The Zorba

Zorba SandwichWhen I was away at college, I spoke with my parents at least once a week.  It was during one of these weekly calls that my mother told me about a sandwich that she and my father had for lunch one day while traveling to a neighboring town.  The sandwich was called “The Zorba.”  She described the ingredients, a mixture of ground beef, broccoli, and “ripe olives” which were served in a “pita pocket bread,” and promised to make the sandwich for me the next time I was in town.  I know some of you are probably wondering what a “ripe olive” is, so let me explain.  The olives that come in a jar with the pimento are called green olives, right?  My mother considered the black ones to be “ripe”.  I don’t know if they were ever actually labeled that way for sale, but I grew up calling them ripe olives until one of my roommates asked  “What’s a ripe olive?”

Personally, I thought that my mother’s description of the sandwich sounded pretty weird, and  I was not eagerly anticipating the day when she would make one for me.  In fact, when she commented at the end of Thanksgiving weekend that she had forgotten to make me a Zorba, I was secretly happy I had managed to avoid the taste test.

“It’s okay, Mom.”  I told her.  “We had so much turkey and other stuff, we really didn’t need them.  I’ll be home again.  We can try it then.”   I was hoping that she would forget.  What I didn’t know was that she made these sandwiches for my father at least once a month.

It was when I came home for Christmas break that she finally was able to make the Zorba for me.  I stood in the doorway to her kitchen which was near her stove and talked with her about the things going on at school as I watched her prepare this strange sounding mixture.

First, she chopped up some garlic.

chopped garlic

Then she chopped up some onion.  She probably only used one type of onion but I had two half onions sitting in the fridge. 

Chopped Onion

Then she put all of it into the pan with some ground beef.

Ground Beef, Onion, and Garlic go into the pan

She cooked this until the meat was browned.

Cooked ground beef that has been cooked with onion and garlic

Then, she stirred in frozen chopped broccoli.

Frozen Chopped Broccoli

Finally, she added a 2.5 ounce can of sliced black olives that had been drained.  I have been known to use a 4.25 ounce can of chopped black olives instead.

Sliced Ripe or Black Olives

She continued to cook this mixture, adding black pepper and salt until the broccoli was cooked to her liking. I usually add only black pepper because of the saltiness of the olives, but my mom always complained that  I don’t use enough salt when I cook.  Taste it and decide for yourself.

Heat the zorba mixture through

The mixture was then served inside pita pockets that had been spread with mayonnaise, and served topped with shredded cheese.

Completed Zorba Sandwich

To my surprise, it was very good.  I guess you could call it “love at first bite.”

During Spring break, my mom wanted me to go with her to try the original sandwich upon which she had based her recipe.  We drove 30 miles, and after completing some other errands, we stopped at the diner.  After studying the menu, we couldn’t find the Zorba anywhere.  My mom summoned the waitress who was new.  She brought out the manager, and he told her that, sadly, the sandwich was no longer available.    I don’t remember what we had for lunch, but I remember that I liked my mom’s Zorba Sandwich.

When I got  back  to the college, I made it for my boyfriend.  He really liked it, too.  He’s now my husband.   I can’t promise that Zorba sandwiches will turn your boyfriend into your husband, but it worked for me.   In fact, he’s the one who is responsible for this post.  I asked what he wanted for dinner, and he said “You know something that you haven’t made in a long time?   Zorbas.”  Baker’s Man is really an awesome guy.   Of course, I might be prejudiced.

Here’s the recipe.  Please give it a try and let me know what you think.

The Zorba Sandwich
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Pseudo Greek
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 servings
A remake of a sandwich my mother and father ate at a diner in a neighboring town. You can add some shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes to the sandwich if you like. If pita bread is expensive in your area, use flour tortillas and roll up burrito style.
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 10 oz frozen chopped broccoli
  • 1 (2.5 ounce) can sliced or chopped olives, drained
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 6 pita (pocket) breads
  • Shredded Cheese or crumbled cheese of your choice
  1. Cook garlic, onion, and ground beef together in a skillet until meat is browned and onion is translucent.
  2. Drain off excess grease.
  3. Add frozen chopped broccoli and cook, stirring frequently until broccoli is nearly cooked.
  4. Add olives, and heat until broccoli achieves desired degree of doneness and olives are heated through.
  5. Cut pita's in half and open the pockets.
  6. Spread the interior of the pocket with 1 - 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
  7. Spoon in meat mixture
  8. Top with a couple pinches of shredded cheese.
  9. Serve


Crab Louie

Crab Louie Salad

Homemade Crab Louie Salad

Summer is synonymous with salads in my house. During the hottest times of the year, it’s not uncommon for us to have large salads for dinner topped with meat cooked outside on our grill. Sometimes, it can be a challenge to create salads different enough that my family doesn’t become bored with the menu. We try to follow the guidelines for building a healthy salad. It’s amazing how easy it is to make an unhealthy salad if you don’t follow some simple rules.   I believe that if you’re making a salad, you should make the effort to make it healthy.

We frequently try different combinations of lettuce with different vegetables. Of course, we swap out the types of dressings, too. I have even been known to use salsa as a dressing when I am trying to create a salad with a southwestern flair. During a recent heat spell, I was trying to come up with some new salad ideas. That was when I remembered Castagnola’s Lobster House and their Crab Louie salad.

