Bring on the Avocado and Be Super-Bowl-Ready with Food and Drinks

The first month of 2016 is coming to a close.

Everyone is gearing up for Super Bowl Sunday. Do you know when the most avocados are sold? Many might say Cinco de Mayo. The answer is the week leading up to the Super Bowl because of all the guacamole that is made to feed the groups gathering to watch the game.

The January/February issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray featured an avocado smash on toast. Use a fork to mash avocado, minced garlic, and fresh lemon juice in a bowl. Try the avocado mash on crunchy toast. We like to snip some chives for garnish and a mild onion flavor.

Super Bowl Sunday is the perfect time to use a let-the-guests-serve-themselves approach to entertaining. It’s an easier way for the host to feed a group as you put everything out for people to make a plate when they are ready to eat.

Make sure the paper plates, napkins and cutlery are at one end of the table as an obvious starting point to start to move down the table of food items offered for the party.

Take a look at one of my recent posts over at Parade where you can find ideas from a New York City based caterer who has just opened a new food venture with Mario Batali in Penn Station. She shares her recipe for a beergarita to make a new cocktail for you and your Super Bowl party guests.

Read about how she sets up a sandwich bar with a variety of breads, meats, cheese and toppings. Guests can make their own sandwiches using a variety of ingredients so everyone has the exact game-day sandwich that they want to snack on while watching the event.

She also shares her idea for using store-bought or homemade tortilla cups, macaroni and cheese, and guacamole to make small-bite appetizers. So good!

Maybe you like Super Bowl Sunday for the teams that are playing or the food that is served. Read the tips over at Parade and you’ll have some great party food for your game day. Have fun next weekend with these recipe ideas.

What were things like last weekend?

You can have the best party tips and recipes in place. When it comes to the weather and hosting an event timing is everything!

Food and Cocktail Ideas for the Last Week of 2015!

The wrapping paper has been thrown out and if you have kids in the house you probably invested in new batteries this past week.

We had a spiral ham for Christmas dinner as we usually do each year. If you have leftover ham with the hambone, do yourself a favor and make a soup. There is such a treasure of flavor in meat bones that it would be a waste if you didn’t cook with it. Extracting the properties of the hambone can help make an easy-to-whip-up stock to use as a base for a soup with vegetables and small bits of the leftover ham.

Place the bone in a large pot along with chopped carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Cover with cold water and start to warm everything in the pot. Just as the pot starts to reach a boil, lower the flame and allow to simmer for several hours. Letting a broth of meat bones and vegetables boil makes for a cloudy broth. Don’t let it reach a boil and keep the broth clear in appearance.

Do you have some leftover fruit that you want to use up soon? Slice strawberries and keep other berries whole and add them to your freezer in sealed plastic bags. Drop the frozen fruit in champagne glasses to work as pretty ice cubes to keep glasses of the bubbly chilled for your party guests this New Year’s Eve. It’s so easy and the colored frozen fruit make cocktails look festive.

You must have some candy canes still around from the holiday festivities. At this point, if the kids haven’t eaten them, those red and white treats can make cocktail hour even better for you and your guests for New Year’s Eve. Candy canes and a good quality vodka can make candy-flavored-infused cocktails to make spirits bright.

Check out my post from Parade and try your hand at using leftover candy canes for desserts as well as cocktail choices to usher out the holiday season for 2015. Don’t underestimate what the kids’ fare can contribute to the adult enjoyment of the conclusion of the season.

Take a look at this Parade post from last year for candy cane ideas and make the most of what is in your house as the new year inches toward the midnight hour and brings us new opportunities and experiences.

Happy New Year to one and all!

A Julia Child Thanksgiving and Her Time at Parade Magazine

Right about now everyone is peeling potatoes for mashed potatoes, or chopping onions for the stuffing, which will get prepared tomorrow with some fresh sage that is still going strong in the November garden. That’s what is going on in our kitchen this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a holiday anchored by the turkey and everyone’s favorite side dishes like sweet potato casserole, or the green beans glistening from being tossed with butter and olive oil, with a crispy topping.

