Tag Archives: vegetarian

Tip of the Week – Save Time With Store-bought Salads

As much as I love to tinker around in the kitchen, sometimes it’s just easier and quicker to buy food that is already prepared. And when I’m not eating meat that usually translates into purchasing store-made salads. I’m not talking about the traditional salad bars found in many grocery stores and markets, but side salads prepared in-house. I’m lucky to live less than 10 minutes from a Whole Foods Market and a Fresh Market, both of which make some tasty ones.

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Got Gazpacho?

One of the best bowls of gazpacho I ever tasted was at a restaurant (can’t remember its name, unfortunately) in 2002 in St. Helena, California. Brad and I were on our honeymoon and decided after leaving Hawaii to spend a few days in Napa Valley and San Francisco before coming back home to Raleigh. The temperatures in Napa were in the high-90s to low-100s and a chilled bowl of gazpacho was just the ticket. This one was fantastic, with nice chunks of tomato, celery, cucumber, onion, corn and other great ingredients. I’ve worked for years to recreate this wonderful gazpacho, and have come up with my own recipe that will make you come back for seconds! Go ahead – it’s low-calorie and good for you to boot!

Now that veggies are in full season in Raleigh, especially the tomatoes that make or break this soup, I visited the Farmer’s Market to stock up on what I needed to make this cool and hearty gazpacho. It does take  time to chop all of the vegetables (I refuse to use my food processor for this), but it is well worth the effort at the end. This is one of my all-time favorite soups ever!

Ingredients (serves 8 or so)

  • 2 cups tomatoes, diced small (I used three romas and one large field grown)
  • 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seed and diced small
  • 3 stalks celery (approx. 1 cup) diced small
  • 2 ears corn kernels (I used Silver Queen, boiled for 7-8 minutes – you don’t want the kernels too soft.)
  • 3 banana peppers finely diced (I picked these from my garden. You can substitute with peppers of choice.)
  • ¾ cup sweet onion, diced small
  • ¼ cup fresh sweet basil, cut into tiny pieces
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 cups tomato or vegetable juice (if you use vegetable, you may want to alter the seasonings to taste.)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon Worstershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (this cuts the acid of the tomatoes)
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • Garlic salt to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Hot sauce to taste

 Garnishes (optional)

  • homemade croutons (see recipe below)
  • parsley
  • spring onions (both white and green parts cut into small pieces)
  • avocado slices


Combine the first eight ingredients in a large bowl.

Add the tomato juice and the rest of the ingredients, mix together well. Chill for several hours so that the flavors have time to develop and and meld together.

Once you are ready to serve, add your favorite garnishes. Serve immediately – the colder it is, the better. This keeps in the refrigerator for several days in a non-reactive container.

Homemade croutons

These are so easy to make and much better than any of the prepackaged ones. And this recipe has just four simple ingredients. Even the kids prefer these fresh croutons over the store-bought ones!

Ingredients (2 servings)

  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 3 slices of crusty bread (I use the La Brea Three Cheese Semolina from Harris Teeter, so the slices tend to be smaller than regular loaf bread.)
  • Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
  • Garlic salt to taste


Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium pan. Cut bread into small cubes, and add to the melted butter.

Drizzle with the olive oil, and add garlic salt to taste. Brown the bread cubes on all sides and then drain them on a paper towel to absorb some of the butter and oil.

These cook up in no time and are great in salads as well!

Most restaurants (at least around Raleigh) only serve gazpacho in the summer to take advantage of the local, fresh vegetables. If you know of any restaurants serving great gazpachos in our area right now, please let me know. And, no, they do not need to be chunky like mine. Most places tend to puree the ingredients, and that’s fine, as long as it tastes good (see my recent posting on Zelo in Minneapolis for an example of a good, pureed gazpacho.)

