Life Is What Happens While You’re Making Other [blog] Plans

Land ahoy!  The Yachtsmen in the Palisades Parade.

Land ahoy! The Yachtsmen in the Palisades Parade.


We’ve had a busy two weeks with daily swim team practices, meets on Wednesday nights, parent volunteer jobs, dinner parties, potlucks, Fourth of July celebrations and basic life, hence no Corks & Cake posts for 17 days.  Unacceptable, I say!

I set a personal goal when we launched this blog to post at least 3 times/week (which is almost nothing in blog-land).  It is mind-blowing to me that all these talented, talented women and men in the blogosphere post original content with highly styled photographs sometimes 3 times/day, 7 days a week.

Seriously, how are they not chained to their computers with their cameras in one hand and a whisk in another?

My hat is off to them, even through my slacker chagrin.

Glorious Old Glory decor on the walk to the parade.

Glorious Old Glory decor on the walk to the parade.


So, my dear Corks & Cakers, I promise to catch up.  And just so you don’t think me too much of a slacker, here’s a roundup of what we’ve been cooking and serving in the kitchen on Lee Street.

Art student, Sam, creates our Relay Food Deliciously Local Foods party menu.

Art student, Sam, creates our Relay Food Deliciously Local Foods party menu.


We had a very fun, very tasty dinner party outside for 29 guests (including children.)  Whew.  Did I just say dinner for 29?  Yes!  Relay Foods (an online farm stand and specialty food delivery business based in Charlottesville, VA) teamed with House Party and selected several hosts and hostesses in the mid-Atlantic region to host a party featuring local products available through Relay Foods.  I ordered local cheeses, salami, sausages, produce, relishes, and rounded it out with ice cream, vegetarian side dishes and all-beef hot dogs for the kids.


Lovely local cheeses and black truffle salami.

Lovely local cheeses and black truffle salami.  Photo courtesy of Peter Krogh Photography.


Photo courtesy of Peter Krogh Photography.


It was a great undertaking (deserving of an upcoming post all its own) made more complex by the off-and-on rainy weather.  The only way to pull something like that off is to have lots of good friends who know you well, have dined with you often, and who will jump in where needed and come early to help with all the last-minute prep.  Thank you to all!

On July 4th, my first ‘Vintage Kitchen’ column for OKRA magazine (the online magazine for the Southern Food & Beverage Institute) was published!  Read it here.

A taste test of Vintage Punch recipes for OKRA magazine.

A taste test of Vintage Punch recipes for OKRA magazine.

Titled “Drink Like the Revolutionaries:  Vintage Punch for the Fourth of July” it was much fun to research old recipes and more fun to drink the research!

After the July 4th parade (which my husband’s band, The Yachtsmen, were in), we reveled poolside for a live rock and roll set in the hot, hot sun.


The Yachtsmen in the drink after a set in the scorching sun.

The Yachtsmen in the drink after a set in the scorching sun.


In the pool:  The Yachtsmen.  On the grill:  jerk chicken.


Walkerswood Jerk Sauce is a fabulous (and easy) marinade for chicken.

Grace Jerk Seasoning is a fabulous (and easy) marinade for chicken.


We also took it easy this week by relying on some of our favorite prepared foods:  Costco’s lime-marinated flank steak (ready-to-grill) and Edwards’ Key Lime Pie.


So good and almost gone.

So good and almost gone.


We hope you had a great Fourth of July weekend too!


Happy Birthday, America!

Happy Birthday, America!






Feelin’ Crabby: Part Two


Seattle Chef, Tom Douglas, wrote an entire book of crabcake recipes. Photo by Allison Beuker.

Seattle chef Tom Douglas wrote an entire book on crab cake recipes.
Photo by Allison Beuker.


In Feelin’ Crabby: Part One we talked about the debate over the ‘perfect’ crab cake and what that means to mid-Atlantic cooks and eaters, and to Marylanders, in particular.
We shared a classic Maryland’s Way Cook Book recipe from 1966 recommended by Corks & Cake contributor, Kathryn Michel, and we thought it only fair and balanced (ahem) to share two more classic crab cake recipes.
Just like the Carolinas and Texas have their barbecue debates, people along the mid-Atlantic have been going at it in their  crab cake debates.  It turns out that the devil is in the DETAILS, as they say, because most Marylanders will agree on three basics (but the rest is up for argument):
Maryland Blue Crab.

Maryland Blue Crab.