With all the preparations you are tackling if you are hosting the holiday, the most important thing you should take into consideration is to take a breath and relax. Try and find the enjoyment for you as well as your guests.

Julia Child urged home cooks forty years ago to try their hand at complicated French cooking techniques. Yet, she adapted to a more laid-back American style of cooking while she was the food editor at Parade Magazine in the early 1980’s. Read about how these changes came about in my Thanksgiving post in the link below and have a wonderful holiday.

Cooking with Super Storm Sandy

Three years ago a group of us took an online writing course with the fabulous and respected food writer Molly O’ Neill. We established our blogs and started a new path. During the course we would conference call each Sunday night. A storm was brewing one of the weeks of our course and we decided to skip a week just in case this storm headed our way on the East coast became something substantial.

It did.

The following is an essay that appeared on the Cook n’ Scribble website three years ago about our family and the storm.


 Alice Knisley Matthias lives, writes, gardens and cooks on Staten Island. Her essays have appeared in EatingWell, Boys’ Life, Highlights for Children, Benchmark Publishing, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and America’s Test Kitchen Cook’s Country Cookbook. Her blog, celebrates the organic lifestyle and is launching this week. She writes:

The hurricane is here now and the lights flicker one last time and plunge the kitchen into darkness.  We light candles and the flashlight on the counter is pointing at the ceiling, giving an even canopy of light.

I strike a match, touch the blue rings of gas on the range and — whoosh, whoosh —  two burners are ready for cooking. I slide a knife from its block and mince shallots and garlic, using my fingers as a guide in the candlelight. Fumbling around in the dark cabinet next to the stove, I recognize the handles of the pots and pans that I use most. Cutting a stick of butter in the dark produces a very generous pat of butter for one pot. I estimate the exact location of the back burner, the almonds make a plinking sound as I scatter them in the pan.

The gas burner is bright beneath the pan, the almonds are in the dark. A nutty aroma signals that they are toasted.

POP goes the lid on a Mason jar of chicken stock. I  fill a cup until I feel the liquid lapping the rim. The pan hisses when the stock hits its hot surface. I pour a stream of vermicelli and rice from a box. I can’t see it, I know I’ve used it all when the container is weightless in my hand.

Heading back into the blackness of a cabinet I Braille read  handles for a pot in which to sautee the green beans that I blanched the night before, when Sandy was a worrying blotch on the weather screen. The pot announces itself when my groping sends its lid crashing to the tile. Rotating a lemon against a microplane, hovering over warm beans, the scent of the citrus zest wafts up as it lands on the beans.

Identifying the correct seasoning is a great challenge when cooking in the dark. I am groping for a remembered glass jar of ancho chili powder, for the shakers of onion and garlic powders, the metal box of Old Bay seasoning, with the top that never stays closed, the canister of kosher salt.

I touch and smell a spice mixture together. It’s grainy beneath my fingertips as I rub a pork tenderloin. A splash of olive oil in a pan. The tenderloin sizzles as the spices cook and a crust is formed. I touch, touch, touch. Sniff. Prod. Hope I remember the sensory signals of doneness, beyond the familiar color of the meat, which of course doesn’t register in candlelight under a flashlight chandelier. I position a cutting board directly under the flashlight, place the meat on the cutting board — is it done? The beam of light glows along the metal edge of the knife.

Do I date myself by saying that somewhere a Meatloaf song can be heard?

— Alice Knisley Matthias

Ideas for Helping Picky Eaters from Some Pros

The school year is in full swing and it’s time to start planning meals to pack in lunch boxes and dinners to arrive on the table after a busy day of school and after-school activities. Do you have some picky eaters in your house? Is there someone who sits at your dinner table who won’t eat anything other than mac’ and cheese? Take a look at my recent piece over at Parade for some ideas from some experts to help expand menu choices in your house. Follow the link below.

Source: Ideas for Helping Picky Eaters from Some Pros

Vacation…All We Ever Wanted

August is a time for continued slowing down and getting ready to gear up again for another school year all at the same time.

A pause to think about what lies ahead. Enjoy this time. These are some photos from our favorite place at the Mohonk Mountain House.

