The Best of 2020

I know what you’re thinking: how can there possibly be a best of anything in 2020? A year where the hits kept coming, from the pandemic, to financial uncertainty, civil unrest and murder hornets. And yet somehow we slogged through, a little weary and yearning for a return to even semi-normal. As I sit at my desk with a cup of hot tea overlooking a yard that is now covered in icy snow, I’d like to reflect on the good that happened in 2020. There was a LOT of cooking, which is always good. So in that sense, 2020 was actually a very very good year.


Working from home for several months gave me a bit of leeway when it came to dinner prep and also a rare opportunity to make a decent lunch for myself! There were a lot of “firsts” including pastitsio, homemade flatbread, gumbo, chocolate chip cookies that were actually amazing, and most recently the overnight, no knead bread that was a resounding success. Not to mention the many wonderful recipes I made in the Instant Pot (more about that later). Too many great recipes to list, so I decided to just pin them all onto one Pinterest board called “Pandemic Cuisine” . Over 75 comforting recipes. Check it out to see if anything new inspires you!


You know I’m always on the lookout for new gadgets and gizmos for the kitchen. Here are some of my favorite *new things from 2020:

Hamilton Beach 2-Way Coffee Maker – Just before the pandemic hit, we decided to ditch the Keurig and go back to the days of brewing a pot of (really really good) coffee. Loved this model that would allow me to brew one cup for the days when I was going into the office or an entire pot of coffee on the weekends. As it turned out, we were both working from home most of the year, so our timing could not have been more perfect! Makes superb coffee and added bonus: we found a small business right here in town that roasts their own coffee and delivers it for free. Win!

Instant Pot – Oh you know I held out on this one for a long time. I was convinced it was a fad that would go by the way of the bread machine and spiralizer. I was convinced it couldn’t possibly be better than my beloved slow cooker. Turns out I was wrong on all fronts. Everything we’ve tried has been a success and there’s something comforting about knowing I can get a beef stew on the table in an hour. Click here to check out some of my favorite Instant Pot recipes of the year. This goes in the “Win” column for sure.

Tramontina Gourmet Enameled Cast Iron Round Dutch Oven – Really a “must have” for any home cook, looking back I can’t believe I’ve been cooking for nearly 30 years without one! Inspired by the no knead bread recipes that were pandemic popular, I finally decided to treat myself. This model was highly rated and about 1/4 the price of the more expensive LeCrueset and Staub (waiting to hit big on the lottery to purchase one of those). Not only did it perform well for the no knead bread, I’ve used it for countless other dishes including my gumbo and stews. Added bonus: it came in this gorgeous dark blue!

OXO Good Grips Citrus Juicer – Sometimes the best purchases are the small, whimsical ones. I spotted this juicer in a cooking video and knew I HAD to own one. Amazon to the rescue (of course!). I already own a few juicers but none that both screen out the seeds AND have measurements on the cup. It rocks my world, even in a small way ūüôā


What better way to pass the time on lockdown than watching cooking videos! These two in particular brought great joy to an otherwise bleak and dreary March and April. More recently, we subscribed to MasterClass which has opened up yet another world of amazing cooking videos from renowned experts, like Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, Apollonia Poilane and Yotam Ottolenghi to name a few.

Pasquale Sciarappa – This man is pure joy and his videos will lift your spirits. He sings, he dances, he drinks wine. Oh, and his recipes: AMAZING! Just made his Italian Wedding Soup featured in the video below and it was out of this world good. Also check out some of his garden videos. This man can grow tomatoes like no one’s business! You can find him under the name “Osara Recipes” on YouTube or on Facebook. You’ll find yourself dancing along saying “Salute Cin Cin”!

Michael Symon – Chef Symon’s daily #SymonDinner videos were often the highlight of my day in March and April. With the help of his assistant Liv, he filmed daily dinners out of his home and they are everything a good cooking video should be: informative, relaxed and sprinkled with a little humor and occasional appearances by his VERY cute puppy, Norman. He patiently answered questions from his viewers and amassed quite a following during this period. Although he stopped producing videos around the end of April (or May), you can find them on his Instagram page (@ChefSymon) or on YouTube under the hashtag #SymonDinners. Thanks for keeping us sane, chef!


I follow so many food blogs , honestly I’ve lost track. In going through my recipes from 2020 though, two bloggers stood out among the rest, and I find myself returning to their sites over and over again:

Recipe Tin Eats – Nagi was born in Japan but grew up in Sydney, Australia. Her blog is everything I’d love mine to be if I had the time: fresh straightforward recipes, entertaining prose and very well organized. Her Soft flatbread recipe (discussed below) alone was one of my greatest finds of 2020. Also love her photos and updates on her adorable golden retriever, Dozer.

