Chicken & Watercress – Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll remember that I wrote about feeling like I was Drowning in Recipes. The truth is, not only do I have my mother’s scraps of papers to sort through, I also have my own.

Perhaps the almost compulsive need to skim through cookbooks and magazines comes from a lifetime of watching my mother do it. I remember stacks of cooking magazines around the house growing up. I remember piles of cookbooks that my mother had borrowed from the library. More recently, I remember the mountains of cookbooks in my mother’s bedroom.

Whenever I came into town to visit, I looked forward to crawling into my mom’s bed to lie down next to her. In some ways, it made me feel like I was a kid again. Except now, Mom wasn’t reading me stories…we were reading recipes together. I’d always grab a cookbook from the collection in her room and bring it into bed with me. Sometimes, if I really liked a recipe, I’d write it down on a scrap piece of paper to take home. There were a couple of times when I think Mom realized that I really liked the cookbook I was reading…those times, she told me to take the book home and keep it.

I have my own collection of cookbooks here. I also have stacks of magazine pages I’ve saved, filled with recipes that have piqued my interest in some way. As I’ve been sorting through Mom’s recipe collection, I have come to the sobering realization that she never made many of the recipes she saved. Am I destined to do the same thing? Not if I can help it.

This weekend, I decided to go through a stack of magazine pages I had squirreled away on a bookshelf. Using those as inspiration, I created a meal plan for this week.

Tonight’s dinner was adapted from a recipe I saved from the September 2012 issue of Rachael Ray Magazine.

For my version, I used ground chicken instead of ground beef (hubby is watching is cholesterol and it was on sale!). I used grated Parmesan cheese instead of the pecorino-romano because we already had some. I also substituted thinly sliced provolone for the shredded provolone because my grocery store didn’t have it.

These. Were. Delicious.


I couldn’t get all of the filling to stay on top of the mushrooms, maybe that had something to do with me swapping out the pecorino-romano? Or, maybe I needed deeper wells in the mushrooms. What this dish might lack in presentation – it more than makes up for in flavor.

I will happily make this again.



Chicken & Watercress – Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms


  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps, gills scraped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound ground chicken, at room temperature
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, chopped *I used 3 -4 large cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano *I used oregano
  • 1 cup packed watercress, chopped
  • 1/2- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino-romano *I used Parmesan 
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded provolone *I used thin slices


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, brush the mushrooms with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper; situate them rounded side up. Roast until softened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry and add to the skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, Worcestershire and oregano. Cook until the onion and garlic are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the watercress to wilt. Stir in the panko. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the Parmesan.

Flip the mushroom caps over so they’re rounded side down and fill with the meat mixture, mounding a quarter of the chicken into each cap. Top with the provolone and return to the oven to melt the cheese, 7 to 8 minutes.


Easy Garlic Parmesan Knots

I spent most of this past weekend on my front porch. This is rare for me as I tend to avoid spending lots of time outside. Mom used to call me “bubble girl.” I sunburn easily, bugs love me, and I generally don’t like being hot.  Usually, if I told mom about a sunburn or a bug bite, she’d reply by saying, “You know you’re a bubble girl and can’t go outside!”

She would have been shocked to learn that I spent about 6 hours outside each day this weekend. I had a brief moment when I was thinking of calling to tell her what I was doing because I knew she wouldn’t believe it. When will I stop reaching for the phone to call Mom? 

The weather was practically perfect (except for some brief rain showers on Saturday morning), so I decided to have a weekend yard sale.

Mom had a huge collection of ceramics. I was with her when she purchased most of them. When I look at a mug, I don’t see the mug. I remember the day we spent walking around Collingswood. I remember standing in line at Starbucks and ordering two, Trenta black iced teas, unsweetened. I remember looking at jewelry, stained glass, artwork, tie dye shirts, and ceramics. I remember helping mom pick out the mug after we compared how the handles felt and how the glazes differed. When I look at a bowl, I remember browsing the Potters Guild shows together. That vase is from the open house at “ruffle bowl lady’s” house.

