butternut squash & kale pasta

This recipe was inspired by: veggies that needed to be used, tummies that needed to be filled, and a recipe I no longer have that definitely included ham. All quantities are approximate as it was a ‘throw together’ recipe. But, it was wonderfully yummy and my guess is anything remotely close will also taste great (because that is what happens when you take great veggies and add some butter).



  • 1 small butternut squash, diced into small cubes
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 bag or more of kale chopped and de-stemmed
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
  • pinch or two of parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cups of milk
  • 1/4 cup of pasta water
  • 1/3-1/2 box of angel hair pasta, cooked to al dente
  • salt and pepper

Sauté butternut squash in 1 Tbsp butter. When about half cooked, add the onion, salt and pepper. Sauté until butternut squab is starting to brown but not too soft and onions are beginning to caramelize. Remove squash and onion from pan, and sauté kale in remaining 1 Tbsp butter several minutes, then add to squash. In pot, cook the pasta until it is al dente. In sauté pan, add milk, cheese, pasta water, salt and pepper in sauté pan, then add veggie mixture and pasta. Mix it all together and serve warm.

pumpkin pie spice latte recipe

I am not a fan of Starbuck’s ‘Pumpkin Spice Latte.’ It tastes fake. That being said, I love pumpkin spice: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. All favorites in my kitchen and, to me, scream of happy fall.

I recently found out the same can be said of pumpkin spice teas — they are not all made the same. I grabbed a box of Twinings tea thinking that would be reliable. Horrible. It has a fake pumpkin taste. Republic of Tea, however, was a light tea, but full of real flavors. Moral of this story: pay for the good stuff, hunt for the good stuff. Don’t bother with the bad stuff, or be willing to throw it out when you find it.

And then, this morning, I had a thought: why not make my own pumpkin spice latte? So, I opened a can of pumpkin puree and commenced. Friends, this is the good stuff. I will perfect it in the coming weeks, but this is the starting point.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or mixture of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 – 1 cup milk (approximately)
  • espresso
  • sugar to taste

Mix pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla in a saucepan and cook until it smells lovely. Whisk in milk and cook until nearly simmering. Add sugar to taste. Add some espresso. (I make espresso on my stove using my moka pot — not exactly espresso, but it is pretty darn great. If you don’t have a moka pot, check out Ross or other discount stores as they often have them on great sales.)

Should you be lazy, you could do this in the microwave with yummy results.

There you go. Don’t settle for the fake flavors when the real ones are so darn good!


ps – If you need something to do with some of that extra pumpkin puree, try out these ‘Healthy Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.’ Add 1 Tbs sugar to the recipe. And know that they are more yummy breakfast bar than cookie. Add a layer of peanut butter or eat with yogurt.

greek yogurt pancakes

I had some amazing yummy pancakes at Renee’s house a couple of months ago. I say Renee’s house because her husband Kylie is the chef in the house and we were (as per normal) the amazingly lucky people being served a scrumptious breakfast. A couple of weeks ago I was sitting out here in California skimming some food blogs and came across a recipe at The Pioneer Woman for “Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes” that sounded rather like what Kylie had made. But, while I keep a stock of Greek yogurt in the house, I do not keep sour cream. I modified the recipe to create a healthier version that makes my taste buds happy and downsized it be a recipe for one that is hearty and yummy.

Before you get to to the recipe, I need to ramble a bit about Greek yogurt. I grew up on the Middle Eastern version of Greek yogurt, lebaneh. My mom taught me to strain plain yogurt to make my own lebaneh from plain yogurt well before it was readily available in America. Now suddenly Greek yogurt is everywhere in America and there is no need to make my own. But one of the things I have found in America is how important it is to spend the time to read the list of ingredients for anything that is a staple in your diet. Greek yogurt should read like this: milk, active cultures. That is it. But, there are cheaper ways to make ‘Greek yogurt’  that include pectin or other thickening agents (especially when it comes to low-fat or non-fat versions). If pectin or thickening agents are included in the list of ingredients, know that you have a nice thick-feeling yogurt but you do not have is Greek yogurt, or lebaneh. The brand I use is Fage. Do your own research next time you buy some Greek yogurt and see how your chosen yogurt measures up to the test. If you cannot find one that works, buy some plain yogurt (with an equally simple list of ingredients), line a strainer with a couple layers of cheese cloth and dump your yogurt into it. Put the yogurt in the strainer in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight. What remains is Greek yogurt (the thickness of which will is variable based on how long you strained it), the liquid is whey and water that you can throw away. It is all about having real ingredients for real food. Now, for the recipe.


Greek Yogurt Pancakes

Combine in small mixing bowl:

  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 3 Tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp wheat germ
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp banking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Whisk together in small bowl:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2-1 tsp vanilla

Combine top list of ingredients in small mixing bowl (Greek yogurt and dry ingredients). Whisk together egg and vanilla in small bowl, then fold into yogurt combo. Scoop 1/4 or less of batter into a  hot skillet and cook over medium-low to low heat.

