Happy Halloween! Stuffed Peppers & Tomatoes


Like most families, there are certain events we look forward to year after year. In our family, deviating from what has now become tradition is not an option. As we enter the holiday season it will become crystal clear as I share my stories.

Each year on Halloween I would make stuffed peppers for dinner. Afterwards, my husband and brother-in-law would take our children out to trick-or-treat in the dark, and then come home to warm apple crisp and hot cocoa. The “kids” now range from 19 to 28 and we continue to do this— well, their dads don’t take them out in the dark, but we do the dinner part. Now, we have a new generation to take about in the neighborhood—a niece and nephew, and they look forward to it as much as our girls did.

So why stuffed peppers? It was actually a practical decision. I needed a meal that I could prepare ahead of time. Most Halloweens I worked and came home to take the kids around the neighborhood. Cooking at that point would have been impossible. Because the peppers and tomatoes are in season, I generally only make this dish in the fall.

Over my lifetime, I must have watched my mother make stuffed peppers a hundred times. Not one of those times did she pull out a measuring cup or spoon. I learned what to do from watching her—no recipe needed. So please, don’t get caught up in measurements. A few years ago a neighbor stopped by to chat. I was engrossed in her conversation and she was engrossed in my culinary activity. I wasn’t even aware that she was paying attention to what I was doing as she’d often told me she didn’t cook. Two days later she called to review everything I did while she was over and she only had one question. I was stunned that she’d remembered every detail without a recipe. She made the peppers for dinner and called the next day to tell me they came out delicious!

Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes

4 peppers

4 tomatoes

2 lbs. lean chopped meat

Extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 large chopped onion

1 cup white wine

1 ½ cup water

Salt, pepper, parsley

½ rice

8 ounces tomato paste

1 large can crushed tomatoes

Breadcrumbs (seasoned)

Potatoes (optional)

In a large roasting pan, coat the bottom with a little olive oil. Prepare the peppers by cutting the tops and removing the seeds and membranes. For the tomatoes, cut the tops and hollow out the middle. Find the largest tomatoes available. Use any peppers you enjoy. I like a mixture of red, yellow and orange. I find green peppers very strong and overpowering, so I don’t use them. Arrange the peppers and tomatoes in the roasting pan. In a large, deep skillet add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic for one minute. Add the chopped meat. When the meat is fully browned, add the wine, water, salt, pepper, parsley, tomato paste and the rice and crushed tomatoes. My mom always added the rice by feel. I pour about two handfuls in the skillet, just as she did. I’ve estimated that to be ½ cup. Let the mixture simmer for about fifteen minutes on medium heat. That will give the rice a chance to begin to cook. If you feel you need more fluid, add a little more water. If the reverse is the case, let the mixture simmer a little longer. Remove from heat. Fill the peppers and tomatoes. Sprinkle breadcrumbs generously on top and drizzle with olive oil. Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Place the potatoes between the peppers and tomatoes. The potatoes help to support the tomatoes and peppers, but they serve as a nice side dish as well. Don’t forget to season them. Bake for 1½ hours at 375°. After the tops have browned (about 45min.), you may want to lay a sheet of tin foil over pan. Do not cover tightly or seal. You want to bake the peppers, not steam them. I usually double this recipe. I like finding the leftovers in my fridge on a busy day. They heat up in the microwave easily without compromising the taste, or you can eat them the way I like them—cold.

* Try this meatless alternative

Vegetarian/Vegan Stuffed peppers

 6 peppers

2 celery hearts, sliced thin

1 large Vidalia onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

1 cup white wine

½ cup pignoli nuts

1 cup rice

Salt and pepper, to taste



Grated cheese

1 cup bread crumbs (seasoned)

Cut the tops off the peppers and take seed and membranes out. Arrange in a baking dish. Heat a large skillet and sauté celery, onions and garlic with ¼ cup of olive oil until soft and tender. At the same time, boil 1 cup of rice in 3 cups of water for 10-12 minutes. Drain the rice and set aside. Add salt, pepper, oregano and parsley to the celery mixture. Add wine and cook on high heat to burn off liquid. If making a vegan version, use vegetable broth or coconut water. Remove from heat. Add the rice, breadcrumbs and pignoli nuts, and stir well. Fill the peppers. Generously sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. (Vegans can skip the cheese) Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.


Ms. Murray-Wilke Apple Bread


Still inundated with apples, I baked another family favorite that I discovered could be frozen and used for Thanksgiving. This apple “bread” is really not bread at all. It has no yeast—it’s more of a cake, but one I serve with dinner. I like to fill a breadbasket with squares of cornbread and apple bread to pass around the table, accompanied with maple syrup butter.

