredient to this salad recipe!

Roquefort cheese is aged exclusively in the Combalou caves in France, and is known for it’s creamy texture, as well as fabulous flavor. No wonder I couldn’t find it at Costco. That’s just too uppity for a big box store.

Curry Cauliflower Rice

IMG_1613Don’t be fooled by the name—no rice was actually harmed in the making of this dish. The Whole30 book has a basic cauliflower rice recipe side dish that’s quite good. But with only onions and carrots for extra flavor, I wanted more. So I created this hybrid of the Whole30 recipe and the Cranberry Pecan Curry Rice previously posted, a recipe I’ve heard that you really, really liked. Cauliflower is being used as a stand-in for a variety of ingredients lately, and it often still tastes like…well, cauliflower. Because it is. But this one really does taste like rice or couscous! I’ve served it to several guests lately, and they’ve all said, “This is cauliflower? Really? It’s so good! Have you blogged it yet?” 

And here’s a budget-saving tip. My local grocery store (Cub Foods) prices their cauliflower heads at $4, which makes for a kinda pricey dish. But Trader Joe’s sells cauliflower heads for $2.49, or you can get a bag of fresh riced (meaning minced) cauliflower for the exact same price! (Both are in the fresh produce aisle.) So if you don’t have a food processor to rice your own, it doesn’t cost you more to have them do the work for you. I’ve made this recipe with processing a whole head, and using the Trader Joe’s riced cauliflower, and there’s zero difference in taste. So go ahead and save yourself a step in prep!

Serves 6

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets, OR 1 bag of riced cauliflower
3 tablespoons ghee
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and grated
2-3 stalks celery, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
½ cup craisins*
½ cup chicken broth

If using whole head of cauliflower, pulse half of florets in food processor until rice-like consistency. Do not over-pulse, or you will have cauliflower mush. Remove from bowl of processor and process other half of florets. Save riced cauliflower for later.

In a large frying pan, melt ghee over medium heat. Add onion, and cook and stir until translucent. Add carrots and celery, stirring to combine, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add curry, salt, pepper, and chopped nuts, and stir until nuts are coated with spices. Toast for 1-2 minutes. Add riced cauliflower and craisins and stir until all ingredients are coated with curry. Add chicken broth, and cover pan. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until cauliflower is a rice-like consistency.

*NOTE: Whole30 only allows dried cranberries that have been sweetened in apple juice, not sugar. I wasn’t able to find dried cranberries sweetened in juice, so I just used the Ocean Spray ones I had on hand. I say, if you’re doing Whole30, go ahead and use them! I won’t tell if you won’t. Or use raisins instead, which aren’t sweetened and are Whole30 approved.

Cranberry Pecan Curried Rice

FullSizeRender-4The combo of sweet craisins and savory ingredients like curry and garlic give this recipe a blend of flavors that really please the palate. It has the versatility to be a main dish if you want to stir in some chopped rotisserie chicken, a suggestion from others who’ve tried this recipe found on I’ve not had the fresh parsley on hand (the three times I’ve made this dish already!), so I’ve used dried herbs instead, which worked fine. We’ve had this gluten-free treat on weeknights with ham, and with turkey, and it would go perfectly with pork chops or roast beef as well. Even though it goes together quick enough to make it an after-work-wonder, it’s going to make an appearance at some holiday dinners in the weeks to come. (Extended family, consider yourself warned!) I’m sure it’ll be gobbled up at those gatherings with gusto as well.

Serves 6-8

3½ cups chicken broth
2 cups basmati or jasmine rice
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
¾ cups chopped pecans
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¾ cup craisins (dried cranberries)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, or 1 tablespoon dried parsley
¼ cup water

In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth to a boil. Add rice and butter and return to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

While rice is cooking, heat oil in large frying pan. Add onion, and sauté until onions are translucent. Add garlic and pecans, and sauté for 1-2 minutes more. Add curry, ginger, salt, and pepper, and toss to coat all ingredients with spices. Cook another minute or two to toast spices. Add fluffed, cooked rice, craisins, parsley, and water. Stir to combine, until all rice is yellowed from curry. Transfer to serving bowl, and serve immediately, or place in airtight container and refrigerate. Reheat in microwave or in frying pan to serve.