1) Use lump (or backfin) blue crab, fresh and pasteurized, NOT FROM A CAN.  Blue crab from Maryland or Virginia is preferred but our local fishing industries have hit hard times (crab production is in environmental jeopardy; Maryland watermen cannot break even.)
Maryland hostesses (and very many caterers and restaurants) have had to admit they have bought crab caught and processed in Venezuela because it is cheaper and more available.  Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources started a campaign called “True Blue” that promotes  restaurants that serve Maryland certified Chesapeake Bay crab with a special logo for their menus and signage.  That way consumers will know what they are buying. Look for the logo.
2) Use little filler to bind.  That is a given, but there is much discrepancy whether the binding agent be fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk, fresh bread crumbs NOT soaked, or crushed saltines.  Mayonnaise as a binding aging with or without fresh bread crumbs is controversial.
3) There is some flavoring but it is very subtle.  Old Bay seasoning is NOT a given (for example, none is used in the Maryland’s Way recipe).  Seasoning usually takes form in a little bit of dry mustard or wet mustard, Worcestershire (a dash), Tabasco (a dash), or parsley and lemon.  Onions, shallots, chives, garlic, capers, green or red peppers, and herbs other than parsley:  all CONTROVERSIAL.
Photo by Ann Statton.  Country Living magazine.

Photo by Ann Stratton. Country Living magazine.



How you cook them is also subject to debate.  Pan fry in butter, pan fry in oil, broil, deep fry (NO! says Rebecca), or pan fry in butter/oil
and then finish in oven are all legitimate planks in the debate.
Chef Tom Douglas (a successful Seattle restaurateur and Delaware native who grew up eating and cooking crab on mid-Atlantic beaches) puts the debate in context for the restaurant business in his introduction to the I Love Crab Cakes book:
“Where do you get the best crab cakes?  Ask that question to a hundred people and you’re likely to get a hundred different answers….Restaurants can be made or broken on their crab cake reviews.  The rewards for the positive are lines out the door.  Beware the poor fellow who gets dinged for using ‘using too much filler’, a common reference for too many crumbs in your cake, for he shall hang his head in shame.”


Photo credit:  Howard L. Puckett, Coastal Living

Photo credit: Howard L. Puckett, Coastal Living



I think if you practice your technique, put your love (and pocketbook) into it, then the best, most classic, genre-defining crab cake will come from your kitchen.  That crab cake will be the one your loved ones love, the one they ask you to make on special occasions like their birthday, graduations or when they are home on holiday.

Here’s Tom Douglas’s recipe for Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes (which I have made often and adapted by using Hellman’s mayonnaise instead of making my own and substituting shallots for the scallions):


Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes

  • 1/4 C. good quality mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T. minced shallots, sauteed lightly in 1/4 tsp. of butter
  • 5 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 pound lump crab meat, drained and picked clean of shell
  • 4 C. fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 C. chopped parsley


Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade. Photo by John Penovich.  Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.

Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade.
Photo by John Penovich. Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.


  • In a small saute pan over low heat, melt 1 T. unsalted butter. Add the chopped shallot and cook over low heat until shallots have released their water but are not brown.  Let cool.
  • In a bowl with the mayonnaise, add the 1 T. mustard, 1 T. Old Bay Seasoning, 1 T. fresh lemon juice and fold with a spatula until combined.  Add the crab meat to the mayonnaise mixture and fold gently until evenly mixed.  Do not break up lumps and do not overmix.
  • Place the fresh bread crumbs and chopped parsley in a single layer onto a platter or baking sheet lined with parchment.  Gently scoop ½ C. portions of crab mixture and shape into patties. Place the crab cake on the crumbs, and sprinkle crumbs over the top.  Turn the cake over and sprinkle with more crumbs.  Repeat to make the remaining crab cakes, 10-12 in all. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or more.  (Chef Douglas recommends leaving the formed crab cakes on the platter or baking sheet of crumbs and wrapping the whole thing.)
  • In a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat, melt 2 T. of butter. When the butter is melted, gently slide half of the crab cakes into the pan (give them room in order to turn them.) Cook each side until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. If crab cakes are browning too quickly, reduce the heat.  Melt 2 more T. of butter to do the second batch.  Keep cakes warm in a low oven.
  • Serve with your choice of sauce and lemon wedges.


Photo credit:

Photo credit:


A Corks & Cake friend, Kay Krogh Gallagher, submitted a comment with her absolute favorite crab cake recipe from the venerable Vidalia restaurant in Washington, DC.  Vidalia’s award-winning chef and owner Jeffrey Buben knows a thing or two about regional American cuisine with Southern influence and his version of the crab cake has been on Vidalia’s menu since the restaurant’s opening 20 years ago.  It is a top seller.

Vidalia’s recipe is classic on the crab cake spectrum (lump meat, delicate hand, saltines as filler) but calls for 2 tsp. of chopped cilantro which Kay says adds something special.

The following recipe was published in Washingtonian magazine, Recipe Sleuth, Anna Spiegel, July 13, 2011.