Lobster House in Santa Barbara

A postcard showing the exterior of Castagnola’s Lobster House

Castagnola ‘s Lobster house was a Santa Barbara institution.  The owners of the restaurant owned a fleet of fishing vessels, so the restaurant’s advertised “catch of the day” really was the day’s catch.  The food was excellent and the Crab Louie salad was a visual work of art. At least, that was my opinion when I was a teenager. I had never tasted crab before the first time I tried one of these salads, and I fell in love with the sweet taste. I would squeeze lemon juice onto the heaping pile of crab meat and only sparingly use the “Louie Dressing” which tasted suspiciously like 1,000 Island.

It was a love affair that ended only when I went away to college. Sadly, The Lobster House, as my dad called it, is closed. The restaurant and the salad live only in my memory. I did my best to recreate  the taste of that salad with this recipe. Let me know what you think. Thank you for visiting my site.

Crab Louie
Recipe type: Main Course Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
A refreshing dinner salad that is delicious and filling. It can be modified by using other seafood such as shrimp or lobster.
  • 2 - 3 outside leaves from head of romaine lettuce
  • 2 cups hearts of romaine torn into bite sized pieces for each salad
  • ½ cup shredded carrots
  • ¼ cup shredded red cabbage
  • ¼ cup chopped green onions
  • 4 - 5 slices of cucumber, halved
  • 1 hard boiled egg cut into quarters
  • 2 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup chopped tomato
  • 4 ounces of cooked crab meat, shelled and deveined
  • A wedge of Lemon (or two)
  • 1000 island or seven seas dressing to taste
  1. Arrange the exterior leaves from the romaine on a plate to form a decorative base on which to build the salad
  2. Toss lettuce, carrots, and cabbage together. Arrange on serving plate or bowl.
  3. Arrange chopped tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and egg quarters around the edge of the plate
  4. Arrange crab meat in the middle of the salad
  5. Sprinkle green onions and radishes around the top
  6. Serve with lemon wedge and dressing on the side.

A link to this recipe was also shared at Strut Your Stuff Saturday and Beverly’s Pink Saturday.

Watergate Salad

This is an old and easy salad recipe that dates back to my childhood.  It was allegedly created by a chef at the Watergate Hotel in D.C. and was  served at brunch and on weekends.  This may or may not be true.  The salad reportedly gained popularity after the political scandal of the same name  (Watergate Scandal) that began in June of 1972 when  there was a break in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex which is on the same 10 acre site as the hotel.  For more information about that scandal, refer to the Wikipedia.

Whatever the source of the recipe, it is very quick, easy, and uses some pantry staples, mainly canned crushed pineapple and instant jello pudding.  Toss in some marshmallows, cool-whip, and chopped nuts (optional) and you have a delicious treat that is somewhere between a fruit salad and dessert.  It’s really good, too.


All you need is a small package of instant pistachio pudding, a 20 oz can of crushed pineapple packed in pineapple juice, 2 cups of marshmallows, 1/2 cup of chopped pecans (optional), and an 8 oz container of frozen whipped topping such as cool whip..  One of the things that I love about this recipe is that it is easily adapted.  It tastes just as good with sugar free instant pudding or fat-free frozen whipped topping.

Once you have gathered all of the ingredients, here’s what you do.

Dump the entire can of  pineapple into a medium sized mixing bowl.  Sprinkle the instant pudding on top of the pineapple and mix well until the pudding has completely dissolved and is beginning to thicken.  Stir in the 2 cups of marshmallows and the chopped nuts (if you are using them).  Fold in the thawed, frozen whipped topping.  Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it.

It’s really that easy.

Recipes like this always seem to take on a personality of their own as they travel through different regions of our country, and different households.  I recently had a colleague bring Watergate Salad to a party.  Her version was very tasty, but tasted different than mine.   She made the pudding with  milk before adding the other ingredients.  She also drained the pineapple before adding it.  The result was a still a delicious pineapple and pistachio dessert.  It just had a slightly different taste and texture than the way I make it.  She was incredulous to find out that I don’t make the pudding first.  I promised to bring her a batch of Watergate Salad made my way.

For my home, I prefer my method.  I get to be a little lazy because  I don’t have to make the pudding first.  Of course, there’s also the fact that I don’t want  to waste the juice from the pineapple.  I do admit that  if my colleague wants to make another batch of her version for me, I’ll gladly eat it.  It’s just that when I’m in the kitchen, I sometimes like to be able to be lazy take the shortest distance between two points without sacrificing flavor.

Here’s the recipe.  Let me know what you think.

Watergate Salad
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
Simple pineapple and pistachio fruit salad type dessert that is very easy to make.
  • 1 small package of instant pistachio pudding (3.4 oz regular or 1 oz sugar free)
  • 1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple packed in pineapple juice
  • 2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • ½ cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 1 (8 ounce) tub frozen whipped topping
  1. Thaw frozen whipped topping in refrigerator prior to beginning recipe.
  2. Place entire contents of can of pineapple into a medium sized mixing bowl.
  3. Sprinkle instant pudding onto pineapple.
  4. Mix pudding mix into pineapple until pudding mix is dissolved and the mixture begins to thicken. This takes approximately 2 - 3 minutes.
  5. Stir in miniature marshmallows and pecans (if using)
  6. Fold in whipped topping.
  7. Cover and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  8. Serve .



Grilled Chicken Salad With Watermelon?


I forgot to put on the pine nuts before I took the picture. They add a delicious crunch to the salad, so don’t forget them.

It all started with a bunch of inexpensive watermelons.  Watermelons are the perfect summer food.  They come in their own package.  They’re loaded with juice which helps to quench your thirst.  They’re low in calories, and you only need a knife to cut them up so you can eat them.   More civilized folks might want to consider using a bowl and a fork, but we’re pretty much barbarians when it comes to watermelon.