Bon appetit!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Brad and Kel’s Most Delicious Guacamole

I fell in love with fresh guacamole on a trip to Cozumel and Cancun in 1999. Brad and I had been dating only for a few months, and it was the first big trip we took together. We ordered some guacamole one of the first days we were in Cozumel, became hooked and made it our goal to find the best while we were in Mexico.

Since we were both late eaters at the time (i.e., before kids), we spent many a late afternoon trying out guacamole and chips in various venues. And it was all wonderful. If I remember correctly, my favorite guacamole was at a small restaurant located in the Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort & Spa, with numerous runner-ups! Luckily, I have found a number of places in Raleigh that also serve great guacamole, which I will be blogging about soon.

When we returned to Raleigh, I spent a number of years trying to perfect my fresh guacamole recipe. When I finally did, I taught Brad how to make it and I have to admit his usually outshines mine. The only difference in our guacamole is that I add a little bit of light sour cream to the mix, maybe a tablespoon or so for this recipe. It helps the guac stay fresh and green. Anyway, good teacher, great student!


  • 3 ripe Haas avocados
  • 1 lime
  • 5-7 large garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup spring onions (about 5 or 6 stalks) cut into small pieces
    (use both green and white parts)
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped into teeeny, teeeny pieces
  • 1 medium ripe tomato, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup jalapeno slices, diced (I use the stuff in the jar, but you can use one medium-sized fresh jalepeno with seeds removed, diced minutely. Wear gloves when working with fresh peppers!)
  • Hot sauce to taste (I use Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally jalapeno hot sauce)
  • Salt to taste (garlic or Kosher)
  • Tortilla chips (I like Garden of Eatin’s Red Hot Blues and Sesame Blues, and Tostitos Hint of Jalepeno)
  • Margarita of choice (to sip as you prepare the guac)


Cut the avocados in half, remove pits and scoop into a large bowl. Smash with a potato smasher or a fork to desired consistency (I like mine with visible chunks of avocado still present.)

Cut the lime in half. Sprinkle one of the halves on the smashed avocados and add the garlic.

Mix in the spring onions and cilantro.

Fold in the tomato.

At this point you want to take a taste to see if you need to add more garlic or cilantro.

Add jalepenos, hot sauce, the juice of the rest of the lime and salt.

Taste again to see if you need to add more hot sauce, adjust as necessary. This is where I add the sour cream when I’m making it. Refrigerate for an hour or so before serving. Again, take a small taste to see if you need to add additional hot sauce or salt.

This stuff rocks as a stand-alone dip, but is also wonderful as a quesadilla topping, in burritos, as a burger topping or a spread on turkey and bacon subs, etc.

Postscript: Our trip to Cozumel and Cancun confirmed what I already knew in my heart – I was falling in love with Brad, and it was the beginning of great times to come! And 12 years later we still seek out great guacamole wherever we go.

Bon appetit!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Restaurant Review: Mura – Raleigh, N.C.

We recently had an unexpected night away from the kids and decided to go to Mura at the last minute. This is becoming one of my favorite restaurants in Raleigh. Located in the once again trendy North Hills shopping center off of Six Forks Road, Mura is a beautiful Japanese fusion restaurant, serving Kobe beef, a variety of steaks, seafood, mixed cuisine and the finest grade sushi. It has won a handful of “best-of” awards since opening in 2008.

This was my third (or fourth) visit to Mura, and it keeps getting better each time!

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Restaurant Review: Solera – Minneapolis, Minn.

Those of you who have been following my blog know that I recently was in Minneapolis on a business trip. It was my first visit to this city, and I would love to go back. My hotel was in walking distance to a number of great restaurants in the heart of downtown and I was able to dine at four great ones while I was there: two for lunch, two for dinner.

A couple of the places that I have already reviewed  – Crave and Zelo -  I stumbled upon on my own. I found Hell’s Kitchen, also reviewed earlier, on the Internet and my hotel staff whole heartedly gave it their blessing. This final restaurant review is on Solera, which a colleague (and fellow foodie) highly recommended at a meeting my last day in Minneapolis. I am so glad I took her advice – a fantastic way to end my trip!