So where did this bread get it’s name? From my daughters’ AP literature teacher. Although an educator for over 30 years, Ms. Murray-Wilke was dedicated and enthusiastic until the day she retired. A passionate baker, she would bring cookies and cakes for her classes to enjoy while they discussed anything from Pride and Prejudice to Shakespeare or even Harry Potter. Her students adored her and many still keep in touch with her. She was generous enough to share her recipe, and when Alexa came home with a copy of it she begged me to make it, and the rest is, as they say—history! The ingredients remain the same, though I changed the method just a bit from the original copy.

*Just an idea- If you are looking to give a small gift to a friend or neighbor, or to bring a hostess gift to a party; this apple bread would make a wonderful gift. Simply wrap in cellophane and tie with a pretty bow.

Ms. Murray-Wilke Apple Bread

Makes one loaf

Pre-heat oven at 325 degrees F


½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 Teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

½ Teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons buttermilk or sour cream

1 Teaspoon baking soda

2 cups peeled, diced granny smith apples


2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons flour

1 Teaspoons cinnamon

2 Tablespoons chopped walnuts

*Hint- I like a lot of topping. I double the amount of topping on each bread. The choice is yours!


Make the topping first and set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Add flour, cinnamon and nuts. Mixture should resemble coarse crumbs.

For the batter- cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, blend well.

In a separate bowl combine flour and salt. Stir flour mixture into egg and butter mixture. Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk: add to batter, mixing well. Peel and dice the apples now that the batter is done. I find that there is less of a chance of the apples turning brown this way. Stir in apples. Spoon batter into a well-greased and floured 9×5- inch loaf pan. Sprinkle with topping. Bake for 1 hour. Cool slightly before removing from pan. Cool on wire rack.

Easy and Delicious Apple Crisp


Columbus Day seems to be the day my family has traditionally chosen to go pumpkin picking. Some years the weather was cold—well by Effie standards anyway and other years it’s been warm. This year it was close to 80 degrees and I’m not complaining. For several years we tried to go pumpkin and apple picking in the same day. After discovering that the only apples left by October were the ones that either fell off the trees or that were discarded by the people who picked them in September, we knew we had to change our plan. So in Mid-September we went out East with our little niece and nephew and picked the most beautiful apples. 36 pounds later, I had to create something—a lot of something. Needless to say, the next few blogs will be dedicated to apples. On Halloween and Thanksgiving I make a tray of apple crisp. Last year I discovered I can freeze it and heat it after defrosting and the result is the same. This makes me sooo happy! It takes one project off me in the days leading to Thanksgiving. I made three trays of Apple crisp. The extra is for my neighbor, Richie, who waits every year for “apple crisp” season. But then, I got a brilliant idea! I’ve been collecting these little clay pots that Kalypso Greek yogurt is packaged in. I thought it would make a nice presentation to plate my apple crisp in individual servings for my Thanksgiving table. I did make other apple recipes with the 36 pounds of apples. You will have to wait and see what they are. In the meantime enjoy this easy-to-make apple crisp.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees


1/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 ½ tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

8 cups of peeled, cored and coarsely sliced granny smith apples

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

½ teaspoon vanilla


1½ cups flour

1 ½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats

¾ cup packed brown sugar

¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

When I am doing anything with apples I am conscious of them turning brown. For this reason I prep as much as possible ahead of time and leave the peeling of the apples for last. Make the topping first and set it aside. Simply mix all the topping ingredients together and mix well.

For the filling – In a large bowl, stir together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Melt the butter, juice and zest the lemon. As I peel a few apples I toss with the lemon juice. I keep adding apples and lemon juice as I keep peeling to coat well. The lemon juice keeps the apples from turning brown. After the apples are peeled, add the melted butter, the brown sugar mixture and the vanilla, tossing well to coat.

In a greased baking dish, spread the filling evenly. Bake for 25 minutes. (15 minutes for the individual crocks)

Press the topping evenly over the filling and bake for another 25 minutes. (10-15 minutes for individuals)

If you are planning to freeze, I suggest reducing the cooking time by 10 to 15 minutes. Let the apple crisp completely cool before storing in the freezer.

Serving suggestion- Spoon vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt over the warm apple crisp.


