The Lazy Gardener

Tiger lilies abound in the summer

Tiger lilies abound in the summer.

Another weekend has come and gone and I still have plants to get in the ground.  We did get some tomatoes in and bought some more vegetables, herbs and flowers to go in.  In my shade garden I’ve strategically placed the two new variegated hosta and three purple shamrocks in their pots in the border.  They are just staring back at me willing me to dig holes for them.  Same with the three lavender and two purple salvia.

So instead I think I’ll show you what is thriving.  Boy, do I love low-maintenance perennials like these tiger lilies.  The Lilium tigrinum is also known as the Ditch lily, as it grows alongside the road in many parts of America.  Our neighbors here in suburban Maryland often have large swaths of tiger lilies lining their roadsides and they are very stunning in the early summer.


Blue hydrangea, 'Endless Summer.'

Blue hydrangea, ‘Endless Summer.’


My across-the-street neighbor has masses and masses of blue hydrangea bushes in her front yard and they are always GORGEOUS.  Don’t you just love a neighbor who plants beautiful flowers in front so all can enjoy?  I do!  I gaze and long for her hydrangeas from the shade of my front porch all summer long while I’m not planting.


Blue and pink hydrangea.

Blue and pink hydrangea.


My street corner hydrangea looks a bit sad.  Those are dead peonies in the front.  They were pretty in pink when they bloomed in late spring before school was out.


Pink peonies from the garden.

Pink peonies from the garden.



Blue hydrangea, "Endless Summer."

Our hillside, not in focus. It’s my eyes, not the iphone camera.


I’m having better luck with the hydrangea bushes on my hillside.  Oo la la!  Too bad I can’t see those from my front porch or driveway.  Yes, I too, plant pretty flowers for all to enjoy, especially those who walk their dogs down that side of our street.  Those orange tiger lilies peeking out from the bank of hydrangeas have to be one of my most favorite combinations.  Give me more! Give me more!


Wild daisy perennials with some white cosmos.

Wild daisy perennials with some white cosmos.

I love white wild flowers too.  Especially daisies.  It would be pretty to have an all-white bloom garden.  I think the concept is called a “moonlight garden.”  Very romantic.


Old stone mushroom.

Old stone mushroom.


John’s mom received this stone mushroom stool as a gift for her garden many, many decades ago.  Now we have it in ours beneath a large tree.  Our cat, Sydney, loved to sit on top and taunt the birds.  It would be perfect in a photo shoot for a woodland fairy tale.

Now, off to clip some hydrangeas for the house and come back inside immediately, avoiding the glaring need for holes for plants and the mosquitos.







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?



Israeli Couscous with Zucchini, Herbs, and Sauteed Shrimp

Contrary to popular belief, pearl cous cous is a pasta, not a grain. Photo by Allison Beuker.

Contrary to popular belief, pearl couscous is a pasta, not a grain.
Photo by Allison Beuker.

I am always looking for interesting pasta or grain dishes to take to the pool or a cookout. Something easily transportable that will also keep well and provide the perfect vehicle for fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden.

From time to time we get bored with our old favorites:  curried rice and raisins, basil pesto with farfalle and asparagus, sesame noodles (although those are are good ones!)

Thanks to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, home cooks now have access to interesting ancient grains and starches, including exotic stuff like quinoa, Burmese red rice, farro, spelt and barley.


Pick up a box at your local Trader Joe's.

Pick up a box at your local Trader Joe’s.


In my quest to expand my grain horizons, I bought a box of Israeli pearl couscous.  The recipe on the back of the box looked tempting enough, but I thought I could doctor it up a bit to make it a main dish.

In my research on couscous, I found there is a raging debate whether couscous is a grain or a pasta.  Foodies: they are a contentious bunch.  Since couscous is made with semolina flour, I’m going to side with the ‘couscous is a pasta’ faction.  (The other side of the argument is that since semolina flour is made from a grain, couscous is a by-product of grain.  You decide.)

Pearl couscous is larger than the Moroccan couscous we typically see in tabbouleh. (Don’t ask me why pearl couscous is known as ‘Israeli’ and the other kind ‘Moroccan’ because then we might need to convene a Middle-East Peace Food Summit.)

couscous ingredients

Chopped zucchini, green onions, and shallots. Photo by Rebecca Penovich.



Serves 4.