Vidalia’s Crabcake
Makes 4

  • 1 pound Maryland jumbo-lump crab meat (picked and checked for shell or cartilage)
  • 8 saltine crackers, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon Duke’s mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 dash hot-pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  • In a medium bowl, combine crab meat, saltines, cilantro, salt, and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, mayonnaise, butter, mustard, Worcestershire, and hot sauce. Combine that mixture with the crab meat and mix well.
  • Shape the mixture into 4 crabcakes and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 24.
  • Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. Sauté the crabcakes in batches until golden brown on each side, about a total of 3 to 5 minutes. Set on a paper towel momentarily when they’re done.
  • Serve immediately, garnish with tartar sauce, a mustard buerre blanc, or other mustard-based sauce.




Things We Like: Awesome Garden Lights

And now, just for fun, here are three things around the web that are on the Corks & Cake wish list.

These items are available at Bourbon & Boots, a fun Southern-inspired handmade goods site.


Mason Jar Lights


Awesome lights for a garden party.  Photo credit:  Bourbon & Boots.

Awesome lights for a garden party. Photo credit: Bourbon & Boots.


These cool lights come 10 jars to a strand, on a 10-foot stainless steel wire, with a loop on each end for easy hang. You can choose between clear 1/2 pint OR full pint with silver colored lids. Or you can change the jar lids out with other standard mason jar mouth lids (antique blue or spray  paint lids with a custom color.) The strand comes with a 10 bulb set of indoor/outdoor G-40 lights.  


Solar Mason Jar Lights

$45 for set of 2

These mason jar lights are solar-powered!

These mason jar lights are solar-powered! Photo credit: Bourbon & Boots.


Solar Mason Jar Lights are perfect to line the walk to your patio or garden. These are one quart Ball Mason Jars with a solar lid that powers the LED light. Charge in direct sunlight and then use as an adorable night light to illuminate items you add in the jar (think sea shells or super balls). Solar panel is water resistant. The easy-to-replace battery is included. Find replacement batteries most battery stores.


Wine Bottle Tiki Torch

$25 for one

Fill these wine bottle tiki torches with citronella to keep mosquitos at bay.

Fill these wine bottle tiki torches with citronella to keep mosquitos at bay. Photo credit: Bourbon & Boots.


Mount a Wine Bottle Tiki Torch on a fence, deck, tree or your entry way to add some ambiance to your space. Citronella oil will help shoo away those pesky bugs. The extinguishing cap is attached by a chain to provide functionality and charm.

tiki torch copper mount

Cool copper mount.

Each torch comes with a long-lasting wick, all necessary hardware (no worries, it’s easy to install), and directions for installation. Torches can be mounted using a philips head screwdriver, but a drill would make your life all the easier. Tiki fuel not included.

Dimensions: 11.5 inches high x 3.5 inches wide. Flame burns 5 inches away from mount.


Sparkly shot glasses make me want to have an outdoor garden party!

Sparkly shot glasses make me want to have an outdoor garden party!  Photo credit:  Allison Beuker Photography.


And I bet if you are DIY handy or know someone who is, you could make any of these!  Ready for summer entertaining?



Feelin’ Crabby: Part One

Corks & Cake Contributor: Kathryn Michel

Drinks on the veranda.

Drinks on the veranda.  Photo by Allison Beuker.


Our guest contributor today is Kathryn Michel, a native Marylander who grew up in Potomac.  Kathryn has served as Social Secretary to several prominent Washington hostesses and is a consummate event planner.  She’s planned parties in just about every venue around town from the White House, to the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the Corcoran, and the Capitol building.  In addition to her passion for parties she has a passion for animal rescue work, in particular with horses.  She is also riotously funny (I can attest!) and is a great person to have on board during a complex event because she keeps her cool.


Blue crab, wild caught in the USA. (This is from Virginia, not Maryland, full disclosure.)

Blue crab, wild caught in the USA. (This brand is from Virginia, not Maryland, full disclosure.)
Photo by Rebecca Penovich.


The lady knows her way around a crab cake (the most popular party appetizer in these parts).  She, Allison, and I agree that our favorite crab cake is the classic Maryland crab cake and by that we mean NO FUNNY STUFF.  No tarragon, no potato chips, no green peppers, no bacon, no artichoke hearts, just stop it already you crazy chefs!


 Title page of this vintage tome reads:  To The Generations Of Maryland Cooks Who Since 1634 Have Blended The Fruits Of Bay, Field and Forest Into Maryland's Way Photo by John Penovich.

Title page of this vintage tome reads: To The Generations Of Maryland Cooks Who Since 1634 Have Blended The Fruits Of Bay, Field and Forest Into Maryland’s Way
Photo by John Penovich.


My go-to crab cake recipe comes from the venerable Maryland’s Way Cook Book, published by the Hammond-Harwood House Association in 1966.  The Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis was built in 1774 by the colonial architect, William Buckland, and is on the National Historic Landmark registry.