Solera (900 Hennepin Ave) is cheerful on the outside and that spills over to the inside as well. I decided to start at the rooftop bar- why not, my meetings were over! Even though it was overcast, it was still pleasant up there.

If you peeked through a few of the buildings facing out from the left of the bar, you could see a sliver of Target Field, home of the Twins. From the right, you could see Crave’s rooftop bar. The background music was some techno dance mix, which was cool. One of the bartenders told me that on Sundays during the summer, Solera and Crave throw big parties and have music blasting and are packed – quite a fun and festive scene! (*Note to self – go back in the summer on a Sunday.)

I ordered one of Solera’s specialties – the signature sangria ($12.00.) Cocktails are only served in plastic cups (ick) on the rooftop, some type of city ordinance I’m sure. This sangria was good. It was made with Castano, Courvoisier and Lazzaroni, topped with Coca-Cola and  small bits of orange and green apples. I must admit I prefer my own sangria, but I wouldn’t turn this one down. The service was good and the bartenders were nice.

I went downstairs after finishing my sangria to order some dinner. I wound up sitting at the bar, which I often do when I’m dining alone, especially when I’m out of town. Usually the bartenders are friendly and I learn more about the city I’m visiting.

Upon Graham’s (the bartender) recommendation, I ordered a glass of the Codorniu Brut Rosé from Spain ($8.00). It was refreshing and had nice strawberry and cherry flavors. I love bubbly, and will occasionally switch to a less traditionally rosé every now and then. This one did not disappoint.

Solera is known for its tapas, but also offers platos fuertes (main entrees) with choices of fish, chicken, steak and paella. I decided to sample some of the tapas, and started with the piquillo peppers ($5.00) These had herbed goat’s milk cheese and spicy garlic butter. The combination of the flavors exploded in my mouth. Yum!

Again on Graham’s advice, I ordered the beluga lentils ($7.00), mainly because I was intrigued by the combination of ingredients. It came with a poached farm egg, frisée, truffle oil and grilled bread and was excellent! This was my favorite of the three tapas I tried. OMG – the egg was perfectly cooked and it was just a wonderful symphony of flavors throughout the dish. Get this if you go. Seriously. Get this.

Lastly, I got the Tortilla Espanola ($5.00), which came with roasted shallots, potato, arugula and manchego aioli. This had a wonderful texture and was quite tasty! It would be great as a breakfast/brunch entree.

While I was eating my tapas, I noticed Graham making what looked like a mojito, but saw him adding white wine as the base. When I asked what he was making, he replied it was Solera’s S&M sangria ($9.00), which consisted of Verdejo (a white wine from Spain’s Rueda region), strawberry and mint. So, for all purposes, it is a mojito disguised as sangria, or visa versa.

Of course I had to try one, especially since I love mojitos and sangria, as mentioned in my earlier posts on both of these drinks. Okay, I have to admit I liked the name of the drink, and bonded with it well. It was wonderful – light and refreshing – another re-create at home as soon as my mint starts taking off!

I loved this place and will be back. The service was casual and friendly, and Graham was a great bartender with funny stories and full of tidbits about the city. The food was reasonably priced and good – plenty of choices for vegetarians and pescatarians.


  • Price:   Great         Price is right, both drinks and food.
  • Service: 4.75         Great overall (5.0 in restaurant bar.)
  • Food:   4.75           Tasty, fresh, innovative.
  • Recommend:        In a heartbeat!
  • Kid friendly:         Maybe, depending on the kid’s tastes. Mine
    wouldn’t get it at this point.

1= hater, 2=poor, 3=adequate, 4=above average, 5=superb

Eat, drink and be merry!

