I Need to Bring a Dish


I love these things for SO many reasons, but the #1 might be because they’re sausage! That means they’re not chicken, salmon, or beef, which take up about 99% of our diet around here. Sausage is such a fun change-up, and we keep it light by stuffing it in a pepper. No rice in these because you just don’t need it. These are inspired by my mother-in-law, who makes them on a regular basis. I’ve had them in the back of my mind for a long time, and now that I see how easy and delicious and different these are, we’ll be making them often.


  • 4 yellow bell peppers
  • 1 lb mild italian sausage
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes (the regular size – ~10 oz I think)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano
  • 1.5 cup homemade bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan
  • Pepperidge Farm crispy breadcrumbs (or any store bought version)

First make the breadcrumbs. Cut about 2-3 slices of bread (any kind) into 3/4 in pieces. Place them on a baking sheet and bake at 300 for about 15 minutes until they are dried out.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cook the sausage in a large skillet until cooked through. If necessary, drain the fat if there is a lot of excess. You need a little left in there to cook the onions and celery. Add in the garlic, onions and celery and cook for about 8 minutes. Mix in the tomatoes, salt, basil and oregano. Stir to combine. Add in the homemade breadcrumbs and chicken broth to moisten and bring to a low boil until the broth is gone (you don’t want a liquid-y filling). Turn off the heat.

Cut the stems off the peppers, slice the peppers in half, and remove the seeds and veins. Place them in a bowl with a splash of water, cover and microwave for 2 minutes. Place the 8 pepper halves in a shallow baking dish and fill with the stuffing (do not add cheese or crispy crumbs yet).  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Uncover, top peppers with the cheese then the bread crumbs (a pinch or two per pepper for an extra crunch) and bake for another 15 minutes.

My Potato Salad

Yes, I finally have my own potato salad recipe. Most people probably didn’t know I was even searching for my own potato salad, but I was. It has been a long, treacherous road of brainstorming, cookbook reading, and Central Market sampling – but I made it. And the result is one darn good potato salad, that is now going to become ‘Gretchen’s Potato Salad’ – though I don’t know to whom.
I totally get why there are so many potato salad recipes out there. I like them all – mustard based, mayo based, with egg, with peppers – it turns out everything tastes good with potatoes. But what I did discover during my days of study was that I think simpler is better. There is no reason to add a bunch of crap to potato salad, and there is no reason to over-mayo it.  I also came to the conclusion that my favorite quality of potatoes is the ability to turn them into loaded baked potatoes. We loooove those. So, my potato salad variation tastes an awful lot like a loaded baked potato, with a little tang from the mustard, and a little sweetness from the mayo. YUM.
  • 3-4 lbs red potatoes
  • 3/4 cup mayo
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 heaping tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 heaping teaspoon yellow mustard
  • ~6-8 slices of bacon
  • 1 tablespoon bacon drippings
  • Chopped fresh chives
  • Chopped fresh parsley
Start by halving or fourthing (is that a word? Quartering might be more appropriate. Or accurate, rather) the potatoes, and boil them in a large pot until fork tender. Drain them and set them aside.
Cook the bacon until crisp, transfer it to a plate lined with a paper towel, and reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings. I think I am going to tell people this is the secret ingredient.
Mix the mayo, sour cream, bacon drippings, and both mustards in a bowl. Mix into the potatoes, and add plenty of salt and pepper. Chop the bacon, chives, and parsley (to taste), and throw it into the potato mixture. Chill for several hours before serving.
I also served this at our Memorial Day dinner party, along with this and this.

Baked Ham Sandwiches

I’m about to introduce you to something that will change life as you know it.  Your previous life with typical, mundane ham sandwiches is over.  Thanks to Sarah Foster’s Southern Kitchen, (my favorite cookbook now that I indeed have a southern kitchen)…we now have ‘Ham and Cheese Rolls’ available to us.  They contain all the ingredients that I believe are great 100% of the time: ham … cheese … mustard … butter … worcestershire. They also involve ‘marinating’ and ‘baking’…..sold?
Luckily, this discovery coincided with planning our annual St. Patrick’s Day party. I was looking for a perfect party food that was super easy to make in large quantities, super delicious, and looked good with these balloons that my husband ordered a week in advance.
So I made the ham sandwiches. And let me tell you, they were a party hit. I made a few modifications to Sarah’s recipe….I took out the garlic (I don’t know why you would add garlic to all these other wonderful ingredients)…I took out the grated onion (same reason)…I added brown sugar (because it seemed natural, and WOW)…and I bought Hawaiian rolls from the store rather than made my own (I’m an underachiever).
Recipe (makes 12 small sandwiches)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 T Dijon Mustard
  • 1 T Worcestershire
  • 2 T Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 lb smoked ham, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb Swiss or Gruyere cheese, thinly sliced
  • 12 Hawaiian rolls (or other slider bun of choice)
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the dijon, worcestershire, and brown sugar. Bring to a low boil, remove from heat, and set aside.
In a baking dish (or aluminum foil pan for ease of cleanup, which is what I did)….assemble the Hawaiian rolls with the ham and cheese.
Pour the sauce over the sandwiches, cover and MARINATE for several hours or overnight.
The next day, or however long you were able to wait, place the sandwiches in a 350 degree oven and bake, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover the sandwiches and bake for another 10 minutes.
I made 48 sandwiches for the party. There were 6 left, and we ate the rest of them over the course of the next few days. I even caught myself lying to the neighbor on Sunday when he asked if we had any of those ham sandwiches left. Sorry, I said, we ate the last of them last night. Not my proudest moment.