  • 5 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 T. chopped shallots
  • 2 T. crushed garlic (I use Gourmet Garden garlic paste in the tube, it’s easier)
  • 2 T. chopped green onion (white and green parts)
  • 1 C. chopped green zucchini
  • 1 1/2 C. Israeli couscous
  • 1 3/4 C. chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 16 medium uncooked shrimp (peeled and deveined)
  • 1 C. frozen peas (defrost them by running some cold water over them, they should still have a bit of crunch)
  • 1/4 C. freshly chopped parsley
  • 2 T. chopped fresh dill
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • zest of 1/2 lemon



  • Melt  2 T. butter in large saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 T. chopped shallots,  1 T. chopped green onion, and 1 T. crushed garlic to the pan.  Add 1 1/2 cups pearl couscous (the contents of the box) to the pan and saute until golden for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add 1 3/4 C. chicken broth and 1/2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender.  At this point the pearl couscous will have the texture of risotto, but a bit chewier.
  • Spread the cooked couscous out on a baking sheet to cool while you saute the zucchini and the shrimp.  (I did this because I did not want the couscous to get sticky while I prepared the seafood and vegetable I wanted to mix with it.)
  • In the same large saute pan, melt 2 T. butter over medium heat and when butter is sputtering, add 16 medium count peeled, fresh shrimp to the pan.  Saute shrimp 2 minutes on each side (flipping once) until firm and pink (do not over-cook because you are going to put them back on the flame when mixed with the cooked couscous).
Saute shrimp in butter. Photo by Rebecca Penovich.

Saute shrimp in butter.
Photo by Rebecca Penovich.


  • Pour the cooked shrimp and butter mixture over the cooked couscous and toss.
  • In the same large saute pan, melt remaining 1 T.butter until sizzling and add remaining 1 T. chopped shallot, 1 T. crushed garlic, and 1 T. green onion.  Add 1 C. chopped zucchini. Saute zucchini and aromatics for 4 minutes until zucchini is browned but not mushy.
  • Squeeze 1 T. fresh lemon juice over sauteed zucchini and add the couscous and shrimp mixture back to the saute pan.
  • Toss all together and add 1 C. of defrosted peas, 1/4 C. of chopped, fresh parsley and 2 T. of chopped fresh dill.  Heat over low flame until peas are warm.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings by adding remaining 1 T. lemon juice, lemon zest, and a pinch of kosher salt if needed.


shrimp with couscous

Joe’s Favorite Oreo Ice Cream Cake


Some people are natural bakers.  They like the methodical approach proper baking requires:  careful measurement, exacting technique, and strict attention to time, temperature, and humidity.

I was never like that.  I was afraid to make bread because the yeast would never proof. About 10 years ago, I purchased a Julia Child limited edition Kitchen Aid stand mixer (part of a fundraiser for AIWF Friends of Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian) and vowed to try to be a better baker.

That is a funny way to start this post, however, because this recipe has little to do with baking!  Not only is this cake frozen but there is also very little homemade about it.  So why am I sharing it, you ask?  Because it is a favorite among children and my son especially requested it for his 11th birthday.  I also made it for Allison’s little girl’s birthday.  It is a popular dessert and quite easy.

You could go out and buy an Oreo Ice Cream cake from Baskin Robbins or the grocery store but this semi-homemade one is much better than those.  The cookies and ice cream taste really fresh.



Cookies and milk, anyone?
Photo credit: Allison Beuker Photography

I pulled this recipe from The Kitchn blog, an excellent resource and one I read frequently.

Here is the original recipe which I adapted just slightly.


  • One 14.3-ounce package Oreos (regular/original), about 36 cookies, reserve 8 for garnish
  • One 15.25-ounce chocolate cake mix (I used Betty Crocker’s Triple Chocolate Fudge, baked as directed on the box.  You will need 3 eggs, 1/2 C. vegetable oil, and 1 1/4 C. water)
  • 2 quarts vanilla ice cream, very soft
  • 1/2 cup chocolate sauce, plus 3 T. for drizzling (Hershey’s Syrup works just fine)

Prepare a 10-inch springform pan by lining it with plastic wrap (bottom and sides).

Bake the chocolate cake as directed on the box. (Or you could buy a cake if you want to keep it really simple).


Who wants to lick the beaters? Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich.

Who wants to lick the beaters?
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Roughly chop or crumble the Oreo cookies into quarters or smaller bite-sized bits. (I put the cookies in a gallon-size Ziploc bag and go over them with a rolling pin.) Crumble the cake into a large bowl, and stir in about 1/3 of the crumbled sandwich cookies.  Add  1/2 C. of chocolate syrup to the cake and cookie mixture.

Bake cakes in 9-inch rounds. Photo: Rebecca Penovich.

Bake cakes in 9-inch rounds.
Photo: Rebecca Penovich


Dump in about 2/3 of a quart of very soft vanilla ice cream, and stir gently but thoroughly until the cake and ice cream are well-combined. Press this mixture into the bottom of the springform pan.