There are five recipes for crab cakes in this vintage book (out of 21 for crab in general.) The one I call for is the one named “Yardley’s Crab Cakes.”  I don’t know who Yardley was (no surname) but the credit lists Baltimore Sun under his name.  A very cursory Google search leads us to believe this recipe could have originated with either a very popular cartoonist with the Baltimore Sun newspaper named Yardley, or a prominent Baltimore gastroenterologist named John Howard “Jack” Yardley.  Culinary sleuths, please report out in the comments if you have any intel.

Use the best lump crab meat that you can afford and treat it gently.  Don’t try to stretch it with too much filler, just make the cakes baby-size and let everyone enjoy one perfect bite of the dish that speaks to the heart of Maryland cuisine:  fresh seafood from the Chesapeake Bay, enhanced but not covered up.

I change it up sometimes by adding lots more parsley and less bread.

Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade. Photo by John Penovich.  Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.

Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade.
Photo by John Penovich. Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.

Yardley’s Crab Cakes from Maryland’s Way Cookbook

1 pound lump crab meat
1 egg
2 slices white bread
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon prepared mustard (Grey Poupon Dijon, preferred)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
Pull inside of bread into small pieces, soak well in beaten egg with mustard and seasonings, add crab meat (trying not to break it).  Form into cakes and cook until brown in 2 T. very hot bacon fat (or butter).  Makes 6 big cakes or 16 golf-ball size cakes.
Rebecca’s Notes:  I whirred my bread in the food processor to get coarse crumbs before soaking.  I find that chilling the formed crab cakes in the refrigerator (under plastic wrap) for at least 30 minutes before pan-frying helps them keep their shape.  If you do chill them, you might want to put them in a warm oven (350 ° for 5-6 minutes) after getting a good browning on both sides to ensure that they are warm throughout but not overcooked.
In Feelin’ Crabby Part Two:  Kathryn shares her grandmother’s celebrated dinner party dish of Deviled Crab and Rebecca offers up a modern take on the Maryland crab cake from chef Tom Douglas, author of I Love Crab Cakes.

Dear Bride


Pink peonies from the garden.

Pink peonies from the garden.

Hi friends,

I’ve been musing upon a wedding post for Corks & Cake for a few days now.  It is wedding season after all and it would be timely to write, maybe in two parts.

At first I thought I’d do a funny “you know you are a Bridezilla if…” but that’s been done to death.

Since our 19th (gulp) anniversary is coming up, I was thinking about our wedding and thinking about how stressed we were planning it and how happy we were on the day.  What would I tell my bride-self now? Would anything that I learned then or since during 19 years (gulp again) of marriage be helpful, inspirational, wise, funny, a cautionary tale?


Bridesmaid's bouquet and cold drink.

Bridesmaid’s bouquet and cold drink.

For example, I can’t for the life of me remember the flavor of our wedding cake.  Very ironic considering how obsessed I was with the food and catering.  And it was so long ago we didn’t have all the new-fangled technology and tools brides today have at their disposal for a flawless wedding day.

Pretty but what did it taste like?  Flavor memory, lost.

Pretty but what did it taste like? Flavor memory, lost.

My out-of-town family were late for the ceremony (except for my sister) and my mother-in-law-to-be was having a conniption. Somehow they got lost in the 5 miles from the hotel to the chapel and there were no CELL PHONES to call anyone to see where the heck they were.  It was the hottest day of the year (96 degrees in the shade) and I had a sorbet course in addition to cake.  Everyone including the caterer said another dessert was not necessary because there would be cake, but I insisted.  I wanted sorbet!  It melted in the kitchen and came out as a very pretty sorbet soup.  But it didn’t really matter, because as John recalls, we didn’t get to eat any food.  Now THAT’S ironic, we laughed.  I should tell the modern day bride not to obsess about her reception food because even though she’ll have to pay for it, she won’t have time to eat any of it.


Look what I caught!  Boy, my face is gonna hurt the next day.

Look what I caught! Boy, my face is gonna hurt the next day.

I asked John what else he remembers.  He remembers that his face hurt the next day and at first he didn’t know why.  Then he realized that his face muscles hurt because he could not stop smiling for 8 hours. (Good answer, JP.)


Photo by John Penovich

Photo by John Penovich


He remembers that we picked a waltz for our first dance and 10 minutes before we were cued to do that, we realized we DID NOT KNOW HOW TO WALTZ.  One our groomsmen, Hal, had actually taken Arthur Murray dance lessons in high school (part of his Cotillion training, I think) and he gave us a crash course in the hall.  1,2,3, 1,2,3.  We were laughing quite giddily.  John also remembers (besides being hungry) that we fed the band (who were pals of his) what the guests were having, rather than sandwiches in the kitchen.  They were beyond grateful. They were an excellent band called the Hula Monsters (a swing band with a Hawaiian flavor you can still hire today).  Now John plays in a new band with one of the members (shout out to The Yachtsmen) and sadly, the founding musician of the Hula Monsters died recently from complications of cancer.


