Strawberry Basil & Feta Cheese Pizza

Strawberry Basil & Feta Cheese Pizza

Some people want to laze around in bed on weekend mornings. Not me. I’m not exaggerating when I say I pop out of bed excited to head straight to the kitchen to start cooking up or creating some new recipe. This past Saturday was not different, and this time it was strawberries and feta cheese. That was the inspiration, and look what happened. This strawberry and feta cheese pizza was so good, I’ve been craving it ever since.

Strawberry Basil and Feta Cheese Pizza

If you’ve never tried the combination, it really is a good one. In fact, while I was building the pizza, I couldn’t stop nibbling on just the strawberries and feta together. Combine that with a crispy, fresh pizza crust, fresh basil and little drizzle of olive oil – and we’re talking flavor!

I was telling my brother Darien about this pizza and he said I should have drizzled some balsamic over the top, and he may be right. Either way, I think you can’t go wrong as long as you keep it simple, and be sure you make your own crust! The recipe below is easy and delicious if you love a thin, crispy pizza crust.

Strawberry Basil & Feta Cheese Pizza

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Strawberry Basil & Feta Cheese Pizza
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
  • 5-6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1¾ cups water
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast (I used 1 packet Active Dry Yeast)
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries
  • 6 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 (or more) cups feta cheese
  • drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  1. Add yeast to 1¾ cups luke warm water (make sure it’s not hot); stir in sugar and olive oil and let sit for about five minutes until foamy. In bowl of stand mixer, combine all ingredients (start with 5 cups of flour).
  2. Using dough hook, mix on medium speed for about 4 minutes, or until flour gathers to form a coarse ball.
  3. Let dough rest for a few minutes; mix again for an additional few minutes, or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl and sticks just a little to the bottom. If dough appears too sticky, add more flour by the tablespoon. Note: I added about 3 additional tablespoons of flour. To test, gently stretch a small piece of dough until translucent in center. If not, process a little more.
  4. Transfer dough to a floured counter, dust the top with flour to absorb the surface moisture, then fold dough into ball.
  5. Place in a bowl that has been brushed with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and cover the top of bowl with a towel. Let sit at room temperature for 90 minutes. Dough should double in size.
  6. Transfer dough to floured counter and divide dough into 3-5 equal pieces; form into balls. Rub each ball with olive oil. Place in individual ziploc bags and refrigerate 2 – 12 hours. Remove from refrigerator 1-2 hours before using.
  7. Note: I cheated and made a pizza with one of the dough balls without that last rise, and the taste and texture was very good. But it’s *way* better the next day or two. Use within 3-4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
  8. To prepare pizza (see photos), place pizza stone in oven and heat oven to 500 degrees F, at least 20 minutes prior to baking pizza. Dust dough (and fingers) with flour.
  9. On pizza peel dusted with cornmeal, press and stretch dough to 10-inch round. Lightly drizzle with olive oil. Layer cheese on top, then arrange strawberries and basil (see photos).
  10. Slide pizza from peel onto stone (being careful not to let toppings slide off) and bake for about 9 minutes, or until crust and cheese begin to brown. Drizzle with a little balsamic and additional basil if preferred.

Almond Crunch Banana Bread

Almond Crunch Banana Bread

If you’re looking for a no-fuss, no mixer-needed, tasty, no-oil, no baking powder, moist and quick kind of banana bread – look no more. I whip this banana bread up in just a few minutes and everyone always tells me how much they love it. If you love almonds and a little crunch to baked goods, definitely add the crushed roasted almonds. I just toss a handful in my mini processor, but you can just stick them in a baggy and pound away with an olive oil bottle, or whatever.

If you don’t like to mash bananas with a fork, just chop them and let the paddle attachment do the work in your mixer. The point is, you can make this as easy as a you want!

