Sautéed Chicken With Mushroom Farro Risotto (Farrotto)

Pan Sautéed Chicken With Mushroom Farro Risotto is a healthy Mediterranean alternative to the classic American chicken and rice casserole that is often made with canned mushroom soup.

chicken with mushroom farro risotto

Pan Sautéed Chicken With Mushroom Farro Risotto (Farrotto)

Farro, an ancient form of wheat, is used in this recipe. Also known as emmer, it often replaces the Italian Arborio or Carnaroli rice normally used to prepare risotto and is then called farrotto in Italy. Unlike rice, farro doesn’t get mushy and retains a slightly chewy texture similar to wheat berries, barley or al dente pasta. Farro doesn’t release starch while it is cooking in stock so it doesn’t need to be constantly stirred like you do when preparing risotto. Fresh assorted mushrooms and Parmesan cheese add additional flavor to the farrotto that I think you will love as a side to the sautéed chicken that’s marinated with fresh herbs, garlic and green pepperoncini.

Pan Sautéed Chicken With Mushroom Farro Risotto (Farrotto)

Serves 2 generously, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Mushroom Farro Risotto (Farrotto)

  • 1 1/2 c. chicken stock (I used unsalted)
  • 1/2 c. mushroom broth (made by soaking several pieces of dried porcini mushroom in boiling water, then strained through a coffee filter) or you can use chicken stock
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1  4 oz. pkg. of assorted mushrooms (I used baby Bellas, shiitake and oyster) sliced into bitesize pieces
  • 1/2 c. semi-pearled or pearled farro (I used Campanini which is semi-pearled)
  • 1/4 c. white wine
  • 1/4 c. grated Parmesan or Locatelli Romano cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley for garnish, optional

Combine chicken stock and mushroom broth, a total of two cups, in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. (You can use all chicken stock, if you wish.)

Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium high heat until just bubbling, add the sliced mushrooms and stir to coat. Sauté until the mushrooms have released their moisture and turned golden brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then set aside.

In the same sauté pan, heat the olive oil, add the onion and sauté for 3 – 4 minutes until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the farro, stirring until it is lightly toasted. Add the wine and cook about a minute.

Pour in the stock, add the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is nearly absorbed and the farro is tender (it will be slightly chewy) and creamy. It should take about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the farro you use. Add the reserved mushrooms, heat through. Take off the heat and remove the bay leaf. Stir in the Parmesan cheese then taste for additional seasoning, if needed. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes for the flavors to meld before serving.

Tip: Whole grain farro can take about 30 to 45 minutes to cook, the semi-pearled variety I used took 30. If you plan ahead, you can pre-soak the farro overnight and it will only take about 10 to 15 minutes to cook. Cracking whole grain farro in a blender before cooking also helps it cook faster.

Herb Marinated Pan Sautéed Chicken

  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 3 – 4 pepperoncini (Italian or Greek mild pickled green peppers) stemmed, seeded and cut into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil plus more for sautéing
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (4 – 6 oz. each) pounded to an even thickness
  • salt and pepper to taste

Make a marinade by combining the rosemary, thyme, garlic, pepperoncini and 2 Tbsp. oil in a shallow dish and stir well. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and place in the marinade, turn to coat. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes, turning once and making sure both sides are covered with the herb mixture.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick sauté pan over medium high heat. Place the chicken breasts smooth side down in the skillet and cook for 3 – 4 minutes until brown. (If you have a cooking weight, it will help with even browning). Turn the chicken breasts and cook until done and they reach an internal temperature of 162 degrees. Let rest for several minutes before serving.

To serve this meal, spoon the farro risotto onto each plate and then top with one of the chicken breasts. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with additional grated cheese, if desired.


The farro risotto has a nutty flavor and chewy texture that my husband and I throughly enjoyed. Hearty and full of flavor, farro is a healthier and more nutritious alternative to Arborio rice and is rich in fiber and high in vitamins, minerals and protein yet low in gluten. As you can see from the photo, this is a brown looking meal. Since we eat with our eyes as well, you might want to add some color to the plate. I added some cherry tomatoes to the sauté pan right before the chicken was finished cooking to serve with the meal. Green beans or some wilted spinach would make another nice addition to the plate.