Add some fruit and this recipe is a hearty meal for 1 person. Doubling the recipe would be good for 2-3 people.

my homemade granola recipe


Granola is a wonderful, versatile and healthy food when done well. I have played with a number of different ways to make granola and fine tuned what I like (ok… what I really like is extra sugar and honey, but this is more healthy). This size batch is a good size for a single person, and it can be done (except the cooling process) in under 30 minutes. A dear friend, Mimi Wilson, taught me about cooking the granola in frying pans instead of baking in the oven. It infuses the flavors more, is quicker, and I find it is harder to burn it this way. Modify this to suit your own tastes (or by what is available where you live), but however you make your granola, enjoy!


  • 2 cups quick oats
  • 1/2 cup coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract


  • Mix dry ingredients.
  • Combine oil, honey, and molasses. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Add vanilla and almond extracts.
  • Pour liquid into dry ingredients and mix until all is wet.
  • Put into frying pan and cook over medium heat constantly stirring until granola starts to turn brown and dry out. Remove from heat and let cool.
  • Granola will harden as it cools. Store in sealed containers.


  • For richer and sweeter granola, increase oil by 2 Tbsp and honey by 2 Tbsp
  • Flax seed and wheat germ are optional
  • My favorite nut & fruit combinations:
    • Blueberries and pecans
    • Craisins and walnuts
    • Raisins and walnuts

tropical substitutions: papaya in carrot cake

One of the things about moving across an ocean is that you have to find new and imaginative ways to alter tried and true recipes. Things that were the norm because they were cheap, easy and accessible are expensive, time consuming and hard to find. It means finding a new norm.

In America I regularly substitute some of the oil in baking recipes with apple sauce (plain, un-doctored apple sauce). It cuts some of the fat, and often adds good moisture with but a small change in flavor. I often had an open jar in the back of the fridge just waiting to be used. Here in Rwanda when I can find apple sauce, it is expensive. True, apples (though not particularly cheap), could be made into apple sauce. But I work a job that is more than full time, so that is, at best, a laughable option.

So, I turned to the readily available tropical fruits: bananas, mangoes, tree tomatoes, pineapple, passion fruit….papaya. Nearly everyone I know who likes papaya grew up eating it or intentionally developed a taste for it. As a baby in Kenya, it was my first food… need I say more? But here is the deal: it is filled with moisture, easily mashes (just scrape the insides and you have instant puree), and readily available. So I gave it a shot when baking my famous and much loved carrot cake. It is as divine as ever. So now I have little bags of 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup amounts of mashed papaya in my freezer ready to go. A bit of creativity and now I have a new oil substitute that is cheap, easy and accessible. In case you presently live in a similar tropical location, here is the now-adapted, but proven, carrot cake recipe. I am still perfecting the cream cheese icing without cream cheese; I will keep you posted.

Carrot Cake for Tropical Locations

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar (if not cooking for Americans, reduce slightly)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple (if using fresh: finely chopped with some juice)
  • 3/4 cup mashed or pured papaya
  • 3/4 cup vegetable or corn oil
  • 1 cup coconut (can do without, just add a few tablespoons flour; desiccated coconut is available in Nairobi)
  • 2 cups grated carrots

Mix all ingredients except the coconut and carrots. Fold in coconut and carrots, one at a time. Bake in a 9×13 pan (do not grease or flour the pan) at 350 F for 45 minutes or until test stick comes out clean. I have recently been using a 9 inch springform pan, which takes 50-55 minutes. Best served with cream cheese frosting.

karkade – iced tea or martini


When I visited my parents last month, they reintroduced me to karkade, something I had not had since I was a kid in Egypt almost 20 years ago. In other places, karkade would be called hibiscus tea. The iced version of Egypt and Sudan is incredibly refreshing on a hot summer’s day and I highly recommend making some immediately as these days seem to be aspiring to reach 100. The recipe for the karkade was what my mom told me to do and the martini is my own creation based on my appreciation of gin in the summer. Although the martini looks incredibly girly, the taste is not. I hope you enjoy either or both versions!