Almond Crunch Banana Bread

Almond Crunch Banana Bread
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 mini loaves
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 6 bananas, smashed
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup roasted (unsalted) almonds, crushed
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, ½ teaspoon baking soda and cinnamon. In the bowl of stand mixer (or any mixing bowl), beat together bananas, butter and sugar until blended. Sprinkle remaining baking soda on top of the bananas.
  3. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and beat until just blended.
  4. Add batter to greased loaf pan (I used baking spray).
  5. Generously spread crushed almonds on surface. I also sprinkled a little turbinado sugar for an extra special crunch.
  6. Bake for 55 minutes, or until toothpick comes up clean when inserted in top center.


Garlic and Jalapeño Pizza with Thin Homemade Crust

Garlic and Jalapeno Pizza with Homemade Thin Crust

Being single *all* the time is not always the most fun thing in the world. I’m not saying it’s horrible to be single, I’m just saying that sometimes I feel like, you know, making pizza for two instead of one.

The topic of being single is a big one, I know. But I guess as a  single person for way more years than I feel like admitting, it may be  time to share a few thoughts. Hey, you never know, maybe I’ll share something meaningful for someone other than myself.

I should start by saying I don’t wake up in the morning, or get home from work,  feeling sad about  being single. In fact, on a regular basis I am pretty happy with my little situation, especially after just recently becoming a full-blown empty nester. Hey, it’s pretty nice (even luxurious)  to have your own space, make your own messes, and dance around in underwear any time you feel the urge.

But there are certain times  I get these pangs and thoughts about how nice it would be to plan things, like even a weeknight dinner, with somebody else.  And not just anybody – a special somebody. Yuck, that sounds so trite I am cringing as I write this. But it’s true.

The thing is, even in my fifties, I still attract nice, good-looking men – and could date a lot more than I do. But for some reason, I’ve never met the guy who would motivate me to make pizza for two on a regular basis. There’s always the possiblity that I don’t really put myself out there, and I always find a reason why it couldn’t work. I probably need to take a deeper look into that.

Garlic and Jalapeno Pizza with Homemade Thin Crust

For years I reassured myself that that the right one would come along. I never doubted that. I totally believed it, until about four months ago. And I don’t know why it hit me four months ago, but it finally occurred to me that it’s very possible that I could be making pizza for one for the rest of life.

As a woman who believes with every ounce of her being, that God is who He says He is, and is comforted nearly every moment of my existence with that reality,  the idea of living single for the rest of my life is pretty much ok. But there’s another side that feels I am way too sexy for that. (haha! I hope you don’t mind a little Garlic Girl humor there).

But seriously, the fabric  of me is designed to care for people. I guess my love language is to do all those domestic things for others. It’s interesting that those desires are even stronger as I get older. It’s almost as though I don’t matter if I’m not caring for someone in the real, everyday way. And of course, on the flip side of that, I also want to be cared for (and loved) in even the small ways. Like, it still feels funny when I return from a business trip and there’s nobody who wants or needs to know what time my flight gets in.


Despite these little surface feelings that come and go, the core of me understands the importance of appreciating every gift that God gives. On a daily basis I am deeply grateful and thankful for my three precious children, and their children. And nothing gets me laughing and feeling more loved and connected than hanging out my three brothers and their families. These things, and the list of beautiful friends and blessings in my life, are what truly matters to me every moment of every day.

Yes, I am ok with being single. But yeah, I sure wouldn’t mind making pizza for two more than a few times a year.

Garlic and Jalapeno Pizza with Homemade Thin Crust

A few pizza tips:

- Definitely use a pizza peel and pizza stone if you can get your hands on them.
- Use cornmeal on the pizza stone to help the pizza slide on to the stone. It also provides a nice crispiness to the crust.
- Bake in very hot oven, and make sure to heat the pizza stone at least twenty minutes prior to baking pizza.
- Let the dough sit in the fridge for at least overnight. This improves the crust flavor.
- Add rosemary to the flour before making the dough – it adds a nice flavor.
- Be sure to press and stretch the dough thin in the center.
- Try not using tomato sauce for an extra crispy crust. It’s better than you think!

