Mixed Grill with Root Vegetables

Corks & Cake Contributor:  Lee Ojascastro


We are cooking the rainbow.

We are cooking the rainbow.


From time to time on Corks & Cake we will invite some of our favorite ladies and gents from around the country to tell us what they are buying, loving, eating, cooking, drinking, or growing.  Here is one such lady, Lee Hassett Ojascastro, my dearest friend from college, who hails from St. Louis, where she cooks, substitute teaches elementary school, and entertains in wildly stylish fashion with her husband and young son.


Last week we had a warm, breezy Wednesday night in St. Louis.  After some freaky weather here in the midwest, this night felt like early summer, drawing us out to grill even though it was only midway through the work week.

Ready for the grill.  Believe me, grilled brussel sprouts are a relevation. Photo by Lee Ojascastro

Ready for the grill. Believe me, grilled Brussels sprouts are a relevation.
Photo by Lee Ojascastro


In addition to the usual zucchini, we threw root vegetables into the mix, using yellow beets, Brussels sprouts, and sliced Bermuda onion.We cut up the beets, green zucchini, Brussels sprouts, Bermuda onion, lightly brushed them with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled them with kosher salt, freshly ground Malabar black pepper, and a dash of sugar.   We threw some baby carrots into the mix and gave them a coating as well. The yellow beets don’t really need the sugar but the Brussels sprouts seriously benefit from it.

We have been grilling everything with our new “Cookina” grill cooking sheet from the online store TheGrommet.com (my favorite place to interweb shop besides Amazon.) The Cookina is a flexible, non-stick mat that can withstand temperatures up to 500°.  It’s great for the grill because you don’t have to worry about your vegetables falling through the grate and you don’t have to take the time to skewer them or worry about them sticking to your dirty grill (hey, husband, note to self:  brush off the grill.)  It’s food-safe, reusable and reversible!

We’ve also been chopping up and grilling kale (don’t bother removing the spines). The kale’s sharp green flavor combined with the sweetness of the beets and the lemony smoothness of hummus is a taste sensation you don’t want to miss!


Rebecca’s Note:  Here is a well-written recipe for Grilled Kale from Barton Seaver’s new book, Where There’s Smoke, posted on one of my favorite food blogs, Leite’s Culinaria. Check it out.


Grilling over high heat. Flip them once or often?

High heat, no skewers, no sticking to the grate with our new grill mat!


St. Louis-style barbecue pork steaks in the foil packets, upper right. Photo by Lee Ojascastro

St. Louis-style barbecue pork steaks in the foil packets, upper right.
Photo by Lee Ojascastro


We have pork steaks in the foil packets on the top grill shelf in the photo above. It is a St. Louis tradition to grill ‘pork steaks’ on Memorial Day weekend.  For those of you who may not have heard of pork steak, it is a cut of pork shoulder (also called pork shoulder blade) found in all of our grocery stores. Here is a great explanation of the cut and the method by fellow St. Louis cook Kitchen Riffs.  Grill them, then braise them in a liquid on the grill over indirect heat (or in the oven at low temperature) for 90-120 minutes to make them tender. (Note: this is a special cut that has a lot of necessary marbling; do not try to substitute pork loin, tenderloin, or chops because they will be dry as the Sahara.)

Here’s how my husband and I prepare them:

  • Sprinkle the pork with kosher salt, black pepper, sugar and garlic powder and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Sear the pork until you have grill marks on both sides the way you like them, then wrap each pork steak tightly in foil.
  • You can add whatever barbecue sauce you like (or a combination of barbecue sauce and beer) to the packets, but frankly I prefer them undressed.
  • Place over indirect heat on the grill (we use the top shelf) for 1 1/2 or 2 hours depending on their thickness.

They are fall-apart tender and are juicy and amazing. The grilled beets, Brussels sprouts and some quinoa are a perfect match.  My husband, who adores spice, likes to sprinkle ground cumin over his pork steak before digging in.

Also a good match:  cold Chardonnay of your choice.

A cold glass of chardonnay.  Stemless, so you can also garden (pull random weeds) while you are grilling.

A cold glass of chardonnay. Stemless, so you can also garden (pull random weeds) while you are grilling.


Serve it forth with lemony hummus.

Serve it forth with lemony hummus.


We serve our mixed vegetable grill with lemony hummus.  I like the Sabra brand of hummus but doctor up the flavor with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice and a splash more of my favorite olive oil.