So, one day, while holding a 10 inch chef’s knife and staring at the dwindling pile of watermelons in my kitchen, I thought of the summer salads that are served at some of the fast food chains that feature fresh berries.  I wondered why no one made a salad that contained watermelon.  That was all it took to get me started on my salad experiment.

First, I took some spring greens and baby spinach and spread them onto a plate.  Next, I seasoned some chicken with lemon pepper and my hubby cooked it on the grill.   We placed the hot chicken onto the bed of lettuce and spinach.  Then scattered chopped watermelon, radishes, avocado, and pine nuts onto the plate.  The entire thing was topped with a home made lime vinaigrette.  It was good.  It took a pretty picture, but some of the strong flavors of  the spring greens were so strong that they were overpowering the more delicate flavor of the watermelon.

The next day, I repeated the same thing for dinner with a couple of changes.  Since it’s extremely hot, no one complained.   I prepared the salad again, but this time, I substituted an entire head of butter lettuce and part of a heart of romaine for the spring greens.  Both of these are more delicately flavored lettuces.  Everything else, remained the same. That was all it took to create salad perfection.   I have one word to describe it.  YUM!   My daughter even ate two salads that night.

The answer to the question in my title is this.  Yes, a grilled chicken salad with watermelon can taste good.

Here’s the recipe.  I hope you like it as much as we did.  Thanks for visiting Patty Cake’s Pantry.

Grilled Chicken Salad With Watermelon?
Recipe type: Entree Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
Grilled chicken, and watermelon, on a bed of delicately flavored lettuce make a delicious summer salad.
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 head butter lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces
  • 5 - 6 leaves from a heart of romaine torn or cut into bite sized pieces
  • 4 cups watermelon cut into small chunks
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 8 radishes, halved then sliced
  • ¼ to ½ cup pine nuts toasted
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1 pinch of salt, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper or to taste
  1. Put olive oil, white wine vinegar and lime juice together with salt and pepper in a sealable jar or container. Shake to mix well.
  2. Season chicken breasts to your liking and cook on grill. (I sprinkled mine heavily with lemon pepper seasoning.)
  3. Arrange lettuce evenly among 4 plates.
  4. Place one cooked chicken breast in center of plate on lettuce, or you can slice chicken breasts into strips and place onto bed of lettuce.
  5. Arrange watermelon chunks, avocado, and sliced radishes around chicken on each plate.
  6. Sprinkle with pine nuts.
  7. Serve with vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is so refreshing, you don't need very much. Generally, no more than 2 tablespoons per salad.



Macaroni Salad

IMG_1880There are probably 50 gazillion recipes for macaroni salad floating around the internet, so what possessed me to post one?  There are really two reasons.  First, macaroni, or other pastas, are great and inexpensive pantry staples.  Second, as I write this, it’s 100 degrees.  The wind is blowing, but there is nothing soothing about the breeze.  It feels like it’s coming out of an oven.

When I was already sweating when I woke up this morning, I realized that it was far too hot to contemplate cooking, and the day would only get hotter.  That was why I decided that a cold dinner was in order.  I had some leftover chicken and cold cuts in my refrigerator that I could serve for dinner, but we were going to need something else to round out the meal.  I wanted to get all the cooking over before it got too hot.  Opening the pantry, I saw macaroni, and I immediately thought of salad.

Macaroni or pasta salad is a very versatile dish.  Pretty much anything goes with pasta.  At least, anything that you’d ordinarily eat goes well with pasta.  I decided to use elbow macaroni because I had a ton of it.  I put the water on and when it came to a boil, I added the pasta.  While it cooked,  I checked the fridge and the pantry to see what was lying around that sounded good.  I found many things that seemed like they had the potential to add interest to my macaroni, and I decided to try a few different things that I wouldn’t ordinarily use.

After the pasta was cooked, rinsed, and cooled, I added roasted red peppers, black olives, kosher dill pickles, pepperoncini, sweet relish, brown onion, and green onions.   This was a huge departure from how my mom made her macaroni salad.    The dressing got even stranger.  I used mayonnaise and some wine vinegar.  I was going to use cider vinegar, but someone left the wine vinegar on the counter.    (I’ve told you before that sometimes, I just want to be lazy.)  I also added pickle juice pepperoncini juice, salt, sugar, black pepper, and after mixing it up and thinking that it was too dry, I added a splash of milk.

After everything was mixed into the macaroni, I tasted the salad and decided that it tasted good to me.  It looked way too wet, but after it sat in the fridge for a few hours, it looked perfect.  Pasta salads always have a tendency to dry out as they sit.

I served up my salad on a bed of lettuce accompanied with the leftover chicken that my family reheated in the microwave.

Their verdict:  “It was good” to “It was Okay.”  There were those who prefer a salad with much more mayonnaise on it and less spice.  My complaint was that the recipe was enough to feed an entire platoon.   We have pasta salad to last for days.  Which in this heat, isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as it’s kept refrigerated.  Next time, I’m only using 2 cups of raw macaroni.   If you have a smaller family, you might want to make only 1/2 of the recipe.  Even then, you’ll have leftovers.

I opted to toss some chopped pepperoni and salami in some of the leftover macaroni salad so that I could take it for lunch tomorrow.  It’s pretty tasty that way.

Let me know what you think of this recipe.  As always, thank you for visiting my site.

