I’ve tried the roll-your-own sushi and it works–sometimes. A couple years ago, I came across a recipe for stacked sushi in a cookbook titled “Bite Me” and had to try it. And modify it. It’s now a family favorite–easy to make and less expensive than restaurant- or store-bought sushi. Our family prefers sushi with pre-cooked shrimp or imitation crab, but if you’re more adventurous, you can substitute raw fish. As for the pics–yes I went a little overboard–the first shows the sushi when you first pop it out of the dish. The next pic is of cut sushi, and I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of using a very sharp knife to keep the nori sheets intact. The last two pics are of stacked sushi served up right. Give this a try and be inventive with your ingredients–shrimp, crab, cucumber, carrots, avocado, cream cheese…

1-1/2 cups instant white rice

1-1/2 cups water

2 tbsp rice vinegar

3/4 cup reduced fat mayonnaise

4 tbsp wasabi horseradish (often shelved near prepared horseradish)

4 sheets nori (roasted seaweed) Note: This go-around, I substituted softened spring roll wrappers for the 2 middle nori sheets which not only made the sushi easier to cut but lightened up the seaweed taste–thumbs up from all)

3 tsp sesame seeds

1 cup grated or matchstick carrots (or 1 large cucumber sliced thin)

1-1/2 cups imitation pre-cooked crab, semi-shredded (if budget allows, by all means use real cooked crab)

1 large avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced thin

1) cook instant rice in water according to package directions; remove from heat, let sit 5-10 minutes; stir in rice vinegar; set aside and let cool

2) In small bowl, mix mayonnaise and wasabi horseradish; set aside

3) Line an 8″ square pan with plastic wrap, allowing 4-5″ overhang on opposite sides (will be folded over sushi for refrigeration)

4) Place 1 nori sheet in bottom of pan and spread with 1/3 of cooked rice; sprinkle on 1 tsp sesame seeds; spread 1/3 of wasabi mayonnaise over rice and top with carrots

5) Place 1 nori sheet (or softened spring roll wrapper) over carrots and spread with 1/3 of cooked rice; sprinkle on 1 tsp sesame seeds; spread 1/3 of wasabi mayonnaise over rice and top with crab

6) Place 1 nori sheet (or softened spring roll wrapper) over crab and spread with 1/3 of cooked rice; sprinkle on 1 tsp sesame seeds; spread 1/3 of wasabi mayonnaise over rice and top with avocado

7) Place remaining nori sheet over avocado; fold overhanging plastic wrap over sushi and gently press down on sushi with palms; weight sushi with a couple books and refrigerate 1-2 hours

8) Remove sushi from refrigerator; fold back plastic wrap; place large plate over top of pan and gently turn over, allowing sushi to drop onto plate; remove plastic wrap; with sharp knife, cut sushi into 1″ squares

9) Serve with soy sauce and wasabi horseradish for dipping; nice accompaniments are bowls of white rice or a light soup like miso

Servings: 4


Yes, I’m at it again–making food cups out of wontons. This time those crispy critters hold meatballs. My guys liked the ones made with meatloaf, but it was the meatball version that had them urging me to pleeease make this again. Easy and very very tasty!

36 turkey meatballs, thawed (I used Armour brand, fully cooked)

spray olive oil

36 wonton wrappers

3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese

3/4 cup white cheddar cheese

1-1/2 cups spaghetti sauce (I used Gia Russa brand cherry tomato)

1 green onion, sliced thin on the diagonal

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2) Spray olive oil in each cup of a 12-cup muffin pan; assemble 12 wonton cups as follows: layer 3 wonton wrappers in each muffin cup; lightly spray wrappers with olive oil

3) Layer each meatball cup as follows, evenly dividing ingredients: sharp cheddar cheese, meatballs (3 to a cup); bake 8-10 minutes until wontons begin to blister and turn golden; remove from oven

4) Evenly dividing spaghetti sauce, spoon over and around meatballs; sprinkle tops with white cheddar cheese and green onions; return to oven and bake 3 minutes until cheese melts; remove from oven and serve

Servings: 4 dinner-sized portions or 12 appetizers

NOTE: This is a “repeat” recipe, meaning it was previously featured on my original “Kitchen Novelist” blog–the one that disappeared into a black hole a while back (which is the reason WordPress and I met up).