Jo Cooks – Another blog where I want to make EVERY recipe posted! Joanne Cismaru is the blogger and also a cookbook author (you can find her book “30-Minute One-Pot Meals” on Amazon). I first discovered her when searching for paella recipes and ended up making her amazing Chicken and Seafood Paella. Since then, I’ve tried dozens of other recipes from her blog, each one a solid “win”. Great layout as well, with easy access to slow cooker, instant pot and 30-minute recipes.


One of the greatest joys of cooking is learning new techniques and experiences and mastering others. There’s nothing quite like the first time you bake your own loaf of bread or make that perfect vinaigrette and realize you’ll never go back to bottled dressing again. For me, 2020 gave me many opportunities and many “firsts” Here are some of my favorites:

Jacket Potatoes – For many decades my method for baking potatoes was 1 hour in a 400 degree oven. Ho hum. Then in 2014, a Chicago Tribune columnist, John Kass, published a story on salt baked potatoes. It was such a game changer, I wrote a blog post about it. In 2020, yet another revelation in potato baking: the British version called “Jacket Potatoes”. Actually a very simple approach scoring the potatoes but instead of one hour, they’re cooked for two hours. Yes…TWO! Trust the process because these potatoes turn out unbelievably tender and fluffy with a nice crisp skin. Game changer once again!

Cajun Roux – This is where the nerdy/geeky side of me comes to life. Mastering the art of making a dark cajun roux. We had just purchased some gorgeous fresh gulf shrimp from the fabulous Fabian Seafood Company and decided to make gumbo. THE key ingredient (aside from the shrimp) is the perfect dark roux. I was thrilled to come across this tutorial online that walked us through the process and allowed us to master this technique. I literally had my phone in one hand staring at this photo of the stages of roux while stirring with the other.

Easy Soft Flatbread – As I am not a baker by nature, I am always fascinated by how flour and water can be transformed into just about anything just by following a different technique. In this recipe, flour is combined with a little milk and butter to create THE most perfect fresh flatbread you’ve ever had. I served ours with kebobs this past summer then used the leftovers to make some fabulous pizzas for lunch the next day. Also one of my favorite bloggers of the year (Recipe Tin Eats). Great recipes and I love Australian based Nagi’s stories and posts about her dog, Dozer.

Overnight No Knead Bread – Saving the best for last and there’s a reason it was featured on my “Best of 2020” photo grid. At the start of the pandemic, recipes for no knead bread started appearing everywhere. Flour was flying off the shelf as people were hunkering down and baking up a storm. As mentioned previously, I purchased a Dutch Oven precisely to make this bread but didn’t actually get around to it until late December. I remember looking at my sad looking dough the next morning and thinking there was not a chance in you-know-what that it would turn out.

Turns out I was wrong. As wrong as I was about the Instant Pot. MORE wrong, in fact. This was one of the most glorious breads I have evern eaten! Not only did it look like something that came out of a French boulangerie, it had incredible flavor and texture. Again…flour, yeast, water and salt. Transformed. Perhaps THE best thing to come out of 2020 (other than my new garage door).

If you’ve made it this far in my post, thank you! In my perfect world, I would be posting way more often, but I am grateful for the time I do have to pop in here from time to time and share my love of cooking with you. When you tell me you’ve made one of my recipes and it was great, that truly makes my day.

I wish everyone health and happiness in the new year and a return to peace and normal. And as always, eat well, be well and love lots.

Smoky Steak & Bean Chili

Today’s post will be more prose than photos. In part because I didn’t really intend for this to be a blog post and didn’t stop to take photos of the ingredients or the process. Sometimes, I just want to cook, and that’s exactly what I did on a quiet, blustery Saturday evening.

My “go to’ chili recipe has evolved quite a bit over the decades. What started as a very standard ground beef/onions/chili powder and tomato dish scrawled on a small index card has evolved into something infinitely more complex, with layers of smoky spice. Chili is not an exceptionally difficult dish to make. Quite the opposite. But it is also something that shouldn’t be rushed. Patience and attention to details will certainly pay off in the end.

Here, I offer many options for layering on that smoky heat, depending on your taste preference. The basic recipe calls for the addition of ground Chipotle pepper which is derived from smoked jalapeno peppers. Available in many grocers and from online vendors like The Spice House:

For an added layer of smoky heat, you can char a poblano pepper over an open flame on your stove or grill, let it steam, then remove the skin, chop it up and saute with the rest of the vegetables.

Still not enough heat for you? Then add a tablespoon or two of canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and get out the fire hose! ūüĒ•

Last weekend’s chili was made special by the addition of Anaheim peppers from our garden that we charred on the grill and also topped with some fresh cilantro I started from seed about a month ago.

And well what do you know, I did have some photos after all! Thank you for reading, following, sharing and supporting my little blog. During these crazy uncertain and stressful times, I hope you can all find comfort in the sharing of food with others (even if you’re hosting a Zoom dinner party or Happy Hour).