Easy, healthy and good!  Try root vegetables on your grill this summer.




JP’s Picks: Music We Like

JP's assistant engineer.  He's a quiet fellow with big ears.

JP’s assistant engineer. He’s a quiet fellow with big ears.

Music is a big part of our lives.  We always have music playing in our house with speakers in the kitchen and elsewhere.  I love Pandora and have internet radio stations set up for all my moods.  ABBA station:  let’s get cooking.  Pink station:  time to double down on some serious clean up.  Fleet Foxes:  I need serenity on Sunday morning.  You get the idea.

John (also known as JP) is exposed to new talent each week via his regular sound engineering gig at the Mansion at Strathmore.  For those of you who do not live in the Washington metro area, Strathmore is a performance and music center in suburban Maryland.  There is a beautiful old mansion with columns and fountains designed by Appleton P. Clark, Jr. in 1902.  The house was a private home for many years for two prominent Washington families (Captain and Mrs. James Oyster, 1902-1908; and Mr. and Mrs. Charles I. Corby, 1908-1941).

The Mansion at Strathmore. Photo by  Rodney Bailey (rodneybailey.com)

The Mansion at Strathmore. Photo by Rodney Bailey


Marble fountain in front of the Music Room.
Photo by Alison Dunn

The Mansion has a magnificent mahogany-paneled Music Room that can hold 100.

In April of 2001, Strathmore broke ground on a fabulous 1,976-seat concert hall and education center—the Music Center at Strathmore.

Not a bad seat in the house.

Not a bad seat in the house.

John runs sound for Strathmore’s Artists in Residence (AIR) performances on Wednesday nights.  AIR offers six young (under age 35) musicians, singers, or songwriters an opportunity to work with a mentor in their field. During their residency, each artist performs several concerts to a usually packed house in the Music Room. Their final concert features a world debut of their original, commissioned work. Explore the intersection of technology and education through the lens of educator Kamau Bobb.

The level of talent among AIR artists is astounding, especially as some of them are still in high school.  I am often treated to tickets on Wednesday night (if there are any to be had) and it is a treat indeed to be exposed to new music just right up the street from our home.  Reminds me of when we lived in Nashville and you could go out and hear fantastic music anywhere a stone’s throw from your abode any night of the week.

Each season’s roster will blow your mind (future Grammy winners, for sure).  Here are three young performers we recommend you check out.

Daisy Castro

Daisy Castro, gypsy jazz violinist

Daisy Castro, gypsy jazz violinist

Daisy is a young violin virtuoso.  Her music is in the Gypsy Jazz style (think Django Reinhardt) and heavily steeped in the swing tradition and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France with Stéphane Grapelli.  John was blown away by this girl’s talent.  JP says: Her performances harken back to an era where swing was king and you didn’t have to have drums or horns to do it.

LISTEN: Gypsy Moth

Isabelle De Leon

Isabelle DeLeon, artist in residence

Isabelle De Leon, artist in residence

Isabelle DeLeon is another virtuoso, this time on drums, whose drumming style ranges from jazz to rock and everything in between.  She just graduated from the University of Maryland where she studied both jazz drums performance and pre-med.  She attributes much of her growth as a drummer to her teacher and mentor, Chuck Redd, a well-known vibe player.  She is crazy good.  Check out Isabelle’s website to see where she’s playing this summer.  Then go!

Owen Danoff

Owen Danoff and friends in the Music Room at Strathmore.

Owen Danoff and friends in the Music Room at Strathmore.

Owen Danoff is proof that in music, apples often don’t fall from the tree.  He is the talented son of Bill Danoff, pop song writer (“Take Me Home, Country Roads,” co-written with John Denver and “Afternoon Delight.”) If you are my age (ahem) you will remember both of those songs as being very popular in their time, the latter ditty earning Bill two Grammy awards in 1976.

Owen is a Washington D.C. native and a graduate of the Berklee College of Music. As a singer/songwriter as well as a bass player and guitarist his music is thoughtful and “hooky” (translation: catchy melodies).  He is great live.   Owen has an upcoming performance at Strathmore.

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Strathmore AIR Performance – 7:30 pm

Get a ticket here.