There’s no ladylike way to eat these quesadillas. They’re just too thick and chock full of good stuff. But they’re worth the mess. All gone! All thumbs up–duh 🙂


2 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1-14.5 oz black beans, rinsed and drained

1 tbsp chopped cilantro

Sea salt

Ground black pepper

1 lb ground chicken

1/4 cup mild jalapeños (I used Mezzetta brand “Tamed”)

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

12 small (6″) flour tortillas

spray olive oil

2 cups shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese

1/4 cup sour cream

1) Preheat broiler

2) To a large skillet, add 1 tbsp olive oil (reserving 1 tbsp) and heat over medium-high; add onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes; add black beans and cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper; cook 3 minutes longer; transfer to a plate

3) To same skillet, add 1 tbsp reserved olive oil and heat over medium-high; add ground chicken, jalapeños, paprika, and cayenne and cook, stirring often, 5-7 minutes until cooked through; remove from heat

4) Place tortillas in a single layer on 2 baking sheets and spray with spray olive oil; broil 1-2 minutes until golden and just crispy and remove from oven; reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees

5) Assemble each of 4 quesadillas as follows, dividing ingredients equally between them : flour tortilla, chicken mixture, flour tortilla, vegetable-black bean mixture, cheese, flour tortilla; place quesadillas on baking sheet, return to oven, and cook 5-8 minutes until warmed through and cheese melts; remove from oven and cut each quesadilla into 4 wedges; serve with dollops of sour cream

Servings: 4 dinner-sized portions; 8 appetizer-sized portions


This dip is a decade-long family favorite, and to celebrate Friday, it was our big meal of the day. If beef isn’t your thing, consider substituting black beans or chicken. Either way, it’s tasty good!

Beefy Fiesta Dip

1 lb lean ground beef, divided

1-8 oz pkg reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1 cup reduced fat sour cream, divided

1 cup salsa

1 pkg taco seasoning

1-1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (we like sharp), divided

1 can fat-free refried beans

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1/2 avocado, sliced thin and cut into 1/2″ pieces

3 tbsp diced jalapenos

Tortilla chips (if you haven’t tried Tostita’s Hint of Lime chips, do!)

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees; lightly oil a large casserole dish

2) In large skillet over medium-high heat, cook ground beef until browned (7-8 minutes); remove from heat, drain fat, and set aside

3) To large mixing bowl, add cream cheese, 3/4 cup sour cream (reserving 1 cup), salsa, taco seasoning, 3/4 cup cheddar cheese (reserving 3/4 cup), refried beans, and half the ground beef; mix well to combine; spoon into casserole dish

4) Scatter remaining ground beef and cheese over top, pop in oven, and cook 12-15 minutes until heated through; remove from oven

5) Scatter tomatoes, avocado, and jalapenos over top; spoon remaining 1/4 cup sour cream in sandwich bag, snip bottom corner, and squeeze sour cream over top; press a portion of tortilla chips into dip around the edges and serve with a bowl of chips; yummer!

Servings: 4 as an entree (many more as an appetizer)

NOTE: This is a “repeat” recipe featured on my original “Kitchen Novelist” blog 04/13/12


I know dips are usually reserved for appetizers, but from time to time our family enjoys making a meal of chips and dip. Though our favorite remains Cream Cheese Black Bean Dip, this Black Bean-Bacon Dip is a contender. The only complaint was from Junior Too: “It could be spicier.” In which case, you can always substitute hot salsa.

Black Bean-Bacon Dip

6 slices bacon (I used turkey bacon; if you use regular fatty bacon, you probably won’t need the olive oil)

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium-sized onion, chopped fine

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped very fine

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1-1/2 cup salsa (I used medium)

2-15 oz cans black beans, rinsed, drained, and coarsely mashed (leave some beans intact)

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup grated Colby-Monterey Jack blend, divided (cheddar is good too)

2 tbsp taco seasoning

tortilla chips

1) In large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until just crisp; remove from heat and chop; set aside

2) Add olive oil to skillet and heat over medium-high; add onions and jalapeno and, stirring often, cook 5 minutes until veggies soften; reduce heat to medium and stir in cilantro (reserving 2 tbsp for topping), salsa, mashed black beans, sour cream, 3/4 cup cheese (reserving 1/4 cup for topping), bacon (reserving 2 tbsp for topping), and taco seasoning; cook, stirring often, 10 minutes until heated through; remove from heat

3) Pour bean dip into medium-sized serving dish, top with reserved cheese, bacon, and cilantro, and serve with tortilla chips

Servings: 10-12 (appetizer), 4-6 (entree)


Friday night and it’s finger foods in front of a good video. Though our family is most fond of hot dips, this cold dip was so refreshingly delicious with its white and black beans and lower-fat avocado-pea guacamole that it earned “keeper” status in our household.

