Archive for category Recipes

Prepare an Autumn Picnic Tea

The weather is often nice in September and October in Northern Virginia. Why not have a picnic? I had first envisioned this as an outdoor tea party — and you could do that if you have your picnic tea on your deck, yard or patio. Hot tea would only be steps away, and you could prepare whatever you like to go with your cuppa.

But what about setting out and having a picnic tea somewhere else? If you trade the hot tea for cool, iced tea or Arnold Palmers, that’s perfectly feasible.

Where to Go

  • Gravelly Point in Arlington.
  • The gardens adjacent to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester.
  • Gunston Hall in Mason Neck.
  • Bon Air Rose Garden in Arlington.
  • Along Skyline Drive in Front Royal.
  • Montpelier near Charlottesville.
  • Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria.
  • Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly.
  • The Alexandria waterfront.
  • Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane.
  • Bartholdi Park in Washington, DC
  • My secret spot! I’ll never tell…

What to Bring

You’ll probably want a picnic hamper (or a sturdy re-usable grocery bag may do), some cups, napkins, plates and utensils, a blanket to sit on, and insect repellent. A couple of pillows or cushions to sit on (or nap on) might also be nice.

What to Make

Here is a suggested fall menu for two people. Increase amounts for more people or more hungry people! Or reduce the amounts if you think it’s more than you’ll need. And don’t hesitate to take yourself on a picnic tea! Tea for one can be delightful and relaxing.


To drink, prepare a container of iced tea with lemon or Arnold Palmers, at least a quart for two people. Also, pack a quart of Fiji water or spring water.


  • Chicken salad sandwiches on Parker House rolls or White House rolls (2 to 4 rolls).
  • Herbed cream cheese sandwiches on wheat bread, cut into triangles (1 to 2 sandwiches).
  • Cucumber sandwiches with mint butter on white bread, cut into fingers (1 to 2 sandwiches).
  • A leak-proof container of bread and butter pickles.
  • A container of grape tomatoes or baby carrots.
  • If you really want to add a prepared salad, Giant makes a good sesame noodle salad that is a little spicy. It might be a nice departure from the more expected potato salad or pasta salad, although it might have too much bite for kids. A half pound container would be plenty for two people.


  • Bartlett pears or gala apples.


  • Pumpkin bread – make your own or buy a delicious loaf at Whole Foods. Bring along about half a loaf for your picnic for two people, and spreadable butter and a plastic knife, if desired.
  • About 6 Pepperidge Farm jam cookies, Fig Newtons or other favorite cookie.


Chicken salad. Mix shredded rotisserie chicken or cooked chicken breast with halved green or red seedless grapes, Hellman’s light mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste, and a couple of dashes of dried tarragon. Chill. Spoon onto rolls with a green leaf lettuce portion, or use arugula if you prefer. Wrap.

Herbed cream cheese. Mix a bar of softened cream cheese with a tablespoon of lemon juice, a dash of Tabasco sauce, and a 1/2 cup of a mixture of chopped fresh parsley and chives (or your favorite herbs). Alternatively, use Philadelphia light vegetable cream cheese. Spread on wheat bread, cut off crusts, and cut into triangles. Wrap snugly.

Cucumber sandwiches. Peel an English cucumber and slice it thinly. Spread softened butter lightly onto 2 slices of white bread. Lay on the cucumber slices and add chopped mint, if desired. Seal and cut into fingers. Wrap snugly.

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A Better-for-You Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back!

That’s the good news. More good news: coffee is really good for you (even decaf)

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

in moderation. It has antioxidants and increases your cognitive ability. People who drink coffee are far less likely to suffer from liver disease than people who do not drink coffee.

The bad news is those coffee store lattes are not really that good for you because they are loaded with fat, sugar (50g) and calories (350). That is way more calories and sugar than a donut. They are also fairly expensive (about $3.75 at the chain that sells donuts and about $5 at the chain that has baristas).