Until next time, eat well, be well and love lots. Now more than ever ‚̧

Smoky Steak & Bean Chili

3 TBS light olive oil (or vegetable or canola oil)

2 pounds sirloin steak, cut into small cubes (see NOTE 1)

1 large yellow or white onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large or 2 medium, green bell peppers, chopped

1 can (28oz) plum/whole tomatoes or stewed tomatoes undrained

1 can (28oz) tomato sauce

1 can (6 oz) tomato paste

1 cup water (or more as needed)

2 1/2 TBS chili powder, divided (see Note 2)

1 TBS each ground cumin, oregano (preferably Mexican oregano), basil

1/2 to 3/4 tsp ground Chipotle pepper seasoning

2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

2 cans (15.5 oz each) dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed


1 poblano pepper – charred directly over a flame, then place in a ziploc bag for about 15 minutes to steam. Remove skin and seeds, then chopped.

1-2 TBS chopped chipotle peppers in adobo seasoning


Sour cream

Diced avocados

Shredded cheese or crumbled Mexican Cheese Blend (I love the Mexican 3-Cheese blend from Supremo)

Lime wedges


  1. One hour before you begin to cook, place the meat in the freezer (this will make it easier to cut up). While meat is in the freezer, prepare remaining ingredients.
  2. Remove meat and slice into 1/3-inch cubes. Toss with 1 TBS of the chili powder. Heat oil in a large Dutch Oven until shimmering. Add about half the meat, spreading out evenly. Let brown for a minute or two, then stir to brown evenly on all sides. Remove any liquid that forms with a bulb baster. Transfer meat to a separate plate and brown the remaining meat, then remove to plate.
  3. Add a little oil to pan and add onions and peppers (this includes roasted poblano peppers, if using). Turn heat down to medium and continue sauteeing until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Adjust heat as necessary to avoid scorching. Add garlic (and Chipotle peppers in adobo if using) and saute an additional 30 seconds.
  4. Turn heat up and add water to pan, scraping the bottom with a spoon to loosen any brown bits (aka “fond”) Remember: FOND = FLAVOR! Then add the whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and seasonings, including the remaining chili powder. Bring to a boil, then partially cover. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes until meat is tender.
  5. Drain and rinse beans and add to chili. Simmer an additional 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve in deep bowls with your choice of toppings.

Serves: 8

Note 1) You can certainly substitute ground beef for sirloin steak. I tend to avoid ground beef labeled as “chili meat” unless it comes from a trusted butcher. Too often it’s made with inferior cuts of meat and can be full of fat and gristle.

Note 2) Chili powder is the foundation of all chili recipes and for that reason, you want to make sure what your using is of the best quality and FRESH! My favorite by far is Penzy Spice’s “Chili 9000” which is a very unique and complex blend, with a hint of cocoa powder. For a more “traditional” but equally high quality blend, check out Savory Spice’s Medium Chili Powder. And last but not least, a reliable grocery store brand from Simply Organic.

Bob’s Best All Purpose Beef Rub

My husband, Bob,¬† has always been the more intuitive cook between the two of us.¬† Early on in our marriage while I could barely cook a package of frozen green beans without reading the instructions,¬† he’d be whipping a big pot of his infamous bean soup, chili or his favorite “Linguine √° la Olive”.

No recipe required!

Thirty some odd years later, he is still creating and recreating various “Bob Specials” in the kitchen.¬† He’s mastered making calzones from scratch (he has an entire photo album on his Facebook account devoted to “The College of Calzone Knowledge”)

Indiana-style pork tenderloin sandwiches

and he makes an incredible filet of sole with lemon butter sauce

Why not add a snazzy beef rub to the repertoire!

This rub works on all things beef: burgers, steaks, roasts.¬† Pork and chicken?¬† Go for it!¬† Why two different kinds of salt and two different kinds of pepper?¬† Who knows.¬† Perhaps someday Bob will reveal the method behind his mad genuis.¬† Until then, feel free to take some liberties with this one.¬† You have Bob’s blessing.
Until next time, eat well, be well and love lots

Bob’s Best All Purpose Beef Rub

1 TBS finely ground Pink Himalayan Sea Salt
1 TBS coarse Kosher Salt
2 TBS Dark Brown Sugar
1 TBS coarse ground Black Pepper
1 TBS finely ground White Pepper
1 TBS coarsely ground Cayenne Pepper
1 TBS Garlic Powder
1 TBS Onion powder
1 TBS Dried  Parsley
1 TBS Dried Thyme
1 TBS Dried Oregano
1 TBS Dried Marjoram
Combine all ingredients in a shallow bowl or dish. Use a fork to crush and disperse any lumps. Stir thoroughly with fork. Pour contents of bowl into a small Zip-Loc bag. Seal, then shake thoroughly. Store rub in bag or transfer to small jar for future use. Shake rub thoroughly before each use. Rub is good on red meat, chicken, pork and seafood.
Yields: a generous 3/4 cup of rub