They have some of the most spectacular gardens to walk through and explore.

The wonder of a garden is to appreciate the beauty that is before you and being a part of the eternal cycle of life.

If you don’t have a garden yourself, find one to be a part of at a local destination and learn to see the subtle changes as it moves from one phase to another.

It is peace on earth.

Pesto: It’s Easy Being Green and a Summer Update from Parade

Can it really be the halfway point of summer? We are trying to hit all the items on our checklist of things to do for summer vacation.

Trips to the zoo, the beach, ice cream from the ice cream man when he stops by after dinner and the days of outdoor camp.

It has been a good season so far for farmers who are reporting good results for crops of corn, blueberries and peaches. This weekend we plan to grill some pork chops with a salsa of those blueberries and peaches that are at their peak.

The sweet juices of the ripe fruit pair so well with the smoky flavor of the pork chops cooked on the grill.

All you need for a salsa is some fresh fruit, some tartness of a sliced red onion, extra-virgin olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar and a handful of chopped herbs.

All the herbs are exploding right now so it is the perfect time for pesto which can be tossed with pasta or top grilled meat or vegetables.

Pesto is traditionally made with a generous bunch of fresh basil, chopped garlic, pignolia nuts, grated parmesan placed in a food processor, or blender, and mixed together as a stream of extra-virgin olive oil is added in as the motor of the appliance runs.

Feel free to play with variations. The guys around here prefer using almonds in pesto, in plain form, or lightly toasted. They also like a combination of herbs instead of an all-basil mix. We throw in some thyme, chives and a hint of oregano along with the basil leaves.

When tender herbs are mixed in the food processor, or blender, they receive residual heat from the motor as it grinds the herbs into tiny specks. That heat will dull the bright green color of the herbs which is the appealing trait of the pesto.

In order to keep the green color of the herbs add a few bits of ice cubes to the pesto before pressing the button of the appliance.

The super-cold temperature of the ice cubes straight from the freezer will keep the pesto from warming due to the heat of the motor of the appliance running and will retain the green color of the pesto with the herbs.

Make sure to use the freshest herbs you can in a pesto. If you are not growing herbs, and getting them from the farmers’ market, store your basil in a glass of cool water on the counter. Other herbs can be placed in a plastic bag with a slightly moist paper towel in the refrigerator.

Check out some of my most recent posts over at Parade to keep your summer vibe humming along. Enjoy!


Summer Vacation is Here! So is the Rain

We had all the “last” days this month. The last day of baseball, the last day of track, the last day of practice and, of course, the last day of school. A load of books and papers that are stored in school all year came home this week.

So it’s time to fire up the grill and start shaking up some cocktails. Well, not exactly.

Yesterday was the last day of school. Today the rain arrived. What timing.

We aren’t going to let the rain dampen our kicking-off-summer spirit. We are breaking out the indoor skillet to make burgers and getting the cocktail shaker out to make mocktails for the guys.

Somewhere along the way we collected several cocktail shakers and the guys get a kick out of watching their drinks being made as we combine different juices and pour our mixed drinks over flavored ice cubes.

We also like to wet the rims of the glasses and dip in a layer of organic sugar on a small plate.

We gather some mint from the garden and they drink the mocktails out of margarita glasses.

We planted citrus mint a few seasons ago and it is exploding right now. The citrus mint is perfect for cool drinks outside in the summer season.

We spent the afternoon making what we call “the summer ice cubes.” That means various fruit juices frozen in trays. They are a must for summer drinks on a hot day. Ice cubes help to keep your drinks cold but as they slowly melt they start to dilute the flavors in your drinks.

Instead, try using the inevitable melting process to slowly add more flavor by using ice cubes made with fruit juices. This way every last drop of your drinks have the most flavor possible.

Tonight we will make cheeseburgers and corn on the cob in our grill pan indoors and assemble our drinks for dinner. We can spread out our beach towels and have dinner and a movie to kick off summer.

A little rain isn’t going to stop us. We’ll be back out in the pool and working in the garden tomorrow if the weather reports are correct. We’ll light the beach-scented Yankee Candle and get summer vacation started.