Cranberry Conserve

FullSizeRenderDon’t bother with canned cranberry sauce, the stuff that “schluuuuuuurps” out of the can on it’s way to the serving bowl, maintaining it’s telltale ridges. This fresh and tangy relish is the perfect accompaniment to turkey or ham, and has a variety of other uses too. What can of cranberry sauce can make that claim? This recipe came from a Better Homes & Garden magazine sometime in the 90’s, and I’ve been making it every year since I stumbled on this gem. I can’t wait for cranberries to appear in the store so I’ll have jars of this on hand for our family, or to give as hostess gifts over the holidays. (This year I was lucky enough to get a beautiful bag of marble-sized berries from my friend Monique, who got them at a cranberry festival in Wisconsin. Thanks, Mo!)

FullSizeRenderIf a dollop of this relish on your roasted bird isn’t your thing, then try spreading it on some sour dough bread or gluten-free 100% rye bread (pictured here on Trader Joe’s bread), top it with slices of that leftover turkey or some deli ham, Swiss or provolone cheese, and finish with thin slices of Granny Smith green apples. Best sandwich EVER!!! This also makes a nice addition to a wine and cheese tray. The sweet and tangy pairing perfectly compliments aged cheeses and red or white wine. (Or so I’ve been told—I don’t do alcohol…) Or make a quick appetizer with some hearty crackers or earthy flatbread topped with warmed brie or cold cream cheese, and then some cranberry conserve. Give this recipe a whirl, and tell me how YOU liked it best!

IMG_1222IMG_1226Have to tell you this is the first recipe I’ve posted that warranted a trip to the after-hours clinic. My wonderful son, Mitchell, had kindly sharped my knives this week, and then I was commenting on how great it was to work with these super sharp knives while chopping the onions, and WHOOOSH! Off goes a chunk of my thumb, nail and all. My husband layered on the Band-Aids, and I finished the conserve. (Because I’m just that dedicated to my food preparation.) Then I went to the clinic to get a tetanus shot and properly bandage my wound. So all those jars of cranberry conserve lined up like little soldiers on my kitchen counter are extra special this year!

Makes 12-13 half-pint jars

Ease rating: medium (My sister Judy would never make this, so I’ll bring her a jar.)

2/3 cups packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cups butter
4 teaspoons white vinegar
3-4 large yellow (milder flavor) or red onions (stronger flavor), chopped
8 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup raisins
½ cup apple cider or apple juice
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
7 cups granulated sugar
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped

Wash 12-14 half-pint glass jars in hot soapy water, or in dishwasher. Set upside down on clean towel to dry. Fill medium sauce pan with water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, and drop in 12-14 Ball or Kerr canning lids. Let sit until ready to use.

In a large skillet, cook and stir brown sugar, butter, and vinegar over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Add onions and cook uncovered over low heat for 10-12 minutes, or until onions are glazed and tender. Stir often. Set aside.

In 8-quart kettle or Dutch oven, combine cranberries, raisins, cider or juice, allspice, and cloves. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook, uncovered, on medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir in cooked onion mixture and granulated sugar. Return to boil and cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes more. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and stir in nuts. (May seem thin after cooking for the 10-15 minutes, but it will thicken up significantly as it cools, so do not over cook.)

Pour conserve into prepared glass jars, filling to 1/4-inch from top. Wipe rim of jar with clean towel to ensure there is nothing on rim, then pull a lid from sauce pan, and place rubber side down on top of jar. Add screw top band and tighten. Place jar upside down on counter. Repeat with remaining jars until all are filled. Let jars sit upside down for 5 minutes, then turn over to cool completely. As jars “plink” you will know they are sealed. If any do not seal, place in freezer. Will keep for up to a year.

Cranberry Pecan Bars

IMG_1157A pop of rich red makes these cranberry bars look special enough for company, yet these sweet-tart treats are easy enough to make any old day. With cranberries showing up in grocery stores soon, I thought I’d share this delicious recipe I found on, sent in by Wisconsinite and cranberry-lover Bonnie Young. They use mostly kitchen staples, and mix up in just a few minutes. I found they work better with frozen cranberries, as the fresh tend to mush and bleed into the batter and that makes them not so pretty. But the frozen berries make the batter very stiff, so you have to pat (or smash, if that’s more your mood) it into the pan with a spatula. Worth the effort though—the result is a deliciously chewy cake-like bar with just enough tang to keep you wanting more.

Makes 12-15 bars

½ cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped pecans
2 cups frozen cranberries
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Butter a 9″x13″ baking dish and set aside. In large mixing bowl, cream butter. Add eggs and cream again. Add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat again. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add to creamed butter and sugar mixture. Stir in nuts with large wooden spoon until combined. Fold in cranberries. Press batter into prepared baking dish and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until top of bars are light golden brown. (Bars may not appear to be cooked all the way through when removed from oven, but they will set up as they cool.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool to room temp before cutting with very sharp knife.

