COOKING FROM LOVE: SPANAKOPITA

Finished spanakopita as a side dish or snack.

Once upon a time I catered international cuisines. I had an Israeli Chef then as a partner, so preparing Middle Eastern delights became a focus of our business. One of the dishes I learned then and have always enjoyed making and eating since is spanakopita, a Greek-based dish that includes spinach, feta, filo or puffed pastry. I have made small triangles or thin roll-ups for appetizers, larger versions for side dishes, or have layered a 9×13 pan with many sheets of buttered filo piled atop one another, added my filling, and then topped with more layers of filo.

Yesterday I was in the mood for using my hands other than to lift weights to strengthen my bone density. As I perused my refrigerator, pantry shelves, and freezer, it was as if all the ingredients for spanakopita yelled, “Pick me, pick me.”

COOKING FROM LOVE: SPINACH (OR BROCCOLI) QUICHE

Finished spinach quiche.

In my household, real men (meaning my husband, Russ) not only eat quiche, but enjoy it.

My favorite quiche recipe came from my sister, Debbie. Although I have made it exactly as she gave it to me the first time, I have never made it the same way twice ever since, not because I don’t adore her original recipe, but because I use whatever cheeses I happen to have available. I don’t exactly follow original suggestions for amounts of cheese either, usually putting at least a half-cut more… just because. Although I usually use fresh spinach because that’s what I know what Russ will eat, Debbie’s recipe also includes broccoli as an alternative.

Occasionally I add some cooked, crumbled bacon, but have also added al dente diced asparagus and/or ham. My cheese assortments have been swiss, gruyere, muenster, boursin, feta, ricotta, cheddar, or a mixture of Italian cheeses. The result is that each time, the texture and taste are different. The dish lends itself to improvisation.

COOKING FROM LOVE: QUICKIE ITALIAN CHICKEN WITH PASTA AND BROILED CAPRESE TOMATOES

Finished meal of chicken and pasta, broiled tomato caprese.

Fixing a meal quickly can be done, but it is not my preference.

Today was just one of those days when groceries were being delivered sooner than expected and I had about 45 minutes to prepare a meal of my husband Russ’ choosing. Shortcuts were necessary. So, I didn’t take notes on quantities in order to give you precise amounts. I used what I had available, and with ingredients I knew he’d eat.

But before I tell how I made it, I need to vent. If anyone ever asks me about what I disliked intensely during the months of Coronvirus fears, other than the expected answers such as socializing and getting my hair done, I would say it’s being so concerned about keeping my husband and I safe, that I didn’t do my own grocery shopping. I am one of those rare (apparently, as my friends have noted to me) people who enjoy grocery shopping. If the watermelon isn’t the right color, the cantelope mushy, or the romaine lettuce spines are ribbed in pink, I am not buying them. I’d do without first. I’m just as choosy about meats, poultry, or cheeses.

COOKING FROM LOVE: CHICKEN POT PIE

Finished chicken pot pie. You can see it’s chock full of chicken and veggies.

Chicken pot pie is like a warm blanket fresh from the dryer on a blustery day that your mom wraps around you to quiet the chilled air. Chicken pot pie is comforting love, and yet, I can’t recall the last time I personally cooked it. I’ve had enough bad versions in restaurants — the dough wasn’t cooked through or there was a scarcity of filling amid a soupy, flavorless broth –so I knew what I didn’t want it to be. What I did want is to appeal to my husband Russ’ preference for a denser stuffing, and in these days of not being able to do a spur-of-moment run to the grocery store, I had to use what I had available.

Not everyone will have the time or ingredients I have, so as I go, I will share possible substitutions. If you’ve read my cooking blogs, you know I don’t measure, but I made a point of taking notes as I went to give you a close approximation. As always, adjust to your taste.

COOKING FROM LOVE: SPANISH-STYLED CHICKEN, RICE AND BLACK BEAN DINNER (and an ITALIAN WHITE WINE)

Spanish (dark yellow) rice with chicken and a side of black beans (2)

Cooking for a picky husband is always challenging, especially during COVID-19 when I am doing my best to work with ingredients still in my pantry/freezer/refrigerator. He’s a Midwestern born-and-raised meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, but in trying to restrain his desire for red meat, I try to mix in chicken dishes, and to expand his tastes with international flavors. With all this is mind, my meal for the day was a Spanish-styled chicken, doctored black beans from a can, and Spanish yellow rice. (Reminder: I don’t measure, but will try to give you an idea of what I do.)