1, 2, oops, 3.

1, 2, oops, 3.

That brought us to the sad realization (as it did while I was looking through the photographs) that many of our family members and friends who were with us on that day looking so happy are no longer with us:  John’s parents, my mom, his Aunt Sophie, many of Eleanor’s friends, Dave Giegerich (the Hula Monster.)

Rebecca and her dear mom, on the day.

Rebecca and her dear mom, on the day.

I guess what I’d tell my bride-self today (or a modern day bride-to-be) would be not to sweat the small stuff.  Someone will be late and hold up the ceremony.  The ice cream might melt.  The weather might suck.  You won’t get to eat the food.  But remember to hug everyone, let them shower you with well wishes, tell them you love them and thank them for coming.  It’s just a blip in time and no one lasts forever.

What would you tell your bride-self today?


Greek Orzo with Feta and Grape Tomatoes

So good. Warm or room temperature.  Heck, even cold! Photo by Rebecca Penovich

So good. Warm or room temperature. Heck, even cold!
Photo by Rebecca Penovich


My husband loves Mediterranean food and so do I.  I sometimes say his love of dipping bread and pizza crusts in olive oil, his penchant for eating peperoncini straight out of the jar, his preference for his gin to perform as a vehicle for the olives in his martini, and his lunchtime staples of Greek salad and lamb gyros are attributable to his Croatian heritage.  But I know better, because who couldn’t love those things and the goodness that is Mediterranean cuisine?

Beautiful seaside town of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Beautiful seaside town of Dubrovnik, Croatia.


John’s father came to this country after World War II and became a citizen 10 years thereafter.  He loved this country with a fierce and loyal passion and assimilated quickly while still maintaining some of his European mannerisms:  pouring the last bit of his wine into his soup for example, or greeting everyone he met with a giant hug, a pat on the back, and shake of the hand (in that order).

John inherited many of his personality traits from his father. Among them are warmth and conviviality and a fondness for breaking bread with friends and comrades in arms.  For John’s 40th birthday, for example, I threw him “A Big, Fat, Greek Birthday” (riffing off the popular Greek wedding romantic comedy at the time) and braised lamb shanks for 21 guests!  Yes, each guest got their own shank, served with a lovely Mediterranean lentil salad brought by a friend, a braised carrot dish with cumin and orange juice, and orzo with feta.  Our downstairs auxiliary refrigerator was filled to the brim with those raw shanks.  Looked like a scene from some Mob movie.

Please forgive my twisted sense of humor.

Please forgive my twisted sense of humor.


Recently John made a special request for me to please, pretty please try to recreate the Meatballs in Egg-Lemon Sauce that he is crazy about from the Greek Deli & Catering carryout in downtown D.C.   This place has a fanatical following because the food is authentic and crazy delicious.  John and his co-workers often stand in a very long queue on Wednesdays for Kostas’ (the owner’s) famous lemon meatballs (Youvarlakia me Avgolemono in Greek.)

I obliged and also made Greek Orzo with Feta and Grape Tomatoes to go with them and it’s this recipe I share with you today.  What!  Where is the lemon meatball recipe you ask?  Two reasons it is not here:  1) I mussed and fussed with the recipe as written and took some notes that need further testing and refining (getting the uncooked rice in the meatball mixture to bloom properly in the braising liquid in the amount of time called for in the recipe and 2) meatballs are just not that pretty on the plate.  Wait, there’s a third reason!  I want you to try this orzo recipe.  It is much easier and guaranteed to please and I don’t want any of you to work too hard on Memorial Day.

Throw this delicious pasta dish together with the vegetables you crave and kick back with your family, go your neighborhood parade if you wish, and then come home and take a nap.

Grape tomatoes are small and sweet.

Grape tomatoes are small and sweet.

Inspired by and adapted from Food 52, this recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Picnic Dish by Crematia.

Here’s the original: Impress Your Mother in Law Orzo Salad

Serves 6


  • 1/3 box (pound) orzo, cooked al dente
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 4 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. minced or crushed garlic
  • 2 T. chopped green onions, white and green parts
  • 1/4 cup chopped green olives with pimentos
  • 1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 batch of lemon vinaigrette (recipe below, makes more than you need for the pasta)


(This will make more than you need.  Save the rest in a jar in your refrigerator and use to dress blanched green beans later in the week.)