  • hibiscus
  • 3/4-1 cup sugar
  • for martini: gin, diet 7-up or club soda, and lime

karkade iced tea instructions:

  • Using a 3 quart saucepan, fill almost full of water. Add in handful (I don’t have large hands) of hibiscus and sugar (more sugar if you like sweet tea). Bring to a full boil. Take off heat and let cool on stove.
  • Use a tea strainer to strain out hibiscus.
  • Cool in fridge.
  • Serve over a lot of ice.

karkade martini instructions:

  • Proportions for 1 serving: 1 oz gin, 1-2 oz karkade iced tea, 1 oz diet 7-up or club soda, 2 wedges of lime
  • Mix all liquid and one lime wedge in shaker or glass.
  • Serve over ice with a lime wedge as garnish.

sausage and gnocchi soup

sausage gnocchi soup


The girls at work love to share recipes and food inspiration, and the origin of this recipe is found in those moments of sharing. Kellie’s friend found it on myrecipes.com and passed it along to Kellie when she needed something easy to make and she passed it along to us. And here I am passing it along to all of you lovely people. This is the heart of food – friends and sharing. Enjoy!


  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 small or one large carrot, diced
  • 2 hot sausages (or medium Italian sausages plus some red pepper flakes)
  • 1 can stewed or diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
  • 1 can beef broth plus one can water
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1/2 package gnocchi (~1/2 lb)
  • 3-4 cups fresh spinach
  • parmesan for garnish


  • Cut open sausage casings, break apart, and cook in pan until done.
  • Sauté onion and carrots.
  • Place all ingredients except gnocchi, spinach and parmesan in a soup pot, and bring to a boil.
  • Add gnocchi to boiling soup. When the gnocchi come to the surface, they are 2 minutes from being done. At this point, add the spinach. Gnocchi, spinach, and soup should be ready at the same time.
  • Serve hot and top with fresh parmesan as desired.

moroccan styled bean stew

moroccan stew


My friends Heather and Adolfo introduced me to the original recipe several years ago over a great dinner at their place, and I believe this to be a family recipe. I have modified it ever so slightly, and I bet they could tell you how they have modified it since then as well. It is hearty and yummy and healthy. A slice of crusty artisan bread would go along with this perfectly. Also, it freezes well and feeds a small crowd.


  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 large or 2 small/medium onions, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs (including leaves), chopped
  • 2 small carrots, chopped
  • 1/3-1/2 cilantro, chopped
  • 1/3-1/2 fresh parsley, chopped
  • 4 cans chick peas
  • 2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 large can (35 oz) petite diced tomatoes
  • 5 cups vegetable or chicken broth (or water and bullion)
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils (I used green lentils)
  • 1 cup brown basmati rice


  • Melt 1 1/2 Tbsp butter over medium heat and add spices. The spices will soak up the melted butter. Continue to cook the spices over medium heat until the butter starts to come out of the spices.
  • Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots in the remaining butter and a touch of olive oil.
  • Add cooked spices, sautéed vegetables, and all remaining ingredients (including liquid from cans of beans) except rice to a large pot and bring to a simmer or soft boil. After about 15 minutes, add rice. Continue to simmer until lentils and rice are cooked. Be sure and stir as it cooks as it is a thick stew. You will also likely need to add several cups of water as the stew boils (add as needed). When the rice and lentils are cooked through, your stew is ready (about 30 minutes, maybe more)
  • Serve warm.

bread pudding

bread pudding 2


A couple of years ago I had a marvelous realization: I loved good bread puddings. And this realization of course made me want to learn to make a good bread pudding. I searched for recipes of various shapes and sizes to find the key ingredients, timing, and baking. Then I had fun. It is a perfect winter dessert – not too sweet, but moist and warm and begging for a cup of coffee, tea, or milk to go alongside. The recipe was resurrected for Christmas dinner this year and enjoyed by all. This is an approximate recipe – modify it to your heart’s content.



  • 2/3 – 3/4 loaf of American style French bread (goal: a white bread that does not have a thick crust – you want a crust that will ‘disappear’ rather than become tough in the custard)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 4 small eggs or 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1+ 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 medium apple (honey crisp, braeburn, or one with equally good texture and flavor)
  • Rum


  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon


  • The night before, put the raisins in enough rum to cover them, cover with a plate, and leave out.
  • Cut bread into 1 inch squares and let sit out for an afternoon to dry the bread. (You can also cut these the night before and place in a bag to let dry. If the bread has thicker crust on it, cut the crust off of the bread as it will become tough when baked.)
  • Dice the apple into very small pieces (approx. 1/2 the size of a raisin). You do not need to peel the apple. Toss apple with 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 2 Tbsp rum.
  • Beat the eggs until they are thick and foamy. Add the coconut and cow’s milks, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.
  • In a large bowl, toss the bread, raisins (drained of the excess rum), and apples. Place the mixture in a greased 8 x12 baking dish. Pour the egg & milk mixture over. Leave out for 30 min – 1 hr before baking, pushing the bread down with a fork or spatula to soak up the egg & milk mixture regularly.
  • Melt the butter. Mix in flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Use your hands to spread this topping over the pudding in small pieces.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes (until the pudding has set). Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 hearty servings.

carrot cake



This is the carrot cake recipe that I grew up with – one of those recipes that mom would make and everyone always loved. It is the recipe against which I judge every piece of carrot cake I buy – and no restaurant or store has measured up. And, yes, when I want to, I do make this a multi-layer cake that is picture perfect cake (however, I never add silly little iced carrots). So this is that recipe with, as always, a couple of modifications that make it even better.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple
  • 1/2 cup plain apple sauce
  • 1 cup vegetable oil


Mix all dry ingredients. Add and mix the wet ingredients except for the carrots and coconut. Fold in the carrots and coconut, one at a time. Bake in 9×13 plan at 350 degrees F for 45 min or until done (toothpick comes out clean).