Macaroni Salad
Recipe type: Side Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12 or more
A twist on the usual macaroni salad. This recipe makes 12 cups or more. You may want to adjust the recipe for your family.
  • 4 cups elbow macaroni
  • ½ cup chopped roasted red peppers
  • ½ cup chopped black olives
  • ¼ cup chopped kosher dill pickles
  • ¼ cup chopped pepperoncini
  • ¼ cup sweet relish + 1 tablespoon of the juice
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup pickle juice
  • ¼ cup pepperoncini juice
  • ¼ cup milk
  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions until al dente.
  2. Drain and rinse with cold water until completely cool.
  3. Place macaroni in a large bowl and add chopped red peppers, black olives, dill pickles, pepperoncini, sweet relish and juice, chopped onions and ½ of the green onions.
  4. Mix well to combine.
  5. Mix together the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, black pepper, pickle juice, and pepperoncini juice,
  6. Stir milk into the dressing.
  7. Pour dressing over macaroni mixture and stir until well combined. Sprinkle to top of the salad with the reserved green onion.
  8. Cover and refrigerate for 2 - 3 hours to allow the flavors to combine.
  9. Serve as an accompaniment to grilled meats or on a bed of lettuce.


The B.S.T Coleslaw

IMG_1875One of my early posts here at Patty Cake’s Pantry was about menu planning and deciding what you should store in your pantry.  In that post, I mentioned that because of the temperature extremes in the area where I live, we basically have two menu plans.  One for hot weather and one for cold weather.  July is traditionally the hottest month of the year in this area with temperatures frequently over 100 degrees F.  This means that our summer menu is in full swing.

During the hot summer months, we frequently cook outside on our grill and limit how much cooking is done in the house.  This week, we have been lazy and have been grilling sausages and hot dogs instead of anything more complicated.  Since I am concerned about my family’s nutrition, I can’t let them eat hot dogs with nothing else.  They need their fruits and vegetables.  This is something that is often debated.  Conversations go something like this.  No, Honey, ketchup is not a vegetable.   Yes, it’s made from tomatoes but it’s not a vegetable.  I know that for school lunches it was considered a vegetable.   I don’t agree.  Eat a tomato and it’ll count.  

The fruit thing is easy to provide during summer.  Simply slice up a chilled watermelon.  They are guaranteed to eat at least two servings of fruit at a single setting.  Vegetables can be a bit more tricky to get them to eat.

Today’s recipe was born out of a need to provide a vegetable side dish that my family would eat.  Granted, it has a very strange name, but my husband says it’s so named because “It’s the best!”  He says this in his best impersonation of an exuberant 1970’s game show host.  He cracks me up.  While this recipe is very good, and I really like it, I am not so vain as to claim that it’s the best.

In my experience, people have very different opinions of what makes a good coleslaw.  My mother preferred a simple vinegar and mayonnaise dressing with a little salt on her coleslaw,  and so did her mother.  My paternal grandmother liked her coleslaw dressed with a combination of mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.  My father didn’t really seem to have a preference until a fish and chips shop opened in the small town where we lived.  Their coleslaw was creamy, vinegary, and it  had a unique taste that came from the addition of celery seeds.  What followed were weeks of experimentation while my mother attempted to perfect this coleslaw dressing.  My mother would always try to figure out how to make anything that we told her we liked.

The other ingredients in coleslaw are often varied as well.  Some people are purists.   They like only cabbage in their coleslaw.  Others add carrots, green onions, red onions.  I even know a lady who puts crushed pineapple into her coleslaw.  It’s like I said before.  What constitutes a good coleslaw seems to be largely related to personal preference.

For this recipe, I decided to make my slaw dressing out of a combination of everyone’s recipes.  I used mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, sugar and celery seed.   I got lazy for the vegetables though.  I just picked up a bag of coleslaw mix and some sliced green onions.  My rationale for doing this was actually based upon cost rather than ease of preparation.  When I was in the store, the bag of coleslaw mix was cheaper than buying a head of cabbage and some carrots.

I made a few changes to improve the nutritional content of the recipe.  By using the pre-cooked and pre-chopped bacon instead of regular bacon, I shaved off 80 calories and 5 grams of fat from the total recipe.  By switching out regular mayonnaise for canola mayonnaise, I shaved a total of 800 more calories off of the entire bowl of coleslaw.  In addition, the canola mayonnaise provides 18% of our daily omega 3s in just one tablespoon.   They were simple swaps that improved nutrition without sacrificing flavor.  It’s still not the healthiest dish on the planet, but it’s a little healthier with these changes.

Do you want to know why I called it the BST coleslaw?  It’s because I added bacon, sunflower seeds, and tomatoes.  I really liked it, and I hope you do, too.

Here’s the recipe.

As always thanks for visiting my site.

The B.S.T Coleslaw
Recipe type: Side Dish Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
This coleslaw is made better by the addition of bacon, sunflower kernels, and tomatoes.
  • 1 cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 5 cups shredded cabbage mixed with 1 cup shredded carrots (You can substitute a bag of coleslaw mix.)
  • ¼ cup precooked chopped bacon (I used the bacon from a bag that was pre-cooked and pre-chopped. Just make sure that it's REAL bacon.)
  • ½ cup sunflower kernels
  • ⅔ cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced.
  1. Put mayonnaise, vinegar, celery seed and sugar into a bowl and mix to combine and make the dressing.
  2. Put cabbage and carrots (or coleslaw mix) into a bowl with sunflower kernels, and bacon.
  3. Pour dressing over salad and mix until well combined.
  4. Gently fold in tomatoes.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving to allow flavors to combine.


The Ghosts of 4ths of July Past

20140628_160736As I prepared for my family’s 4th of July soiree, I scoured the internet looking for some ideas I could use to wow my guests.  I found myself amazed at some of the great ideas floating around the web and picked several of them that I really liked and thought would be good to have on hand to present throughout the day.  As I contemplated my menu, I couldn’t help remembering the 4ths of July past that I spent at my maternal grandparent’s house surrounded by my extended family. The 4th of July was my maternal grandmother’s favorite holiday, so she requested that all of her children come to her home on that day to have a reunion.  My paternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant.  He loved his new country.  He studied hard to become a citizen, and loved everything about living in the United States.  He was so determined to be completely American that he forbid anyone to speak anything but English in his home.