Grilled Tri-Tip with Garlic & Fresh Herbs

Garlic & Herb Tri-Tip_Dinner Is ServedYou know I sure do love a good marinade and my blog has quite a few of my favorites, including¬† Kentucky Bourbon Marinade,¬†Juicy Sirloin Steak Marinade and my¬†Hoisin Marinated Steak.¬† That said, there are many days where time doesn’t permit me to marinate a steak for a leisurely 12 hours.¬† That’s when I turn to fresh herbs and garlic for a simple, summery rub for steaks. This time, featuring one of my very favorite cuts of beef: a Tri-Tip Roast. Toss together some fresh tomatoes/basil/mozz and grilled bread and¬† you have can have a perfect patio dinner ready in no time!Garlic & Herb Tri Tip _ DIS 1

The Herbs

This recipe uses a combination of fresh tarragon, thyme and rosemary.  I will admit the first time I tried this combination, I was a bit skeptical about combining rosemary with tarragon (both have very strong flavor profiles), but it turns out they work in complete harmony.  This is one recipe that I would not recommend substituting dried herbs or garlic powder for the fresh garlic.  The fresh herbs form a nice crust and really add that flavor punch.Garlic & Herb Tri Tip _ DIS2

The Meat

Now here, you may certainly substitute any cut of steak or beef roast.¬† I’m featuring a tri-tip because it happens to be one of my most favorite cuts of beef and my local meat market (shout out to Casey’s Market in the western suburbs of Chicago) always has some beautifully trimmed tri-tips available.

The tri-tip is a triangular cut from the bottom sirloin. Well marbled and so flavorful and tender as can be as long as you cook to medium or (better) medium-rare. Note that if you’re a fan of well done steak, this is not the cut for you!

You can roast tri-tips in the oven, but we especially love them on the grill over coals and few handfuls of soaked wood chips.¬† Note that this cut often has sections of grains running in different directions. You always want to make sure you’re cutting against the grain to ensure that melt-in-your-mouth texture.Garlic_&_Herb_Tri_Tip___DIS3

The Extra Goodies

Nothing says summer quite like a fresh tomato salad. No recipe needed. Just toss fresh tomatoes with herbs and a fresh cheese of your choice (mozzarella and feta are my “go to’s”), a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and even some balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly ground pepper.¬† A welcome change from cooked vegetables. Perfect for parties and large scale entertaining and holds together nicely at room temperature.

Grilled sourdough bread is another favorite summer side and a welcome departure from baked or roasted potatoes.  My quick and easy method is to brush slices of sourdough bread with olive oil and a little garlic salt and pepper.  Then grill over a hot fire for about a minute per side.

Together you have the ultimate summertime steak dinner perfect for patio entertaining.

Until next time eat well, be well (especially this one!) and love lots

Dinner Is Served Signature


Grilled Tri-Tip with Garlic & Fresh Herbs

  • 1 trip-tip roast, about 2-3 pounds (see Note 1>)
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 TBS chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • Smoking chips (I love the Jack Daniels Whiskey Barrel Chips), soaked (optional)

About 60 minutes prior to grilling, combine fresh herbs with garlic, salt and pepper.  Pat the roast dry then brush with olive oil.  Place on a sheet pan and coat the meat with the herb seasoning mix. Let rest at room temperature while your grill heats up

Set up your charcoal grill for indirect cooking.¬† When ready, sear roast over hot part of grill, about¬† 5 minutes per side, until browned.¬† If using wood chips, drain and throw onto the hot coals.¬† Move the roast to the cooler part of the grill.¬† Insert a meat thermometer if using and close the lid.¬† If you’re using a probe thermometer (highly recommended) you want to cook until the internal temperature reaches 130¬į for medium rare.¬† Depending on the size of your roast, that should be about 20-30 minutes on indirect heat.¬† If you’re not using a probe thermometer, check the internal temperature with an instant read after 20 minutes.

Remove roast from grill and let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving (see NOTE 2> for carving instructions).  Serve with a tomato salad on the side and grilled garlic bread.

Serves: 4-6 depending on size of roast

NOTE 1> This fresh herb rub will work on any type of steak. If tri-tip roasts are not available, a flank steak is a good substitute.  Just reduce the cooking time accordingly.

NOTE 2> I promise this will be one of the most flavorful and tender cuts of meat you will ever have as long as you don’t overcook it and….carve it properly.¬† As its name suggests, a trip tip roast usually has three sections going in different directions. For each section, you want to carve against the grain.¬† The picture below is a great visual aid.¬† It helps to inspect the roast before you add the herb rub, to confirm direction of the grain.2020-08-15 17_27_16-Window


Grilled Smoked Sausage, Pineapple & Pepper Skewers

Grilled Smoked Sausage, Pineapple Pepper Skewers-Dinner Is Served

“What a long strange trip it’s been” – Grateful Dead

What can I say about 2020 thus far that hasn’t already been said? Surreal. Stressful. Life altering.¬† All the above?