Posted in food, Home, lifestyle, photography, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Seared Scallops With Watercress, Orange And Pistachio Salad

Sweet citrus, peppery watercress and crunchy pistachios are served with tender pan seared sea scallops for a delicious yet very healthy meal. Include a whole grain roll and a glass of red wine and it is a good example of a heart healthy Mediterranean meal that is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and extra virgin olive oil.

scallops with watercress, orange and pistachio salad

Seared Scallops With An Orange, Watercress And Pistachio Salad

Seared Scallops With An Orange, Watercress And Pistachio Salad

Serves 2 as main course or 4 for an appetizer, adjust the recipe according.

Honey Citrus Vinaigrette 

  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. honey, more or less
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all the ingredients together to emulsify. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste, if necessary. Set aside until ready to use then whisk again.


  • 1 or 2 bunches watercress, tough stalks removed (arugula may be substituted)
  • 1 or 2 oranges or tangerines, peeled and sectioned (canned mandarine oranges, packed in water, may be substituted)
  • 1/4 c. shelled pistachios

Trim tough stalks from the watercress, wash and dry well. Peel and remove white pith from oranges then cut the flesh between the membranes into segments. Toss the greens and orange segments gently with some of the vinaigrette and sprinkle the pistachios on top just when you are ready to serve. Once plated, drizzle remaining vinaigrette over scallops.

Pan Seared Scallops

  • 4 or 5 large dry sea scallops per person (2 for an appetizer portion)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil for sautéing (I use high heat peanut oil)

Pat scallops dry with paper towel and season both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Coat a nonstick sauté pan with a small amount of oil. When the oil is hot, add the scallops in one layer and cook undisturbed for two minutes or until golden. (Do not overcrowd the pan…cook in batches if necessary.) Turn and cook for another minute or two, depending on size and thickness. Serve immediately with the watercress and orange salad to the side of the scallops so that the heat doesn’t wilt the greens.


A Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest ways of eating and is recommended by the World Health Organization to promote health and prevent chronic disease.

  1. Did you know that according to the CDC’s Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables list, watercress is ranked number one, with a nutrient density score of 100 percent.
  2. Pistachios are one of the lowest calorie nuts and have almost 6 grams of protein per 1 ounce serving. They are also an excellent source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are essential for eye health.
  3. Oranges are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, thiamine, folate, and antioxidants and have multiple health benefits.
  4. Extra virgin olive oil, which is the best quality oil available, is rich in antioxidants, which help prevent cellular damage caused by molecules called free radicals.
  5. Six large scallops, approximately 125 grams, are only 125 calories and have 25 grams of protein and nutrients that promote heart and brain health.

Not only do the scallops and salad make for a delicious meal, you can see that is is a very healthy one as well.

When we lived in New England, we enjoyed having scallops often. Here in Florida, they are expensive so we only have them once in a while. If you live in an area where good scallops are not reasonably priced or are hard to find, pan sautéed or grilled shrimp would make an excellent substitute.




Posted in food, Home, lifestyle, photography, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 36 Comments

A New DASH Mediterranean Lifestyle

A new DASH Mediterranean Lifestyle is something I’ll be occasionally writing about on Back Road Journal. If you aren’t familiar with DASH, it is the most recommended diet in America. The diet is not a weight loss diet but rather a healthy way of eating that promotes overall health. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was originally designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure.

healthy salad

A Heart Healthy Duck Salad With Roasted Pumpkin And Mushrooms

The diet can help you live a longer and healthier life by eating foods that are rich in protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium and calcium but low in saturated fats, sugar and salt. The easy diet includes lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, poultry, fish, lean meat, beans, nuts  and low fat dairy and concentrates on the size of the portions not calories.

Now if you are a foodie like myself, you are probably thinking that loosing a few pounds is always a good thing to do from time to time. I will be happy if this new lifestyle results in that. It is, however, not the reason I’m sharing this new way of eating with you. Over the last few years, my husband has had several serious heart issues and during a recent hospital stay, tests indicated heart failure. If you are not familiar with the term, it sounds worse than it is, thank goodness for that. His medications have been updated and he was advised to restrict sodium, watch fluid intake and eat a healthy diet for  improved health.

We have decided to combine the DASH diet and the similar Mediterranean diet, to achieve a healthier lifestyle. As you know from all the recipes that I have shared, we do for the most part, eat healthy meals of freshly prepared food instead of ordering takeout, preparing something from a store-bought mix or buying an already prepared meal from our market.

We do however, have a very busy social life and go to restaurants several times a week with friends. From now on, my husband will only be having the occasional hot dog or deli sandwich piled high with smoked meats at lunch. Dining at our favorite restaurants shouldn’t be too difficult with DASH. We will make sure to select the healthier items on menus, order sauces on the side and ask for extra veggies instead of salty fries.