Layered White Bean and Avocado-Pea Guacamole Dip

1-15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup reduced-fat sour cream, divided

2 tbsp taco seasoning, divided

2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped

1-1/4 cup frozen green peas, thawed

1 tbsp + 1 tsp fresh-squeezed lime juice

1/3 cup diced red onion

2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, divided

1/4 tsp salt

pinch ground black pepper

1-15 oz can seasoned black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups salsa (I used mild)

1-1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

1 large tomato, diced

2 green onions, sliced thin

1 tbsp finely diced jalapenos

Tortilla chips

1) Place beans, sour cream (reserving 2 tbsp for topping), and taco seasoning (reserving 1 tsp for guacamole) in bowl of food processor; puree until smooth; spread bean mixture in bottom of large bowl (preferably clear so you can see the pretty layers); set aside

2) Clean food processor bowl and fill with avocado, peas, lime juice, onion, cilantro (reserving 1 tbsp for topping), reserved 1 tsp taco seasoning, salt, and pepper; puree until smooth; spread guacamole mixture over bean mixture

3) Evenly distribute black beans over guacamole, followed by salsa, cheese, lettuce, tomato, reserved 2 tbsp sour cream, green onions, jalapenos, and reserved 1 tbsp cilantro; chill in refrigerator at least an hour and serve with tortilla chips (or thinly sliced baguette)

Servings: 12-16 as an appetizer (though, by all means, make a meal of it if you can’t help yourself)


I toted this gorgeous appetizer to my annual book club Christmas party at Neiman-Margaret’s (her new moniker for reasons obvious to those invited into her home) and happily watched it disappear. The combination of caramelized onion, pear, and pomegranate is simply out of this world. And when you toss in a bit of bacon and feta… Fabulous! And not at all difficult to put together. Enjoy!

Caramelized Onion, Pear, and Pomegranate Bites

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 tsp sea salt

4 slices turkey bacon (optional), fried lightly and slivered

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 pears, cored and chopped

2 tsp brown sugar

1-8 oz pkg Crescent Seamless Dough Sheets (by Pillsbury)

1/2 cup crumbled Feta (or blue cheese)

1 cup pomegranate seeds (about 1/2 large pomegranate)

1 tbsp minced parsley

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees; lightly oil a baking sheet (I used a rectangular pizza stone and dusted with cornmeal)

2) To large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil; add onions and salt and, stirring often, cook 20 minutes until onions caramelize; transfer to large bowl and mix with bacon

3) In large skillet over medium heat, melt butter; stir in pears and brown sugar and cook 5-6 minutes; mix with onions and bacon in bowl; set aside

4) Unroll crescent sheet and place on baking sheet; using a pizza cutter, slice into 2″ squares

5) Spread onion-bacon-pear mixture over crescent sheet and bake in oven 10-12 minutes until crescent sheet puffs and edges turn golden; remove from oven, scatter with feta, pomegranate seeds, and parsley; serve (you may need to gently slide a knife beneath the crescent sheet to loosen)

Servings: 12


When I saw the gorgeous Roquefort Pear with Honey recipe on Stephane Gabart’s My French Heaven blog, I bemoaned being the only one in our household who would dine on something so beautifully daring since, outside of Junior who’s at university, only I adore blue-veined cheeses. After all, why spend time in the kitchen for just little old me, right? Wrong. I cooked up my own slightly modified version of this taste sensation for lunch. Only one thumb up, but–my!–do I feel spoiled.