As my brother and I went through mom’s house, I told him that I’d like to try to sell the ceramics. It wasn’t really about the money. It was about finding them good homes and knowing where these prized possessions were going. He agreed to let me pack them up and bring them back home with me. I’ve been selling some over the winter – having people come browse the collection on my dining room table. Now that it’s finally nice outside, I set up outside.

Ceramics set up for sale on the porch.

After I finished setting up, I sat on the porch and waited. It didn’t take long to notice that there was a hummingbird in the yard in front of me. I had not seen a hummingbird yet this year. If mom was up visiting, I used to show her when they’d visit my feeder. I’d also send her pictures when she was in Maryland. This one was just fluttering around the tree in front of me. Coincidence? Maybe, but it did make me smile.

At first, I didn’t get as much traffic as I had hoped. Perhaps the weather was too nice and people were out and about doing other things to enjoy it. I was a little disappointed, but then a few more people stopped by, and a few after that. It was slow, but steady both days.

While I was outside, I had my trusty assistant with me. He enjoyed playing with some toys, drawing with chalk, and just sitting next to me eating his breakfast.

Dining al fresco.

I took some time to read through some cookbooks. I bookmarked a lot of recipes to try, but one in particular seemed so easy that I knew I just had to make it.

Garlic Parmesan Knots. Using refrigerated biscuit dough! Genius!

I made these last night and they were absolutely delicious. Again, wanted to call mom to tell her and I couldn’t. Ugg. 

It took a tremendous amount of willpower not to eat these in one sitting.

Hubby took one bite and then said “You should sell these things on the street corner!”



Easy Garlic Parmesan Knots


  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (16-ounce) tube refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (I used Flaky Layers because that’s all the store had)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or coat with nonstick spray.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together butter, Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, parsley and salt; set aside.
  3. Halve each of the 8 biscuits, making 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a 5-inch rope, about 1/2-inch thick, and tie into a knot, tucking the ends.
  4. Place knots onto the prepared baking sheet and brush each knot with half of the butter mixture. Place into oven and bake until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.
  5. Serve immediately, brushed with remaining butter mixture.
Adapted from the Damn Delicious Cookbook, by Chungah On. 

Birthday Dinner

Today is my birthday.

If I’m being honest, I’ve basically dreaded this day since Mom died.

Every year for as long as I can remember, Mom would give me a virtual play-by-play of my birthday – starting with the evening before. She’d call to tell me how her water broke on May 12, just after she had gotten into bed after a long night out at an event with my father. Apparently, I was in no rush to make my grand entrance into the world, so not much of anything happened after that. She’d end the phone call telling me that she’d talk to me tomorrow on my birthday…and then proceed to tell me that whenever she talked to me the following day that I still wasn’t born yet.

Sometimes she’d call me the morning of my birthday, sometimes during her lunch break at work, sometimes after work, sometimes around dinner. Depending on her schedule, she’d even call me all of those times during the day, if for no other reason than to tell me that I wasn’t born yet. “It’s your birthday, but you still weren’t born yet,” she’d remind me. Yes, Mom. I know. You tell me this every year. I know. I wasn’t born yet. Yes, I know I made you suffer through almost 24 hours of labor.

My 1st Birthday

This year, I knew the “you weren’t born yet” phone calls wouldn’t come. I miss those silly calls. I’m not kidding. Sometimes I just had a message from Mom that said “Hi, birthday girl, you still weren’t born yet.” That’s it.

I’ve gotten lots of other phone calls and messages from friends today. All of them are very sweet. It’s not the same, of course. Nothing is the same. I’d be foolish to think otherwise.

I decided that I wanted to go to a familiar, comforting place for my birthday dinner. There’s a restaurant about 45 minutes away that I really enjoy. We’ve gone there before for my birthday and to celebrate our anniversary a few times. In fact, last year Mom was here visiting during my birthday weekend and watched Zack while we went to the same restaurant. I remembered this in the car as we drove tonight and started crying.

