Summer Lovin’

Photo © Cassandra Birocco.

This is my twist on an old standby (ratatouille). I simplified it a bit and omitted the peppers and used the delicious bruschetta seasoning that I found in Wilmington, North Carolina, at the Italian Gourmet Market. I also experimented with adding cheese, which typical ratatouille does not have as an ingredient.

This makes a great summer dinner with some French bread, grilled chicken, and some wine…all on the deck or the porch. Make it the night before so all you have to so is put it in the oven.

Kelley Hospitality’s Summer Vegetables

Do you like bleu or feta cheeses? Add one for a different taste. This recipe goes with your mood and taste buds. I experimented separately with both feta and bleu with great results.

TIP: Peeling and salting the eggplant will give it a buttery and not bitter flavor. Typical ratatouille does not call for peeling the eggplant.

You’ll note that these are all approximate measurements. You simply cannot mess up this dish. The vegetables “show up” no matter what you do to them.

TIP: Don’t use a sweet onion like a Vidalia sort—the sweet ones lose their onion pungence-ness (is that a word?) when cooked. Save sweet onions for salads or on burgers.

This dish can perch on a buffet for several hours, not spoil, get to room temperature and still be delish!

This is light fare that can be eaten with French bread dipped in the olive oil.


  • Olive oil, plenty of it
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 3 zucchini or yellow squash or both, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 3 large tomatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly.
  • Garlic, about a clove minced
  • Basil, about ½ cup, rolled and sliced (this is the way my brother Bobby advises cutting basil)
  • Bruschetta seasoning (or season to taste with salt, black pepper, chili powder, dried basil)
  • Panko breadcrumbs mixed with ½ cup parmesan cheese and ¼ cup olive oil
  • Cheese is optional, choose crumbled feta or bleu or mozzarella

    Saute the vegetables before baking them.

Heat oven to 424 degrees.

Sautee onion, tomatoes, fresh garlic and fresh basil in a pan. Season to taste with the bruschetta seasoning or other recommended seasonings. Cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Set aside

Cover a foil-lined baking sheet with olive oil. Place the peeled and sliced eggplant on the sheet. Top with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast for 10 minutes.

Do the same with the zucchini and/or yellow squash, olive oil, but they don’t need much salt to make them tender and good.

Spray a baking dish with oil, about 9’ x 12”, or use round casserole, whatever you have on hand. Layer eggplant, then tomato mixture, then one type of cheese if you like, then zucchini/yellow squash, eggplant. End with tomato mixture and cheese.

Top with Panko breadcrumb/cheese/olive oil mixture.

Baked summer veggies serve hot or at room temp.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Serve hot or room temp.

South-of-the-Border Hospitality

Now, that all depends on your definition of “south of the border.” In this case, it’s south of the Virginia border into Raleigh, North Carolina. We were off to visit my niece Megan, her husband, Sean, and their two girls, Kiera (7) and Riley (3). And, Murphy the dog.

Fussing a bit, Megan said to her husband before we arrived for dinner and an overnight stay, “I want everything to be just right. “

“Why’s that?” he said.

“Because every time we go to Aunt Barb’s, everything’s perfect!” (I didn’t realize I was such a hard act to follow).

Sean said, jokingly, but with validity: “Last time we were at their house, I was almost killed by a tree and the air conditioning went out with the power.

The tree that missed Sean.

I cannot deny that. They were here during a bad storm and a mighty oak fell away from the guest room into the street instead of on the roof where Sean was sleeping. And, yes, the A/C did go out with the power outage. We slept (or not slept, rather) in sweltering conditions. Let’s just call that episode a hospitality challenge.

Back to Raleigh: I offered to cook dinner when we arrived to spare them the trouble. My brother (the famous Bobby G), who also lives in Raleigh, also offered to come by and cook. But, Megan insisted that she was doing it all. She sound motivated so we backed off.

Truth be told, Megan doesn’t need to cook or set the pretty table with wedding-gift linens to show us hospitality. She and Sean and those little girls roll out the welcome mat no matter the menu or who is cooking (or ordering the take out). After all, what more do you need than two darling little girls, Murphy the mellow mutt, and two cute grown-ups who greet you at the door and make you feel like you landed on the right spot.

Riley (l) and Kiera (r) always happy to see you!