Epcot Food & Wine Festival

Getting our appetites ready at the food and wine festival

Getting our appetites ready at the food and wine festival


The new kiosk - Puerto Rico

The new kiosk – Puerto Rico

Yesterday I mentioned going to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. Although this is the 19th year Disneyworld has hosted the event, it is only the fourth time our family has attended. We discovered it when my daughter, Alexa was a student at the University of Tampa. Instead of participating in the events on campus for parent’s weekend, she requested we take her to Disneyworld for a few days. The weather was perfect, warm and dry, and Epcot was lively but not overcrowded. We were given a “passport” and began to walk around the countries, tasting small bites of food from kiosks decorated to represent various countries. And so, this became, for our family, an annual event we looked forward to. Each year new countries are added and sometimes a few are taken away. They change the menu, which can either be disappointing or exciting. They took away the cheese kiosk this year. I missed the fondue and the trio of cheeses. And Poland had a traditional cheese bread with mushrooms, which they took off the menu and replaced it with something else. But Brazil was new this year and my “passport” said they had something called Pao de Queijo – a Brazilian cheese bread! I naturally had to try it, and when I brought it over to where we were sitting, my daughter, Eleni got so excited. It looked just like the bread she had in Ecuador that she ate every morning on her vacation there. I was so delicious. We ordered it three or four times over the course of our visit. Made from yucca flour, it had an interesting texture, and I am on a quest to find a recipe to make this at home. In Mexico I had a rib-eye taco made with fresh tortilla and in China we went back several times for another favorite – the Mongolian beef in a steamed bun with chili mayo. I can’t even describe how light and airy the bun was. It was different than anything I’ve ever had. France had an amazing menu, from Boeuf Bourguignon to a mushroom gratin and crème brûlée. And we can’t forget Greece where I ate more cheese – the saganaki – pan-fried kasseri cheese. The prettiest building was a new addition this year, Puerto Rico. But the first place my husband ran to was Argentina. He waits all year to get their empanadas, and I have to admit, they are the best I’ve ever had. We also sat in on a French wine seminar, which takes place in the festival center. We learned about the wine regions and a little about the French wine making process. The three wines we sampled were all very different but equally enjoyable. There are so many opportunities for culinary demonstrations, mixology lessons, beer tastings and dessert parties. There is something for everyone to explore. And if you want to venture out of Epcot as we always do, eat at Saana, an African restaurant with Indian influence, located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The naan bread with the nine dipping sauces was amazing. At the Grand Floridian you can have a proper English high tea. And back at Epcot, any time of the year, you can sit in the new Moroccan wine bar overlooking the water and enjoy a small plate menu. For the vegan and gluten free diners, Epcot is very accommodating. I know I have forgotten to mention so many countries with delicious offerings, but that’s what is so great about the festival. You can simply walk around and sample as you go, or get a group together, put your “drink around the world” T-shirts on and… well, you get the idea. Just one suggestion—digest and sober up before you go to the future side of Epcot and ride “Mission to Mars”.

Saana at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. we couldn't get enough of this.

Saana at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We couldn’t get enough of this.

High tea at the Grand Floridian

High tea at the Grand Floridian


Where Did My Summer Go? French Onion Soup


For me, this time of year is the most difficult to negotiate. I hang on to summer until the first day of autumn is officially declared, and even then, I extend summer with my annual trip to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival in Orlando. Until then, I continue to wear my summer wardrobe and our pool remains open. After all, late September temperatures often reach the 80’s, and even early October can provide warm days. However, unlike the summer, it’s cold in the morning, but warms up by the afternoon, which creates the problem of what to wear. So what does this have to do with food? Nothing really, except that I find the same dilemma this time of year with what to cook. One day I am outside happily grilling on my patio. The sun is shining and although it’s October, I am contemplating eating outside. The next day, it’s cold, almost bone chilling. I tell myself, “You will not make comfort food. It is too soon.” I know once I do this, I will have to pull out the fall clothing, decorate the front of the house with all the harvest paraphernalia, and there will be no turning back. But it’s cold and raining—so I make French onion soup…and a pot of sauce with meatballs and braciole. But then the sun came out on the weekend! And I grilled again! If only the pool company didn’t close the pool.

I hope All of October stays warm, but in case it doesn’t, here is a recipe for French onion soup. I think you will find this one lighter than most you’ve had in many restaurants. I don’t care for very dark broths that are heavy and tend to be too salty. I also don’t like when the soup is like an onion stew. That being said, I’ve created this recipe with the balance of ingredients to my taste. I hope you like it.

French Onion Soup

4 large onions (Vidalia or Spanish) sliced thin

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon sugar

1tablespoon flour

7 cups beef broth

1 ½ cups white wine

¼ cup cognac or brandy

Swiss, gruyere, jalsberg, or emmentaler cheese (In slices or shredded)

Add vegetable oil and butter to a large pot. On a medium stovetop, add the onions and sugar, stir and cover. Let the onions caramelize on medium/low heat for half hour to forty minutes, stirring occasionally. When caramelized, add flour and stir thoroughly. Add the broth and the wine. Simmer for half hour to forty minutes. While simmering, make baguette toasts. Slice a French baguette ½ inch thick on an angle and toast. You may rub a garlic clove on the toast if you wish, but this is optional. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When the soup is done simmering, remove from the heat and add the cognac or brandy. Ladle the soup into a crock. Add the baguette toasts and lay the cheese over the toasts. Place in oven until cheese bubbles and begins to brown.