My grandparents  had 8 children and 33 grandchildren.  I have no idea how many great grand children they had.  The last time I heard anyone mention counting them, I was 13 years old and the great grand children numbered 21.  I know there are more than that now.    In addition to their children and grandchildren, my grandmother’s 3 sisters, and their families, would descend upon the house.

The days before the 4th were very busy.   My parents and my aunts who had come to stay at Grandma’s house because they lived quite a distance were all busy with preparations.  Everyone was enlisted to  help  my grandmother prepare delicious dishes that would be served when the guests arrived.  The house hummed with excitement, it was  was  full of activity and the smells of delicious food.  Two large tables were pushed together in the dining room at all times because my grandmother had never been able to sit all of her children and their guests around just one table.  This double table was always covered with a huge table cloth or two.  These were exchanged for fresh table clothes after dinner on the night of the 3rd.

As soon as the breakfast table was cleared on the morning on the 4th, we kids would gather along the side of the street that ran along the river’s edge to watch the 4th of July parade.  We were always accompanied by at least one of the adult women.  When the parade was over, we would rush back to my grandparent’s house to see if any of the other relatives had arrived yet.  No one ever arrived empty handed.  An aunt who lived a couple hours away and had a farm brought a dozen watermelons one year.  These were not the small seedless variety that are in our local markets.  These were huge oblong things that were full of black seeds.  She deposited these melons on the back porch along with a couple of butcher knives and a salt shaker that she brought from inside the house.   My cousins and I would slice off  huge wedges of watermelon, sprinkle them with salt, and then have seed spitting contests off of the back porch.   We had watermelon juice all over us.  It was on both cheeks and both arms, and we were a sticky mess, but we had so much fun. The following spring, my grandmother remarked that she had several “volunteer” watermelon plants that had sprouted up from where we had spit all of our seeds.

When I thnk of the 4th of July buffet in my grandmother’s house, I remember her large, double table being piled high with food.  There would be macaroni and potato salads, cold fried chicken a couple of hams, fruit salad, cooked potatoes, green beans, creamed peas, corn on the cob, boiled shrimp, and of course, there were pies and cakes galore.  I can still see us skirting around the perimeter of the table, exchanging the usual banter and good-natured teasing,  as we heaped food onto our plates and headed off to find a place to sit, eat, and catch up on the latest news.  Every chair from the dining room had been moved into other rooms of the house or out onto the front porch.  My favorite place to eat on these occasions was while sitting on the 2 foot wide concrete rail that surrounded my grandparent’s raised porch.

My grandmother had attended the chicago conservatory of music in the early 20th century, and she had played the score for the old silent movies.  She was a very talented musician, and it seemed to me that all of the older people in my family played musical instruments with considerable skill.  There were two pianos in the living room, and people brought guitars, violins, harmonicas and accordions.  Everything we did, every interaction, was backed by the soundtrack of old standards, hymns, and a few contemporary country songs. When one person tired of playing, there was always someone else ready to join in for the next song.  Inevitably, the children, as they called us in those days, who had been taking music lessons, were good naturedly chastised until we performed a song or two.

In the evening, as the sun set, the older adults would gather on  front porch which was raised at least 10 feet off of the ground.  There, sitting on chairs or the porch swing, they would watch the fireworks display that was presented at the local high school.  The teenagers and older kids would walk as a group to the school to see some of the pre-fireworks musicians who preformed more contemporary music.  Inevitably, one or two of the younger adults would follow us as chaperones. I remember those days fondly.  At one point, so many people were sleeping over, that every possible piece of furniture was being used as a bed.   I remember that my cousins and I slept three to a twin bed with one of us sleeping in the middle with her head at  the foot of the bed.  The memory still makes me laugh. The other thing I remember is that no one complained and no one argued.  Miraculously, there was never a long line waiting for the bathroom in spite of having only one bathroom for over 40 people.  The thing that I remember most is that we just enjoyed being together as a family.  Sometimes, I really miss those days.

Having shared my 4th of July memories with you, I have a confession.  My big 4th of July treat is red velvet brownies with blue and white  decorations.  I’m not posting  a recipe because my intellectually disabled son wants to help make them, so we are using a mix so that he can do most of it himself.   He wants to make YouTube cooking videos, so I may film him.  Of course, I am so far behind that you probably won’t see the video on the internet before next 4th of July.  When we finish, I may post a picture of them, but the recipe is all Duncan Hines.

Update: The Duncan Hines Red Velvet Brownines were pretty good.  Even my daughter, who is  a self confessed Red Velvet Cake Snob, said they were “Okay.”  From her, this was high praise.  It took my son a long time to make them while I sat on my hands on a kitchen chair and read the directions to him.  He did a great job.  Here’s a picture of the finished pan of brownies. 

I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July.  I have posted photos that are links to a couple of sites with ideas that I really like.  I intend to make those two treats for the 4th, too.  Please check out their sites. As always, thanks for visiting.

Click on the photo to be taken to the recipe and the site that owns these images. Patriotic Koolaid Popcorn2This popcorn looks so cute and patriotic.  My daughter loves caramel and kettle corn, so she should really like this recipe.   When we made this colorful popcorn, we had an idea for a variation that we will be making for Halloween, so check back in October.watermelon stars 3-2I couldn’t get over how cute something as simple as watermelon stars with blueberries could look.  Not only are they cute.  They’re healthy, too.  These chilled watermelon stars tasted so good.  We saved the watermelon remnants and turned them into watermelon salsa.  Look for the recipe coming soon. 