Late into that night, a horrendous summer storm came through Raleigh. Sean and Megan were up with the crashes of thunder. The comforting food, the soft bed, and kisses from the little ones put me into a deep slumber and I never woke until morning. After all, it wasn’t my house and I didn’t have to worry about any trees. Now, that’s hospitality!

Corn and Bean Salsa (Pictured above.)
Easy! These are ingredients you can have stocked in your pantry for a quick appetizer.

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can shoe peg corn, drained
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Mix it all and serve with tortilla chips.

Mexican Lasagna
This dish is easily made ahead and held in the refrigerator, then heated in the oven for about 30 minutes before serving. It’s also a great dish to deliver to a  family in need of meals. Who doesn’t like Mexican food?

  • Cooking oil – any kind
  • 1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1/2 or 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 8 ounce jar taco sauce
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn (do not thaw)
  • 1 package whole wheat or white tortillas, any size, cut into quarters
  • 1 package shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese
  • Salsa and sour cream for serving on the side

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In your biggest sauté pan, cook the onions in a little oil (a couple of spoonfuls) for about five minutes. Add the ground beef and cook until it’s brown throughout. Stir in the next two spices. Add the next four ingredients (beans through corn) and cook a few more minutes.

Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray (or wipe it with cooking oil on a paper towel if you don’t have spray). Put about one-third of the beef mixture in the bottom. Layer on enough pieces of tortillas to cover, then sprinkle one-third of the cheese on top. Repeat this two more times.  Cook in the oven for about 12 minutes. If taking from the refrigerator, cook longer. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

We’re glad you came!

The One That Got Away

Joan came by with a humongous zucchini from her prolific garden. She handed it to me and said dryly, “There’s always one that gets away.”

I’ve known Joan for almost 25 years and I think she gives me a humongous zucchini every year. (Make that several zucchinis!)

You don’t see me.

As long as I’ve known Joan she never arrives at my house empty handed, not that I expect anything…but I always feel like she is really glad to see me. Now, that’s hospitality!

Joan’s zucchini bread — great on the porch for breakfast in the summer.

Joan’s Zucchini Bread
The honey gives it a unique flavor and makes it really moist.

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups grated zucchini, peeled no need to remove seeds
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup honey

Combine dry ingredients (or sift if you wish)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

My friend Joan.



Add dry ingredients to zucchini mixture. Fold in nuts. Grease two loaf pans. Bake at 325 for 1 hour or until done (watch the time according to your oven).

Take Time to Smell the Flowers…and, Eat Them While You’re At It

Flower cupcakes by Barbara. Fondant butterflies by Cindy. Photo by Cindy Dyer.

Maybe you’ve noticed the country has been in a cupcake craze for a few years now. The passion is real – all flavors, cool decorations — because we love our cupcakes.

Here are some cupcakes I designed with the help of Cindy Dyer who fashioned the butterflies. These are made to look like flowers where upon a little butterfly has perched. Flowers and cupcakes, both my weaknesses.

Flower Cakes

  • Purchase flower-petal cupcake papers made by Wilton. I found a variety of flower papers in Michaels.
  • Make Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes (This is my all-time favorite recipe, click here for recipe from one of my previous blogs, scroll to the bottom for recipe. Although, any box mix will do.) Bake cupcakes in petal papers.
  • Tint frosting with a small amount of yellow food coloring.
  • Pipe frosting on tops of cupcakes in concentric circles or in stippled fashion. Both simulate a flower’s center.
  • Top random cupcakes with fondant butterflies (After all, butterflies wouldn’t land on all the flowers, right?).

Fondant Butterflies
[Method told to me by Cindy Dyer.]

Buy ready-made fondant (Michael’s, A.C. Moore, or other craft/baking supply store). Roll out fondant with rolling pan. Lightly dust with powdered sugar to keep from sticking to the small cookie cutters or aspic cutters. Cut out shapes. When making butterflies, use a knife or fondant tool. Bend butterfly in center and tuck the butterfly-shaped fondant into a piece of bent cardboard so the butterflies will hold their shape while they harden. Use an edible marker to put butterfly markings on the insects.

“Alive, Alive-O”

My mussels sans cockles. Photo by Cindy Dyer.

“Molly Malone
Click here to cue music to this traditional Irish tune.
In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-O!

Alive, alive-O! alive, alive-O!
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-O!
She was a fish-monger, but sure ’twas no wonder
For so were her father and mother before
And they each wheeled their barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-O!

