Fruit Skewers: Quick, Easy, and Delicious

Fruit skewers are an amazingly easy crowd-pleaser. They’re quick to make. They’re colorful, and they’re tasty. They’re an appetizer and/or a dessert. What more could you want for simple party food?

Fruit Skewers

Fruit Skewers Recipe

Here’s what you need:

Here’s the prep:

  • Wash the grapes and strawberries
  • Cut the tops off the strawberries
  • Ball the melons

For each skewer, I recommend this order:

  1. Melon (alternate green and orange)
  2. Red grape
  3. Strawberry
  4. Melon (alternate green and orange)
  5. Red grape

Hint: Melon balls don’t always come out perfectly round. Skewer the melon so that the flat side is toward the grape, and it will be less obvious.

My mother suggests a light drizzle of honey as a finishing touch. I suspect that’s important if the fruit isn’t at its peak of ripeness / sweetness. I didn’t find it necessary for the platter pictured here. We’re getting fantastic melon and strawberries right now in Northern California, so your milage may vary.

Ratatouille Lasagna

Ratatouille Lasagna was the fifth of my 2015 Resolution:

This began as a collaboration with Éric Trépanier during his visit to California in the summer of 2015. He’d been watching a French Canadian cooking show, Qu’est-ce qu’on mange pour souper focused on making healthy meals in 30 minutes. This “Lasagne à la Ratatouille” got rave reviews in his household, so we decided to make it together. I’ve made it many times since.

Here is the recipe in French, and here’s the English translation. Helpful hints:

  • 30ml is two tablespoons
  • 300g is 10.5 ounces
  • 250ml is roughly a cup, so:
  • 500ml is roughly two cups
  • For crème champètre, use Half & Half or light whipping cream

The bulk of the time spent making the dish is chopping then sautéeing vegetables. I really like the thin cheese sauce versus the mounds of shredded cheese used in a typical lasagna. I don’t think we did it the first time, but using Trader Joe’s Diced & Fire Roasted Organic Tomatoes with organic green chiles, rather than plain canned tomatoes, adds nicely to the dish.

Here’s what it looks like just prior to assembly:

Lasagna Ingredients

And here’s what it looks like half eaten:

Ratatouille Lasagna Cooked

This is a great dish to make for vegetarian friends. I suspect they tire of eggplant parmesan or traditional spinach and mushroom lasagna. This dish is much more of a celebration of vegetables, and it’s less heavy on the cheese. I’ve found it pleases nearly everyone, and a great added bonus is that it’s able to delight vegetarians.

Ratatouille Epilogue

It was really fun to make a meal together with Éric. If you have friends visiting who also like to cook, I’d definitely recommend setting aside an evening to cook something together. I think we opened the wine before we began cooking, which I’d also recommend.

Goat Cheese and Fig Jam Tartlets

Tartlets with goat cheese and fig jam on puff pastry were the fourth of my 2015 Resolution:


These are great for when it’s your turn to bring food to an organization, club, potluck, etc. They only take about 30 minutes to make from start to finish. They’re also a huge crowd-pleaser. The hardest part is remembering to move the puff pastry box from the freezer to the fridge the night before. Here’s how to make these delicious treats.

Tartlets Recipe

  • Move puff pastry from freezer to fridge the night before you want to make these
  • Preheat oven to 400°F
  • Flour a flat surface such as a large cutting board or clean countertop
  • Flour your rolling pin, then roll out the puff pastry, extending it about one third in each direction
  • Use a 2 or 2.5 inch cookie cutter to cut circles of puff pastry
  • Place the circles on a sheet pan lined with silpat or parchment paper
  • Using a paring knife, cut X’s into each circle so that the outer portion rises more than the inner
  • Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes, and remove from oven
  • Place a dollop of goat cheese followed by a dollop of fig jam onto each circle of puff pastry
  • Return sheet pan to oven for an additional 10 minutes to melt the goat cheese
  • Move tartlets from sheet pan to cooling rack and let stand for a few minutes
  • Enjoy!

You can definitely use other flavors of jam. Try to avoid ones which have high liquid content.