(Shout out to Monique Kleinhuizen, who brought me a huge bag of fresh cranberries—the size of grapes—from a cranberry festival her family attended in Wisconsin. Used them in the batch of bars pictures here. Awesome berries!!!)

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cherry Cookies

IMG_0972Once when trying to describe his favorite cookies, my youngest son dubbed these tasty morsels “The Good Cookies”—so now that’s the official title of this recipe at our house. Dried cherries are great because they add a tartness that’s a nice compliment to the sweet chocolate. But they are a tad expensive, so I often substitute craisins for the dried cherries. No one complains. The addition of a cup and a half of oatmeal adds some substance, while not turning them into straight-up oatmeal cookies. Another tip? If you toast—and cool (so they don’t melt the butter)—the pecans before stirring in, it takes these up another notch.

What got me searching for this recipe was a cookie Taste of Scandinavia bakery used to make called the Rocky Road. It was chock full of nuts and dried fruits and chocolate chunks. My son Mitch and I used to grab of couple from the bakery in St. Anthony while waiting for his brother Justin to be done with painting classes. When the bakery at that location changed hands and quit making our faves, we went through withdrawal. I found a white chocolate, macadamia nut, and cherry cookie recipe on that sounded close to what we craved, so I subbed in semi-sweet chocolate and pecans, and a star was born. (That recipe is no longer posted, or I would credit the author!)

Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup rolled oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup dried cherries or craisins (dried cranberries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In large mixer bowl, cream butter with beater attachment on electric mixer. Slowly add dark brown sugar, then white sugar, and cream ingredients until fluffy. Add eggs and cream ingredients. Add vanilla and cream ingredients again.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a spoon. Slowly add this flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar mixture until all ingredients are combined. Slowly add rolled oats and stir on low to combine. Remove bowl from mixer, and stir in chocolate chips, nuts, and dried cherries or craisins with a wooden spoon.

Drop by large spoonfuls on to baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cookies cool for 10 minutes before removing from baking sheet. Store cookies in an airtight container.

Oatmeal Carmelitas

FullSizeRenderOats and caramel and chocolate—oh my! This recipe was entered in the Pillsbury Bake-Off by Minnesotan Erlyce Larson in 1967, and won hands down. One bite of these gooey taste treats, and you’ll agree whole-heartedly with the judges decision. My friend Lois brought these to a gathering at our house, and they were the hit of the dessert table. (I consumed more than my fair share, so that’s why there are so few left on the plate in the photo. Sadly, this image doesn’t do them justice.) My mother makes a similar Caramel Candy Bar (posted a few weeks ago). Mom’s recipe is to die for, but her recipe requires laboriously unwrapping dozens of caramel candies to make the luscious middle layer, while this recipe uses a short-cut—a jar of caramel ice cream topping. Next time you’re planning a party, invite Lois. And ask her to bring these heavenly bars. Mmmmmm.


2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups margarine or butter, softened


1 (12.5 ounce) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 13″ x 9″ pan. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.

Squirrel Bars

IMG_0896Don’t worry—no squirrels were harmed in making these scrumptious chocolate and pecan bars. Originally called “Chocolate Nut Toffee Bars,” this recipe came from a magazine insert promoting Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk and Hershey’s products. And of course there’s a story behind our re-naming… The first time I made these, I set them out on our porch to cool. When I went out to get the bars an hour later, all the nuts had been stealthily removed, and there were tiny little claw marks marring the top chocolate layer. It looked like a miniature version of Wolverine had attacked the pan. Henceforth, the bars have been called “Squirrel Bars” at our house. We have often wondered if some poor little squirrel needed a few cavities filled after digging into our treats…

The bottom layer is similar to shortbread, only cocoa powder has been added to give the crust a chocolate twist. As simmered sweetened condensed milk makes up the middle layer, and just chocolate chips and nuts top them off, they whip up rather quickly. The hardest thing about this recipe is waiting for them to cool so you can eat them. But if you happen to be a squirrel, no need to wait. Feel free to dive right in.

Makes 24-36 bars

1 cup butter, softened (divided)
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
1 (14-ounce) can Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT evaporated milk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips*
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the softened butter for use later. In large mixer bowl, beat remaining butter and sugar until fluffy. Add flour and cocoa, mix well. With floured hands, press cocoa mixture into bottom of prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in medium sauce pan, combine reserved butter and sweetened condensed milk. Cook on medium to low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Pour over baked crust. Bake 10 minutes longer, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately top with chocolate chips. Let stand 1 minutes, then smooth out melted chips with back of large spoon while still warm. Top with nuts. Cool. Cut into bars. Store covered at room temperature.

