Strati de Jardin, (Garden Layers), aka “Layered Veggie Thingy”

Finished Veggie Dish

On the afternoon of a predicted winter advisory I did what everyone else in the Midwest seems to do when there is a threat of bad weather … run to the grocery to buy stuff I don’t need, but could need if things get really bad. Among the items I purchased, an assortment of pasta, cheeses and a 3 1/2 pound bottom round roast.  Perhaps it was that nice big chunk of red meat that guilted me into doing something with vegetables.

I remembered seeing a recipe recently that had layered some baked vegetables with roasted beefsteak tomatoes on top. Now the odds of me finding some homegrown beefsteak tomatoes in February at my present location were about as likely as me picking some winning lottery numbers, but it got me thinking. So I set out to procure enough vegetables to create  Poppy’s “Layered Veggie Thingy”. The sweet onions were on sale, grabbed some … potatoes seemed hearty, tossed in a bag of golden potatoes … zucchini and yellow squash looked a little pathetic, but I snatched 2 of each anyway … eggplant, no brainer, as close to meat as you can get in the veggie world … and while I couldn’t score any beefsteak tomatoes, I grabbed the biggest tomatoes I could find in February at the local grocery. Knowing my family as I do,  a 100% pure veggie main dish might be a hard sell, so I added a package of fresh Mozzarella cheese to the collection. Continue reading “Strati de Jardin, (Garden Layers), aka “Layered Veggie Thingy””

Poppy’s Steak Bites

Not my prettiest photo, but here are some steak bites with roasted cauliflower and roasted sweet onions.
Not my prettiest photo, but here are some steak bites served with roasted cauliflower and roasted sweet onions.

Know someone who loves to eat steak but can’t be bothered with cutting it up or cutting around the bones and fat?  Steak bites are the answer.

“Why steak bites rather than whole steaks, Poppy”?

Several good reasons; steak bites are bite-sized (duh), and easy to eat. There is less waste, everyone can help themselves to as much or as little steak as they want. In our family 3 good sized steaks can feed 4-5 people when served with sides. Maybe Poppy spoils his family or perhaps he is the lazy one. Continue reading “Poppy’s Steak Bites”

Poppy’s Potato-Cheddar-Sausage Soup

It was a dark and stormy night. Cop cars suddenly converged on a house just a few doors down from me. Moments later though the mist I could see them leading a ghostly figure away in handcuffs. Apparently this person had failed to provide hot, hearty soup for their family.

Yes, some weather is so miserable that’s it’s actually a crime not to make a batch of creamy, comforting, delicious soup … don’t be that person. Poppy is here to help!

 Poppy's Potato-Cheddar-Sausage Soup

Introducing Poppy’s “Potato-Cheddar-Sausage Soup”.

In Poppy’s not-so-humble opinion, a good potato soup should be creamy yet have some chunky goodness to it. Start by peeling and dicing 6 medium to large Yukon Gold potatoes into ¼” cubes. Drop the potato cubes into 48 ozs. of low sodium chicken broth. If you’re ambitious and want to make your own broth, go for it, but that’s a topic for another day. Crank up the heat and cover your stockpot. Continue reading “Poppy’s Potato-Cheddar-Sausage Soup”

Poppy’s Favorite Flatbread Pizza


Once a scrambled egg walked into a pizza parlor. He asked the waiter if he could have something to drink. The waiter said “Sorry, we don’t serve breakfast.”

… rimshot! (sorry, couldn’t resist)

Ahh, the joys of making a flatbread pizza … talk about a blank canvas, the options are limitless and it’s almost impossible to mess up!

This is one of Poppy’s favorites and in the universe of pizzas, it’s one of the healthier ones … start with a good flatbread (duh). Our local grocery carries some that are made just for pizza. Continue reading “Poppy’s Favorite Flatbread Pizza”

Spicy Tortellini Soup


Did Lynyrd Skynyrd get tired of people yelling out … “Free Bird“?

Does Tony Bennett ever think … for crying out loud people, I actually sing songs other than “I Left My Heart in San Francisco“?

This is my families most requested soup … to the point I sometimes say, “Sorry, I’m making something else tonight”. And the most humbling thing … it’s not a Poppy original (and I am very proud of my humility)! I found this years ago on, they featured this soup from the Café Aroma in Edwardsville, Illinois. This is Poppy’s version, slightly modified from the original. Continue reading “Spicy Tortellini Soup”

Math vs. Cooking …

It’s said that there are 3 kinds of people in the world, those who understand math and those who don’t!

At this point you have probably figured out what kind I am.

I don’t hate math … OK, actually I do.

It seems so constraining. There is only one right answer in math … I have a problem with that. Life is not that simple. Life is filled with wonderful options. It’s not black and white, it’s filled with an endless palette of colors. It’s filled with an amazing array of smells, textures, sounds and yes, tastes.

You may be asking … “What does that have to do with cooking, Poppy”?

As far as I’m concerned, recipes are merely suggestions, not mathematical formulas.  Recipes should be idea starters, don’t feel like you have to follow them exactly. Anything I post … please bend, fold, spindle and mutilate as you see fit!

Explore, experiment, expand your horizons (and always avoid alliteration).

Want to add a little jalapeño to that dessert … go for it!

Anchovies in that pasta sauce … absolutely,  just wait until your family is raving about it before you tell them the ingredients.

In Poppy’s humble opinion, cooking is an art, not a science. Have fun with it. What’s the worst that can happen? … and keep a frozen pizza handy for those occasions  😉

Orecchiette Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Spinach


An old Italian man lived alone in Jersey. It was spring and he wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was very hard work for the aging man, as the ground had compacted over winter. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:

Dear Vincent,

I am feeling sad because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. If only you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would dig the plot for me, like in the old days.