I suspect you could also do a savory version of this, perhaps with a blue cheese and cooked bacon mixture. If I experiment with that in the future, I’ll try to come back and update this post.

If you make these, let me know how they come out.

Simple Sous-vide

I’m a convert to cooking meat sous-vide. I enjoy a perfectly-cooked, medium rare steak on occasion. I don’t eat red meat often, so when I do I really want it to be great. I don’t enjoy overcooked meat. I’ve also never liked the fact that there’s usually a certain gray, overcooked portion on the outside of a steak, while the inside is at perfect temperature.

Cooking sous-vide is fairly straightfoward. You seal the meat in a plastic baggie with the air evacuated. You cook it at its perfect temperature for long enough to kill bacteria. You sear it at the end for exterior texture (and for show).

Vacuum Seal

Archimedes taught the world how to displace volume by submerging objects in water, and the same principle applies in your kitchen:

  • Fill a deep pan with water
  • Place the meat in a sealable plastic baggie
  • Submerge the baggie nearly to the seal
  • Close the seal, submerging the sealed portion as you go

There are some debates on the Intertubes about whether or not this technique is inferior to mechanical vacuum sealers. My experience says this technique works perfectly well, and it helps avoid an additional kitchen gadget.

Water Bath at Temperature

There are a lot more Sous-vide gadgets on the market now than there were three years ago, and the immersion circulators look like a pretty cool option. For my setup, I use a simple, dumb slow cooker which just has Off / High / Low for settings in concert with a temperature controller. My Dorkfood Sous-Vide Temperature Controller (DSV) includes a temperature probe, which goes into the water bath, and a pass-through into which I plug the slow cooker. When the temperature is too low, the controller turns the slow cooker on, and when it’s too high, it turns the slow cooker off.

I cook my steaks at 137 degrees for one hour per inch of thickness. Note that you don’t start the clock on your cooking time until the water bath has achieved temperature with the steaks in. Keep in mind that it takes some time for the water bath to re-heat after you’ve dumped cold, vacuum-sealed steaks into it. When there’s about 20 minutes left, I’ll put the outdoor grill on high heat to prepare for the finishing touch.

Brown the Exterior

Cooking Sous-vide does not brown the exterior of the meat. It’s nice to have that texture and color for presentation, and you can do it by searing the steaks on a very hot grill or cast iron pan. You only need less than a minute on each side, and you’ll find that’s enough time to brown the exterior but not enough time to start overcooking the exterior of your steak.

I’ve also used this technique to cook beautiful hamburgers and incredibly moist chicken breast. For chicken, you’ll use a different temperature and time. Enjoy!


This escalivada was the third of ten new dishes I made for my 2015 Resolution:


I first tasted Escalivada in Barcelona. It’s a smoky Catalonian vegetable dish. I charred my veggies on a gas grill rather than a wood fire, so my dish lacked some of the smoke flavor from the original cooking method.

Escalivada is a great alternative to crudités if you want to have delicious vegetables on the table for a party. Serve alongside flatbread or crackers.

Escalivada also makes for good before and after pictures. You’ve seen the after above. Here’s the before:

Pre Escalivada

The one downside to escalivada is the time it takes to prep the vegetables. It took quite a while to break these down into sizes appropriate for cooking. It’s also not a fast dish to cook, as it takes time for the flavors to build. The upsides are that the dish has a lot of color and a ton of flavor.

Sweat The Eggplant

I love eggplant parmesan. There are tons of great recipes out there, so I won’t trouble you with mine. However, only one of them recommends that you sweat the eggplant before getting started, and to me that’s the one thing you must do when cooking eggplant.

Large eggplants have a lot of liquid in them. Green, bilious, bitter liquid. If you leave it in your eggplant, you’re missing out on how great an eggplant can taste. Once you’ve sweated your eggplant and actually see, and perhaps dare taste, the liquid, you’ll understand why you don’t want it in your dish.

It’s really easy to sweat an eggplant. I put mine on a baking rack, salt one side liberally with sea salt, flip them over, salt the other side liberally with sea salt, and let them sit for at least 30 minutes. At that point, you’ll understand what I mean about the unappetizing liquid which appears.