I’ll be modifying what I cook at home to include as many fresh ingredients as possible as most of the sodium in a typical meal comes from processed foods and cheese and baked goods. When buying condiments, I’m going to compare similar items then pick the ones that are the lowest in sodium, fat and have the fewest calories. When I find a product that I think is really good, I’ll be happy to pass on the information to you. If I discover a way to increase the flavor in dish without adding as much salt, I’ll be passing that along as well.

The recipes that I have shared in the past usually say “salt to taste” and that won’t change as each of us have different dietary needs. If I decide to update one of our favorite meals to make it a healthier dish, I will share the recipe in a new post.

While this change in eating habits is a necessity, I’m hoping that by us making heart smart lifestyle changes and eating a Dash “Mediterranean” style diet, we will both enjoy a longer and healthier life. If you happen to be cooking sodium restricted meals and have a favorite recipe that you think my husband will enjoy or have a trick to make a meal more flavorful without using a lot of salt, I hope you will pass it along.

Posted in food, Home, lifestyle, photography, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli And Peanuts

My recipe for Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts will remind you of the ever popular Pad Thai dish that everyone seems to love.

While not an authentic dish that you might find in Thailand, the recipe does have all the umami flavors you would expect and is made with ingredients that you should be able to buy at your local market. If you are like me and can’t find good Thai food in a restaurant just around the corner from your home, then this is an easy recipe that you can prepare yourself the next time you want a taste of Thai .

Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts

Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli And Peanuts

This is a recipe that can be put together very quickly so make sure you have all your ingredients prepped and ready before you start cooking. Remember that the mincing and dicing of ingredients takes longer than the actual cooking of most stir fry meals.

Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli And Peanuts

Serves 2 adjust the recipe accordingly

Thai Style Noodles With Chicken, Broccoli And Peanuts

  • 6 oz. rice noodles, soaked according to package directions or you can use other noodles of your choice*
  • 2 Tbsp. peanut or canola oil for stir frying
  • 2 c. broccoli florets, cut in half if large, blanched for 30 seconds, drained, blotted dry
  • 1/2 small onion, cut into slices
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into uniform pieces
  • 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, sliced 1/4 inch across the grain
  • peanut ginger sauce (see recipe below) or store bought
  • 1/4 c. more or less of dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges (optional)

*Soak the rice noodles in hot water, according to package directions, until softened. Rinse under cold water, then drain well. Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with 1 or 2 tsp. of oil and toss to coat to prevent sticking together. If using another kind of noodle, cook al dente then drizzle with oil until ready to use.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan or wok until hot but not smoking. Add the broccoli, onion and red bell pepper and cook until just tender crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add the chicken and cook, stirring, until lightly brown, about 3 or 4 minutes then remove to the bowl with the vegetables. Add the peanut ginger sauce and noodles to the sauté pan  and toss well. Return the chicken and vegetable mixture to the pan along with the peanuts, tossing for another minute until everything is well coated  with sauce. Serve immediately with wedges of lime to squeeze on top, if desired.

Peanut Ginger Sauce*

  • 2 tsp. peanut oil
  • 2 tsp. sesame seed oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 3 Tbsp. natural peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp. tamari sauce or soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. sweet Thai chili sauce, or to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sriracha, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 c. chicken stock, more if necessary

Heat the oils in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add all the other ingredients except the chicken stock and simmer until the peanut butter is melted and smooth. Slowly add the chicken stock a little. at a time, until the desired consistency. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Keep sauce warm. *If you don’t want to make the sauce from scratch, you can use store bough peanut sauce and thin with chicken stock to the desired consistency.


If you are lucky enough to have a great Thai restaurant near you, you might think “why should I try this recipe” at home. I would answer that it is easy, delicious and is adaptable to your own tastes. As you can see, I added broccoli to my recipe to add more vegetables to our diet. If you have a member of your family who doesn’t care for broccoli, you could add in carrots, scallions or other vegetables of your choice. Want a really spicy dish, add sliced Thai bird chilies to the dish. Looking for a little additional sweetness, try adding palm sugar or a little dark brown sugar. Make Thai style noodles with chicken, broccoli and peanuts your own way and I think you will be pleased with the quick and flavorful meal.