Blue-Cheese Pear with Honey

2 cups water

3 tbsp granulated white sugar

pinch of salt

1 pear (I used a small Bartlett)

2-3 tbsp crumbled blue cheese (adjust amount according to how deep and wide you scoop your pear)

1 tbsp honey (I used organic Eucalyptus honey–very distinctive flavor)

1) To small pot, add water, sugar, and pinch of salt; bring to a slow boil

2) Meanwhile, cut off top of pear (I also cut off a bit of the bottom to level it so it would stand upright); scoop out center of both pieces (about 1″ deep in bottom and 1/2″ deep in top)

3) Add top and bottom pear pieces to pot and cook 15 minutes; remove from pot and let cool completely; stuff with blue cheese and chill 1 hour or more in refrigerator; place pear on a pretty plate, drizzle with honey, and serve

Servings: 1 (and it’s all mine)


Though I can’t give an “all thumbs up” to this smoked salmon pizza, it’s only because my guys prefer more traditional pizzas like pepperoni and pineapple-ham. According to Senior, my offering was “too Olive Garden.” But I, for one, am a fan of those lovely restaurants–and was pleasantly surprised by the smoked salmon (not a big seafood fan). So if you enjoy pizza on the un-traditional (AKA exceptional side), this one could be for you.

Smoked Salmon-Red Onion-Cream Cheese Pizza2

PIZZA DOUGH (or you can buy pre-made):

1 cup warm water

1-1/2 tsp yeast

2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp oregano

3 tbsp olive oil + 2 tsp olive oil (divided)


1 tbsp olive oil

1/4 large red onion, sliced thin

1-8 oz pkg reduced-fat cream cheese at room temperature

1-1/2 tbsp prepared horseradish

1/4 large red onion, minced

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 cup julienned baby spinach

5 oz smoked salmon, broken into small pieces

1/2 cup 6-cheese Italian blend

1) PIZZA DOUGH: Add warm water and yeast to small bowl, stir gently, and let sit 10 minutes

2) To large bowl, add flour, salt, oregano and 3 tbsp olive oil (reserving 2 tsp); stir to combine; pour in water-yeast mixture and stir well to combine; turn dough into lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise 1 hour

3) Preheat oven to 450 degrees

4) PIZZA: To large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tbsp olive oil and sliced red onion; stirring often, cook 7-8 minutes until onions soften; remove from heat and set aside

5) In medium-sized bowl, mix cream cheese, horseradish, minced red onion, salt, and black pepper; set aside

6) Lightly oil large pizza pan with 1 tsp reserved olive oil (reserving 1 tsp); on floured surface, roll out dough to fit large pizza pan; transfer dough to pan; brush dough with remaining 1 tsp olive oil; bake in oven 8 minutes until lightly golden; remove from oven (do not turn off)

7) Spread cream cheese mixture over pizza crust and scatter with: spinach, red onions, salmon, and 6-cheese Italian blend; bake in oven 4-5 minutes until cheese melts; serve

Servings: 4


Cool weather cooking means a warm and toasty kitchen when the oven comes into play. Enter this beef and bean nacho casserole. No dipping here, though you certainly can, if you’d like. Just grab a fork and plate and you have a delicious and filling meal. As for the leftovers nestled all snug in my fridge… This is an 8-serving recipe and we’re quite a few shy of that number. Hello, lunch! And lunch again! And again!

1 lb ground beef

1 medium onion, diced

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1-14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes

1-15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained

1-15 oz can chili beans (I used medium spicy)

1-1/2 cups frozen corn (I used snappy white shoepeg)

1 cup salsa (I used medium hot)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

2 tbsp taco seasoning

6 cups tortilla chips, divided

1-1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Optional Topping: sour cream, chopped cilantro, jalapenos

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees; lightly oil a 13×9 baking dish

2) In large skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook ground beef until lightly browned, about 5 minutes; stir in onions, salt, and pepper and cook 3 minutes; stir in tomatoes, black beans, chili beans, corn, salsa, cilantro, and taco seasoning; reduce heat to low and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally; remove from heat

3) Scatter 3 cups tortilla chips (reserving 3 cups) over bottom of baking dish; spoon meat-bean mixture over chips; top with remaining chips and bake in oven 15 minutes; scatter cheese over casserole and bake additional 3-4 minutes until cheese melts; remove from oven and serve with or without optional toppings; eat it up!

Servings: 8