Red Beans and Rice

IMG_1857My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up.  In spite of that, I never felt like I was deprived of anything.  One of the ways that my mother stretched her food dollars was to feed us inexpensive protein such as beans.  She once told me that a doctor told her mother that if she wanted her children to grow up strong and healthy, she should feed them beans at least twice a week.  My grandmother decided that if twice a week was good, four of five times a week would be better.  It seemed that this had been good advice because my grandmother raised all eight of her children from infancy to adultry adulthood.  She did this without the benefit of modern antibiotics or medicine.  The first dose of penicillin was administered in the United states in 1942 when my grandmother’s oldest child was 26 and her youngest was 13.

Since it had worked for my grandmother, my mother decided that beans would be a major part of our diet as well.  Most of the time, my mother cooked beans with a piece of ham skin or a ham bone in it for flavor.  I loved beans when I was growing up.  I would even have beans on toast for breakfast some mornings.   My husband is a city boy, who came from a family with a larger bank account than mine, and he is not as fond of  beans as I am.  This has resulted in a few meal time difficulties over the years, but gradually, he is seeing things my way.

Unlike my mother, I like to enliven my beans with a bit more flavor than just a ham hock or a piece of fat back.  At a minimum, I add garlic and onions to my beans, but often, I add much more.  These additions are a good thing for my husband because he likes more flavorful  food, so I can always whip up a pot of red beans and serve them over some rice without having to worry about him complaining too loudly.

While we are on the subject of complaining loudly, if you are one of the people who experience a significant increase in gas after ingesting beans, we have discovered through trial and error that if you soak the beans and then drain and rinse them well, you will experience significantly less gas than if you just cook them up.    If you’re like me and never remember to soak the beans overnight, put them in a pot and cover them with water.  Bring them to a full, rolling boil on the stove, cover the pan, and turn off the heat.  Allow the beans to sit for one hour then drain and rinse.  At this point, you can proceed with the recipe.

This recipe can be made without the meat and is just as tasty.  I prefer it that way, but hubby is a complete carnivore.

Here’s your recipe.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Red Beans and Rice
Recipe type: Entree or Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Southern
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
Red beans and rice are a simple dish that can simmer in a crock pot or on t a low burner on the stove. Inexpensive, hearty, and nutritious, they're sure to satisfy.
  • 1 pound dry red beans (I prefer small red beans, but some people prefer kidney beans)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 large onion, chopped (2 cups)
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon cajun seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried sage (optional)
  • 1 pound of cooked smoked or andouille sausage, sliced or chopped into bite sized pieces.
  1. Look through dried beans, carefully checking for and removing any rocks, twigs, and moldy or broken beans.
  2. Rinse beans with cold water.
  3. Place beans in a large pot and cover the beans with water.
  4. Place a lid on the pot, and allow the beans to soak overnight, or for a minimum of 6 hours,in a cool place
  5. Drain and rinse the beans.
  6. Place Beans into a large pot and cover with 6 cups water.
  7. Add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the pot with the beans and stir to incorporate them..
  8. Add bay leaves, cayenne, thyme, parsley, cajun seasoning, pepper, and sage (if you choose to use sage).
  9. Stir in the seasonings.
  10. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer beans for 1½ to 2 hours.
  11. Add cooked and sliced or diced sausage to the pot and simmer for 30 to 60 minutes longer or until beans are fully cooked.
  12. Serve over cooked rice with a jar of hot sauce


Dessert–As Easy as 1-2-3

IMG_1849Sometimes, things don’t go as you plan in the kitchen.  At least, that’s what happens at my house.  Take the bananas that no one ate.  Warmer weather means a shorter shelf life for the bananas, and I am less ambitious in the kitchen the warmer it gets.  As a result, I found myself procrastinating as the bananas passed the point where someone would eat them, then they passed the point where I could use them in banana pudding.


Finally, they were beyond even an ingredient in a smoothie.  We had arrived at D-day.  D stands for decision.  I had to use the bananas or throw them out.  Anyone who has been a regular reader here at Patty Cake’s Pantry knows that we don’t like to throw out, or waste, our groceries, so I had to use them.


I know that a lot of people would look at the bananas in the photo above and say gross, but around here, as long as the bananas are still semi solid with no visible mold or leaking fluids, we use them.      When they are black all over, the only real use for them  is in banana bread.   but banana bread requires me to measure and mix.  What should I do  if I’m tired and lack ambition?

Sometimes, you just want to be lazy.  At least there are times when I want to be lazy.  It’s hot outside, and I am going to have to turn on the oven and make the house even hotter.  I lack ambition.  I’ve had a rough day at work, and I’m tired.   I don’t feel like working hard.   It’s times like these when I turn to simple convenience items that I have in my pantry.  In this case, it was cake mixes that I found on an amazing sale a few months back.  The were only 59 cents a box.  I bought the maximum allowed by my store and so did one of my kids.  I was glad I had this abundance of cake mixes.  You see, a couple of months ago, I found a recipe by following a link from a recipe at Six Sister’s Stuff.  The recipe is for 3 Ingredient Banana Bread.

It’s super easy.  All you need is a box of cake mix, 2 eggs, and 3 ripe bananas.  Mix it up by hand until everything is mixed together.  It’s super easy, requires no measuring, and I can have it in the oven in just a few minutes.  Sometimes the hardest part is opening the cake mix and peeling the bananas.

