Category Archives: Recipes

TGIW: Random advice

by Libby Sternberg

Nothing deep or even narrative today. Just some random tips and advice I’ve picked up along life’s journey. Some might be obvious, but they weren’t to me when I discovered them:

tablecloth rosetteShortening too-long tablecloths: I have a couple tablecloths that are a tad large. My tables shrank. Or maybe I kind of bought the wrong size. They’re okay when we have the leaf in the dining room table (just barely), but not so much when the table is its smaller size. I saw a caterer do this trick, though, and have tried it myself: gather a bunch of the tablecloth where it’s too long. Slip a rubber band around the “bunch” to create a rosette effect. See picture.  This is great if you’re worried about guests tripping over the ends of a too-long tablecloth during a buffet serving.

Grab a stool from the bar: Shopping at JC Penney with a friend and don’t have anywhere to sit while they’re in the fitting room? Grab a stool from one of their silly “jeans bars” and park yourself on it. You’ll probably be doing them a service. As readers know, I was no fan of the recently fired Penney CEO Ron Johnson. One of his “innovations” was to create these “jeans bars” within the stores with tables full of jeans and stools pulled up to them. (For what? The mind boggles.) Anyway, if we can get an army of folks moving these stools to places in the stores where people really do want to sit…it’s a corporal work of mercy, I tell ya!

Scrambled eggs: Listen to Ina–Garten, that is. Slow and low. She advises not cooking them too quickly, and I have to say this does result in a softer scramble. I also read somewhere that adding a little seltzer water to the mix can make them fluffier, but I haven’t tried that.

Put nutmeg in your pancakes: I’ve been doing this for years, ever since I figured out why a particular eatery’s pancakes tasted so yummy. Just add a sprinkle or two to your batter.

Dress your onions first: I like onions in salad, but I don’t like that raw onion taste that lingers. So, I slice onions very thinly, place them in the salad bowl and dress with vinaigrette first. They hang out while I make the rest of the dinner, then I throw the greens and other veggies in and toss right before serving.

Take your shoes off: You have a gorgeous pair of shoes, but they get a tad uncomfortable after a while. You wear them to a wedding or other gathering. The floor might be dirty but it’s not strewn with broken glass, so…just take your shoes off and dance. At a recent wedding, I was delighted to see many guests dancing barefoot (or in their stocking feet). I walked around after my beautiful, but rarely worn, silver shoes started to make my feetsies ache. Amazingly, no one commented on this.

Sparkle: I’m a big proponent of sparkly jewelry, sparkly apparel and sparkly…personalities. When I was younger, I favored chiffony clothes and sparkly jewelry, but then the sixties came along and ruined everything with their bell-bottom jeans uniform. Nowadays, however, I wear sparkly jewelry even with jeans. I have learned not to save nice things for so-called special occasions. Every day is special.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Buy her books so she can buy more shoes and sparkly things.

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TGIW: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

by Libby Sternberg

This must be how they get in.

This must be how they get in.

The tomato army has arrived. They’re stealthy. We find them hiding under foliage, glinting red in the shadows, just waiting. Waiting to march, to attack, to take over….at least the kitchen.

Although we only have a few tomato plants, they produce baskets full of fruit. Which reminds me of that old adage…Knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to use it in a fruit salad. (Or maybe wisdom is knowing how to use fruit and tomatoes together.) But I digress….

So, I’ve been looking for things to cook/make with tomatoes. I love tomato, mozzarella salad, and am fond of a version using grape tomatoes and mozzarella balls in a basil-heavy vinaigrette with thinly sliced red onions. Speaking of thinly sliced, we are fond of bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, but MLTs not so much. (Actually, I’ve never tried one.):

Having so many tomatoes finally inspired me to do something I’ve never ever ever ever done before. In my entire life. That is….peel a tomato! To make tomato sauce from scratch. Peeling a tomato, it turns out, is pretty easy. You need to shock them, and they lose their skins faster than Joe Nichols’s girlfriend sheds her clothes after throwing back some  Patron.

I asked my daughter-in-law, who is of Sicilian heritage, for a good recipe, and she was kind enough to pass along her father’s. But I wimped out on following his directions for my first time, because it sounded as if you needed to have the right touch and taste to get it right. I’ll try his for my next batch:

For 6 people, use 6 ripe tomatoes, 1 can peeled tomato, half bunch of basil, half bunch of parsley, 5 garlic cloves,  3 oz of parmigiano cheese, 3 oz olive oil, salt and pepper. Dip the tomatoes in hot water for few minute, then peel and chop in very small pieces, chop the can tomatoes and use the juice, too; chop the rest of the ingredients and mix everything; taste if you need more salt and olive oil. Add oregano.

I ended up at Smitten Kitchen. They have pictures! So I was able to see what the tomatoes are supposed to look like, etc. Here’s the link to their recipe.

The sauce before it was blended.

The sauce before it was blended.

At the end, I blended all my sauce ingredients in a food processor after cooking. And I have to say, we really enjoyed the result. The sauce actually tasted like….tomatoes! Not like salt, not like sugar, not like something with a metallic overtone. Next time, I’ll follow my daughter-in-law’s father’s instructions because I think mine could have used more garlic and basil. And there will be a next time. The basket is already full with another army of tomatoes.