Green Garden Salad

“To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist. The problem is entirely the same in both cases – to know how much oil one must mix with one’s vinegar.” Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Back in the ’70s and late ’80s I used to get a great salad at Leon’s Deli in Raleigh’s Cameron Village shopping center. Leon’s was a great little place located next to the Village’s Professional Barber Shop and where Quiznos is now. Leon’s had wonderful Reubens and other deli sandwiches that were out of this world, but my favorite item on the menu was the green garden salad (at least I think that’s what it was called.) I’ve been making this particular rendition of the salad for years and absolutely love it, especially in the summer when the veggies are at their freshest.

Ingredients (2 small or 1 large serving)

  • 6 oz. of 2% low fat cottage cheese
  • ½ cup diced cucumber
  • ½ cup diced tomato
  • 1/3 cup diced radishes
  • ¼ cup finely chopped spring onions (I use both the white and green parts)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Seasoned salt and ground pepper to taste
  • Sour cream, low fat ( optional garnish)
  • Fresh chives (optional garnish)

Place the cottage cheese in a bowl. Fold in the vegetables. Add the vinegar and mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least one hour so that the ingredients to meld together.

Place salad on a plate and add a good spoonful of low fat sour cream and sprinkle with fresh chives (this is one of the herbs that I like to have in my garden as mentioned in my previous “grow your own” post.)

I like to serve this with Keebler’s reduced fat club crackers or captain’s wafers. This is a low fat, tasty salad that is easy to make and also good for you!

Please let me know if you ate at Leon’s – I would love to hear your memories of this great deli.

Bon appétit!

Eat, drink, and be merry!

Restaurant Review: Zelo – Minneapolis, Minn.

I had the pleasure of eating lunch at Zelo on a recent business trip to Minneapolis. Located at 831 Nicollet Ave South, it was just a couple of blocks from my hotel. When I walked by, most of the outside seating was full, and since it was quite windy, I decided to get a table inside. It was very crowded, which I took as a great sign, but I only had to wait about five minutes to be seated. Zelo appears to cater to the business crowd, at least at lunch – I had the feeling it was a place to see and be seen. But as crowded as it was when I first arrived, it quickly cleared out when lunch hours were over. Of course, I was more interested in the food, and was happy to see a number of “best restaurant” awards displayed.

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Tip of the Week – Grab a Packet …

… of salad dressing mix and create some yummy, fresh and semi-homemade dressings that are sure to please. Here are recipes for a couple of my favorite dressings that start from a package: 1) Italian and, 2) bleu cheese ranch. Both are so easy to make and bursting with freshness that you normally don’t get out of the bottled stuff. For the Italian dressing I use Good Seasons, and for the bleu cheese ranch, I use Hidden Valley.

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Strawberry Fields Salad Recipe


In my recent post, Strawberry Fields Forever, I mentioned this salad and how good it is, especially with  the fresh strawberries. It’s wonderful as a side salad to accompany something light, such as pasta salad, roast chicken, quiche, etc., but is also great by itself for lunch  – add some crusty bread and a glass of iced tea or white wine and you’re ready to go!


  • 3 cups of mixed spring salad greens
  • 1 3/4 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
  • 1 cup of sugar-coated pecans (recipe follows)
  • 1/3 cup of bleu cheese, crumbled
  • Balsamic vinegrette dressing, to taste (I like  Newman’s Own Lighten Up Balsamic Vinagrette Dressing -  this is a great bottled dressing, and all profits go to charity.)
  • fresh ground pepper (to taste)


Toss the salad greens, strawberries, pecans and bleu cheese crumbles. Place in serving bowls, add dressing and freshly ground black peper.

Sugar-Coated Pecans Recipe


These pecans are so easy to make, and are a great garnish for salads or just good to eat by themselves as a snack.


  • 1 egg white
  • 2 cups of pecan halves
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tps ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat egg white until foamy. Add the pecan halves, toss until coated. Add the sugar and cinnamon, toss to coat the pecans.

Arrange the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until browned. Stir occasionally.