Photo by John Penovich

Photo by John Penovich

So Corks & Cakers (hey, I just coined that, hope you don’t mind), support these young artists by buying their music or going to see them perform.  You won’t regret it. (Certainly not like that second donut you had or the bad reality television you watched because you couldn’t help it.)

And absolutely, positively make a date to go to a show of your choice at Strathmore if you live nearby or are in town.  Whether it is in the intimate setting of the Music Room or the gorgeous performance hall down the hill, you will be pleased.

If you do, and are hungry and thirsty afterward, by all means go to our favorite Wednesday night after-show, late-night restaurant just a few miles down the road, Matchbox.  Fabulous wood-fired pizzas, sliders, Girly Martinis, Manly Martinis, and a very decent wine list.

See you there? Hope so!

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

Three Favorite Reds

Try these.  You'll like them.

Try these. You’ll like them.


We like the idea of having a house red wine.  That would be the one you’d always have on hand, your go-to, go-with-everything wine that you find supremely delicious.  Since it would be always at the ready for an impromptu dinner party or for taking as a hostess gift, it should also be somewhat affordable.  Not expensive and not too cheap, but right in the $12-15 price range that allows you enough choice among vineyards and countries and should guarantee you that there is enough complexity and flavor  to satisfy your taste buds.

We also like variety and trying new things.  So here are our latest favorite three reds for you to try.  All Cabernet Sauvignons, two from northern California and one really incredible one for the price from Washington state.

I pulled the wine flavor descriptions from the vintners’ sites because I don’t write professionally about wine and would tend to be facetious, meaning I might make fun of pretentious wine liner notes and use insouciant words like ‘bovine’ and ‘flatulent.’  (These wines are neither of those; they are delightful.)

(Prices quoted from Montgomery County Liquor Stores.)

Cabernets go great with sharp artisanal white cheddars.

Cabernets go great with sharp artisanal white cheddars.

Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2011


Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay

This Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits flavors of black cherry, dark plum and a hint of coffee. Rich, yet approachable tannins provide a long, smooth finish.

Casual glasses for wine, oui!

Casual glasses for wine, oui!  Photo by Rebecca Penovich


Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010


Paterson, Washington


This bold medium-bodied wine delivers aromas of cherry blossoms and rose petals, with a perfect balance of earth, mineral and deep berry flavors leading to a soft tannin cocoa finish.

Juan Munoz Oca, Winemaker


Rodney Strong Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

$17.99 (it’s often on sale for $14.99)

A deep, saturated color leads to lifted aromas of blackberry, cocoa, and herby black-currant, followed by a rich, layered mouthfeel, loaded with juicy black cherry, cedar, and crème de cassis, and structured with ripe, mature tannins.

Corks in old French copper pot.

Corks in old French copper pot.


There you have it.  Try one of these this Memorial weekend with a grilled ribeye steak or a hand-formed cheeseburger with lettuce and onion and you will be happy.

Do you have a house red?  Share your favorite ones in the Comments section.


Imperfect Gardener

Entrance to the garden. Photo by Rebecca Penovich

Entrance to the garden.
Photo by Rebecca Penovich


Two summers ago, Allison and I ventured into a collaborative garden in her backyard. Previous owners of her Victorian-era home had put in five raised beds in a fenced and gated enclosure and Allison had gardened there, trying sweet corn and other vegetables.   It was a lot of space for one gardener.  So we hatched a plan for a communal garden; one that we would get our children involved in as free labor.

As my yard up the street is mostly shade in the front and on the sides (I’m specializing in hostas, vinca, and other shade-loving ground covers, including weeds) and my back yard is something we call the ‘back slab’ due to the concrete-pouring previous owners who had a basketball court back there,  I jumped at the opportunity to grow some vegetables, herbs, and flowers in the full sun they require.

Please plant me in full sun.

Please plant me in full sun. Except that variegated hosta.


We started slowly, clearing out 4 of the 5 beds in the first summer and planting herbs and tomatoes.  The next summer, I got a compost tumbler for Mother’s Day (yes, I put that on my wish list!) and we parked it next to the garden and started composting from our kitchens.  (Guilty admission:  Allison was doing most of the kitchen composting.)

We gradually expanded in the second year.  My husband rented a soil tiller from Home Depot and went to town digging up the beds and aerating them.  Allison, the kids, and I added the “Black Gold” from the homemade compost, and Allison’s husband spread fresh mulch over all to tamp down weeds.

Mulching is fun, right?