Texas Caviar

I don’t know who came up with the name ‘Texas Caviar,’ but I like them. What a sneaky and innovative way to make a salad/dip/salsa consisting mainly of canned ingredients sound classy and exclusive.
The first truth is that there is nothing exclusive about this recipe. It is so easy (and cost effective!) – and a great party food. Plus it looks pretty with all the colors it has going on. I made this dip/salad/salsa (it is truly a multi-purpose recipe) for my husband’s work lunch, served with Pulled Pork Tacos.
The second truth is that I don’t think this is really Texas Caviar. True Texas caviar is composed mostly of black-eyed peas; and most variations contain chopped onions, jalapenos, and a lime-juice marinade. I didn’t feel comfortable with any of that, so I made this instead. But it’s close enough to the true Texas Caviar that I’m sure no one will be offended I’m using the name.
  • 1-2 cans corn (depending on your love of corn)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can white northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can cooked black eyed peas
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 3-4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (please don’t use the generic kind)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
So, there’s really no instructions here. Mix all of the salad/dip/salsa ingredients together, more or less of each to taste. I prefer a corn-heavy mixture, so I used 2 full cans of corn.  Whisk all the dressing ingredients together, then mix it together with the corn mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple hours before serving, but 24 hours is ideal. Try to stir it occasionally to distribute the dressing evenly. Serve with pita or tortilla chips.

French Toast Casserole

Here is your Christmas brunch recipe. I’m not trying to be bossy, but this is it. I know, I know, Christmas is about family, friends, time together, blah blah blah. To me, it’s about the food. And let me tell you, I would have been much better off making this recipe for my family of 9 at Christmas, rather than my Dallas family of 2 on a random Sunday. You just simply cannot stop eating this stuff.
The best part about this recipe (well, the second best part – the first best part is the taste) – is that you assemble it the night before, then simply bake it the day of. It is such an easy and stress-free brunch option.
1 loaf french bread (I used a round french boule)
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick cold butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional, but good)
So, start by greasing a 9×13 inch baking dish. Tear your bread into about 3-inch chunks and throw them in the dish.
In a bowl, mix together the eggs, milk/cream, sugars, and vanilla.  You can modify the sugar combo if you’d like – I love the flavor of brown sugar so cut down on the white.  Pour the egg mixture over the bread. I think I threw on a few more sprinkles of brown sugar here for fun. Not necessary, but fun.
Cover and put in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight (I did overnight – and it was really fun to think about that marinating in there the whole time).
The next morning, or a few hours later depending on your life choices, preheat the oven to 350 and remove the casserole from the fridge. To prepare the topping, mix the flour, brown sugar, cold butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg together. I used a hand mixer for this, but I think a pastry cutter would have been more appropriate. I don’t have one of those, since I was born in the 80s.
 Pour the topping over the casserole, and then bake for 50 minutes.
Scoop out the casserole in ginormous sized portions, and top with whatever feels right. We did bananas and maple syrup. And I think that will be my dinner this evening.
 Merry Christmas!

I’ve done a lot of independent research on banana bread. I’ve tried several different variations, made minor modifications, added different things and baked it differently. After all this effort, the results are in: my mom’s is the best.

Sometimes I make it in the form of bread, sometimes as muffins. It all comes out the same: wonderful, tasty, delicious, and comforting. The best days I ever had growing up would be when my mom and I were playing a game of Memory and she would surprise me with a piece of warm banana bread straight out of the oven. I just felt really happy all over again thinking about that. Oh, the good ol’ days. Now I have to serve it to myself straight out of the oven, and no one is playing Memory with me.

If you need a Banana Bread recipe (and you do, everyone does), use this one.

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup ripe mashed bananas (2 large)
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • Lots o’ chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350. In a bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, then vanilla.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and soda. In another bowl, mash the bananas with the milk.  With the the standing mixer on low speed, add a little of the flour mixture, then the bananas, and continue to alternate until everything is mixed in. Turn off the mixer, and stir in the chocolate chips with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Or, sometimes I actually like to turn up the mixer to high instead of stirring in the chocolate chips, because I feel like it really smashes the chocolate flavor in there. Up to you.

Grease a bread loaf pan (I think mine is a 9X5), pour in the banana bread batter (is it dough or batter? It looks more like batter), and bake for about 45 min to one hour, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. The edges will begin to look a little darker, but keep it in until the center is done.  If you are doing muffins, they will only take about 25-35 minutes, but keep your eye on them.

Serve warm with butter, or peanut butter, or mashed on top of ice cream. Thank you, mom, for our shared love of board games and desserts!