Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

Memba These?  They were featured on our Summer Solstice Party Menu.  Thought this recipe might come  in handy for your Labor Day picnics! You’ll be the new favorite party goer or thrower!

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries


-1 lb of LARGE strawberries
-8 oz. cream cheese, softened (can use 1/3 less fat)
-3-4 tbsp powdered sugar (4 tbsp for a sweeter filling)
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-graham cracker crumbs


1. Rinse strawberries and cut around the top of the strawberry. Remove the top and clean out with a paring knife, if necessary (some may already be hollow inside). Prep all strawberries and set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Add cream cheese mix to a piping bag or ziploc with the corner snipped off.
3. Fill strawberries with cheesecake mixture. Once strawberries are filled, dip the top in graham cracker crumbs. If not serving immediately, refrigerate until serving.


Beet Week Day 5 – Let’s Spice it Up

хрін (khrin)

In Ukraine, this spicy sweet condiment or salad called khrin (хрін) is a traditional Easter dish, but it is known and used throughout the world under a variety of names and for a variety of purposes.   In the US, it is commonly referred to as Red <Beet> Horseradish and its bright pink color makes it an interesting addition to more typical condiments.


  • 2-4 stalks of fresh horseradish, grated
  • 1-2 raw beets, peeled and grated


  • Peel and grate raw beets. Let them sit for a little while and then squeeze the juice out.
  • Grate the horseradish and put into a bowl (note: the grating of the horseradish releases an enzyme that creates its spiciness.  As the grated horseradish sits,  it will become spicier – to a point – however if left too long, it will lose that pungent flavor and become bitter).
  • Add the beet juice to the horseradish and mix (note: adding the beet juice counteracts the enzyme and stops the spiciness from perpetuating.  Additionally, the beets add a sweet flavor which further mellows the horseradish)

Khrin is a delicious accompaniment to any sort of cooked or cured meat.

On that spicy note – Happy adventures in Ukrainian cooking-with-beets! Leave a comment if you have other favorite beet-related or Ukrainian recipes.

Смачного (smachnoho)!  ~Tammela~

Other names this (or a similar horseradish) dish is known by:

Central and Eastern Europe – khreyn or keen.

Poland  – ofchrzan

Czech Republic – křen 

Lithuania – krienai

Russia – хренkhren 

Hungary - torma

Romania – hrean

Bulgaria – хрян,khryan

 Slovakia – chren


Beet Week Day 4 – Cupcakes

If You Can’t Stand the Beet, Get Out of the Kitchen

I know what you’re thinking…beet cupcakes?! Sounds pretty crazy, huh? For a beet hater like myself, I’ll openly admit to my skepticism. To me, beets are sickeningly sweet, but when they’re baked into pretty little treats, they can actually taste amazing!

You’ve probably passed beets in the supermarket without giving them the time of day and I can’t really blame you, but what you might not know is that beets are actually an incredibly healthy food – super foods in their own right. Joining garlic, green tea and flaxseed, beets can help prevent cancer. They have no trans fat, no saturated fat, are low in calories, and are a great source of iron.

The perfect beet is hard to come by; it should be deep red with roots extending from the bulb. Crisp greens are also a good indicator that your beets are fresh. You’re going to cut these off for your cupcakes (trust me, I tried it, they’re disgusting in cupcake batter and frosting batter.)

Follow the steps to make beet puree  from the beet margarita recipe (Beet Week Day 3). In a nutshell, you’ll be roasting 3-4 beets wrapped in foil at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. Unwrap, run under cold water and peel the skins off…they come off extremely easily.

Cut the beets into quarters (maybe smaller depending on the size of your beets), and put them in the food processor or blender.

3-4 beets will yield about a cup of beet puree. Set this aside.

Here’s your Beet Cupcake Recipe:

½ C Sugar

1 ½ C Flour

2 tsp Baking Powder

½ C Butter (1 stick)
2 eggs

½ C Milk

2 tsp Vanilla

1 C Beet Puree

Depending on how big your cupcake pan is, this recipe creates about 12 cupcakes.

First, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl (sugar, flour, baking powder). Cream the butter in a mixer; if you don’t have access to a mixer, soften the butter in the microwave for 10 seconds and use a spoon to soften it up for your cake batter.

Whisk your eggs in a separate bowl and add the milk and vanilla to it. Slowly add the dry mix to the wet mix and stir continually.

Once your batter is nice and creamy, fold (mix) in the beet puree.

Use a ladle or spoon to portion your batter into your cupcake pan and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

And remember, a cupcake is nothing without frosting.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting recipe:

½ C Butter (1 stick)

8 oz Cream Cheese (1 package)

1 C Powdered Sugar

2 tsp Vanilla

Cream the butter and cream cheese together in a mixer until malleable. Add the powdered sugar in SLOWLY; you don’t want it to splash back in your face. Finally, add in the vanilla and let the mixer go for 30 seconds or so. It sometimes helps if you take a rubber spatula and scrape down the sides so all of the deliciousness is contained.

I realize not everyone has pastry bags to pipe out their frosting (I’m lucky; my mom’s a chef!) Be resourceful though…plastic freezer bags can act as pastry bags. Put the icing in the bag using a rubber spatula.

Zip the plastic bag shut and squeeze the frosting down to one end. Hold the bag in a diamond shape so one of the tips is pointing down like this:

…and snip the tip off! Once your cupcakes are cooled, you can make them look pretty.

I bought all of my beets from local farmer’s markets. You might have one near you too! If you’ve never been to a farmer’s market, it’s a really cool place where you can buy fresh fruit, vegetables, and other goods to support your local farms.  As an added bonus, the  produce is usually much cheaper and fresher at farmer’s markets.  In Cleveland, (as in other places – see below* for a sampling) you can find them listed on one site:

Enjoy your beet cupcakes! Please comment with pictures of your own cupcakes or other beet concoctions (:


*Many states, regions and cities have sites listing farmers markets- here are a few examples.


New York City



Minneapolis/St. Paul


ps – during our experimentation with different recipes, we also tried these cupcakes with a canned chocolate frosting.  We found this to be a respectable (and tasty) alternative.


<3 At First Bite


“Just made brownies.” 

This fb post set off a string of comments (not to mention a couple dozen “Likes”)



–On my way over…

–Wish I were there

–Need to make some NOW too!


— <3

So what is it about brownies that make them so evocative?  Let’s start with the smell.   If you’ve ever baked brownies (or been in the kitchen of someone who has) the aroma is unmistakable and almost universally appreciated.  That sweet smell of cocoa lingers in your mind long after the last brownie has been gobbled up.  In fact, the smell is so appealing that in some ways, it surpasses the actual brownies themselves! (in some ways!)

Then there is texture and style.  Brownies can be cakelike or chewy!  They can be loaded with nuts, m&m’s, caramels, marshmallows, coconut, chocolate chips, toffee, butterscotch and/or vanilla morsels, to name a few.  They can be served frosted, double frosted, powdered sugared or straight from the pan.

And they can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion.

Take Valentine’s Day.  Brownies are a perfect alternative to the traditional box of chocolates.

Why?  Because they are delicious and because presumably, someone went out of their way to make them. 

Ironically, it doesn’t take an expert baker to produce good brownies.  The best advice for novices – buy a box mix!  Pillsbury, Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker haven’t spent decades perfecting their recipes for nothing!   A couple of eggs, half cup of oil, quarter cup of water – good to go.  How easy is that?

Their recipes are so fool proof that even accidentally switching the measurements for oil and water still yielded tasty (not to mention low fat) brownies! (hey – not necessarily recommending it – just sayin’!)

Load them up with goodies; suddenly they become “gourmet.”  Decorate them with colorful candies, like hearts for Valentine’s Day, and voila – instant holiday fare.  Get creative: avant garde artiste.   Few foods offer so much opportunity for this kind of freedom and still come out delicious.