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 T. minced green onion
  • 1 T. dijon mustard
  • 1 T. dried oregano (fresh minced oregano is best, but dried will work in a pinch as long as you let it macerate in the acid in the dressing for several minutes or longer)
  • 1 T. dried marjoram (macerate as above)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (pick a Greek one!)
  •  fresh ground black pepper to taste
  1. Boil the orzo for 9 minutes, drain and place in large bowl.
  2. Slice the tomatoes in half and layer them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 3 T. olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast at 300 for about 20 minutes. (Crematia calls for an hour, but I took them out early because we were ready to eat!  They were just slightly shriveled and had released their juices so I poured the warm tomatoes into the orzo mixture.)
  3. While orzo is still warm, toss in the feta and the remaining 1 T. olive oil so it can melt a little.
  4. Whisk together the vinaigrette and let it marry in the bowl.
  5. Add the chopped green onion, the chopped olives, the warm tomatoes and their juices to the orzo mixture.
  6. Drizzle 3 T. of vinaigrette over the orzo and toss.  Taste.  Add more vinaigrette if your taste buds tell you to.
  7. Sprinkle chopped parsley over all.
Crematia also sprinkles toasted pine nuts and fresh basil flowers over her orzo and her recipe includes fresh spinach leaves, chopped salami, and black olives instead of green.  Those all sound divine, so if you have them, add them.  You could also toss in fresh mint, lightly sauteed, chopped zucchini and peeled, chopped cucumber to amp up the veggie quotient.
Enjoy with friends, family, and comrades in arms.
John and his dad fishing in July 1968?

John and his dear dad fishing in July 1970

Classic Pimento Cheese


You would be appalled at what I knew (and loved) as pimento cheese as a youngster in St. Paul, Minnesota. Even though my mother was an excellent, daily-from-scratch cook, one of the items in her refrigerator was my favorite snack, Kraft pimento cheese, in a tiny, slender jar.

Eee gads, folks! This probably did not have any cheese in it at all but I did not care because I did not know any better at the time (hey I was eight.) I loved it on celery sticks the most and my mom would make it for me after school. It was always on her ‘relish’ tray (remember those?) for company dinners and holidays. I eschewed the black olives and the radishes though and went straight for the celery stick with the tangy cheese spread I couldn’t get enough of.

Vintage silver relish tray. Photo by Rebecca Penovich.

Vintage silver relish tray.
Photo by Rebecca Penovich.

Years later when I arrived at college in the South (Nashville, Tennesee to be specific), pimento cheese was on the counter at every single gas station along with a giant jar of pickled eggs. But man, this pimento cheese wasn’t anything I had seen before. In fact, it looked gross. Lurid orange, gloppy, maybe even sweaty. Needless to say, I wasn’t having any of that.

Eventually during my sojourn in the South, I was invited to the gracious Southern home of a well-bred Southern hostess whom I admired very much, and what did she serve? Yes, pimento cheese. But lordy, this wasn’t the gas station variety. This was creamy, tangy, fresh, redolent of good mayonnaise and maybe a tiny bit of onion. The red pimentos folded in were real, for goodness sake! I LOVED it all over again. On celery sticks (de-stringed if you are fancy), on Carr’s water crackers, on Pepperidge Farm thin white bread and cut into triangles, if you please.  On a wrap-around porch beneath a towering magnolia and served in a lovely, small silver bowl, please.

Here is an authentic and guaranteed recipe for Classic Pimento Cheese that I clipped from Southern Living May 2010.  It never fails to please my Southern-born and -bred friends and more often will elicit spontaneous recollections of their beloved grandmothers or great-aunts (the ones that entertained) or the beloved family cook of the grandmother (depending how far you go back).

Every well-stocked kitchen needs a box grater.

Every well-stocked kitchen needs a box grater.

The absolute secret to getting this right is two-fold:  hand-grate the cheese on a box grater and use two different size shreds, one medium and one fine.  Seriously,  don’t use the food processor and don’t skip the fine shred.  Yes, it will require a little more elbow grease, but lean in, people, this is pimento cheese we’re talking about!


Our Favorite Pimento Cheese

(adapted from Southern Living May 2010)


1 1/2 cups good-quality mayonnaise (Hellman’s or Duke’s)

16 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese (you can buy 2 8 oz. blocks if you prefer since you WILL be grating them separately)

1 4 oz. jar diced pimento, drained

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (we use Lee & Perrin’s)

1 tsp. finely grated yellow onion

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper


  • In a large bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, drained pimentos, grated onion, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper until blended.
  • Shred 8 oz. of cheddar on the small size of a box grater and add to the mayonnaise mixture.
  • Shred another 8 oz. of cheddar on the large size of a box grater and add that to the mayonnaise mixture.
  • Fold gently until nicely blended.

Taste and enjoy!  Pimento cheese will keep in the refrigerator (in a tightly closed container) for up to a week.

(Note:  You can use artisanal white cheddar but the classic recipe (and look) calls for the orange cheddar.   I love English farmhouse white cheddars on my cheese board, but if I’m making pimento cheese, I’ll buy a good quality, sharp, orange cheddar cheese.)


Southern Living calls for toasted pecans in their favorite pimento cheese, but we say skip that, and serve the toasted pecans on the side.