No-Cook Overnight Oats with Berries and Nuts

No-Cook Overnight Oats with Berries and Nuts

I mostly do what I shouldn’t do in just about every area of my life — especially when it comes to taking care of myself and eating healthy. I could try to convince myself that it just comes with the territory as a food blogger, but I’d be lying. Truth is, I’m probably a bit of a food addict.

It’s got to be true, because about twice a year I do a big week-long (or more) cleanse when I just drink tons of water and only fresh fruit and veggie juices. It’s the *only* time I ever feel like I can totally do without some of the so-called “bad” stuff. For me that means white sugar and flour, and just about anything processed. I guess it’s sort of like any addiction that requires a detox program before the strongest cravings subside.

The funny part of all this is that I stay in pretty good shape, and the majority of time I enjoy eating healthy. Some of the foods I include in my daily diet are leafy greens and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. I recently discovered a way to prepare whole grain oats and oatmeal that is incredibly easy and totally delicious!

No-Cook Overnight Oats with Nuts and Berries

I’m not sure why it took me so long to hop on board with the overnight oats trends, but I’m glad I finally tried it! I got inspired after I received a box of Bob’s Red Mill whole grains in the mail (one of the wonderful perks of being a food blogger). And as far as product samples go, I only accept and write about products I already love and adore.

For my first adventure with overnight oats I used Bob’s Red Mill 10 Grain Hot Cereal. I’m not sure I will love another oat combiniation more than this one, but I promise if I do, I’ll let you know. The reason I love this one is the texture of the mulitple grains – especially the millet. What I love about preparing with the overnight refrigeration method is that the oats aren’t as soggy as when they are cooked on the stovetop. The best part is that you can grab your oats and go in the morning! Oh, did I mention it’s a delicious way to eat a healthy breakfast?

Here are a few tips for overnight oats:
- Add toppings, including fresh berries, before refrigerating overnight. You can add them in the morning too, but I liked the way everything blended together, and that the little jar was ready to grab and go in the morning.
- Once you add the milk of your choice (my favorite is almond milk), be sure to use a popsicle stick or fork to loosen the oats to allow the milk to seep down to the bottom. Also, wait for the milk to absorb after the first drizzle, and then pour again. It’s ok if themilk lingers at the top of the cereal before covering – it will get absorbed.
- Use small, individual jars. I loved using mini mason jars and covering with the lids.
- Enjoy it cold with a little brown sugar or honey! But if you need it warm, it won’t hurt if you pop in the microwave.

No-Cook Overnight Oats with Berries and Nuts
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
  • ½ cup Bob’s Red Mill 10 Grain Hot Cereal
  • ½ cup (more or less) almond milk, or preferred milk type
  • 1 teaspoon sunflowers seeds
  • 1 teaspoon chopped almonds
  • 3-5 fresh blackberries (or any kind of berry) chopped
  • about 6 raisins
  • 1 teaspoon dried mangos, chopped
  • optional: ½ teaspoon chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar or honey
  1. In small mason jar or small glass bowl, add oats to about ⅓ full.
  2. Add dry toppings and gently mix with fork; add berries last.
  3. Pour milk over top and wait a few minutes to absorb. Pour again until a little milk lingers on top.
  4. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or at least 6 hours.
  5. Serve with a little brown sugar (and more almond milk if desired).
  6. Makes 1 individual serving


Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Coconut Curry Noodle Soup (Laksa)

Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Coconut Curry Laksa

If I had to choose one kind of dish to enjoy every day, it would be definitely be a spicy noodle soup. Living in the California Bay Area, it’s easy to find some of the best restaurants for soups like pho and ramen. But like with most dishes I adore, I’d rather make it at home. For dishes I’m not familiar with, I wish it was as natural to me as making spaghetti and meatballs. Since that’s not the case, it’s fun to take the time to research and challenge myself to recreate.
For this version of laksa, I used a recipe I found on Ichigo Shortcake for the basic method and was really happy with the results. I loved the simplicity of the preparation, and more importantly, that she made her own laksa paste. The fresh herb paste is really the key to the whole dish, and the best part is that you can freeze what you don’t use to make again without starting from scratch. A simple google search will pull up good info and recipes about the countless variations of laksa paste and this delicious dish. Some of the ingredients are hard to find, especially if you don’t live close to Asian markets, but the good news is that you can substitute ingredients. I used a few substitutes in this dish and it worked out just fine. Just make sure you don’t replace the coconut milk with anything else and try to use as many of the fresh herbs for the laksa paste.
Making this dish was a nice little escape for me since my life has not been especially easy lately – in fact there have been days in the last few months that have been downright heartbreaking. Cooking in general makes me feel happy, and this little laksa adventure, and other cooking and baking adventures, have served as therapy sessions.
Along with cooking and doing other things I love, I’ve also been praying for God to help me let go of my ideas of how *I think* things should go in my life. Sometimes I forget that God truly does use and strenghen us through our biggest struggles and we can’t really control the “valleys,” particularly when it involves other’s choices. This is especially an important point to remember when I think of my kid’s lives. As a parent, I always wish I could just fix their problems, but then I remember my young adult days and wonder what would have happened to me if my parents (or anyone) “fixed” my problems. I probably would have been a pretty messed up person in life if I didn’t grow and learn through my mistakes and bad attitudes.
My biggest lesson (again) is to have faith and remember that God’s love for us is immense, and bigger than any problem we face today or ever. I’m so thankful for His Holy Spirit that comforts in a moment’s notice. I love that. I hope that whatever life is bringing you today, good or bad, happy or sad, that you have an abundance of love, support and peace through it all. As far as this laksa, I hope you try it and that it soothes your body and your soul. It is aromatic, rich and creamy – and quite satisfying. Make it to warm up these cold, winter days and nights!
Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 1 Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 2 Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 3 Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 4 Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 7 Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 8 Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 9 Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 10 Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 14 Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Laksa 15  

Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Coconut Curry Noodle Soup (Laksa)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 3
  • 6 dried red chiles (soaked for one hour), roughly chopped
  • 2 inch piece of galangal, peeled and cut in small pieces
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut in small pieces
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
  • 1 inch piece of fresh turmeric, peeled
  • 3-4 green onions, roughly chopped
  • handful of raw or roasted cashews
  • 1 stalk lemon grass, peeled, cut in small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1 teaspoon course salt
  • 1-2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced in strips
  • 12 large prawns, peeled and deveined (don’t discard skins and tails)
  • 5 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced thinly
  • 2 stalks baby bok choy, sliced vertically in thin strips
  • 2-4 spring onions, or green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1-2 cups fresh bean sprouts
  • Thai rice noodles (see photo above for the kind I used)
  • Thai basil or cilantro
  • several tablespoons olive oil (split)
  • course salt
  • 1(8 ounce) can coconut milk
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  1. For the laksa paste, place the chiles, galangal, ginger, garlic, turmeric, green onions, coriander, lemon grass, salt and one tablespoon of olive oil in a food processer; blend for a few minutes until smooth paste forms. Add a little water at a time (up to ¼ cup) to make sure all small chunks are blended. Set paste aside.
  2. Fry prawn shells with a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat for several minutes until crisp. To the same pan, add about 5 cups of water and bring to boil. Turn heat down and Simmer for 30 minutes; remove and discard peels. Set broth aside.
  3. In heavy pan, lightly brown chicken breast on both sides and remove. Do the same with the prawns (and remove).
  4. In the same pan you browned the shrimp and chicken, saute the laksa paste in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil for several minutes until paste begins to dry. To the same pan, add the shrimp broth. Bring to a simmer, scraping bottom of pan to make sure all the flavors are incorporated.
  5. To that same pan, add 3-4 cups of chicken broth and continue to simmer for about five minutes. Add the chicken and shrimp, and mushrooms; simmer for a few minutes to complete cooking.
  6. Add coconut milk and simmer for another five minutes. Taste and add additional salt if needed.
  7. Cook noodles according to package directions.
  8. Prepare bowls by arranging bean sprouts, mushrooms, noodles, spring onions. Ladle soup on top. Garnish with cilantro or whatever you prefer.