But pumpkin spice lattes are so good! What to do?

Make your own, of course. It’s easy.

A latte is a blend of heated milk and strong coffee or espresso. You can make your own by heating milk and sugar on your stovetop or in the microwave, adding strong brewed coffee or espresso and flavoring. Here’s a delicious sounding recipe from McCormick that sounds easy to make and is only 160 calories, even when made with sugar and whole milk. It only takes 3 minutes to make. And it saves you nearly 200 calories over the barista-made version!

I take an even easier route. I prepare my coffee with instant, freeze-dried granules on the stove top and add pumpkin spice coffee creamer. The brand I use is lactose-free so I don’t get bloating or a stomach ache. And it’s…ta dah! 35 calories. Which is 315 calories LESS and about $4.50 LESS than if I bought it at a coffee place! At 5 grams of sugar per serving, it is really much healthier than the counter kind — which has 45 grams more sugar.

Adding some spray whipped cream and nutmeg on top adds only about another 15 calories.

If you need to take your pumpkin coffee to work, I saw some darling “to go” coffee cups with lids at TJ Maxx yesterday that would be perfect for your healthy homemade pumpkin spice latte. They had watercolor illustrations of people drinking coffee on them. Those illustrations would be pretty on real, permanent mugs. I think there were also some more simple, orange-color ones. I saw those in the seasonal section.

I got a ceramic mug at Dollar Tree for myself. It says “Pumpkin Spice Latte” on it. LOL.

Even if you splurged on some fancy cups, you’d still save money this fall on your favorite coffee drink!

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Sauteed Apples

I found this recipe online and served this with roast pork.  It was easy to make and fast to make!  I will probably also make it for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I recommend the Oxo peeler for peeling apples.

Sauteed Apples

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
6 cups sliced peeled Granny Smith apples (about 2 pounds)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples; saute 6 minutes or until apples are just tender. Stir in sugar and cinnamon. Cook for 1 minute or until sugar melts.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup)

CALORIES 137(30% from fat); FAT 4.6g (sat 2.7g,mono 1.3g,poly 0.2g); PROTEIN 0.2g; CHOLESTEROL 12mg; CALCIUM 17mg; SODIUM 49mg; FIBER 1.6g; IRON 0.3mg; CARBOHYDRATE 25.7g

Karen A. Levin
Cooking Light, MARCH 2000


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Cheese Fondue

A full cheese fondue set in Switzerland. Apart...

Image via Wikipedia

Aren’t the apples amazing this year?  Have you ever dunked Gala apple wedges into cheese fondue?  The combination is fantastic.

Here’s an easy recipe for cheese fondue that I’ve made successfully and really enjoyed.  I found it in Martha Stewart’s Living magazine a few Halloween’s ago.


  • 8 oz shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 8 oz shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine (I have also tried apple juice)
  • Nutmeg (if desired)


Toss the shredded cheeses with flour to coat.  Bring the wine (or apple juice) to a simmer in a  sauce pan or fondue pot over medium heat.  Add cheese 1 handful at a time, whisking gently until melted.  Bring cheese fondue to a simmer but do not allow to boil.  Mix in a pinch of nutmeg (if desired) and serve.

You can substitute apple juice for the white wine in this recipe, if you like.  The resulting fondue is a bit sweeter, but still wonderful, and my son adored it.  I split the recipe and made half of it with wine and half of it with apple juice.  If you’re serving to kids, you might want to dish out a small ramekin of sauce for them on their individual plates so they can dunk — it’s a little safer for them than the fondue pot and the cheese will stay hot in small amounts.

I like dipping french baguette slices and apple chunks, but you could also try pretzel rods or sesame bread sticks, maybe a firm pear, or use a whole wheat baguette.

Have you made fondue?  What dippers do you like to use?

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Do you like to cook? A collection of easy fall recipes to try

I was looking over this list and thought — butternut squash. I need some butternut squash recipes!