(Other Note:  we couldn’t stop eating the pimento cheese and crackers when shooting it for this post.  “It’s better to have 3 crackers in the shot than 5,” we said as we chomped.  Oh yeah. “This reminds me of Alabama!”  Allison exclaimed, remembering a trip to a favorite relative’s house there.)


Trader Joe’s Mini Croissants: C’est Bon!

Deliciousness, with our favorite jams. Photo by John Penovich

Deliciousness, with our favorite jams.
Photo by John Penovich

Sunday breakfast couldn’t be easier or more delicious.  Especially when you have these babies in your freezer.

If you have noticed the tag cloud on Corks & Cake, you will have seen Trader Joe’s popping up here and there.  That is because we love Trader Joe’s!   There are so many delicious products there, both fresh and frozen, that will make your life easier and your mouth happy.  You could plan a whole party, from flowers to appetizers to main course to dessert and make it all from one shopping trip to Trader Joe’s.  That is of course, if your Trader Joe’s also sold beer and wine.  Unfortunately, here in Maryland due to our complicated county and state liquor laws (antiquated), we can’t buy wine at Trader Joe’s so it’s not a one-stop party shop.

Buy at least three of these babies and put them in your freezer.

Buy at least three of these babies and put them in your freezer.

These mini-croissants are incredible.  Really, you won’t believe that they didn’t come from your best French bakery.  They do require some forethought.  The night before you want to serve them (at least 7-9 hours), take them out of the package and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Cover them lightly with a clean dish towel and place on the counter so they can rise overnight.  And rise they will.  In the morning they will be all light and puffy, almost doubled in size.

Brush lightly with egg wash for a glistening finish. Photo by John Penovich

Brush lightly with egg wash for a glistening finish.
Photo by John Penovich

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Brush the croissants lightly with egg wash.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Serve with your favorite preserves, jams and soft butter.  We are partial to Dickinson’s Marion Blackberry Preserves.

Our favorite blackberry jam.

Our favorite blackberry jam.

Wait for the satisfied oohs, ahhs, and mmmmms from your beloved.  Serve with hot coffee and English Breakfast tea.  A perfect petit dejeuner.





Off to the Races! Preakness 2013


Black Eyed Susan Punch

Pitcher of Black-Eyed Susans, the official drink of the Preakness.
Photo credit: Allison Beuker

Unlike the title says, we’re actually staying home on Saturday. But we’re going to pretend we’re there when we drink the official drink of the Preakness, the Black-Eyed Susan.

I found at least three vastly different variations of the cocktail (or should we call it a punch since it’s mixed in a batch?) and it appears there are many more.  The current Official Black-Eyed Susan at the 2013 Preakness site calls for Finlandia vodka, St. Germain liqueur, lemon juice, lemongrass and blackberry simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and a sage leaf garnish.  Say what??  That would send us packing for the liquor store with another stop at the grocery store and no, we are not doing that.  Another so-called official recipe from racing yore called for whiskey, vodka, sweet and sour mix, and orange juice.

Photo credit:  Allison Beuker

Photo credit: Allison Beuker

We prefer the simple one below.  We have all the ingredients and it tastes really good.

From The Washington Post in 2006.


1 1/4 cup vodka
1 1/4 cup light rum
3/4 cup triple sec
Juice from one lime
4 cups orange juice
4 cups pineapple juice
Lime slices

Chill all ingredients. Combine in a punch bowl or pitcher. Serve over ice in tall glasses or punch glasses. Makes 10 large or 20 small servings. Garnish with a slice of lime.

Photo credit:  Allison Beuker

Photo credit: Allison Beuker


Maryland has a deep horse breeding and racing history.  The Maryland Jockey Club was founded in Annapolis in 1743.  That’s more than 30 years before the start of the Revolutionary War.

According to Wikipedia it is chartered as the oldest sporting organization in North America.  The Maryland Jockey Club is still the name of the company that runs the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore (opened in 1870), the Laurel Park Racecourse (opened in 1911) and the Bowie Race Track (opened in 1914; ceased operation as a track in 1985;  now a training center for thoroughbreds.)

George Washington was said to have frequented the race track meetings in 1762-1773 (when he wasn’t attending to the business of founding the country and dealing with the interference of the French and Indian War.)

Okay you culinary sleuths and history buffs out there, what was George drinking at the Pimlico Race Course in the mid 1700s?  We bet it wasn’t vodka and St. Germain liqueur.

Two more interesting facts I learned while writing this post:

  • Since rudbeckia (the black-eyed susan flower) doesn’t bloom in Maryland until June, the flower blanket that is woven and placed over the Preakness-winning horse in May is made with Viking daisies whose centers have been painted black.
  • Even though we think of Kentucky as being the center of thoroughbred horse racing, many, many thoroughbred breeders, trainers and owners who have run horses in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont are generations-old Marylanders.