COOKING FROM LOVE: Moroccan Couscous with Mixed Veggies

Mixed veggies atop couscous.

I heard quickly from some of you that the bacon or some of the other items in my Mediterranean-styled Green Beans aren’t on your diets, but at least some of you have already shared ways to make substitutions or eliminate any items that won’t work for your individual health plan. Great! That is exactly the right thing to do.

But because I know many of you are veggie-lovers comme-moi, here is an easy dish I made today. My sweet hubby had to have two teeth extracted on an emergency basis yesterday, so I am pampering him with soft foods and dishes just to keep him happy. What that means, is that I can prepare dishes for myself about which he might not otherwise be overly enthusiastic.

Moroccan couscous, an easy and quick side dish.

Russ does love this Moroccan couscous, and I can occasionally sauté some chopped veggies into it or turn it into a salad side, but this combo was designed for me.

The couscous can be purchased at most grocery stores. I always have some on hand. The veggies I stocked up on during my last (and now infrequent during shelter-in-place restrictions) grocery run. You can use any, or all, of my suggestions, and don’t hesitate to embellish with your own spices.

COOKING FROM LOVE: Intro & Mediterranean-Styled Green Beans

I didn’t know we were poor. I just knew that growing up in a multi-household of amazing cooks (and bakers) that there were two rules: you never know who may show up famished, so be able to stretch your meal, and never let anyone leave hungry.

Sometimes I’d walk into my grandma’s Coney Island, NY kitchen where she and my Aunt Fanny would be stirring big pots of chicken matzoh ball soup or layering a black-and-white speckled enamelware roasting pan with stuffed cabbage, just in case unexpected relatives and friends happened to pop in… and they always did. The women in my family didn’t just cook. They cooked from love with limited budgets and unlimited imagination.

From the time my dad’s sister, Aunt Golda, guided me through making my own apple pie tart at the age of five, I have always baked and cooked. I have cookbooks, but mostly I just cook with what ingredients are on hand. I visualize the ingredients melding together, and then set about making that materialize. Between the sumptuous Eastern European dishes created by my mom’s and dad’s families, and later the exotic influences imprinted upon my mom as we lived and travelled internationally, I grew up experiencing the “throw a bit of this, a dash of that, smell, taste and be sure there is color” philosophy. When my mom returned to work, I was 11 and responsible for choosing what I would cook and then making the family meals.

Edible, Yes… But Keep Your Hands Off These Centerpieces!

Top Chef Santa. See the cleaver in his hand?


Edible centerpieces are 3-D works of artistic skill that can showcase an event’s theme, decorate a simply clad table, or in the case of the Orange County (FL) public high school and vocational tech students, it can be the recognition that their creativity, knife cuts, and timed artworks merited their focused concentration.
I’ve lost track of how many years I have had the privilege to judge Orange County (FL) Public School’s Annual Hospitality and Culinary Competition, hosted each December at the Orlando World Center Marriott, but I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for what each Read more

Six Wines, Three Flatbreads and an Afternoon of Tasting

We’re very fortunate living in the Orlando, FL area. While the rest of the country is still experiencing the bluster of March, we’re enjoying blue skies, low 80’s and gentle breezes. It was perfect weather for sitting on the back porch of Seasons 52 overlooking the lake, sipping on slights of wine and munching on flatbreads.
Seasons 52 is a Darden Restaurant original brand that specializes in fresh, locally sourced foods, with meals, appetizers and mini-desserts typically weighing in at no more than 500 calories, including the aforementioned flatbreads. The menu changes seasonally, and the wines offered on their stellar program called Flights & Flatbreads changes frequently. Each wine comes with tasting notes. The program is available daily up to 6 pm.
For $15, you can have a choice of whites or reds (roughly 3 ounces each) and one flatbread. For $20, their Acclaimed red wines are rated at 90+ points. According to Seasons 52, the Acclaimed wines are rated by Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast Read more

VISIT ORLANDO’S MAGICAL DINING MONTH 2015: IL MULINO NEW YORK TRATTORIA

Italian cheesecake, berries and mascarpone. All photos by Karen Kuzsel

Italian cheesecake, berries and mascarpone. All photos by Karen Kuzsel


Third in a Series
Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month is over for another year, but I have one more restaurant meal to describe because if next year’s selections were as wonderful as this year’s, Il Mulino New York Trattoria at the Walt Disney World Swan will bump up to our “must do” list.
Honestly, the quality of the meal, presentation and the above-excellent service by a team of servers came as a surprise. We went because we’d never eaten Read more