Cookies and cake!  What could be better?

Cookies and cake! What could be better?


In a separate bowl, mix the remaining 1 1/3 quarts vanilla ice cream with the remaining 2/3 of the crumbled cookies.  Press this on top of the cake mixture in the springform pan; it will come nearly up to the top of the pan.

Cookies and ice cream mixture.

Cookies and ice cream mixture.


Cover the cake pan and freeze for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight.

Smooth the top then it's ready to back in the freezer.

Smooth the top then it’s ready to back in the freezer.

When ready to serve, let the cake sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes, and run a knife around the inside of the cake pan. Open the springform mold gently; it should release easily from the slightly melted cake.  Pull away the plastic wrap.

Place cake on festive plate and garnish with the 8 reserved Oreos.  I stand them up on their side and place around the cake like a clock face.  Drizzle the Hershey’s syrup over the ice cream cake in a criss-cross pattern.  (Hold the syrup bottle high over the cake and move your hand back and forth quickly.  Pretend you are on Top Chef!)


Artful drizzle. Photo by Rebecca Penovich.

Artful drizzle.
Photo by Rebecca Penovich


Serve in wedges with ice cold milk.  Sing Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday to you!  Happy birthday to you!

Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you!


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.

Lamb Kofta Kebab

Grill your kofta with or without vegetables.  Photo courtesy of American Homestead.

Grilled kofta with vegetables.
Photo credit to American Homestead


We’ve been on a Middle Eastern food kick lately.  Something about the change in the seasons has us craving the exotic and layered spices associated with the food of this region and simple grilled meats served with a yogurt sauce, fresh herbs, and rice.

Kofta kebabs use ground meat (lamb, ground chuck, or ground sirloin) mixed with onion, garlic and spices and are easy and quick to cook.  Inexpensive and flavorful: can’t beat that for a good summer meal.

I based my kofta on this recipe from but there is an almost identical one from The Food Network site.

Break open the spice cabinet, I used 10 different spices in these to imbue them with maximum flavor.

Break out the spices, this recipe calls for 10 different dry spices.

It is a very good practice to measure all your spices beforehand and place them in ramekins or on parchment paper.

Garlic paste, minced onion, and chopped parsley.

Garlic paste, minced onion, and chopped parsley.

Lamb Kofta Kebabs


  • 4 T. crushed garlic (I have been using the Gourmet Garden brand of garlic paste in the tube.  It’s just easier than chopping.)
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 lbs. ground lamb
  • 6 T. grated yellow onion
  • 6 T. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 T. ground coriander
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 T. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika


  • Place the ground lamb in a large bowl. Add the spices along with the onion and garlic, and mix well.
  • Form the mixture into 22 balls (about 1.5 ounces each).  Mold each ball around the tip of a skewer, pushing the ball down the skewer and flattening into a 2 inch oval; each skewer should have a total of 3 koftas (if you are  not threading them with vegetables.) Repeat with the remaining skewers.
  • Place the kebabs onto a baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.  This is an important step because if the kofta are not chilled they may fall off the skewers when you grill them.
  • Preheat an outdoor grill for medium heat and lightly oil grate.
  • Cook the skewers on the preheated grill, turning once or twice, until the lamb has cooked to your desired degree of doneness, about 6 minutes for medium.


Lamb ready for chilling.  You can chill too.

Lamb ready for chilling. You can chill too.


Serve with tzatziki (recipe follows) and basmati rice.

Grilled kofta, ready to eat.

Grilled kofta, ready to eat.



recipe adapted from “Ask the Barefoot Contessa,” House Beautiful magazine

2 cups plain Greek yogurt (such as Fage Total 2%)

1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeded

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 T. crushed garlic (Gourmet Garden brand is nice)

2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 T. white vinegar

1 T.  minced fresh dill (optional)

Place the yogurt in a bowl.  Grate the cucumber on a box grater and squeeze the grated cucumber with your hand to remove most of the liquid.  Add to the yogurt.  Add the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, and dill.  Stir gently until blended and chill at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop.


Tzatziki = refreshing sauce of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and dill

Tzatziki = refreshing sauce of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and dill


Kofta are incredibly versatile.  If it is raining when you want to grill, you can broil these on high (preheat your broiler).  You can also skip the skewering step and make them into small lamb sliders and broil them.  Serve them over rice or tucked into flatbreads with some lightly dressed salad greens.


Kofta kebabs are versatile, eat them with rice or in flatbreads. Photo credit:  Jamie Oliver,

Kofta kebabs are versatile, eat them with rice or in flatbreads.
Photo credit: Jamie Oliver,


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?