Strawberry and Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies

Strawberry and Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies

I think I made these cookies a thousand times over the holidays. Well, it seemed like it anyway. They are way too good to not enjoy over and over, and over again. Do you want to know how I know they are exceptionally good? My brother Darien asked for the recipe.

Darien, and his wife Asunta, are among the best cooks I know. They are my family members who pose the biggest threats to me losing our holiday bake offs. I’ve lost these competitive family bake-offs to both of them more than I am willing to admit.

This past Christmas, our usual bake-off was less formal this year in that we weren’t really talking about it and building it up as usual. Instead, we simply all brought desserts to my brother Ross’ house in Santa Rosa. Because I was so busy, I ended up just keeping it simple and made these Strawberry and Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies. They aren’t typical thumbprints, they are more like what my friend Stan calls Kolaches. They are similar to thumbprints, but are less delicate. Both types of cookies are wonderful, but I always seem to side with a cookie that you can really take a bite out of!

There are recipes I’ve requested from both my brother and his wife Asunta, but oddly enough, they can be a bit secretive with a few of their favorite recipes. That’s right – secretive. I always try to get to the bottom of this, especially as a food blogger who sort of lives for  sharing my best recipes with the world. I have to admit that it’s amusing to me, but could be frustrating when you really do want the recipe. It’s the opposite for me. I can’t wait to share recipes that turn out great, so that others can enjoy too. It’s the next best thing to inviting someone over and sharing something I’ve cooked. And for me, that’s just love.

So when Darien asked for this recipe, I said, “No.” It makes me laugh just thinking about how emphatic I was, especially because I didn’t actually meant it. He asked twice, and then I knew: these cookies must be as good as I thought!

Strawberry and Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies2

So anyway, here’s the recipe. My trick for these cookies is to add plenty of flour – more than what most cookie recipes call for. And my other trick is to add the second egg after adding some of the flour to the cookie dough first. As most cookie bakers know, a majority of cookie recipes call for adding the eggs after the butter and before the flour. I notice I like the texture better doing it this way.

So here’s my very own recipe just for you. Just do me one favor: If someone asks for the recipe, by all means – give it to them! :)


Strawberry and Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 24 cookies
  • 3½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • ¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup strawberry jam
  • ¼ cup raspberry jam
  • ½ cup powdered sugar for garnish
  1. Heat oven to 375.
  2. In mixing bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients with the exception of the sugars; set aside.
  3. In bowl of stand mixer, beat the butter for about three minutes until pale and creamy. Add granulated (not powdered) sugar and continue to beat for another two minutes, making sure to scrape down sides.
  4. Add one egg and beat until combined. Add vanilla.
  5. On slow speed, add half the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Add the second egg and the remainder of the flour. Mix on low speed until the dry flour is incorporated.
  6. With hands, knead the dough (no need to remove from bowl) until fully combined.
  7. With clean hands, roll about two tablespoons of dough into round balls and place about 2 inches apart on baking sheet. No need to use parchment paper, but it doesn’t hurt.
  8. With thumb or finger, make depression at top center about halfway to the bottom.
  9. Spoon a mixture of strawberry and raspberry jam in each depression. Alternatively, add strawberry or raspberry jam to each cookie.
  10. Turn oven heat down to 350 degrees and bake for about 11 minutes, or until the bottom part of the cookies are light golden brown.
  11. Optional: Let cool completely and sprinkly with powdered sugar.