The other day, I had butternut squash ravioli (the Giant Brand, $4.99 package) and served it as recommended, with sage leaves fried in butter and a little parmesan. It was very good and so easy to make. You can buy a small carton of fresh sage at Giant for only 99 cents.

I noticed that Campbell’s is selling a new Butternut Squash soup (about a dollar, I think) and I bought that, because it has a good recipe for linguine with butternut squash sauce on the label.

I also noticed the fresh figs are in. Giant is selling them in a carton of 6 for $6. Sigh. That is a dollar a fig. I do love them and I know they are special but I still wince a bit because my sister has a tree full of figs…in Georgia! When she had dogs, the dogs used to get up on their back legs to reach the figs, and eat them right off the tree. Maybe she can find the picture she took and I’ll post it here. Clever dogs!

I like to have figs with a little mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of honey.

Here are some of my and my son’s favorites.

Cheese Fondue

Pumpkin Pancakes

Vegetarian Chili

Baked Rigatoni with Pumpkin and Sausage

Gingered Pumpkin-Pear Soup

Orzo with Figs, Prosciutto, and Gorgonzola

Pear and Pecan Salad with Mixed Greens


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Pumpkin Pancakes

We love pumpkin pancakes and make them all year.  They are a yummy way to get your vitamin A.  I improvised this recipe after using the Libby’s pumpkin pancake recipe for years.  This one is quicker.  Also, I prefer using my own spice blend to taste, rather than using pumpkin pie spice.  There is an ingredient in pumpkin pie spice that I don’t like the taste of.

My son LOVES these pancakes!


  • 2 cups Aunt Jemina complete pancake mix (dry)
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp ground ginger (powder) or to taste
  • pinch or shake of ground cloves (or to taste)
  • pinch or shake of nutmeg (if desired)
  • 1/2 cup Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin (canned)
  • Water
  • Canola oil
  • Butter
  • Real maple syrup (the Safeway Select brand is good)
  • Pecans, chopped and toasted (optional)


Put pancake mix, spices, and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Add pumpkin.  Add enough water to make a batter consistency (thick or thin, as you like).

Prepare frying pan by heating a blend of about half canola oil and half butter over moderate heat.  As soon as butter melts, pour into a small bowl or ramekin, leaving some fat in the pan for the first batch of pancakes.

Add batter when pan is good and hot.  If the batter is very thick, spread it out with the back of a spoon.  The pancakes are ready to turn when the edges look done and the bubbles are starting to pop dry.

Because you have added butter to the pan (the canola oil helps keep this frying fat from burning), you may not need to add additional butter to these pancakes.  But do serve them with warm maple syrup (they are also good plain).  Toasted, chopped pecans are a yummy addition for those who like nuts.

Note: To toast pecans quickly, put them in a dry frying pan and turn often.  You can also toast them on the cookie sheet of a toaster oven, if you have one, or in a regular oven at 400 for about 5 minutes.

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Three-Bean Chili (vegetarian)

Vegetarian Chili (with cheese, light sour cream, and tortilla chips)

On a crisp fall day, chili tastes wonderful.  And this chili is especially good for you, too.

I was a vegetarian for more than ten years, and I adapted this recipe — The Devil’s Chili — from the Vegetarian Times cookbook. My version is a little easier to make, and more to my tastes, with some changes in ingredients.  And I added a secret ingredient: cinnamon!  Cinnamon really makes it, but if you don’t like it, leave it out.  This is a really forgiving recipe.  You can add or leave in what you like from the ingredients, or if you’re out of something, and it pretty much always tastes right.