Alive, alive-O! alive, alive-O!
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-O!
She died of a fever, and no one could save her
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone

But her ghost wheels her barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-O!
Alive, alive-O! alive, alive-O!
Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-O!

I’ve always been intimidated by mussels. I love to order them but never learned how to prepare them. So I flexed my own little muscles and bought a fresh bag at Wegman’s last week. I found a recipe, fiddled with the ingredients and, to my great surprise, they were so easy to make and so good to eat! Add some bread and wine and grab a chair on your deck and enjoy the summer. Follow these instructions and fear no more.

Steamed Mussels

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 3-6 cloves of chopped garlic (Some people use up to a dozen cloves; it all depends on your preference.)
  • 2 bags of mussels (Wash and throw away any open shells or ones that won’t close if you tap on them. Remove any stringy stuff that looks like corn silk with needle-nose pliers. Really, you won’t find much—this sounds more complicated than it is.)
  • 2 chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped (or more)
  • 1 cup white wine

Wash mussels and set aside. Sauté chopped garlic in olive oil in a large sauce pan until soft. Add butter, chopped tomatoes and fresh basil. Stir until butter is melted. Add white wine and mussels and steam for 10-12 minutes. All shells should open; if they don’t, discard them. Serve immediately. 

In Memory Of

This recipe was adapted from Delicious Memories of Karen’s Kitchen (Morris Press Cookbooks, 2007) — A collection of recipes by family and friends of Karen Circharo to support the Karen Circharo Memorial Fund. Proceeds from the cookbook benefit the Sister to Sister: The Women’s Heart Health Foundation. I didn’t know Karen, who passed away at 47 from heart disease; the book was a gift to me. Like so many of these homegrown cookbooks, the recipes are fabulous because people submit their finest.

The dedication in the book, written by Robin Silvis, reports that Karen Marie Circharo was a creative cook, wonderful hostess, loving wife, devoted mother and so much more. I would have loved to meet her.

“I’m No Kitchen Diva”

Pintrest these for your next patriotic party.

When I first met Krysta Norman and saw her cleverly-assembled patriotic kabobs in honor of the Fourth of July, she wryly said, “I’m no kitchen diva but I can do these.”

She assembled summer berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries) and added white star-shaped marshmallows. For a chocolate treat, she cut brownies into rounds with a shot glass. She threaded all these morsels on a skewer and you have what I call Krysta’s Kabobs.

Hint: instead of a shot glass, you can use a round cookie cutter (Krysta says there would definitely NOT be one of those in her kitchen). Or, if you are really in a hurry, you can buy brownie snack bites in your local grocery store in the bakery section.

These are cute, yummy and kids and grown-ups couldn’t wait to have one.

A Grandaughter’s Memory

Pineapple cookies. Photo by Megan Lumley.

When my siblings or nieces or nephews visit I like to make something my mom made for them. This time my niece Megan, all grown up with her own family, husband Sean, and two little girls, came to visit. I knew what my mom (known as “DeeDee”, the name Megan, the first grandchild, dubbed her) used to make for Megan — Pineapple Cookies. You aren’t likely to find a recipe for them because my mom made them up as she did most of her recipes.

When Megan saw the cookies, her eyes lit up and she grabbed one and recalled: “DeeDee would keep these in the freezer and when I went to her house I would eat them straight from the freezer.”

I said: “Would you like me to put some in the freezer for you?”

She replied: “Would you?”

It’s comforting to have memories of food made especially for you by someone who loved you unconditionally. Do you have any foods like that? Do you have people like that in your life? Maybe you are the person who makes the memories and gives the unconditional love. Giver or receiver, it’s all good.

Creating more memories with Aunt Barb, Megan, their two girls, Riley (left) and Kiera (right), and our son, Patrick.

DeeDee’s Pineapple Cookies
By Lois Garneau
Freezes well, but don’t be surprised if they are all gone from the freezer when you go to get them. 

  • 1 cup shortening (note, this means Crisco, do not make substitutions)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 can crushed pineapple (large can), drained, reserve juice

Cream together the above ingredients, to that, add:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix well, Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes depending on your over.

Frost the cookies either while warm for a glaze or when cool for more traditional frosting.

Frosting: 1 cup confectioner’s sugar and 1/4 cup melted butter. Blend well and use the juice from the pineapple to soften to desired consistency.