Cheers all and place your bets,






Corks & Cake Entertains: Lemon curd tartlets with blueberries and mint

Lovely spread

Lovely spread

Our friend, Laura, throws a great party.  And she does it often.  The food and drinks are always good and the atmosphere convivial and casual.  One of the best things about her entertaining style is that she doesn’t wait to have a reason to entertain–no big occasion or anything.  She usually says, “Gee, I haven’t seen you guys in a while; come over, bring the family, and hang out.”

The kids will watch a movie on the deck via an outside projector and the adults will sit around the fire pit and nosh and quaff.  And somehow Laura never seems to break a sweat, even with three kids to contend with, including one adorable 3-year-old handful.  Okay, how does she do it? She plans thoughtfully but not obsessively.  She’ll think about one or two things to make from scratch, like fresh mozzarella pizzas on the grill using Trader Joe’s pizza dough or the Barefoot Contessa’s delicious feta and tomato bruschetta.  The rest of the menu she’ll round out with good cheeses, crackers, crudité and a nice dip from Trader Joe’s fresh case.  Guests can bring something if they want, or just bring themselves if they didn’t feel like cooking or didn’t have time.  No pressure and no expectations other than to relax and have a little conversation among friends.

The Friday night before Mother’s Day was one such occasion.  Just for the ladies, Laura hosted a Stella & Dot trunk show.

stelladot invite

Stella & Dot is a San Francisco-based, woman-owned jewelry and accessories company.  They’ve got lovely stuff.  Their business model is ‘social selling’ which means ‘modern day Tupperware Party with bling.’  I didn’t take any photos of the bling because I was busy mingling and trying on, but here’s an adorable set of turquoise studs that I won (yes, we played a couple of games, but they weren’t too obnoxious.)

Stella & Dot turquoise studs.  Photo by Rebecca.

Stella & Dot turquoise studs. Photo by Rebecca


So, back to the food.

I made these little lemon curd tartlets with blueberry and mint.

Photo by John Penovich on iphone.

Photo by John Penovich

I know those look like black olives, but trust, me they are blueberries.  I picked the mint from our backyard and stuck the littlest leaves in the curd before walking the plate up to Laura’s house.  They were good.  Not too sweet and just tart enough with juicy lemon flavor and a smooth curd  to play off the flaky crust.

I hadn’t made lemon curd before although I love lemon desserts.  If it’s on a menu at a restaurant, lemon tart is what I’m ordering!  I read through a few recipes and settled on this one from my clippings file from Gourmet 2007.  I chose it because it didn’t call for a double boiler and other recipes called for using the whole egg or for whole eggs combined with additional separated yolks.  I knew I wanted a smooth curd, and nothing too ‘eggy.’  I love the consistency of hollandaise sauce so it seemed right to go with a lemon curd recipe that just utilized the yolks.

I clipped this recipe, Trompe L’oeil “Egg” Lemon Pudding (yes, clipped, like from the actual magazine) because it looked awesome.  The photo of the pudding and yellow curd in an egg shell looked just like a real poached egg.  you can go to see the complete trompe l’oeil dessert photo.)

(Can we have a moment of silence for the dearly departed Gourmet magazine?  Why oh why Conde Nast did you kill it?)

Lemon Curd Tartlets with Blueberries and Mint


  • 1 Trader Joe’s Gourmet Pie Crust, defrosted (you can certainly use your favorite recipe for pâte sucrée here but I took a shortcut!)

Lemon Curd:

  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted better, cut into small pieces


  • Fresh blueberries, washed and dr
  • Fresh mint leaves (the tinier the better)


  • Preheat oven to 400.
  • Lay out 1 pie crust on parchment paper and stamp out circles of dough with 2 in. cutter (I used a small juice glass.)
  • Press dough circles lightly into 2 mini-muffin pans (you will get about 18-20 circles from one crust so your second pan will not be full)
  • Blind bake the pastry shells for 20 minutes until golden brown.  (NOTE: Usually with blind baking you should put pie weights on the pastry to keep it from puffing up too much.  Again, I took a shortcut as the bling party time was approaching.)
  • Let pastry shells cool on the counter while you  make the lemon curd.


  • Whisk together zest, lemon juice, sugar, and yolks in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan. Add cold butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubbles appear on surface, about 4 minutes.
  • Force lemon curd through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl, scraping bottom of sieve, then transfer to ice bath and stir frequently until cold. Cover surface of curd with wax paper and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.


  • Pop the shells out of the mini-muffin pans with a butter knife.  Arrange shells on a clean baking sheet so you can begin filling them.
  • With a small spoon, fill the shells with about a 1/2 tsp. of lemon curd filling.
  • When all shells are filled, garnish each with a blueberry and mint leaf.