Love, Papa

A few days later he received a letter from his son:

Dear Papa,

Don’t dig up that garden. That’s where the bodies are buried.

Love, Vinnie

At 7:00 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived at the old man’s house and dug up the entire garden area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left.

That same day, the old man received another letter from his son:

Dear Papa,

Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That’s the best I could do under the circumstances.

Love, Vinnie

Aaah, the things we will do for a good tomato … but lets get cooking!

This dish will delight at least 3 of your senses, it looks great, smells wonderful and tastes delicious. I guess if you ate it with your fingers we could add one more sense to the list (let me know how that works out for you).

Orecchiette pasta originates in the sunny southern province of Puglia, Italy and translated means, “Little Ears”). Traditionally made by curling bits of pasta dough over one’s thumb, the little cup-like shape is great for holding sauces and veggies. It’s slightly chewy texture is the perfect complement to the intense flavors of the roasted tomatoes. Continue reading “Orecchiette Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Spinach”

Cauliflower = Wallflower?

wallflower: a type of loner, seemingly shy folks who no one really knows, often some of the most interesting people if one actually talks to them.

Pity the poor cauliflower, she sits alone in the produce section, wrapped in cellophane, segregated from the other produce, pale in a world of greens, golds and reds. Cauliflower rhymes with wallflower … coincidence? … I think not.


So how do we bring out the personality in this seemingly boring vegetable? Very simply, we roast her. Roasting turns this wallflower into the belle of the ball, full of attitude, verve, and not the least … flavor! Rich, nutty, must have some more flavor. Best of all it’s very easy. It fits Poppy’s lazy gourmet style perfectly. Just cut up a head of cauliflower into florets with flat sides. The more contact with the baking sheet, the richer the flavor, hence the flat sides. Toss the florets in EVOO and spread on a foil lined baking sheet (unless you really enjoy scrubbing baking sheets). Make sure the florets are not stacked on each other, spread them out so each one has it’s chance in the roasting spotlight. Apply some ground black pepper and sea salt and we are good to go, it’s that easy.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, then load in the cauliflower. Keep an eye on it, when it starts to brown on the bottom (10-15 minutes) then take a spatula and flip it over and roast another 10-15 minutes. The result is slightly browned, carmelized, and altogether delicious. Serve it as a side (with some fresh grated parmesan), toss it in some pasta, soup or salad … you can’t go wrong.

Viva la wallflower!


Humble Ham Gets Sassy!


Have you ever had an old friend that was as nice as they could be, very dependable, honest as the day is long, but so boring that after a few minutes with them you wanted to get up and run around the room screaming at the top of your lungs just to liven things up? I feel that way about the ham sandwich. Maybe it’s all those years of being handed a sack lunch that contained a bag of chips, a couple of cookies, and a sandwich constructed from a few thin pieces of ham, a slice of American cheese with a dab of mustard.

It’s time for ham to get sassy! Continue reading “Humble Ham Gets Sassy!”

Poppy’s “go-to” salad

Remember when “salad” meant a head of iceberg lettuce chopped up then drenched in some type of heavy dressing? That was lazy!

This is the new lazy … walk into the grocery store, head for the produce section and grab a container of fresh, washed, delicious greens.

Spring Mix Salad

I usually go for the “Spring Mix”, it will contain all or most of these; Baby Lettuces (Red & Green Romaine, Red & Green Oak Leaf, Red Leaf, Lollo Rosa, Tango, Butter Lettuce), Red & Green Chard, Mizuna, Arugula, Radicchio, and Baby Spinach.

This becomes your canvas, not a blank canvas, but a very colorful canvas … wonderful shades of green, red and even a little white. This earthy palette is especially appreciated during those bleak winter months here in the midwest when the predominant colors outside are grey and brown. Even the name, “Spring Mix”, gives us hope.

Now we start moving the dial from totally lazy and start heading toward the gourmet side.

I mix up a very simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

“Poppy, how much EVOO and balsamic vinegar do you use”?

That’s a good question. Of course it depends on the quantity of greens used!

Perhaps more important than the quantity is the proportions. I like the bite of the vinegar, so my mix is close to 1 part vinegar to 2 parts EVOO. You may prefer something closer to a 3-1 ratio. Next I add a pinch of garlic salt or sometimes Cajun seasoning. All of this is mixed in a coffee mug.

“Poppy, why do you use a coffee mug”?

That’s a good question and it involves the next step in our salad prep, adding the red onion. For a small container of Spring Mix, I will slice half of a medium-sized red onion, cut the longer slices in half then drop the onion into the coffee mug and stir everything together. Since I mix up the dressing before beginning any other food prep, this gives the onions, vinegar, EVOO and spices time to hang out together, get acquainted, talk about old times, where they went to high school and talk trash about the jalapenos and banana peppers. By the time the salad is ready for tossing they are the best of friends.

Add the contents of your coffee mug to the salad right before serving and start tossing.

Next up is the cheese, most nights this is simply parmesan, a good wedge grated either fine or coarse, your choice. You could go the lazy route and just shake the cheese out of a plastic container ( I have done this ), but fresh grated cheese is much more flavorful and doesn’t contain extras like powdered cellulose, added to prevent the cheese from caking. Of course you are not limited to parmesan … experiment with other cheeses like crumbled feta or goat cheese. Toss again and add some fresh ground black pepper.

If you do nothing else, this will give you a great salad, but remember, this is a canvas, try some marinated artichoke hearts, or tomatoes, or toasted pine nuts, or brandy poached pears, or rotisserie chicken … or all of the above!

Zsa-Zsa the pug approves of this blog and would eat everything if allowed!
Zsa-Zsa the pug approves of this post and would eat everything if allowed!