Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce (Gluten Free)



I was thirteen and we were taking our first real family vacation. As I sat in the car driving through northern Michigan the roads became surrounded by water on both sides. I had never seen such a thing and it freaked me out a little. We arrived at our cabin skirting Lake Lelanau and the breeze from the water made the hot summer somewhat bearable as I steadied my jello-like legs from the long ride.


Settling in, my sister and I made quick friends with a couple of older boys a few cabins down. Their dad owned a speed boat and they invited us out on a ride. Having never been on a boat before, it was exhilarating. The sun was shining, the radio was blaring “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul, and the wind whipped through my long pony tail.

That week Dad went out on a charter fishing trip and returned with several King Salmon. He took me to the fish cleaning station at the back of the cabin and taught me how to fillet fish. Mom prepped the grill and cucumber dill sauce and soon we sat at the porch table and took in the sunset over dinner.

We returned to that cabin the next year. I begged Dad to take me on the charter with him. He promised once I turned sixteen he would make it happen. Time passed by too quickly and even though we talked about it and dreamed about it, that trip never happened for us.

In 2009, ten years to the day after Dad died, I found myself on a small fishing boat in Michigan. Vintage Thread took me up for a weekend – John, a close family friend of hers was an avid fisherman and we made our way out to deeper waters.

Not one hour into our trolling I saw a line pull, yelled ‘FISH ON’ and grabbed the pole from its holder. I immediately felt the weight of something big and heavy. John stood alongside me and coached me with the line. “Ok, pull. Ok, now reel. Stop. Pull, reel. Step forward. Back up. Reel more.” He barked a few directions to Vintage Thread who was at the wheel, but they did not compute with me. I had the pole anchored into my hip, painfully digging into my muscles and was struggling to hold the line. I turned to John, “It’s too heavy. You need to help me!”

“No way, you’ve got this. Just do what I tell you.”

A few minutes later a thirty pound King Salmon flopped into the boat.

We continued to fish for the rest of the day, pulling in nine more salmon, but none the size of the King. With the afternoon behind us and our bellies grumbling for dinner we pulled the lines and sped toward our slip. The wind was in my hair and the sun on my face, and I was transported back to those Michiagn family vacations and wished Dad had seen me reel in the big one.

30lb King

Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce


1.5 lbs fresh salmon, cut into 4-5 ounce fillets
1 medium cucumber, or 1/2 English cucumber
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set the rack on the lower third position.
Lightly spray a 9×13 inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil and set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off of the cucumber. Trim cucumber as needed, then slice down the middle and remove the large seeds with a spoon. If you are using an English cucumber you can skip removing the seeds.

Using a box greater on the largest holes, grate the cucumber into a colander and nest the colander in a bowl. Lightly salt the shredded cucumber and let stand for five to ten minutes. Press the cucumber into the colander with a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon to release as mush liquid as you can. Transfer to a clean, dry bowl.

Add dill, mayo and sour cream and a little black pepper to the cucumber and combine. Taste the sauce and adjust with salt and pepper.

Place the fish fillets, skin side down, in the baking dish leaving one inch between each. Dollop a spoon of cucumber dill sauce on top of each fillet and using a separate utensil (as to not contaminate the sauce) spread evenly over the top. Place remaining sauce in refrigerator.

Bake the salmon for approximately 20-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets) until the internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 degrees or until the fish is translucent and flakes easily.

Serve with reserved sauce and sides of your choice. Our family favorite is pasta, polenta or risotto with asparagus.


Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder

I stomped up the three concrete steps and swung the screen door open to the covered stoop, stopping just shy of the threshold to kick the snow off my little boots. My sister pushes me from behind, in a hurry to escape the cold. We bust through the back door and stumble into the kitchen. The warmth of my grandparent’s house overwhelms by face and the smell of pork and sour kraut on this New Year’s Day makes my nose tingle with delight.

I shed my winter clothes and pass through the kitchen and stop at the bottom of the stairs. Aunts, uncles and a few cousins lay in various states of nap across the couches and in recliners as a football game plays out on the television. Some ‘Happy New Year’ mumbles are audible as I rush up the stairs to see my favorite cousins and their new Christmas toys.

Now that I am grown, New Year’s Day traditions have developed, and yet some have stayed the same. There are still football games. Naps on the couch. Christmas toys getting a good breaking in.

The pork no longer simmers on the stove – there is a restaurant that does a better job than I ever could. And there is soup. Not just any soup. Corn chowder with Christmas ham trimmings and bursts of corn from this fall’s harvest. Simultaneously fresh and hardy, it is a terrific way to ring in the new year.

Vintage Thread and Mr. Zoot Suit shared this recipe with us and it quickly became a must-have, not only on New Year’s Day, but any wintery cold day here in the Midwest.