Given the assignment to “bring something to share” to a party or picnic, brownies are a sure winner!  Unlike cookies, they are quick and easy to make – throw them in a pan and bake for half hour and you’re done.  And unlike their close cousin – cake – they are easy to eat. They don’t require silverware, leave many crumbs, or make fingers sticky. Even if several other people show up with brownies in hand, by the end of the night, no one is taking them home.  Plus they don’t spoil, so if by some chance they are left over after sitting out for hours, that’s just a bonus because they only get better with age (at least for the first few days after they’re baked).

That’s not to say  they can’t be served formally.  Decorate them in the pan and throw on a few candles; you’ve got a birthday cake!  Add a scoop of ice cream, a spoonful of hot fudge, caramel and/or chocolate sauce and a dollop of whipped cream, toss on a few slivered almonds and you have now created a gourmet dessert worthy of the finest restaurants.   Talk about versatile!




Discover the Dried Fig

It’s winter. The colors are stark and poetic, but aside from that it’s cold and wet. In Boston, it’s been storm after storm, almost like clockwork. I have become accustomed to my car’s windshield scraper, to bringing that extra pair of shoes, to cracked cuticles and chapped lips and long underwear.

But I’ve also become accustomed to scouring my pantry, as winter is such a wonderful time to cook.  To turn down the thermostat to save on oil costs and turn on the oven as the back-up heating source. What has the pantry uncovered? Figs. Beautiful and versatile, dried figs have seduced me. And not just me – figs are believed to be the first plant ever cultivated by humans.

The best dried figs I ever tasted came from a spice market in Istanbul, Turkey.

An old man with white hair and a tattered blazer was selling them by the box. Unlike the other vendors at the spice market who had stands and/or shops brimming with every sort of spice and dried fruit you could imagine heaped into colorful piles, this man was only selling figs. Maybe illegally. I bought a box of these figs for five Turkish Lira, about three US dollars; it weighed about two pounds and contained the largest most beautiful dried figs I’ve ever laid eyes on. As the day wore on and my friend Samantha and I walked around the buzzing, intricate streets of Istanbul, we snacked on these figs, letting their honey-like stickiness cover our fingers. They had the distinct nutty crunch which comes from the seeds of the fruit, made possible by the special fig wasp who coevolved with the fig over millions of years.

I became so enamored with the figs I even tried to justify going back to the market and buying ten more boxes to ship home. But Sam talked me out of it, fortunately.

Because while these Turkish figs, of the Smyrna variety, were amazing, you can find pretty good figs back home on US soil. California figs are good. Look for a variety called “Calimyrna figs” which is a relative of the Smyrna fig. Calimyrna figs are quite large when fresh, and, if dried properly, retain a lot of flavor.

The flavor of a dried fig, like many dried fruits, is that distinct sweetness, like a brown sugar, and a nuttiness, like that of toasted almonds or pecans. A fresh fig, albeit hard to come by, is alternately slightly citrusy, with the sweetness of a fruity port. Fresh figs are a rare delicacy (at least in my corner of the Northern hemisphere) but dried figs are readily available in the dried fruit sections of most supermarkets. Sometimes they are packaged in a round, pressed together like a pinwheel, or else packaged in a long rectangular box. I usually go with the ones that feel slightly soft to the touch. The ones that get TOO dried out can be reconstituted with a little hot water, but generally aren’t as tasty.

What to do with dried figs?

There are certainly an endless number of ways you can bake with dried figs, chopping them up and putting them in muffins or tea-breads, or mashing them up and mixing them with honey and then making some delicious homemade granola.

But I prefer using dried fruit in savory applications, because I think it’s more interesting. Think bacon wrapped dates or salted caramels or chocolate covered peanuts. Sweet meets salty is one of my favorite flavor combinations. Combining dried figs with cured olives is one way to accomplish this.