In the midst of it all, and stuck at home, many turned to cooking and gardening as sources of comfort.¬† Which honestly, we’ve been doing now for close to 30 years.¬† Yet I never thought I would see the day when flour was hard to come by and seed catalogs were sold out of inventory!

With a slight return to normalcy now in the Chicagoland area, summer in high gear, and my backyard filled with flowers, buzzing bees and cicadas…almost every night is grill night. Right now, skewers are my go dinner option for busy weeknights and I love love LOVE these smoked sausage, pineapple, pepper skewers basted with a savory pineapple bbq sauce

.Smoked Sausage Pepper and Pineapple Skewers - DInner Is Served3

These take just minutes to assemble with smoky sausages (if you’re from Chicago, that means smoked Polska Kielbasa)20200620_233804774_iOSSweet bell peppers, fresh pineapple and red onions Smoked Sausage Pepper and Pineapple Skewers - DInner Is Served1jpg


Glazed with a pineapple bbq sauce and served with additional sauce for dipping. As easy as whisking in some pineapple juice to your favorite bbq sauce. Or, look for tropical bbq sauces at the store, such as Sweet Baby Ray’s Hawaiian BBQ Sauce or if you happen to live in the Chicagoland area,¬†Bartolini’s in Midlothian sells their amazing Pineapple Bourbon Chipotle BBQ Sauce locally.


Perfect for a large gathering…you can easily assemble these ahead of time.¬† Also consider making a “kid friendly” version with hot dogs!

Until next time, stay cool and most of all, be safe and healthy ‚̧

Dinner Is Served Signature


Grilled Smoked Sausage, Pineapple and Pepper Skewers

  • 14-16 oz Smoked (fully cooked) Sausages (such as Kielbasa)
  • 1 each: green, red and orange sweet bell peppers
  • 1/2 of a large, fresh pineapple
  • 1 small red onion
  • 3/4 cup bbq sauce
  • 5 TBS pineapple juice (see Note)
  • Metal or wooden skewers

Slice sausages about 1-inch thick.  Seed peppers and coarsely dice into approximately 1 1/2-inch squares.  Core pineapple and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces.  Thread onto skewers.

In a small bowl, combine bbq sauce and pineapple juice.  Reserve about 1/3 of a cup for dipping and set aside.  Brush about half of the remaining sauce evenly onto the skewers and place on a hot grill, turning and basting for about 10 minutes, or until slightly charred.

Serve with a side of steamed rice and extra sauce for dipping!

Serves 4

NOTE> If you can find pineapple bbq sauce in your neck of the woods, no need to add additional pineapple juice.  Just use it straight out of the jar.  Happy grilling!Grilled Smoked Sausage, Pineapple Pepper Skewers-Dinner Is Served

Instant Comfort Beef Stew

Instant Comfort Beef Stew Dinner Is Served3My friends, I finally FINALLY jumped on the Instant Pot bandwagon.   Not willingly, I might add.  We recently acquired not just one Instant Pot, but two! Which is a long and silly story so I will spare you the details.  But, here I am, with an appliance I swore on a stack of cookbooks I would never own.

After breezing past every Instant Pot recipe that popped up in my Inbox and graced the pages of Pinterest.  There was no way I was going to get suckered into buying a gadget that I was sure would find its way to the appliance graveyard in my basement, next to the bread machine and ice cream maker.

But curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to give it a go. After carefully considering all the recipes to try for its maiden voyage, I settled on a hearty beef stew figuring I wouldn’t be out all that much if it didn’t turn out. Plus it was a Saturday night and I knew if I blew up my house, we could always just go out to dinner.20200216_181752903_iOS

I will admit, glancing at the many pages of warning and CAUTION, I was a bit uneasy, as in I thought it might be safer to use a flame thrower to cook dinner.¬† And the first time I saw steam sputtering out of the valve, I ran for cover.¬† But with my husband’s assurances, and some Googling to make sure we were doing things the right way, I am pleased to say the outcome was….wonderful! 20200216_024535000_iOS

In just 30 minutes of cooking (plus a little more for the warm up and post cooking pressure release), the darned Instant Pot produced exquisitely tender pieces of beef, carrots, potatoes, along with a rich savory broth.  I tweaked the original recipe a bit to suit my liking and I can state with confidence that this stew is family approved and now blog worthy.

I still think the Instant Pot is more suited to my weekend cooking and I’m trying to figure out where to store it in my tiny kitchen that has no storage space.¬† But otherwise, I look forward to the many Instant Pot adventures that await!

Until next time, eat well, be well and love lots.