Ham and Corn Chowder
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion (large) finely chopped
1 red bell pepper finely chopped
1 green bell pepper finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour (Gluten free option: 1 T. corn starch, 1 T. gluten free flour blend)
2 lbs potatoes pealed a diced (I use three pounds)
4 cups chicken stock (32 oz box)
4 cups water (I use six cups)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste (about ½ t each)
11 ounce can yellow corn, drained.
¼ lb diced ham (1 ½ c.)
½ c heavy cream (1/2 &1/2)
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1-2 cups instant mashed potatoes
Paprika for garish
• In a heavy dutch oven melt the butter with the oil over medium heat.
• Add onion and both peppers. Cook about 5 minutes until onions are translucent.
• Add flour, stir occasionally and cook 2 minutes.
• Add potatoes. Turn heat up to high and add stock. Bring to a boil.
• Add bay leaf, salt and pepper. Turn down to a simmer, cover and leave it there for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
• Add corn and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
• Remove two cups of the soup and blend in food processor, then add it back into the pot.(or, use an immersion blender for 30 seconds in dutch oven.)
• Add ham and a touch of liquid smoke. Heat through about 5 minutes.
• Remove the bay leaf and stir in cream. Adjust thickness with instant mashed potatoes and seasonings to taste. Serve hot, sprinkled with paprika.

Slow Cooker Beef Roast (Gluten Free)

Crock Pot Roast

Dressed in new clothes and carrying a new back pack, I stood at the end of the gravel drive way and kicked some stones around with my spot-free velcro-topped shoes. Hearing a vehicle in the distance, I squinted down the two-lane country road with my hand across my brow. The sun was just coming over the hill and it was big, blazing, and threatening to make it one of the hottest first days of school yet.

They would have the cattle barn fans set in the corners of the school hallways. Turned on top speed they could make the whole school vibrate, and the low and loud growl came in stereo everywhere you turned. Luckily the school grounds had very nice and tall shade trees, and on days like this class would be held outside under a canopy of leaves.

The start of school was always the start of a hectic schedule. The days of bike riding, rock collecting, and the constant pestering of my sister were ending (ok, I never stopped pestering her…) and were replaced with school during the day, and homework, apple picking, garden harvesting and canning in the evenings and on weekends.

Now years later, my environment has changed but the onset of Fall still brings a busy schedule unlike any other time of the year. While my days of apple picking and garden harvesting are gone, they have been replaced by increased baking orders, new teaching sessions for dance, and a back to school push that has me drowning in permission slips, health forms and supply hunting for my children’s classrooms.

While my days get shorter, I still manage to get dinner on the table and (try to) avoid the take-out trap as much as possible. There are two ways I accomplish this. My slow cooker, and easy recipes that are tried and true.


Slow Cooker Pot Roast

(adapted from my friend Vintage Thread‘s recipe)



1 – 2.5 to 3 pound beef roast

1 can Gluten Free Cafe’ Mushroom Soup (or one can Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup.)

1 package dried onion soup mix (if making gluten free, be sure to check the label.)

salt and pepper

Crock Pot Roast2



Salt and pepper both sides of roast and place in slow cooker. Pour or spoon mushroom soup over the top. Sprinkle with entire package of dry soup mix.

Set the slow cooker to 6-8 hours on low.


Best served with white rice or mashed potatoes and a green salad.









Oven Fried Chicken & Gravy

Smoke Alarm Chicke and Good Gravy

I don’t have a lot of girl friends. In high school I found the ‘mean girls’ to be just that, and I separated myself from the drama. That meant I had a lot of guy friends. The cafeteria  lunch table was me and three (sometimes more) boys who had a blast. There was minimal drama. No gossip, and no underlying comparisons to fashion, hair or makeup.

Since then I have gained a few girl friends along the way and they all meet my requirements of no-nonsense and minimal drama.

Then there is Vintage Thread. She is not only no nonsense and no drama, but this woman has the patience of a Saint. We have a lot in common, and yet we are so different.

She can sew an entire wardrobe for a whole theater production. I give her my skirts that need new buttons.

She is soft spoken. I am a loud mouth.

She is tall and thin. I am petite and jiggly.

She works for a call center for a company’s customer service. I would get fired for telling people to get lost.

But somehow our friendship works.

Nearly every Sunday we have dinner with her family. It has become somewhat of a tradition, and Vintage Thread and I rotate the cooking duties and attempt to turn out favorites from our well-loved family cook books.

This is one of the dishes she would frequently ask for as a child – sometimes on her birthday. Since today IS her birthday it is only right that you eat fried chicken, too.