Mulching is fun, right?


We tried more things, including zucchini, cucumber, jalapenos, different varieties of tomatoes, zinnias, nasturtiums, lavender, and even patchouli (my nod to the Grateful Dead and college years.)

We’ve had some success (many herbs, Sun Gold tomatoes) and some failures (why oh why are we the only gardeners in America who can’t grow zucchini)?

We call this section 'Italy' for the basil, rosemary and lavender there.

We call this section ‘Italy’ for the basil, rosemary and lavender there.


We have planted from seed and from seedlings.  We do it with trial and error.  We see what works (and try to replicate that) and we see what doesn’t work (and try to figure it out or abandon the effort).

We are imperfect gardeners but enjoying the challenge.

This year, Allison wants to conquer the zucchini challenge (is it our soil? our seeds?) and I want more garlic scapes and onions for cooking.  Oh yes, and flowers, lots and lots of flowers!

How does your garden grow?

P.S.  Cheeky raccoons ate all of Allison’s crop of corn just as it was ripe.  Beat her to it by one day.

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 a ‘modern-day Tupperware Party with bling.’ I didn’t take any photos of the bling because I was busy mingling and trying on. However, if you’re interested in the Invest Diva experience, you may want to explore specific reviews of Invest Diva to get insights from others who have attended similar events or engaged with their services.

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.

Mamas Got A Brand New Blog

Welcome to Corks & Cake!

After not much ado, here we are.

We are two moms who  have a point of view.  Life is chaotic and messy and wonderful and you should never take yourself too seriously or you might miss it.

Enjoy your children (little beasts as they are) and invite their friends over to dine at your table.  Put something green in the ground and see if it takes off.  Share a go-to recipe or a favorite bottle of wine on the porch with your neighbor on a Wednesday, just because you don’t want the conversation to end.

We’ll aim to provide you with a little bit of inspiration, a little bit of humor, maybe a shortcut or two, and at the very least a little bit of distraction.  We believe that collaboration is a beautiful thing, and we can’t wait for your comments and ideas.


beachshotAbout Allison

A Washington, D.C. native and mother of three, Allison has a decidedly non-linear approach to life.  She worked as a bartender in London, spent a few years in San Francisco as a science writer, then a Silicon Valley marketing executive, and returned to D.C. in 2000 with a husband and baby in tow.  Since returning to her hometown, she juggled freelance writing gigs, had two more babies, and launched Allison Beuker Photography.  Photography is a lifelong passion, and now feeds her soul and keeps her professional dance card full. You can see her work at www.abeukerphoto.com.

Allison has a degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland.  When she isn’t on a shoot or doing post-production, she hangs out with her three kids, husband, two dogs, one cat and a fish. She organically gardens, works tirelessly to keep her 1881 Victorian house from succumbing to age and laundry, and in an exhausted heap, drinks wine with some of her fabulous friends.  She lives down the street from Rebecca, in Kensington, MD, outside of Washington, D.C.  Allison considers herself to be insanely lucky on all fronts, but especially in the friend and family department.


Rebecca PenovichAbout Rebecca 

Rebecca’s first job in hospitality began at the age of 16 making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches in Aunt Polly’s Kitchen on Tom Sawyer’s Island at Walt Disney World.

Since then she’s worked as a pantry assistant at a gourmet restaurant in Jackson Hole, did a stint as a receptionist for a top law firm on Pennsylvania Avenue (hated it) and then found her groove in marketing, communications, and brand management.  As director of brand communications for Maryland Public Television, she led publicity and promotion efforts for several food television series including Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan, Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café, and Stephen Raichlen’s Barbecue University. She hung her freelancing shingle, “Art of the Table,” out in 2002 and has the privilege of working with great clients like National Geographic Television & Film, the Virginia Wine Guide, and Warner Hanson Television’s Chefs A’Field: Kids on the Farm. She credits them with honing her chops in publicity and television sponsorship.  When she’s not finding zen in her kitchen creating and testing recipes to try out on the neighborhood, Rebecca volunteers with American Institute of Wine & Food’s Days of Taste to bring chefs and farmers into the classroom.

She met her husband in Nashville, Tennessee while they were both undergrads at Vanderbilt University.  She also has a master’s degree in marketing from Johns Hopkins University, which officially makes her one of the most educated chauffeurs and laundresses for one child out there.  And she still can make a fine sandwich.