Dinner Is Served Signature


Instant Comfort Beef Stew*

1 tsp light or regular olive oil

1 1/2# boneless chuck roast (or 1# beef stew meat) See Note 1>

1 med/small onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup dry red wine

3 cups low sodium beef stock (preferably homemade or¬†Swanson’s Artisan Beef Broth)

1 can (14.5 oz.) crushed tomatoes (my fave: Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

1/2 TBS prepared horseradish

1/2 TBS Worcestershire sauce

3 cups baby potatoes or larger red skinned potatoes cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cups carrots, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 bay leaf

About 3 sprigs fresh thyme or fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried thyme or rosemary)

Salt and cracked pepper

2 TBS cornstarch

3 TBS water

Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

  1. Trim chuck roast of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes. You should end up with about 1# of stew meat. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Brown the stew meat in batches, until well browned on all sides, removing beef to the Instant Pot.
  3. Add a little additional oil if needed. Saute the onion for a few minutes until lightly browned. Add minced garlic and continue to saute for about 30 seconds. Remove and add to Instant Pot with beef. (See Note 2> about browning).
  4. Add red wine to skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Pour over beef.
  5. Add beef stock, potatoes, carrots, crushed tomatoes, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, herbs and additional salt & pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
  6. Set to manual pressure cooking for 30 minutes (refer to your owners manual).
  7. Once the cooking cycle ends, allow Instant Pot to release pressure naturally for at least 15 minutes.
  8. Whisk together cornstarch and water, then whisk into stew, stirring until stew has thickened slightly. Remove fresh herb stems (if using). Adjust seasonings and serve with chopped parsley.

Serves 4-6

Note 1> I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating: cutting up your own stew meat takes very little time and allows you to control the amount of fat in the meat and also ensures uniform size.¬† Precut stew meat is sometimes “mystery meat” and varies in quality.

Note2> You absolutely can brown the meat and onions in your instant pot and save yourself from washing a skillet.¬† But, I found my meat didn’t brown as nicely as it does on the stove and I wasn’t getting those lovely browned bits (called “fond”) that add such depth to any sauce.

*Recipe adapted from A Mind”Full” Mom food blog





Glorious Holiday Ham

Glorious Holiday Ham - Dinner Is Served

My Christmas ham in all it’s sweet maple glazed splendor.  The star of the meal, along with tender, cheesy Potatoes Au Gratin and my holiday green bean, red pepper saut√© (which, I will get that recipe out to you at some point).

What makes this ham so glorious? A couple of things worth mentioning.  First and foremost, a top quality ham is a must. Our local butcher carries Winters Deli brand spiral sliced hams.  Delicately smoked…tender and not overly salty.  A special occasion ham for sure but worth it!what-about-those-hams.jpg

Then there is the perfect glaze. I know most spiral hams come with a packet of sugary glaze and while perfectly acceptable, I always prefer to make my own with just enough sweetness from pure maple syrup and brown sugar, balanced with some earthy spices and a touch of tangy Dijon mustard.  Perfection!

And finally, the baking and glazing process.  Even though heating up a ham (which is pretty much all you’re doing) is a simple process, it is important to know when to cover and uncover, etc. so that your ham doesn’t dry out.  For my glorious ham, this involves first bringing the ham closer to room temp, baking covered at 325¬į, then raising the temp during the last 20 minutes or so, to 425¬į and brushing with the glaze, uncovered.  This technique works particularly well for spiral sliced hams whose rind has been removed.

As I write this post, the gift of our glorious holiday ham keeps giving.  The bone is currently simmering away, making the base for my husband’s famous ham and bean soup (again, I owe you that recipe at some point too!)

Even though Christmas has passed, I hope you all find that special occasion to gather and feast on this treasure.  Until then, eat well, be well and love lots.

Dinner Is Served Signature

Glorious Holiday Ham

1 bone-in fully cooked spiral cut ham (7-8 pounds for a half a ham)


  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 TBS Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

Let ham sit, wrapped, at room temperature for 1-2 hours before cooking.

Combine ingredients for the glaze and set aside.  Arrange the shelf in your oven to the lower third and preheat to 325¬į

Place ham in a shallow roasting pan, cut side down.  Brush about 1/3 of the glaze onto ham.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 10-11 minutes per pound. If you’re using a thermometer, the internal temp should be about 110¬į (note this will rise with continued baking and resting).

Increase oven temperature to 425¬į. Uncover and brush another 1/3 of the glaze all over. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes.  Remove and brush with remaining glaze. Return to oven and bake an additional 10 minutes or until a nice brown crust has formed.  At this point, the internal temperature should reach 130-135¬į.

Remove from oven and let rest for about 15-20 minutes before carving.  Using a bulb baster or spoon, drizzle some of the pan juices onto the slices.  Enjoy your glorious ham!