Mom with Zack. Right before we left for dinner, 2016.

I’ve learned that about grief. I’m fine one second. Not fine the next. Out of nowhere, any memory, song, picture, trinket, etc. can ignite such a strong emotion that I’ll just burst into tears.

Then I started thinking about how this would be the first “nice dinner out” since Mom died. I can’t remember exactly when I started doing this, but I had gotten in the habit of taking pictures of meals (if we were out at nice restaurants) and sending them to Mom. Mom loved food and traveling and I think in some way, the pictures allowed her to experience these places with me.

When I traveled to Israel during college, back in the dinosaur days before smart phones, I remember taking photos of the food I ate just so I could show it to Mom. Photos on actual film. Crazy, I know.

As I was crying in the car, I was thinking that this would be the first dinner with no photos for Mom. I used to text them to her, then immediately call her to tell her to check her iPad for the photos so I could describe them in detail. Then, I cried some more as I let it sink in that I can’t do that anymore.

I can’t text Mom to share the photos anymore, but I can do it here.

So, here are the photos that I would have sent to Mom:

We finished dinner around 7 p.m. and I’m assuming I would have called her from the car shortly after. I would have told her about my meal and Mike would have told her about his. Given that it was still before 9:39 p.m., she would have told me that I still wasn’t born yet.

Yes, Mom. I know.

Caramelized Onions


If there’s one thing I’ve learned about cooking caramelized onions, it’s that doing so takes patience. It’s tempting to turn up the heat in an attempt to brown them faster. It’s hard to resist the urge to stir them around the pan. The key to delicious, caramel-brown, sweet onions is to cook them low and slow. Don’t rush. Let them simmer and wait. The simmering and waiting require patience. Patience isn’t something I have a lot of these days.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not like I had tons of patience before mom died. But now? Now I have even less.

My diminished level of patience likely comes from a muddled concoction of grief in general, current lack of sleep with a hefty splash of “all of these little annoying things aren’t really important unless it’s a matter of life or death.”

Knowing this, I am not quite sure what possessed me to decide to plan our entire dinner around caramelized onions. But I did. I took a little help from the store and purchased ready-to-cook turkey burgers. I asked the hubby to grill those up while I focused on the onions.

After coating a pan with a bit of olive oil and setting it on medium heat, I started slicing. I used two large Vidalia onions and threw those in. The instant sizzle is pretty satisfying. I’ve always liked that. I stirred them around to coat in the oil and turned the heat down to medium-low.


Then, I walked away. I didn’t really keep track of time, but I let my nose decide when it was time to return to the kitchen to stir. The onions start smelling sweeter and that’s when I know it’s time. I repeated this process for about an hour until they were golden brown. I added a splash of balsamic vinegar, stirred, and then waited some more. Why did I do this again? This is taking so long. It’s delicious – that’s why. It’s also distracting and I think that’s probably really why.

For a solid hour, maybe a little more, all I had to do was think about these onions. Breathe them in, occasionally stir them around, go take a peek, resist the urge to stir, etc.

I piled them on both sides of my burger.


Their sweet aroma filled the house.

The onions paired perfectly with the turkey and I was instantly proud of this “cheater’s” version of a homemade dinner. Thank you Whole Foods turkey burgers. And, in that instant, my distraction evaporated. I wanted to call mom and tell her about dinner. I used to do that all the time.

I used to call mom to tell her about new recipes I’d found (usually on Pinterest). Sometimes I’d call to tell her that I’d gotten a new cookbook from the library and promise to show it to her when she came to visit. I’d always call if my hubby was making “Mike’s famous chili” as she called it. He really does make the best chili. I didn’t just call at dinner time to talk about our dinners, though.