On a recent winter night, I recalled a recipe for tapenade my sister-in-law shared with me in Brooklyn. It’s about the least-complicated and most delicious tapenade I’ve ever tasted, and a go-to for an easy appetizer for a dinner or cocktail party.



1 cup pitted kalamata olives

4-5 dried calimyrna figs, stems removed

1/4 cup toasted walnuts*

            a little bit of olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until combined. Add a little olive oil if it seems too thick. Serve with pieces of crusty french bread or crackers. Also delicious as a sandwich spread!

Tips: If the figs feel dry and stiff, put them in a bowl with a little hot water to soften them, then chop them up.

*Best way to toast walnuts is in the toaster oven, but keep an eye on them because they’ll burn easily.

Bonus: Figs are a great source of calcium and fiber.


Fig Leaf Enhancing a Marvelous Turkish View


Throwin’ Down

Title: New Year's Eve! Artist: Rosemary B Mudry Painted: 2002, Oil on Canvas

There are party goers and party throwers.  There are amazing stars that shine at both and duds who’d best just stick to dinner and a movie.  What determines success?  How much fun was had by all

Consider Robin, a consummate party thrower. She loves throwing parties, but even more, Robin loves planning parties.  Before she has completed one party, she already has 3 or 4 more under construction.  Themes and events stream through her brain at rapid speed and inspiration is found everywhere.  She has a list of people she relies upon to get the job done and she knows who to call for everything.  Need a cake?  Ask Robin and she’ll provide the top 5 bakeries to contact.  Looking for tables and chairs? She knows who to call and how much it’ll cost (if anything).  Need a prop?  She’ll check her “closet.”

The Party Closet - that is – a common element among party throwers.  This space is dedicated to housing props, gifts, costumes and anything else that screams PAR -TEE!  These items are not frivolous.  Expert party throwers are not pack rats. They are selective about what they keep on hand, knowing exactly what is required for the perfect party and impossible to find on short notice.  Everything in the party closet is used at some point or it gets passed along, and not every closet is the same.  Each depends on the unique interests of the party givers.  For example, there may be gowns, tuxedos, table linens, western gear, wigs, folding chairs, assorted hats, palm trees, cake pans, crystal, paper plates, jewelry, strobe lights…the list is diverse and seemingly infinite. 

Robin shops all year, looking for bargains that may come in handy for a future event.  She’s bought Swarovski crystal and iPods at rock bottom prices knowing that they will make perfect prizes for a raffle or contest.  She’s found curtains, lamps, chairs and a sundry of inflatable’s to suit every conceivable backdrop. 

One time it was an in-door beach party, complete with sand, trees and water (beach attire required, despite the minus zero temperatures outside).  Another time it was a Red-Carpet Oscar party, complete with what else?  A red carpet (lined with Paparazzi) and Oscars (awarded through a traditional envelope opening ceremony) for all the guests!

“Parties take work.”

“They cost a lot of money.”

“It is impossible to make everybody happy.”

“There is always a crisis.”

“Throwing a party is exhausting and thankless.” Really?

Not according to Robin.  Throwing parties is pure delight and she hosts parties to entertain herself!  She enjoys every minute of it, from the first idea to the day after clean-up.  A last minute crisis to others is an opportunity for her to tap into that unending reservoir of ideas, props and resources.  Friends and acquaintances come out of the wood work to help her prepare and clean up with the hope that they will end up on the next guest list or get a referral from her in the future. And she is always ready to step-in to save the day for others – that’s just what party throwers do!

Excuses don’t fly with Robin because it’s not about the venue, any locale can be party ready.  She regularly moves furniture in and out of her bungalow style house to accomodate her theme.  It’s not about the money, finding ways to party on the cheap is part of the thrill.  And it’s certainly not about hiring someone else to do it for her.  That would absolutely defeat the purpose.  According to Robin, there is only one real reason to throw a party – and that’s simply for the fun of it!  Stick to that premise and the rest will fall perfectly into place.