Serves 8-10 people with leftovers



Grilled Parmesan Summer Squash {Master Recipe}

Grilled Parmesan Summer Squash2 Dinner Is Served

Vegetables and the grill are a match made in heaven. And although grilled¬†summer squash¬†isn’t going to win any beauty awards, from a taste standpoint, it rocks!¬† With a few very simple techniques, you can use this recipe for all your grill-worthy vegetables.¬†Grilled Parmesan Zucchini 1 Dinner Is Served

If you follow my blog, you know I like to keep things fresh and simple. This recipe is ALL about that.  Just toss sliced summer squash with crushed garlic, Italian herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Easy!Grilled Parmesan Zucchini 2 Dinner Is Served

Then grab your handy dandy grill pan if you have one.¬† If you don’t, you need one!¬† This round, non stick grill skillet¬† is available at Bed, Bath & Beyond for a mere $7.99 and worth every penny many times over.1456612268084p

DON’T SKIP THIS NEXT STEP! –>Once you get that beautiful smokey char on your squash, remove and throw it right back into that bowl with the marinade to soak up a little additional garlic and herbs. Flavor intensified and no worries about cross contamination.¬† Then immediately sprinkle with Parm cheese to melt.¬† Just a little.Grilled Parmesan Summer Squash1 Dinner Is Served

Once you’ve mastered this basic technique, I encourage you to try this with other vegetables as well.¬† Peppers, eggplant, mushrooms and asparagus¬†and onion wedges are at the top of my grilled veggie list.¬† And don’t rule out those cool weather vegetables that often get overlooked in the summer, such as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.¬† Both delish on the grill.¬† 100%¬†awesome and good for you, too!

Until next time, eat well, be well and love lots.

Dinner Is Served Signature

Grilled Parmesan Summer Squash

{Master Recipe}

  • 2 medium¬†summer squash (zucchini, yellow, pattypan, etc.), sliced into 1/3-inch slices
  • 1 tsp Italian Herb Seasoning¬† (preferably salt free)
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 3 TBS shredded or grated Parmesan Cheese (see Note 1>)

Toss squash with Italian Seasoning, garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Let sit at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes, or while grill is heating up.

Place grill pan over high heat (see Note 2>) and place slices in a single layer.  DO NOT CLEAN OUT THE BOWL!

Cover and let cook on one side for about 4-5 minutes or until just starting to brown.  Flip and continue cooking for about another 3 minutes. Remove if sufficiently browned or continue cooking and flipping until nicely browned and slightly soft.  Return squash to marinade bowl and toss. Immediately sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and let sit until slightly melted.

Serves 2-3

NOTE 1> You can substitute Romano or a Parmesan/Romano blend, or for a different flavor profile, try crumbled feta or even goat cheese.

NOTE 2> Both charcoal and gas grills work well for vegetables. If you don’t have access to either a sturdy indoor grill pan¬†will yield similar results!

Classic Lemon Butter Sauce

Classic Lemon Butter Sauce Dinner Is ServedAfter a prolonged cold and dreary winter, we’re finally seeing some signs of Spring here in the Midwest.¬† A few days here and there with temperatures in the 50’s.¬† Chives peaking through the leaves in the garden.¬† Patio set has been uncovered and cleaned.¬† And most importantly, the Weber charcoal grill is back in action ūüôāChives Dinner Is Served

Right now we’re especially loving fresh fish from our local market on the grill with some mesquite chips and served with this classic and delightful Lemon Butter Sauce.¬† While sauce making may intimidate people, this one is incredibly simple.


Made with ingredients you likely have on hand (and don’t even tell me you don’t have a box of Old Bay¬ģ¬†in your spice cabinet!).¬† We love the extra little kick it imparts along with a few dashes of Worcestershire.¬† Really makes this sauce stand out from the rest!¬† Also this is one recipe where it pays to splurge on high quality butter.¬† I am partial to the European butters like this Lurpak Danish Butter¬†¬†(Plugr√° Butter¬†is another favorite brand).

Serve over any kind of grilled, roasted or poached fish or shellfish.  The cover photo features fresh grouper we grilled last night over mesquite charcoal.  Also a lovely finish for grilled chicken or vegetables.

The addition of the scallions is an ode to our favorite seafood restaurant on the planet:¬†Captain Anderson’s¬†in Panama City Beach, FL.¬† But other fresh herbs work equally well (parsley, chives, chervil and basil) and it’s fun to experiment.¬† Just make sure any time you add fresh, green herbs to an acidic sauce, add just before serving to keep them a vibrant green.

Until next time, eat well, be well and love lots

Dinner Is Served Signature


Classic Lemon Butter Sauce

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated (See Note>)
  • 1 tsp Old Bay¬ģ seasoning
  • Few dashes Lea & Perrins¬ģ Worcestershire Sauce
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Fine sea salt to taste

In a heavy non-aluminum saucepan, cook the garlic in butter over very low heat for 2 to 3 minutes (do not allow the butter to brown).¬† Whisk in the lemon juice, Old Bay¬ģ¬†and a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce.¬† Stir in the sliced white part of the scallion only. Season with a few grinds of pepper and a pinch of sea salt.¬† Can be made up to an hour before serving. Cover and leave on the stove.¬† Reheat over very low heat, whisking to combine.