Here’s the instructions…peel the 3 bananas and mash them in the bottom of a mixing bowl with a fork, or potato masher, or whatever your favorite mashing tool is.  I favor the fork.


Add 2 eggs and mix well.


Finally, add the cake mix and mix until everything is incorporated. Pour the batter into a well greased loaf pan.


Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.


You will have a beautiful loaf of bread.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then place on a rack to cool.  (If you’re like us, you’ll start cutting and eating before it cools, but that’s Okay. You kept from throwing away those food dollars, and that’s a good reason to celebrate.)

We have made this bread quite a few times using different cake mixes.  The original recipe called for a yellow cake mix, so the first time I made it, we used the yellow cake mix.  A couple of times, we stirred in other ingredients like a cup of chocolate chips, or a 1/2 cup of chopped nuts. The first departure from the recommended cake mix was when we  tried the recipe  with  a spice cake mix.   Spiced Banana Bread, as we called it, was very good.

Next we tried a strawberry cake mix because everyone loves strawberry-banana.


We even macerated some sweetened strawberries to put on top of the slices when we served it. Can you say “Yum”?


Most recently, we used devil’s food cake mix.


No matter what flavor cake mix we have used, it comes out perfect every time.   Each one has been very tasty.  I plan to try an orange or lemon cake mix next.  I think the citrus should go well with the bananas.    Here’s the recipe.  I hope you like it  as much as we do.  Thanks for visiting.

5.0 from 1 reviews
3-2-1 Banana Bread
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12
A 3 ingredient recipe that's a great way to use up those over ripe bananas. It's super simple and super tasty.
  • 3 over-ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cake mix
  1. Mash bananas in mixing bowl until they form a puree.
  2. Add two eggs and mix until well incorporated.
  3. Add the cake mix and mix until everything is mixed together
  4. Pour into a greased standard size loaf pan
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  6. Allow bread to rest for 10 minutes in the pan.
  7. Remove from pan and place on a rack to finish cooling.

Here’s a little food for thought:

I call this an up-cycled recipe.  Up-cycling is taking would-be waste products and turning them into something useful. In most North American homes, these bananas would have gone into the trash.  Instead, they were turned into a delicious dessert or snack.  It’s really a skill that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers all possessed, but it has been lost over the years.  I plan to periodically publish an “up-cycled” food recipe.  The tropical tapioca recipe I posted a few months ago was another “up-cycled” food recipe.

IMPORTANT:  The things that I am up-cycling have never actually been in the trash, they are not expired or spoiled.  They have all been properly stored.  NEVER EAT SPOILED FOOD or food that has been improperly stored.

Since my bread is pink, I think we’ll link up with Beverly’s Pink Saturday.  Come and check it out.

Cooking With My Mama

20140612_185120My earliest memories are of being in the kitchen with my mom. Back then, she was Mama, not Mom. I remember watching her make pies, mixing up the crusts by touch, with her experienced hands able to tell if the dough was too wet, or too dry, without measuring. I would sit, transfixed, on a chair, as I watched her chop fruits and vegetables to make potato, macaroni, and waldorf salads. Much of what I learned in the kitchen, the skills I used when I moved into my first apartment, was learned first by observing my mom as she worked, and then, by performing these tasks under her supervision.

The first thing I cooked for myself was prepared while I stood on a chair at the stove. I know that this statement will evoke criticisms of my mother’s parenting for putting me at risk, but I would like to point out that she stood next to me the entire time. In addition, standing on a chair was the only way for me to see the bottom of the pot or to safely reach the pot for stirring without pulling it off of the stove and spilling it all over myself and the floor.

For those who would preach about psychological harm brought about through this  parentification, consider the following.  I wanted to learn to cook, and my mother didn’t expect me to take care of myself or the family.  It was as if  I was her homemaking  apprentice, and she was helping me to learn the skills I would need for my future.

The first thing that I cooked for myself, while standing on a chair at the stove, was Campbell’s tomato soup from a can. Tomato soup was a childhood favorite when served alongside a sandwich. I even liked to dunk my sandwich into the soup as I ate it.

I hadn’t eaten tomato soup for years when I saw it on sale for 2 cans for $1.00. I purchased  several cans, took them home,  and tucked them away in my pantry.  On a particularly cold day, I opened a can, added the requisite can of water and grilled up a cheese sandwich to go with it.

As I sat down and ate my first bite, I was unsatisfied because the flavor of the tomato soup didn’t match my memory.  The taste was  wrong.  It was too acidic and too watery.  I remembered that my mom had never been a big fan of tomato soup, so I considered the possibility that as I had aged, my tastes changed, and I was becoming more like her.  The rest of the cans of tomato soup sat in my pantry collecting dust.

One day, my young nieces were visiting at my house and playing with their cousins.  As lunchtime approached, I asked if they were hungry.  As I studied my pantry shelves, I saw the tomato soup.

“Would you like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches?”  I asked.

“Yes, please.”  They eagerly replied.

As I returned to the kitchen, the younger of the two girls called after me.

“Auntie, I like it made with Milk.”

I stopped and turned around.

“What did you say?”  I asked

“I like the tomato soup made with milk.”

It was then that the light bulb came on in my head, illuminating a dark recess of my memory.  That was the way Mom had always made tomato soup for me.  She always used milk instead of water and had called it “Cream of Tomato” soup.  Since I had used water instead, the tomato soup had lacked the creaminess and had been more tart than the soup I remembered.

“Thank you.”  I said with too much enthusiasm as I hugged my niece and kissed her on top of the head.

I explained to my now confused niece how I had loved tomato soup as a child, but when I made a can for myself as an adult I had used water, and it hadn’t tasted right.