When cake has cooled, frost with homemade cream cheese frosting – trust me when I say that it is worth the effort. (Approximate frosting recipe: 6 oz cream cheese, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 tsp milk, and enough powdered sugar to make it smooth – around 1 lb.)

banana bread



The unaltered version of this recipe is my family recipe for banana bread. Although clearly biased, I think it is the best banana bread I have ever eaten.  Here I’m presenting two versions – original and modified versions. The modified version is super healthy. I love either version hot out of the oven with a bit of butter. This recipe also makes great muffins that can be frozen and pulled out when needed. 


original recipe

-Dissolve: 1 tsp baking soda into 1/4 cup buttermilk (or 1 tsp lemon juice plus milk to equal 1/4 cup)

-Beat: 1 cup sugar & 1/2 cup soft butter

-Add: 2 beaten eggs & 3-5 mashed bananas

-Add: baking soda and buttermilk mixture

-Add (but do not beat): dash of salt & 2 cups flour


modified recipe

-Dissolve: 1 tsp baking soda into 1/4 cup buttermilk (or 1 tsp lemon juice plus milk to equal 1/4 cup)

-Beat: 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar & 1/2 cup plain applesauce

-Add: 2 beaten eggs & 3-5 mashed bananas

-Add: baking soda and buttermilk mixture, 1 tsp vanilla & 1 tsp cinnamon

-Add (but do not beat): 1/4 cup flax seed, 1/4 cup wheat germ, 1 cup wheat flour & 1/2 cup white flour

-Add (optional): 1/3 cup pecans chopped finely



Make batter as above described. 

-Grease bread pan or muffin tin and pour in batter. 

-Bake at 350 degrees until toothpick comes out clean – bread for about 1 hour or muffins for about 25 minutes.

spicy peanut stir-fry


Two of my college roommates made this recipe, and I believe, that should the relationship web be untangled, the origin of this recipe is either JP or (the now) ST, who, at one point in time dated. College relationships; I need say no more. What matters is that this is easy and good. I have modified the recipe slightly to add a bit more spice, a little more veggies, and a little less chicken. Next time I am contemplating making it a vegetarian dish. Enjoy!


-2 chicken breasts diced (or less if they are the massive, genetically enhanced American versions)

-4 cups broccoli, diced

-1 Tbsp veggie or olive oil

-2 or 3 cloves garlic

-1 1/2 tsp red pepper

-1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy is better)

-1/2 cup water

-1 Tbsp brown sugar

-2 Tbsp soy sauce


-In a wok or large frying pan heat oil, garlic, and red pepper. Add chicken and cook until just done. Add broccoli and stir-fry until bright green (if needed, add a little water to help cook the broccoli.)

-Push chicken and broccoli away from the center of the wok creating room to mix the sauce. Add to center of wok and mix until sauce is created: peanut butter, water, brown sugar, and soy sauce. When sauce is created, mix with the chicken and broccoli.

-Serve over rice.

mac ‘n cheese

In the South, mac ‘n cheese is not just something you feed to kids and it does not just come out of a box. It is soul food and it is artisan food. Here, you don’t mess with mac ‘n cheese, and you certainly don’t look down on anyone who orders some when out for dinner. Instead, you smile–because now you too can order mac ‘n cheese without looking like you do not have any taste. 

So, last weekend my brother and his girlfriend participated in a mac ‘n cheese cook-off party. And they won. 

They brilliantly started with the “Best Mac ‘N Cheese Ever,” the winner of Emeril’s Mac ‘N Cheese search. You can find that recipe plus a whole bunch more here. Then they made a few modifications:

• use extra, extra sharp cheddar (gives more of a cheesy vs just creamy taste- I found my cheeses at trader joes)
• cut up bacon into little bits before you cook it (saves fingers from grease burns when attempting to crumble later)
• we used less gruyere and more cheddar
• we used about 3/4 of the milk suggested
• use Japanese Bread Crumbs called Panko (I think they sell them in most grocery stores) rather than hohum western bread crumbs
• finally, I added cheddar to the topping as well- I like cheddar that much 😉

Ok people…that’s it. Now go and embrace mac ‘n cheese in all of its glory. Don’t laugh–just embrace.