Spoon sauce over seafood, chicken or vegetables.  Garnish with sliced green part of the scallions.

Yields: About 1/2 cup of sauce

Note> Feel free to add or substitute other fresh herbs: parsley, basil, chives, chervil and cilantro are just a few to consider.  Because the acidity of the lemon can turn anything green to a dull drab color, I always recommend adding at the end, just before serving.


Simple Skillet Roasted Potatoes

‚ÄúYou learn to cook so that you don’t have to be a slave to recipes. You get what’s in season and you know what to do with it.‚ÄĚ – Julia Child

¬†Truer words have never been spoken, and from none other than the late great Chef and my personal inspiration.¬† ¬†I would like to think that Julia would appreciate this recipe.¬† As the title indicates, it’s simple.¬† But more importantly it’s based on technique and open to countless variations.¬† ¬†Just like making an omelette or roasting a chicken, everyone should master the art of roasting potatoes.¬† Once mastered , you’ll go back to this recipe time and time again, maybe varying the seasoning or garnishing with some different herbs.¬† The key being you won’t even need to look up the recipe and that…is what learning to cook is all about.

In theory, roasting potatoes should be as easy as boiling an egg or toasting bread, right?  Ironically, I struggled for years to nail down this recipe.  Digging below the surface you find many elements: the perfect size to cut the potatoes, the right amount of olive oil, cooking temp and time.  My goal was always to get them just crispy enough on the outside, tender on the inside.   After much trial and error, I finally got it!  With, of course, a lot of help from  Penzeys Shallot Pepper seasoning and my cast iron skillet.

Three MUST HAVES before we get to the recipe:¬† I highly recommend the pan of a thousand uses: Lodge 10.25″ Cast Iron Skillet.¬† A pan that Martha Stewart once proclaimed an “essential kitchen tool”.¬† ¬† You can purchase a new, pre-seasoned skillet on Amazon for a mere $14.88.¬† Ready to use right out of the box and will just get better with age.¬† You may certainly roast these on a sheet pan but I find the heat retention of the cast iron makes for the best roasted potatoes.

Along with your cast iron skillet, the second must have is a recent addition to my kitchen :  The Ringer stainless steel cast iron cleaner.  Why did I not know about this sooner?

This super strong, chain mail makes cleaning cast iron a breeze and gets a full 5 stars on Amazon with almost 5,000 reviews and it’s only $13.99!

Last but not least,  the secret ingredient for my perfectly roasted potatoes: Penzeys Shallot Pepper seasoning.

In fact both these seasonings are so wonderful, I am giving them away to one lucky person (see my Dinner Is Served Facebook page) for details.¬† I use the Shallot Pepper seasoning on everything.¬† The Mignonette Pepper is a new discovery, and we’re in love with it as well.¬† A combination of black & white pepper along with some coriander, it’s fabulous on steak and beef roasts.

For my perfect potatoes, though,  the Shallot Pepper is THE way to go.IMG_0023 1

I think new potatoes work best for this recipe, or Yukon Gold.  Russets have a bit of a drier texture although the outsides tend to get more crispy so if you like your roasted potatoes on the crispy side, then russets are the way to go!

Finally note the recipe as written serves about 2 people but of course can easily be doubled or tripled, etc.¬† They’re a perfect summer side with grilled steaks or chicken and of course in the fall and winter along side roasted meats and poultry.¬† Honestly I could probably eat a plate full of them alone for dinner and be perfectly content.

I hope you enjoy these potatoes as much as we do!

Until next time, eat well, be well and love lots

Simple Skillet Roasted Potatoes

  • 2 cups red or fingerling potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ¬Ĺ to 1 tsp Penzeys Shallot Pepper Seasoning (see NOTE>)
  • ¬Ĺ tsp salt
  • 1 ¬Ĺ TBS olive oil
  • 1 TBS chopped fresh parsley or chives

Preheat oven to 420¬į. Combine potatoes, seasonings and olive oil in an oven proof skillet, preferably cast iron (or a lightly greased 8×8‚ÄĚ glass baking dish).¬† Toss to coat.¬† Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, then stir.¬† Bake for another 15-20 minutes until light golden brown on the outside.¬† Be sure to check on the potatoes at the 35 minute mark!¬† Give one a taste test and if tender, remove from oven and tent with foil until ready to serve.¬† Garnish with parsley or chives.

Serves 2

NOTE> If you aren’t using the Shallot Pepper seasoning, you can always season with salt and pepper alone, just keep the pepper to about 1/2 tsp or less, depending on your taste.