The Dinner Club Is Back!

Back in 2010, a small group of my friends started a dinner club. I’m so glad that I was already blogging at that point, so I can look back at the history of our gatherings.

Below is a quick summary for me, but also so our current group can look back at what we did before. If you’re interested in putting together your own dinner club, this post might be a guideline for you as well. For the last iteration of the dinner club, we picked a celebrity chef and cooked their recipes.

It’s also interesting to see what we planned for each dinner versus what actually happened. Which you can see if you click on the links and read the posts.

November 9, 2010 – Paula Deen

December 28, 2010 – Rachel Ray

March 22, 2011 – Ina Garten aka Barefoot Contessa

February 9, 2011 – Wolfgang Puck

May 19, 2011 – Ming Tsai

June 25, 2011 – Marcus Samuelsson

August 31, 2011 – Jamie Oliver

March 1, 2012 – Bobby Flay

March 17, 2012 – Emeril Lagasse

May 3, 2012 – B. Smith

November 2, 2013 – Dinner Club 2.0

The dates are the dates of the blog posts, not the actual days of the dinners. But they give an idea of the frequency of the dinners. Looking back, I can see how life got in the way. But we still had a great time and all of us who were part of the original group look back fondly at those gatherings. Such fun times!

I’m so happy that we’ve resumed the dinners to start the new decade. The first dinner was in January. Unfortunately I was really sick, so I missed it.

The second dinner was this past Saturday, on leap day. Since it was Black History Month, we picked soul food as a theme. The food was so good and I’m still enjoying the leftovers!

For dessert, I made banana pudding. It was my first time making it and I really enjoyed the process. It was delicious too!

My aunt, who passed away a few years ago, was the one in our family who always made banana pudding and introduced me to the dessert. I thought a lot about her as I was making it. My mom was the one who suggested that I make it and I’m so glad that she did.

For our next dinner club, we decided to pay tribute to B. Smith, who just passed away, by cooking her recipes. Looking back at the old dinner club posts, I saw that she was also our last celebrity chef. We’ve come full circle.

At dinner this Saturday, one of the new members mentioned that she had heard that one of the reasons that we started the club was because regular gatherings make people happier. I had forgotten, but said it sounded like something that I said.

In the Wolfgang Puck dinner post, I found that I had written about gatherings and happiness. Author Dan Buettner had said that being part of a once a month club where you must show up in person, has the same happiness impact as doubling your income. Life experiences and social interaction increase happiness.

I wrote about it back then and believe it even more years later. Here’s hoping that the gatherings continue!

Cook like a Tico: A Costa Rican Experience + Recipe

Cook Like a Tico food blogger event at Boston University.

It’s hard to believe that we’re in mid-October already! This post is a quick flashback to summer. June 29th to be precise. I attended a food blogger event at Boston University called Cook like a Tico: A Costa Rican Experience.

Tico” is a slang word that Costa Ricans use to describe themselves according to the Urban Dictionary. The word captures a care free outlook on life along with the saying “Pure Vida” meaning pure life.

That feeling is expressed in the food of Costa Rica and there is an emphasis on fresh local ingredients.


We helped with some of the simple food prep for our meal that was prepared by Chef Randy Siles of Hotel Tropico Latino.


The hotel’s website has quite a lot of information and gives more details about Chef Siles and his way of cooking.

Our chef Randy Siles, recently named the ambassador of the sustainable and healthy cuisine plan for Costa Rica, has a fusion style called “Author’s Cuisine,” which is a free-style way of cooking that lets him create original recipes from his imagination. Like an artist with a blank canvas, Siles skillfully creates gourmet art fusing flavors into delicious, fresh and healthy dishes that tantalize your taste buds.

I also noticed that the hotel has beach yoga and yoga retreats as well. With winter approaching, the thought of a warm getaway with great food and yoga sounds idyllic!


The squash and farro salad was one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. The fresh mint and basil really make the flavors pop. The crunch of the cashews, with the cucumbers and squash add to the wonderful texture. I can’t say enough about this dish, which is a meal in itself.

On top of the taste, you can tell by the ingredients that it’s good for you too. What more could we ask for?

I was given the recipe and hope to make it at some point. Unfortunately, the measurements need conversion for us North Americans. But I’m sure we’ll figure it out. Enjoy!

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Squash & Farro Salad


50 g squash (chopped)
250 g farro
40 ml of olive oil
1 large fennel bulb (chopped)
1 green cucumber (chopped)
40 g basil (chopped)
40 g mint (chopped)
100 g of cashews (chopped)
3 limes (in wedges)
2 orange units (peeled and chopped)
200 g of feta cheese
30 g coriander (chopped)
15 g microgreens


Rinse and drain farro. Place in a pot and add enough water or stock to cover. Bring to a boil; add salt to taste and 20 ml of olive oil and blend. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 30 minutes. Once farro is cooked, just blend it with the rest of the ingredients and squeeze in the lime wedges for flavor.

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Disclosure: The meal was compliments of Cheryl Andrews Marketing Communications and the Costa Rica Tourism Board in North America. Thank you!


{You Pick Six} An Interview with Founder of Helen’s Kitchen Cooking School: Helen Rennie

Cooking School Founder Helen Rennie holds a raw chicken

A few weeks ago, I attended Amplify, an event in Boston hosted by Branchfood.