Bon appetit, and Eat, drink and be merry!

Strawberry Fields Forever


“Let me take you down, cause I’m going to, Strawberry Fields. Nothing is real  – and nothing to get hung about” – Paul McCartney and John Lennon

When you’re in the middle of a strawberry field, nothing is real except the sweet ripe fruit of your labours that you will soon be enjoying! I love having so many strawberry farms in Wake County and in our surrounding counties. Picking your own berries and then  immediately eating them – it doesn’t get much better than that! And since many farms in our area are open from mid-April to the first week in June, we can visit them more than once in a season.

The kids and I recently went and picked a bunch of the luscious fruit one beautiful afternoon. We went to Page Farms, which is located right between Raleigh and Durham, off U.S. 70 and behind Brier Creek. In addition to strawberries, this farm also produces and sells corn and sweet potatoes. It offers (literal) field trips to area schools, where kids can take hayrides, meet the farm animals, pick berries and have picnics. There is an ice cream stand on-site as well (might as well plan to stop by it now, parents, if you’re taking kids.) The staff is quite friendly and helpful and I recommend this farm to anyone living in the Raleigh/Durham area.

We came home with three buckets of berries, which, for the most part, were sweet and delicious and oh, so fresh. Those that weren’t as sweet we picked too soon, but that’s okay – just add a little sugar and we’re good to go.  We’ve been enjoying our berries on cereal, in yogurt, dipped in chocolate syrup and just plain. With this batch, I  made the following treats, some to please the kids, other geared  toward adults – all yummy!

Super Easy, Low-fat Strawberry Milkshakes

Mix three ingredients (okay, four if you include the ice), blend and you’re done! It can’t get much easier than that. Guaranteed hugs from the kids and for me a few rounds of “You’re the best Auntie Kelley in the world.”  This time I think they actually meant it! Use 1% milk and low-fat ice cream and you don’t have to feel like running to Weight Watchers® for gulping these shakes down. The fresh strawberries make up for the low-fat ingredients, trust me! Click here for this super easy, guilt-free recipe. And feel free to choose whatever flavor of ice cream you prefer – Gabe and Lexi have requested chocolate next time (surprise, surprise).

Strawberry Tart

I recently found the recipe for this amazing tart in Taste of Home Magazine. Thank goodness, because this dessert is divine. I’ve switched a few ingredients to make it a tad bit healthier (click here for my revised version of the recipe.) Whichever version you use, you can’t go wrong. This is pefect to take to a cookout or luncheon.

Charlie Murray Inspired Strawberry Margaritas

I’m sure my dear friend Charlie Murray looked down from heaven and blessed my recipe for these refreshing (and somewhat potent) margaritas. Charlie was the master of the frozen drinks, in particular daiquiris, and he taught me well – all I do is change up some of the ingredients (i.e., the liquor.) These marvelous margaritas are super easy to make and even better to drink, especially on a hot day at the beach or lake or backyard or anywhere. Click here for the oh, so easy recipe. Charlie would be proud. Here’s to you, my friend – I miss you!

Strawberry, Bleu Cheese and Pecan Salad

This salad is refreshing and light, and is wonderful on its own for lunch (add a mimosa if you don’t have to go back to work or pick up kids), or as a nice side salad with roasted chicken, a simple butter and garlic tossed penne pasta or similar light main course. The fresh strawberries add natural sweetness, the pecans add nuttiness, and the bleu cheese adds tang and creaminess to the base of this salad’s field greens. Top it off with a balsamic vinegarette dressing, and you’re in for a treat. Click here for the recipe.

There are so many other ways you can enjoy your harvest – this is just the tip of the iceberg. I see strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie,  strawberry smoothies and sangria garnished with strawberries in my next harvest’s array of concoctions.

I’d love to hear your favorites – please send me your recipes. And take advantage of our wonderful strawberry fields or of those in your own area – you’ll be glad you did!

Eat, drink and be merry!