In case you’re wondering where the title of this post comes from, it’s the title of an epic film that, oddly enough, never won any Oscars. I’m particularly fond of its catchy theme song.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Please buy her books so she can buy more tomato plants next year.

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TGIW: My sort-of-Indian-chicken-recipe

by Libby Sternberg

First, a quick explanation: TGIW stands for Thank God it’s Wednesday. But you probably figured that out already. TGIW posts are meant to brighten your midweek….

The curry powder stands alone.

The curry powder stands alone.

My husband and I love to go to a little local Indian restaurant called Taj Mahal. It’s a one-room establishment in a strip shopping center, next to a mattress store and near a furniture shop. But once you’re inside, the atmosphere is…fun. A big plastic peacock statue, lit inside, guards the bar. Other pictures and tchotchkes evoking India fill the room. The staff is attentive and cheerful; I always feel as if they’re happy to see us and are eager to show off their cuisine. On holidays, they make dining special. New Year’s Eve brought out hats and beads for each customer, Valentine’s Day a chocolate dessert, other times live music provided by a fellow at an electronic keyboard. On Mondays, they offer a fixed price buffet–a great way to sample their food.

Anyway, I sometimes try to recreate a dish I had there, and I came close with the following. I didn’t write down the precise measurements as I cooked, so beware; use your own judgment.


For two people (with enough for leftovers)

  • about a cup or more of cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • about a cup of broccoli florets
  • Olive oil
  • One chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/4 cup onion diced or sliced
  • 1/4 cup red pepper diced or sliced
  • 2 small cloves garlic, crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • about a cup of chicken broth or stock
  • about a cup of tomato or spaghetti sauce (I used Prego)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the following spices: ginger, cumin, ground coriander, cardamom, turmeric, paprika
  • (and, if you feel the need to smooth out the flavors, yes, you can use a little curry powder)
  • 1/2 cup cream

Heat the oven to 375. Spread cauliflower and broccoli on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast the vegetables until the edges are slightly brown, but be careful not to burn. They should be a little crunchy. (Roasting the vegetables is important because it imparts a different flavor than just tossing them in the saute pan.)

Meanwhile, in a saute pan, brown the chicken, onions, peppers, garlic in a little olive oil.

Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock/broth.

Add the spices.

Add tomato sauce and let simmer until chicken is done and tender.

Add the roasted vegetables.

Turn the heat down and when it’s no longer piping hot, add the cream, stirring until silky smooth.

Goes well over rice, Israeli couscous, quinoia (is that how you spell that?)

Next time I make it, I’ll try to note the precise measurements.

tajmahalpeacockBack to our Taj Mahal experience…I noted how they provide live music on special occasions. I love that they want to elevate the dining experience in this way, but sometimes I feel like telling the owners they should get a better musician. Oh, it’s not that the fellow they use can’t play. It’s just that what he plays is hardly better than piped-in music. And he seems to take a lot of breaks!

If you’re ever in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, craving Indian food, stop by this establishment.

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Fruitcake, balls and tornadoes

Like Ahab hunting Moby Dick, I’ve been on an obsessive search–to find those big, fat, shiny ornaments you hang on deciduous trees outside. Finally, I hit the target. I mean Target, the store. That’s where I found them. And I’ve hung them outside as my own clenched-fist protest against the winter sky–its shortening days and longer nights:

christmas 2012 big ornaments

Speaking of things Christmasy, let’s take a break from making fruitcake jokes to actually make…fruitcake. Or, rather, fruitcake bar cookies. Believe it or not, until I was in my twenties, I’d never tasted fruitcake. But after I married, I discovered that my mother-in-law not only liked it, she made batches of it every Christmas, all soaked in apple brandy, to send as gifts to friends and relatives. Her recipe was very good–a dark, dense cake filled with candied citron, orange peel, cherries and nuts and raisins, too. When she lived in Maryland, she’d go to Lexington market to find these candied treasures.

She is gone now, and I can’t recreate her fruitcake success. Her recipe was for many cakes–I tried one year to make only one loaf by doing lots of math (long division, even!) with the recipe. Me + lots of math = not-so-good-fruitcake.

Not to worry — she also left us a recipe for fruitcake bar cookies, a lighter batter but still moist and sweet. So if you happen to be among the few, the happy few, who enjoy fruitcake, here’s the recipe:


Cream together:

  • 1/2 cup butter (one stick)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsns milk


  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tspn cinnamon
  • (dash of nutmeg if desired)

Mix dry and wet ingredients. Batter is VERY thick.

Add: 1/2 cup raisins, 1/4 cup candied cherries, 1/4 cup candied orange peel, 1/4 cup pineapple — whatever candied fruits you like and, really, as many of them as you like.

Spread with spoon (or your clean fingers!) in a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350 for 1/2 hour. Cool and cut into bars.

Fruitcake cookie

Fruitcake cookie

I saved the recipe in my new recipe book. The one I made. Yes, I did.

Finally, a note about a previous post…

I wrote about my recent trip to Kansas where I met long-time writer pals for the very first time after corresponding with them for more than ten years. In looking through my photos of that trip, I came across this one, from the Kansas City Airport:

ks tornado shelter sign

Hmm….I guess they have tornadoes out there sometimes. Would make a great setting for a fantasy tale….


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