Serve this with pumpkin ale or apple cider, some good corn tortilla chips (I like Tostitos Naturals), some shredded four-cheese Mexican blend and a little light sour cream on top.  Delicious! 🙂

Saute in a big pot, in extra virgin olive oil:

  • 1 large onion, chopped (yellow or white)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced or chopped fine
  • 3 large green onions, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, chopped


  • 1 can of diced tomatoes and their juice
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 can of cannellini beans or pinto beans
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans (or use any beans you like)
  • 1 15 oz can of tomato sauce
  • enough water to make a soupy consistency (sorry, I don’t know how much, I kind of play it by ear); it will cook down

Then add these spices and stir

  • 1-3 bay leaves, whole
  • 1 teaspoon curry (or you could use cumin, if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • Chili powder to taste (maybe 1 tsp)
  • Cinnamon! the secret ingredient 🙂 1 tsp or to taste
  • Throw in a little hot sauce if you want
  • If you want to go a little crazy, throw in some cocoa powder (try a dash at first)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Let simmer, covered, for about an hour.  If it gets too thick, add a little more water.  This makes about six servings.

Let me know what you put in your chili in the comments!


Baked Rigatoni with Pumpkin and Sausage (plus cooking video)

This recipe is from people who make Libby’s canned pumpkin, and I altered it a bit.


  • Nonstick cooking spray (Mary’s note: I used butter, instead. That nonstick stuff is not good for anything.)
  • 4 cups (12 oz.) dry regular or whole-wheat ziti (I used regular because I think whole wheat ziti tastes like steamed paper bags)
  • 1 can (15 oz.) LIBBY’S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (Mary’s note: I used a big clove of minced real garlic sauteed in a little olive oil instead)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch cayenne pepper (I was out of cayenne pepper! I threw in some parika and hoped for the best. I know it is not nearly the same)
  • 1 can (12 fl. oz.) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Fat Free Milk (I used the store brand.  I did not use Fat Free. The whole can only has 160 calories and 2 g of fat a serving; I can live with that)
  • 4 links (12 oz.) fully-cooked Italian-seasoned chicken sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I substituted Hillshire Farms smoked chicken sausage instead).
  • 1 pkg. (6 oz.) or about 4 cups pre-washed baby spinach
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) shredded part-skim or 2% milk reduced-fat mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup (1.5 oz.) shredded Parmesan cheese (I used grated instead.  I think the flavor is better.)


PREHEAT oven to 425º F. Spray 4-quart baking dish (what is that? I used a 9 x 18 lasagna pan) with nonstick cooking spray. BUTTER. or olive oil.

PREPARE pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water and set aside for later use. Drain pasta; return to cooking pot.

MEANWHILE, COMBINE pumpkin, flour, garlic powder (use real garlic!), salt, nutmeg and cayenne pepper in medium skillet (I used my new Tfal caldero!) over medium heat. Slowly add evaporated milk, stirring until smooth. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken slightly. Pour over pasta in pot. Add sausage and reserved pasta cooking water; stir well.

SPREAD half of the pasta mixture into prepared baking dish. Top with spinach. Cover with remaining pasta mixture. Lightly spray piece of foil with nonstick cooking spray (I don’t use that stuff. I just peeled the pasta pieces off the foil.)  Cover ziti with foil, greased-side-down.

BAKE for 20 minutes or until heated through. Combine mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in small bowl. Remove foil; sprinkle with cheese mixture. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Makes 12 servings (200 calories a serving, 4 grams of fat, 12 grams of protein, and 100% of your vitamin A!)

Mary’s notes:

  1. This was delicious.  We paired it with Bell’s Octoberfest Beer and it was perfect.
  2. A bag of spinach usually has more than you need for this recipe, so you’ll have some left over.  Ditto for the Barilla box of rigatoni.  You’ll use like 3/4 of the pasta.
  3. If this has 200 calories a serving, I’m a monkey’s uncle!  I’m betting more like 400 calories, but that’s still pretty good.
  4. I used my new caldero which I read about in Family Circle this month.  I ordered it from Home Shopping Network for $25, and yes, I LOVE it.
  5. The pan of pasta is super hot when you take it out of the oven!! The heat went right through my potholders.  Maybe use two, or just take extra care not to burn your hands.

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