Birthday Cake


Oven-fried Chicken & Good Gravy (Gluten Free)

2 1/2 to 3 Pounds Chicken Pieces
1 1/2 Tablespoon Shortening
1 1/2 Tablespoon Butter
1/2 Cup Corn Starch
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Poultry Seasoning

Chicken Preparation:
• Preheat oven to 425 degrees
• Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry
• Put Shortening and Butter on rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven until melted.
• Combine Salt, Paprika, Pepper and Poultry seasoning in a small dish.
• Sprinkle seasoning mixture over all sides of chicken and let the meat rest for five minutes.
• Put corn starch in a one gallon zip lock bag. Place all chicken pieces in bag and shake around until each piece is thoroughly coated. (Reserve the bag of extra coating for later use)
• Remove heated pan from oven and place chicken pieces in rows about one inch apart.
• Bake for one hour*, turning the chicken over half-way through.

Gravy Preparation:

Vintage Thread’s Method
• Remove chicken from pan and set aside, keeping it warm under a foil tent. Pour off three quarters of the grease, then place the pan on the stove top over medium/high heat. Pour a cup of water on the pan and work the chicken bits off of the bottom. Add two tablespoons of the coating reserved earlier. Whisk until few lumps remain and bring gravy to a bubble. You may need to add more water.  Adjust with salt and pepper.

My Method
• Remove chicken from pan and set aside, keeping it warm under a foil tent. Pour off three quarters of the grease, then place the pan on the stove top over medium/high heat. Pour a cup of boiling hot water on the pan and work the chicken bits off of the bottom. Scrape the entire contents of the pan into a food processor. Add two tablespoons of the coating reserved earlier. Give the food processor about five pulses, or run until the gravy is the texture you desire.  Adjust with salt and pepper.

* Smaller pieces of chicken may only need 45 minutes of cooking time. Pull these from the pan and keep warm under a foil tent until the larger pieces are finished.
Serve with mashed potatoes and a seasonal vegetable.

Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Figs

Figs1 Meeting people on the dance floor can be a little strange.  You see them on the dance floor. You smile. You might dance beside them. Heck, you might just dance with one another, but forget their name just as fast as a tuck turn. It takes time to build a friendship when chatting in short spurts in the seconds between songs. Just after Mystery Man and I married we met another Swing dancing couple who recently moved to the area. Through the fits and starts of communicating at dances we learned we had a lot in common. ‘Mr. Zoot Suit’ and ‘Vintage Thread’ were also recently married, had a vintage wedding, and a big band at their reception – just as we did. We were surprised and quite lucky to have met them and the friendships continued to grow. Just a year later we vacationed together at a beach outside of Charleston, South Carolina.  Mr. Zoot Suit’s folks had graciously donated a week of their time-share on the shore. We took full advantage of not only being in a beach hot spot, but the culinary hot spot of Charleston. Sun and sand by day, gourmet restaurant by night. We happened upon a local eatery called Al Di La and took a chance it might be good food – after all, their tagline was ‘A Northern Italian Trattoria’. Mystery Man and I are pretty much open to any culinary experience, but Mr. Zoot Suit is not – he is more of a meat and potatoes man. So, we figured we couldn’t go wrong with Italian fair. figs2 Our appetizer arrived at the table – Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Figs, and Mystery Man and I dug in with instant delight. Wanting to share this Heaven-on-a-plate, we offered some up to our friends. To our shock and disbelief, Mr. Zoot Suit was just as delighted with the dish as we were, and instantly ordered another round. The server obliged with the very last serving – it was a seasonal dish and we were quite lucky to have had it. Prosciutto Wrapped Figs First, figs have a very short ‘season’ here in the Midwest. They are shipped in from California and you have to be on your produce ‘game’ to get them before they go mushy or moldy. I happen to have several friends who know of my fresh fig obsession and text me whenever they spy them. Next, get the best prosciutto money can buy – don’t worry, we only need twelve slices for the twelve figs we bought – and that is nowhere near a pound. Your deli counter specialist will gladly sell it to you by the slice. I purchased this at Dorothy Lane Market and it is so yummy! Fig Gallery 1 Gather your ingredients and equipment. Figs, Gorgonzola cheese, prosciutto, a muffin tin and foil.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Cut foil into squares and line each recess of the muffin tin.  Using a paring knife, cut the stem off of the fig in a circular motion (like you would hull a strawberry). Widen the opening with your pinky finger to make room for the cheese filling – being careful not to tear the fig down the side. Fill the fig with Gorgonzola and wrap the prosciutto snugly around. Place one fig in each muffin tin recess. Fig Gallery 2 Bake about 20-30 minutes, or until the prosciutto is slightly crispy around the edges and the cheese is bubbling. Note – you can stuff and wrap in advance! Complete all the steps and wrap (tightly! you don’t want things to dry out) your muffin tin in saran wrap. Refrigerate for up to a day and bake as directed.