*I’m a fan of Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips myself, but I have to be true to the originators of the recipe here.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_0760When you need a chocolate fix bad, these double-chocolate cookies will definitely do the trick. I got this recipe years ago from a B&B that placed one warm, delicious cookie on the pillow of each guest in their rooms. (Don’t recall the name of the inn…) Our cookies never make it past the kitchen, as they get gobbled up lickety split. At first glance these look just like the Devil’s Delight Chocolate Cookie recipe I posted for Cinco de Mayo, but those have heat and spice, and these are just gooey goodness. They’re also a little easier to throw together than the Devil’s Delight.

This is another recipe to make when you only have one egg in the frig—but you still have cocoa, chocolate chips, and nuts, that is. You can certainly use Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder, but I prefer the Dutch process cocoa from Penzy’s, which is processed for a “milder, smoother flavor” (quote from their website). You can also get this cocoa through King Arthur’s Flour, or at higher-end grocery stores. Now, unless you’ve got the princess-and-the-pea living with you, your cookie devourees may not notice the difference between the two right away. But I do find the Dutch process cocoa makes rich, smooth baked goods. It’s especially awesome in chocolate buttercream frosting, but that’s for another blog post…

Makes 2 dozen

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/12 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans*
1 cup Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine cocoa, milk, and vanilla in a measuring cup, and stir. (It will take a bit for the cocoa powder to break down the surface tension** in the milk and actually allow you to combine the powder and liquid. Stir, let it sit, then come back to it and stir again until you have a dark paste. Use the back of the spoon to press the powder to edge of cup.) Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, cream butter. Add granulated sugar and cream again. Add brown sugar and continue to cream ingredients. Add egg and cream once more. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add to creamed butter and sugar mixture until combined. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips by hand. Drop by tablespoons onto baking sheet and press down slightly on top of dough so cookies bake up flat instead of in mounds. Bake for 12-13 minutes, or just until cookies are no longer glossy in center.

*NOTE: To make these extra delicious, toast the chopped pecans in the preheated oven for 5-10 minutes. Let cool to room temp before adding to dough, or they will melt the butter and make the batter runny.

**My father, the chemist, happened to answer several of our youthful queries with “it’s the surface tension.” This happened so often that we assumed every question we asked could be explained away by “surface tension,” and it became a running family joke.

Wild Rice Casserole

IMG_0647If you live in the Great Lakes region, you love wild rice, and you’re darn proud of it. It’s that food item you buy for friends visiting from other parts of the world, showing just how unique and versatile we are in the midwest. Hey, we are so much more than hotdish and hamburgers! But what can you make with it besides the old standby, wild rice soup? Here’s a side dish I came up with that goes great with summer’s grilled meats and fish, or winter’s roasted beef, pork, or poultry. You can make it with dried cranberries to give it a sweet twist, or mushrooms to make it savory. Either combination compliments this hearty grain, and gives everyone a much-needed break from potatoes or white rice. (The wild rice casserole pictured here is served with my husband’s Brined and Smoked Turkey.)

Serves 6-8

1 cup uncooked wild rice
4 cups water
1 cube chicken bouillon, or 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
(or use 1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries—aka: craisins—but not both mushrooms and craisins)
½ cup pecan halves
3 tablespoons butter, divided

Rinse wild rice in colander under cold water. Combine wild rice, water, and bouillon cube in large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer for 45 minutes, or until most of rice kernels are cracked open. Once rice is done, drain. Do a quick rinse of cold water to shock rice (halt cooking of grains). Drain again.

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. While rice is cooking, sauté onions in 1 tablespoon butter until translucent. Transfer cooked onions to 3 quart casserole dish. Add another tablespoon butter to pan and sauté mushrooms until cooked. Add to onions in dish. Add 1 tablespoon butter to pan, again, and toast pecan halves in butter about 3-5 minutes, or until they appear to darken slightly. Toss onions, mushrooms, and pecans with cooked wild rice in casserole dish. Cook, covered, in oven for 20-30 minutes or until heated through. Serve as side dish.

NOTE: If you prefer a tangier side dish, skip the mushrooms, and toast the pecans in 2 tablespoons butter. Then toss in 1/3 craisins with cooked rice. Cook in oven as directed above. Also, if you use salt instead of the chicken bouillon, this dish is vegetarian. It’s also gluten-free. Lose the butter, and it’s dairy-free and fat-free, but that’s going just a little too far.