That day, as we shared a lunch of grilled cheese and “Cream of Tomato” soup, I thanked my niece for helping me remember the way Grandma had made soup for me when I was little.  Later that night, I called my mom to tell her what had happened.  She laughed and wondered why I hadn’t called her to ask how she had made it.

“It was a can of soup, Mom.  It had directions on the can.  I didn’t remember you did anything different.”

“Apparently, you didn’t read the entire directions on the label.”  I could hear a smile in her voice as she chastised me good naturedly.

“What are you talking about?”

“Do you have another can of soup?

“Yes.”  I was wondering where this was going.

“Go get it and bring it to the phone.”

I did as I was told, but since I had a cordless phone, unlike her prehistoric wall mounted and corded phone, I just wandered into the kitchen and opened the pantry to remove a can.

“Got it.”  I said.

“Read the directions.”  She prompted.

I rolled the can over in my hands so that the cooking directions were visible and began to read to her.  There was no room for error.  The directions were typed in all caps.

“MIX SOUP + 1 CAN WATER.”  I finished the last with a slight tone of irritation.  “What did I miss?”

“Keep reading.” Mom prompted.

Turning my attention back to the can, I continued.

“MICROWAVE:  Heat, covered, in microwavable bowl on high for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes.  Careful, leave in microwave 1 minute, then stir.  Is that enough?”  I asked, impudently.  It’s a terrible thing to admit, but I never completely got over the adolescent need to express my irritation.

“No, I want you to read all of the directions.”

“Okay,” I sighed.  “Stove:  Heat, stirring occasionally.  Creamier Soup:”   I felt all surliness depart as I read the words.  “Use 1 can of milk.”    She was right, I hadn’t read all of the directions.  Oops.

Then, as if to avoid impending ‘I told you so.’ I continued reading the Beef Taco Skillet recipe that was on the back of the can.   At least, I think that was what was on the back of the can.  I could be wrong.

The ensuing discussion about the merits of that particular recipe helped me avoid the I told you so that I totally deserved.   We both concurred that we didn’t think we would like soggy tortillas.   My mother confessed that since I left home,  she didn’t have tomato soup in her house.

We discussed how the directions on the can had changed over the decades.  She said that all of the instructions used to be written out.  She sounded almost offended that it now read  “Mix soup plus 1 can water.”

“Sounds like it’s a math problem, not a recipe.  It sounds rude.”

My mother was outspoken about how she disliked the modern way of doing things.  The old timey ways are the best was one of her favorite sayings.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of your soup can label, here are the directions from the label of a can of Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup from 1965.

Directions:  Empty soup into pan, stir in one can of water.  Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally.  Makes about 2 1/2 cups of soup.

Cream of Tomato Soup:  Prepare as above using milk or cream instead of water.

There was even a recipe  for Tomato Sauce:  Empty soup into pan.  Add a little water, if desired. Heat, stirring occasionally.  May be seasoned with prepared mustard, horseradish Worcestershire or herbs.  Serve on hamburgers, pork chops, fish, etc.  Makes about 1 1/4 cups of sauce.

It’s interesting that the directions for the soup were written in more formal language.  There was no plus sign,  and it even specified how much soup you would have when you were done.  I think my mom was right.  The directions seemed more polite back then.

As we chatted about Campbell’s tomato soup and other mundane things, my mother recalled that one of her sister’s had made a Tomato Soup Cake and said that it was good.  My mother and her sisters were always sending recipes back and forth to each other whenever they found something that tasted good and was unusual.  Mom assured me that her sister promised that the cake was good, the flavor resembling a spice cake.  The sound of sorting papers ensued as she dug through her collection of recipes and continued until she found the correct one.  She slowly dictated the ingredients and directions as I wrote them down.  I confess that I have never tried this cake.  I had planned to make it this week, but my kitchen was invaded by ants, so I have no first person testimonial or promise for you as to it’s quality.   Should I ever get a chance to try it, I will post a picture as well as a review, but for now, I leave you with this warning.


Of course, I doubt it could taste bad.  After all, it is a cake.  If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could try the Black Magic Chocolate Cake recipe over at  It also contains a can of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup.

For those who prefer their tomato soup as a savory dish instead of dessert, check out Bon Appetite’s12 Easy Ways to Dress Up a Can of Tomato Soup.”

Here’s the recipe for the bold and the brave.  Let me know what you think.  As always, thanks for visiting.

Tomato Soup Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12
This recipe is more than likely originally a recipe from the Campbell's soup Company. It is probably in a cookbook somewhere. According to my Mom, the cake is sort of reminiscent of a spice cake, but with tomato soup added to the mix.
  • 2 cups of all purpose flour or 2¼ cups cake flour
  • 1⅓ cups sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 can (10¾ oz) condensed tomato soup
  • ½ cup Crisco shortening (The white stuff)
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup water
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease and flour the baking pans that you will be using.
  3. Measure all dry ingredients into a bowl and stir to combine.
  4. Add soup and shortening and mix with electric mixer set to low or medium for 2 minutes (300 strokes when using a spoon or a whisk.)
  5. Make sure you scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to get it all mixed up.
  6. Add the eggs and water and beat for 2 more minutes. (Another 300 strokes).
  7. Remember to scrape the sides of the bowl again.
  8. Pour into 2, 8 inch, round cake pans or 1, 9x13", pan. (Make sure that pan(s) have been greased and floured.)
  9. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  10. Allow the cake to rest in the pan for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and placing on a rack to cool.
  11. This cake is supposed to be frosted with a cream cheese frosting, but according to my mom, my aunt said it was good with just a plain white buttercream frosting.