It showcased new local food companies and introduced them to retailers and media. I learned about some great products, that I hope to write about soon.

I also met a fellow food blogger whose blog, Beyond Salmon, was one of the first that I read when I first started blogging.  Helen Rennie has been blogging since 2005, so she is one of the first in the food blogging world. So it delights me to no end to welcome Helen to this blog! Now founder of Helen’s Kitchen Cooking School, let’s find out what she’s cooking up next in the 12th in the interview series, You Pick Six.

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Tell me about what you’re working on now?

I’ve been working on short cooking videos that focus on techniques.  They are all available on YouTube for free.  I started making them to help my students review the material they learn in my cooking and baking classes, but to my surprise and delight I’ve been getting comments from cooks all over the world.

What is a favorite cookbook?
Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.  Judy has always been a great inspiration to me and I was devastated when she passed away at a very young age due to cancer.  Her book is unique in many respects.  She is the only restaurant chef that I am aware of who wrote her book cover to cover without a shadow writer.  The level of detail is fabulous.  I am forever grateful to her editor for not cutting Judy’s wisdom out of this book.  Do you need five pages on how to roast a chicken?  Absolutely! Although the zuni roast chicken is great, the real gem of this book is Judy’s advice to salt all your proteins a day ahead.  It makes everything so juicy — just like brining without the mess of a bucket.
What is some of the best advice you’ve ever received?
This is not the best life advice, but it’s the best advice all home bakers need to hear: weigh all ingredients for baking.  I am a cook by nature.  I taste and adjust.  Baking was a challenge.  My pie crust cracked, my cakes were dry, my breads were dense.  Then I got Rose Beranbaum’s book “The Bread Bible” and started using a scale.  It was like magic.  Everything worked!  It wasn’t just Rose’s recipes that worked, but all my old recipes that gave me trouble worked.  Flour is a powder and it’s compressible.  Measuring it with cups is unreliable.
What is a favorite simple recipe to prepare at home?
Doesn’t get any easier or tastier than seared scallops, though a microwave poached egg is fun too.
What do you think that most people don’t understand about food?
Food is a performing art 99% of the time, and a creative art (1% of the time).  I often hear in classes the following complaint, “I can’t cook because I am not creative.  I can’t figure out what goes with what.”  Then the students watch me cook and are surprised that most of the time I don’t add anything besides salt, lemon, and olive oil.  The reason food tastes good is the balance of salt and acidity, and controlling texture through how you apply heat.  It takes dedication, patience, and constant attention to detail, just like learning a musical instrument.  If you play the violin off key, it’s hard to listen no matter how passionately you play it.  If the cook gets the salt amount wrong, it’s hard to eat their dish no matter what amazing combination of local organic ingredients are in it.  I find that we have a lot of passion for food in the U.S. these days, but not enough skill either at home or in most restaurant kitchens.  But American food culture is in it’s infancy compared to Japan or France.  I am sure the skill will come with time.
What is a favorite food movie?
Ratatouille, of course!
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Thank you so much for participating Helen!

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Photos: Provided by Helen Rennie.


Farm Fresh Eggs ~ Life List #49

One of farm fresh eggs frying in a pan

The thing about having a life list is that it’s written at one very particular time. As we all find out eventually, the only constant in life is change.

There must be something about May, because I wrote my life list back in May 2010. Well, a lot happens in six years. Some of the things on my list I have accomplished already. Others I don’t particularly care about anymore at all. Or they can happen in a way that I didn’t anticipate. Like #49 for instance.

Gather fresh eggs and cook with them.

I no longer feel the need to gather the eggs myself. But I have always wanted to cook with farm fresh eggs. As far as I’m concerned, #49 is now accomplished.


This past week, I noticed that most of the eggs were gone and it was only the middle of the week. I sent a text to G asking him if he could stop and buy some. He texts back that he just passed a farm stand with eggs for sale. So he went back and bought a dozen. Talk about perfect timing!

One of the things that I noticed is that each egg looks different. Different shades, spots and speckles. Unlike the ones from the grocery store where they are all sorted to look exactly the same.

With these farm fresh ones, the brown ones are mixed with white ones. They are integrated! Bigger too. These seemed extra large. Also they were longer and less round. The yolk seemed bigger proportionately and the flavor seemed a bit deeper.

Now that it’s spring and summer is coming soon, I’m going to be on the lookout for more farm fresh eggs.

The Book List: A Belle Époque for African-American Cooking

The Up South Cookbook by Nicole A. Taylor

Yesterday I compiled a summary list with links for the restaurants mentioned in the New York Time’s article, A Belle Époque for African-American Cooking. Now for the book list!

I figured I might as well summarize the book list too. The list below has the names of each book mentioned in the article, along with the authors’ names and links to their websites.

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The Up South Cookbook (Nicole A. Taylor)

Hog and Hominy: Soul Food From Africa to America (Frederick Douglass Opie)

High on the Hog (Jessica B. Harris)

Senegal (Pierre Thiam)

The Jemima Code (Toni Tipton-Martin)

Afro-Vegan (Bryant Terry)


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Screenshot: Amazon