Strawberry and Raspberry Thumprints

Bucatini with Sicilian Meatballs

Bucatini with Sicilian Meatballs

My mother used to make spaghetti and meatballs almost every Sunday as we were growing up. It really wasn’t Sunday morning if my brothers and I didn’t wake to the comforting aroma of onions and garlic, mix with basil and tomatoes wafting into our bedrooms from the kitchen. This was a familiar tradition in my Sicilian mom’s family, but after she married my Jewish dad, I know she made it weekly for him because he could never ever got enough of it. I remember she used to tell him he could only have “two forkfuls” of the spaghetti to make sure he stuck the old Atkins diet that was so popular in the 70s. I’m so glad he didn’t listen. Who wants to limit their favorite foods to just two forkfuls? Not me!

I made this pasta for my son and daughter-in-law who just had their second child. Sounds weird (and wonderful) to say, but I now have FOUR grandchildren. How is this possible when it doesn’t seem that long ago that I had my kids? Well it’s true, and little Bradley is a healthy and gorgeous baby and I couldn’t be happier that I get to see them more often now that I live in Santa Cruz.

I’m glad January is here and that the holidays are over. I love all the festivities and family time, but I also really love when things get back to normal. And I love new beginnings, and the new year reminds of the excitement of life – and all the wonderful things that can happen. This past year was a really difficult one for me for a few reasons, including getting through the first year of my life without my mom who died at the end of 2013. That, combined with other family issues, really had an impact on how I was feeling.

But as a believer in the Almighty God, I am never discouraged about the future. I know that all of us will experience hard times because that is just part of life. In the bible (John 16:33), Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.” The words that follow are probably the most powerful words for me from scripture. He then goes on to say, “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Wow. Those words are so comforting to me, and because I believe that with my whole heart and mind, I am strengthened in all I think about and do.

This year, I hope to spend a lot of quality time with my friends and family – even it if means just doing simple things like having a cup of coffee with a friend, or preparing and delivering a dinner for someone – especially my kids who no longer live with me. I remember how hard it was to work, cook dinner, and do all the millions of other things you need to do when the kids are little.

I think I might have to bring back the Sunday tradition of spaghetti and meatballs – maybe you want to join me. There’s no doubt, someone will be glad you did!


Sicilian Style Meatballs1

Bucatini with Sicilian Meatballs
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: several
  • 1 pound Bucatini pasta (spaghetti with holes in center)
  • For simple tomato sauce
  • 2 cans tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium to large onion, finely diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons dried or fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons parsley
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ cup red or white wine
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream or half and half
  • Meatballs
  • ¾ pound ground beef
  • ¾ pound ground pork
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • I medium onion, minced
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and minced
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon rosemary
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped (or teaspoon dried basil)
  • ¼ cup red or white wine
  • 2 eggs, slighty beaten
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to tasted
  • a couple splashes olive oil
  1. For the meatballs, combine all ingredients in mixing bowl and with your hands blend together for a couple minutes.
  2. To form the meatballs, grab a handful of the mixture and toss loosely to form a ball.
  3. Heat olive oil in large, heavy-bottomed pan to medium low. Don’t let it get too hot.
  4. Add meatballs to the pan without crowding. The surface will start to brown quickly – just monitor and turn frequently so they brown evenly. I just use my hands with a spatula to turn. Monitor closely tp prevent burning.
  5. Once the meatballs have a carmelized surface that is as even as possible, add a little water to the pan and cover to make sure that the meatballs are cooked all the way through. Sometimes I like to splash in a little wine in the pan. Simmer covered for 5- 10 minutes until done in the center.
  6. For the tomato sauce, saute onions with olive oil in a small sauce pan for several minutes until tender.
  7. Add the garlic, stir and cook another minute without browning garlic. Add the basil, parsley and oregano, salt and pepper. Saute another minute or so.
  8. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a couple minutes. Add 1½ cups of water to the sauce.
  9. Once simmering, add more herbs and salt to taste if needed, the sugar and wine; stir.
  10. Simmer loosely covered on low for about 30 minutes. After 15 minutes (of the 30), stir in heavy cream,
  11. For the pasta, cook to al dente (and according to package directions).
  12. While the pasta is cooking, prepare a large serving dish by spreading about ½ cup of sauce on the bottom. When the pasta is ready, take directly from water without rinsing and toss in the serving bowl. Make sure all the pasta is tossed with the sauce to prevent from sticking together. Add more sauce and toss lightly.
  13. Garnish with grated Romano or Parmigiano cheese, fresh parsley and crushed red pepper.
  14. Add meatballs to your spaghetti sauce, or you can leave them as is. I like to decorate the family style pasta dish by putting the sauce-dipped meatballs all around the edges of the bowl.
  15. Makes about 20 meatballs, depending on their size.