If I’m being honest, I was also calling to check in with her. My parents are divorced – they have been for quite some time, separating my first year of college. Ever since then, I’ve always felt like I needed to make sure she knew that she wasn’t alone. I called her every day. We didn’t always chat for long. Some days she was running out to go to book club or a friend’s house for dinner, but I always wanted her to know I cared about what she was doing and more importantly, that I cared about her and needed her and loved her. 

In hindsight, I should have picked up on the fact that something was really wrong. Instead of our usual chats, I felt like mom was rushing me off the phone. She didn’t sound like herself.

I told my husband that something seemed off. She sounded tired and when I questioned her, she told me she was tired. She said that she didn’t feel right and that she thought her thyroid medicine needed to be adjusted. She told me she went to the doctor and got new medicine. So, I let it go. She said she went to the doctor…what more could I do?

She did go. I saw the bill when my brother and I were going through papers in the house after she died. That damn bill (and the other doctor bills we found) made me angry. She went to a doctor, how didn’t anyone catch the fact that she had cancer? I digress. More on that another time. I don’t want to go down that road right now.

I’m trying to be kind to myself. I’m trying to focus on the positives. It’s not easy and I’m not always successful, but I’m trying.

Today’s weather was beautiful, so I suggested we take a family walk after dinner. We took our usual walk around the block. The kiddo stopped to pick some weeds flowers for me. He found a quarter on the sidewalk. I admired all of the plants in bloom. Can every evening be like this one please?

We came home, opened the door and I instantly smelled the onions.

Patience, I thought. Be patient.


Drowning in Recipes

What have I done? I am drowning in my mother’s recipe collection.

I’m wading through scraps of paper and stacks of index cards. It’s as if each one is a grain of sand and I’m sifting through to find the hidden treasures. Recipes clipped from newspapers, magazines, and food packaging. Index cards with recipes copied from cookbooks or passed along from co-workers, friends, and family. I’m trying to interpret scribbled notes in my mother’s infamously poor penmanship. There’s a secret code and I’ve lost the only one who can decipher it. I need her to give me the key. I’m now a crazy, recipe detective lady. I examine each scrap of paper, newspaper clipping, and index card looking for any sign that mom made the recipe. Is it stained with food splatter? Did she make notes about the ingredients? Do I recognize it? Does it spark any memories? And the Holy Grail: did she write “Good Recipe” or draw a little star to indicate it was a keeper?

The Holy Grail: Food stains and the Good Recipe note with stars.
Mom’s co-worker’s salad dressing recipe.
Recipes with Mom’s notes.

I can’t keep them all – I know that. But, I can’t bring myself to throw them all away. Mom spent decades collecting these. She must have spent countless hours diligently copying recipes from cookbooks. Most recently, thanks to this little thing called the internet, she started to read cooking blogs, subscribe to recipe listservs, recipe e-newsletters and who knows what else. She printed them. She printed lots of them. I can guarantee she printed many more than once.

Looking back on it, there were times I tried to enable her recipe-collection efforts. I remember telling my mom about this new thing called Pinterest. She looked at my computer screen with utter amazement. “Oh, I know I can’t let myself do Pinterest,” she said. “I’ll get addicted,” and then she laughed. I remember chuckling because in a way, I knew she was right. At the time, I don’t think I realized that mom had a physical version of Pinterest already. Stacks of recipes, organized in bins – with index card dividers by category. Binders full of blog posts, organized with tabbed dividers. There were plenty of recipe stacks still waiting for their rightful place in the binders – I threw those in boxes and brought them home too.

One of the many stacks waiting to be filed away in binders.

As we went through mom’s house, I told my brother that I wanted to save the recipes. Looking around at the sheer volume of paper, with wide eyes, I think he said something like “All of them?” Yes. All of them.

I’ve tried to make a little progress each day. I pick a pile and read through them. I keep the ones I think that I’ll make and I recycle the rest. It’s going to take some time doing it this way, but that’s ok- I’m not in a rush.

So, I find myself drowning in recipes. For now, that’s fine with me. It’s a welcome distraction from the sudden and often overwhelming tsunamis of grief.