Eggplant Rack

Close up, it’s even worse:

Eggplant Close

Once they’ve been sweated, I rinse the eggplant to remove the bitter liquid and the excess salt. Then I place them between paper towels and press them gently with a rolling pin to remove any excess water. At this point, they’re ready for use in your recipe, and they’re ready to impress you with how great a properly sweated eggplant can taste.

Pizza with Thai Green Curry Sauce and Chickenless Strips

This was the second of ten new dishes I made for my 2015 Resolution.

Pizza with Thai Green Curry Sauce and Chickenless Strips

This one was inspired by a stream of tweets from Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater Software, maker of MarsEdit, which I used to write this blog post.

If you follow Daniel and pay attention on Fridays, you’ll frequently see tweets such as this. One Friday, he even did a live video via Meerkat or Periscope of his pizza-making. I think it’s his mission to dispel the myth that making pizza is difficult, and he does a fairly solid job of that. Enough to encourage me to try.

I found making pizza to be messy more than anything else, as the pizza dough really likes to stick to surfaces, so you spread around a lot flour or corn meal to keep it from doing so. I also found that dough really doesn’t like to stay stretched out, so I needed to stretch it beyond where I thought it needed to end up and just trust that it would pull back.

I’m a fan of Trader Joe’s, so that’s where I got my toppings. I like their chickenless strips because they’re an easy protein to work with, and they take on whatever flavor you sautée them in. I used Frank’s Red Hot this time. Philip suggested that I brush the dough with olive oil before saucing it, and that turned out to be a good idea. I love TJ’s red and green Thai curries, so I used the green curry for the sauce. I put some cheese on top, and I was ready to go.

The final challenge to pizza making is getting the pizza from the peel on which you’ve prepared it onto the hot stone. Pizza doesn’t like to slide. The dough likes to pull back. The ingredients like to get in the way. This part of pizza-making will take me years to master, but they’ll be fun and yummy years I’m sure. For now, the marked “left shift” of ingredients in the picture above is testament to my novice status as a pizza maker.

Chilaquiles in Guajillo Sauce

This was the first of ten new dishes I made for my 2015 Resolution.

IMG 0274

I’ve made chilaquiles in homemade green salsa before, and I like them very much, so I wanted to try a different sauce. I decided on a red salsa, made with guajillo (wah-HEE-yo) peppers.

I started with this recipe for the guajillo sauce.

If you’re going to use the sauce for chilaquiles, you can simplify the recipe by putting all of the broth into the blender then running the result through the strainer. Skip the bit with the medium-sized pot to thicken. Add epazote if you can.

To complete the chilaquiles, put 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil into a cast iron skillet, heat the oil at medium-high, and pour in the sauce. Once the sauce is bubbling, reduce the heat to medium, and add tons of tortilla chips. Pretty much fill the pan. Stir until the chips are coated with sauce. Eventually, the chips will saturate and sop up all of the remaining sauce. When they’re nearly done, reduce the heat to low and prepare to serve.

I recommend topping with grated cotija cheese (queso cotija) and Mexican sour cream (crema Mexicana). Yum!

My 2015 Resolution: Ten New Dishes

The hostess of our New Year’s Eve party required guests to make a resolution. She had everyone write their resolution on a small white board, and she took a picture “for encouragement.” My resolution, as you can see below, was to make ten “totally new” dishes during 2015:

Greg Holding Sign Saying: "Cook 10 Totally New Dishes"

We agreed that I would send her pictures of each new dish I made, so I have a record of this particular challenge. Here’s a list of what I made. Check back, and I’ll link them to posts where I elaborate on them with photos and recipes.

  1. Chilaquiles in Guajillo Sauce
  2. Pizza with Thai Green Curry Sauce and Chickenless Strips
  3. Escalivada
  4. Goat Cheese & Fig Jam Tartlets
  5. Ratatouille Lasagna
  6. Parmesan Crisps
  7. Moroccan Spiced Chicken
  8. Corn Risotto
  9. Potato Leek Soup (with a hint of fennel)
  10. Homemade Black Beans

This was a good party game, and it turned out to be a very fun and tasty resolution.