Spicy Beef Soup with Leeks and Onions

Spicy Beef and Onion Soup

I live in California, but the weather – especially in Northern California – is getting very cold. Last week when I went running by the ocean my face felt numb from the chill! Despite how cold it was, I still stopped to take a photo of the gorgeous sunrise. Each sunrise and sunset I see in Santa Cruz takes my breath away, and some just literally stop me in my tracks.

Santa Cruz Sunrise by Garlic Girl
Who doesn’t love soup when it’s chilly outside? There’s just something so soothing about a steaming bowl of soup. My favorite soups have a lot of clear broth, unlike creamy soups. Those are good too, but a slurping up savory and spicy broth just does it for me.

This is one of my all-time favorite soups with the spice, tender beef and onions. It’s actually very simple to prepare, because most of the time is spent waiting until the beef is tender.

I hope you’re all enjoying preparing for the holidays. I can’t wait to spend more time with my family and take a little time off work.


Spicy Beef Soup with Leeks and Onions
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
  • 1 pound chuck steak (or any braising beef), cubed
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large leeks or 3 bunches of green onions, sliced thin and vertically
  • 3 medium to large onions, sliced vertically
  • 5 cloves crushed, fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sesame chili oil
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt (more or less to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Brown beef cubes in olive oil in large saucepan on medium high heat.
  2. Cover with about 48 ounces of water, bring to boil and simmer for a couple hours until meat is very tender. Skim as needed – especially at the beginning.
  3. In large fry pan, brown onions and leeks in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Cook for about 5 minutes until tender and beginning to carmelize.
  4. Add chili oil, salt, pepper to taste, crushed red pepper and stir for a minute or two.
  5. Push mixture aside and add the garlic. If pan is dry, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the garlic to make sure that the garlic cooks for about 45 seconds.
  6. Stir together and splash in a little soy sauce and a few tablespoons of the beef broth to integrate all flavors from bottom of the pan.
  7. Empty the onion mixture into the pot with the beef and bring to boil. Turn heat down and simmer for about 20 minutes.


Thick and Chewy Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thick & Chewy Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies | Garlic Girl

I don’t love big breakfasts. I’m perfectly fine with a cup of coffee with something sort of sweet like a scone. Lately I’ve been on this running kick and have been kind of craving a little sugar in the morning, especially because I don’t really enjoy big breakfasts. But sometimes I want a little more flavor, so these whole grain chocolate chip cookies have been my favorite thing to have with coffee. I know that cookies aren’t a traditional breakfast pastry, but for me it feels perfectly fine. By lunchtime, I’m craving all the good stuff, so I’ll have a roasted chicken salad with baby greens, or something like that. It’s all about balance! ; )
Thick and Chewy Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Even if you don’t want to eat a cookie in the morning, they are wonderful cookies for any time. I feel better about giving the little ones in my life these cookies simply because of the whole grains. I don’t mind baking with white flour, but I definitely prefer to eat baked treats if they are whole grain.


Thick and Chewy Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: Makes 10 large cookies
  • 2½ cups white whole wheat flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 1½ cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In mixing bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients minus the chocolate chips.
  3. In electric mixing bowl, beat butter for about three minutes until pale yellow. Add sugar and continue to beat for another two minutes.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating between additions; and then add vanilla extract.
  5. With mixer on slow speed, slowly add flour mixture until just blended. Lastly, add the chocolate chips and continue for a few seconds until blended.
  6. With ice cream scooper, drop onto cookie sheets about two inches apart. For these large cookies, it’s best to bake only six at a time.
  7. Bake for about 11 minutes until edges turn golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes before transferring from cookie sheet.