Now, what’s a good summer movie for our dinner and a movie night?

Be sure and check out my latest posts over at Parade’s food section at the link above.

Here Comes the Sun!

There is nothing more satisfying and rewarding than watching everything outside come back to life. The daffodils, tulips and flowering trees signal that the warmer weather is on the way.

Our outdoor activities are in gear with track and baseball. Last weekend we got the grill set up for another season of cooking on the patio.

We use the grill for so many dishes like pizza, with a crushed tomato sauce and torn bits of mozzarella, and hamburgers with melted American cheese.

The herb garden is slowly coming back and these are the plants that help add flavor to everything we have on the outdoor dining table in the warm-weather season.

The pizza we make on the grill is just a little better when we add some oregano and basil leaves when the pizza is near the end of cooking time and they melt with the tomato sauce and soft cheese.

The chives are making their way through the soil and they always add a nice mild onion flavor to the aioli we make for the French fries we have with our burgers from the grill.

The dipping sauce is equal parts mayonnaise and ketchup with a pinch of Kosher salt and a generous helping of chopped chives.

Hamburgers and fries with aioli is the perfect dinner for dining outside once the weather is warm and the scent of blooming flowers and trees is in the air.

We are getting ready to move the herbs we brought inside for the winter season back to the garden outside. This has to be a gradual process as the plants need to adjust to temperatures outside.

If you leave the plants overnight at this time of year, after their winter inside, you can shock the potted herbs. They need a few hours a day outside in the morning and afternoon sun.

The date for when the danger of a frost is behind us is in our area in New York is considered to be Mother’s Day.

The herbs that stayed outside in the garden are on a different cycle as they were dormant in the cold-weather season.

Having fresh herbs ready to grab at any moment brings out the flavor in your food. That’s why we make the effort to pot some up in the fall to get us through the winter season.

You know you are in for the outdoor season when you catch the scent of basil on a warm breeze.

For some ideas with using lemons in your cooking take a look at my post at Parade where you can see how to make a lemon oil from The Chew’s Carla Hall.

We are ready for outdoor dining and some good conversation and laughs.

Homemade Pizza for Pi Day

March is the month that gardeners start to prepare for the upcoming growing season and there are surprises coming up through the soil.

If you start plants and vegetables from seed, now is when you start to prepare those seeds and seed-starter medium indoors so they are ready to roll out to the garden in mid-May.

Sedum is the last flowering plant to stick around in the fall and the first plant to come back in the spring. It emerges as the last of the snow melts away around here.

Today is Pi Day for math fans as the date of March 14, 2015 translates to the mathematical equation of Pi which reads as 3.1415. The month, day, and year, in numbers today is 3/14/15.

So, we decided our contribution to Pi Day would be in the form of a pizza pie.

We can pick up some good-quality pie dough which makes dinner little more than an easy assembly of ingredients.

We use a basic tomato sauce with a base of onions and garlic started in olive oil in a pan. Then we add our tomatoes and allow the sauce to simmer a bit to thicken.

You don’t want to skimp on the cheese since good pizza is made from only a few ingredients. Don’t reach for fresh mozzarella as it has a higher water content and that can make the pizza soggy.

Save the fresh mozzarella cheese for your caprese salad or other salads.


Try a mixture of a few cheeses mixed together. Many markets carry bags of shredded mozzarella along with other cheeses and it can be a nice twist of flavor for your pizza topping.

Remember when spreading sauce on the pizza dough that less is more.

Too much sauce weighs down the dough and prevents the pizza from cooking through evenly.

We like to make pizza on the grill but tonight the pizza will be made in a super-hot oven.

You want to really crank up the oven heat to get a nice crust on your pizza as the toppings melt.

We like some fresh oregano leaves scattered on top when the pizza comes out and piles of shredded basil ribbons.

The herbs get some gentle heat as the pizza cools and the herb flavor mixes with the tomato sauce and melted cheese.

Our indoor herb garden in pots has gotten us through the winter once again. We know the herbs want to feel the warmth of spring sunshine just as much as we do!

Take a look at my latest at Parade.