Easy Pasta Fagioli (Pasta & Bean Soup)

Pasta and Bean Soup with Italian Sausage (Pasta Fagioli)

Last week I turned 53. That doesn’t sound like a very attractive number to me, and I’m not even sure why. Maybe because it’s an odd, ugly number – or – maybe it’s because I’m discovering that 53 doesn’t look or feel like 43, or 33. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the other day I was trying to take an iPhone photo of something I crocheted and accidentally launched the camera into selfie mode. Without any warning, I caught a picture of my face, reading glasses on, looking down, furrowed brows, and I was like, “WHO is that?”

easy pasta fagioli

While I’ve never been the type to worry about laugh lines, getting a few grays, or even a little extra tummy chub from eating too much pizza, I’m not totally adjusting to the new, mature me as a whole. I know this might sound a little vain, but getting older never got in the way of me feeling attractive – and now all of a sudden that might be changing. For the first time in my life I’m starting to look mature, and now I really, really, really want to be ok with that!

I think getting older is not very different than other areas of  life where we don’t get a choice. I guess it comes down to how we respond to what’s happening. My hope is that I respond by continuing to love the woman looking back at me in the mirror, and the only way that will happen is if I remember what’s important.

I know it’s important to take care of, and appreciate, my healthy body, so I’ll continue running along the beach, eating lots of green stuff (with small doses of peanut butter cookies and chocolate cake). But most importantly, I’ll make sure my focus is on Godly and eternal things, and less on the material things that fade away and carry little meaning. Instead of looking at the lines on my face, I’ll choose to spend my time looking at the faces of the people I love.

I think I’m going to be ok with 50+.

Did I mention I’ll also keep making lots of soup? Yep, that. Because we all know it’s good for the body and the soul!

Easy Pasta Fagioli (Pasta & Bean Soup)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
  • 1 pound Italian Sausage (casing removed)
  • ½ pound pasta shells (or whatever pasta you prefer)
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 3-4 celery ribs, chopped
  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel
  • 1 teaspoon dried or 4 leaves of fresh basil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cups fresh or canned cannellini beans
  • 2 cups of fresh or canned tomatoes (for fresh, blanch and peel before chopping)
  • 32 ounces chicken broth (preferrably homemade, but canned works)
  • ¼ cup wine (whatever you have on hand)
  • Optional: 2 cups fresh baby greens like spinach (my favorite part)
  • Parmigiano cheese, grated (for garnish)
  • Optional: crushed red pepper, freshly chopped parsley
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions; toss with a little butter to make sure that the pasta doesn’t stick together; set aside.
  2. In heavy bottom pot, lightly brown sausage in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Remove sausage (but leave remaining bits); set aside.
  3. In remaining oil, saute onion, celery and carrots with a little salt for 4-5 minutes; add garlic and saute for another minute. Return sausage to the pan.
  4. Turn heat to medium high and add the tomatoes, making sure to scrape the bottom of pan to combine all the flavors. Add the wine and simmer for another few minutes.
  5. Add the chicken stock, beans, cooked sausage to the pot and bring to a heavy simmer.
  6. Add a little water or more chicken broth if it looks too thick. It should be a little soupy since pasta will be added later.
  7. Once you have all the ingredients in the pot, let lightly simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Optional: In last couple minutes of cooking at baby greens and stir to incorporate.
  8. When ready, serve in individual bowls. First put about a handful of pasta shells at the bottom of an empty soup bowl. Ladle out some of the meat and vegetables from the soup and then ladle some of the broth over the top. Garnish with cheese, crushed red pepper.
  9. Note: To make a little healthier use whole grain pasta.