Posted in food, Home, lifestyle, photography, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 42 Comments

Cuban Black Beans Done Quickly

We all need shortcuts in our busy lives and this easy recipe for Cuban Black Beans is perfect for one of your weeknight meals. When you don’t have time to soak dried beans and cook them for several hours, try this quick recipe using a few simple ingredients from your pantry. You can transform canned black beans into a delicious, healthy and inexpensive side dish that you and your family will enjoy.

cuban black beans

Cuban Black Beans Served With Roast Pork And White Rice

Years ago, a friend who was originally from Cuba, shared her recipes with me for slow roasted lechon asado (roast pork) and frijoles negros (black beans). Over the years, I have made a few changes to the quantities listed in the recipes she gave me but they are still true to her original. I’ve shared my version of Cuban roast pork but never the recipe for Cuban black beans.

If you have a big family, cooking a large pot of beans is a wonderful way to serve a healthy, satisfying and economical meal BUT if you are cooking for just one or two, you might be more inclined to cook a smaller amount and that is where using can beans is a good alternative. In fact, many canned beans today match the quality of dried beans so I make no apologies for using shortcuts when I want a meal on the table in less than an hour.

cuban black beans

Cuban Black Beans

Quick Cuban Black Beans

Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper*, diced (while most recipes call for green, I often use red bell pepper for added color and flavor)
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1  15 oz. can of black beans
  • 1/2 c., more if needed, chicken stock, vegetable broth or water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • cilantro for garnish (optional)
  • wedges of lime and finely chopped onion (optional)

Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in a pot over medium heat, add the onion and pepper then sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the beans, stock, bay leaf, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the liquid thickens and the flavors meld, adding a little extra liquid if necessary. Add the remaining oil and the vinegar, stir then taste for any additional seasoning, if needed. To serve, remove the bay leaf then garnish with the cilantro, if desired. Lime wedges and  finely chopped onion, as a side for the beans, can be served at the table.


  • There is a question among cooks and food experts on whether you should drain and rinse canned beans. If you do rinse canned beans, add some water, stock or broth to make up for the drained liquid as the beans will thicken as they cook.
  • A sofrito of onion, green pepper and garlic is traditionally used in Cuban cooking. Some people find that green bell peppers are hard to digest and if so, red or yellow bell peppers can be substituted. If you like spicy dishes, you could use a hot chili pepper as well.
  • If you are serving 4 to 6 people, I suggest using 3 cans of beans and double the other ingredients. I would also suggest the same if you want to make the recipe using dried black beans, cook as directed on the packaging…double the vegetables and seasonings.
  • The beans can be prepared ahead of time, just add a little water when reheating.
  • The added bonus of the Cuban black beans is that they are high in fiber, low in fat, vegetarian and vegan (if using water instead of chicken stock) as well as gluten free.


I grew up having a bowl of beans, usually navy or pintos, as a main course about once a month when my mother had a leftover ham bone. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Miami, that I tried black beans at a local Cuban restaurant. I was thrilled when my friend gave me her recipe and have been cooking Cuban style black beans ever since. While I love beans cooked from scratch, you need to plan ahead. There is the long soak, usually over night, before simmering the beans for several hours. When you are like me and don’t have the time yet want a healthy and quick side dish, try this recipe using canned black beans.

Posted in food, Home, lifestyle, photography, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 42 Comments

Traditional Italian Sunday Dinner, Four Cheese Stuffed Shells

A Traditional Italian Sunday Dinner where extended family and friends gather around a large dining room table for platters of pasta, meats and delicious pastries may be starting to wane as older generations pass away and today’s young families seem to be too busy to sit down together for a meal and conversation. If you experienced one of those memorable meals, I’m sure you hope, as I do, that someone will step up and keep the wonderful tradition alive.

four cheese stuffed shells

Four Cheese Stuffed Shells With Meatballs

The traditional meal usually started around two in the afternoon when everyone was home from church and the “Sunday Gravy or Sauce” was ready. The slow simmered sauce, not a typical marinara sauce, was prepared with a variety of meats such as meatballs, sausages, braciola, pork ribs or other chunks of meat that gave the sauce a rich taste.

The meal would begin with an antipasto of deli meats, cheeses and marinated vegetables.

This would be followed by pasta where the sauce would be used in lasagna, stuffed shells, ravioli or other pastas such as pappardelle.

Afterwards, the meat that had been simmered in the sauce, might be served along with a simple lettuce and tomato salad dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Some families chose to eat the salad after the meat course.

To finish the meal, coffee, Italian pastries and other desserts would be placed on the table for everyone to enjoy while the conversations continued. My husband fondly remembers those Sunday meals with his family as a day of laughter and delicious food.

A traditional Italian dinner may be a distant memory for many but not in our home. Once or twice a year, my husband and I will invite a group of friends to our house for one of these traditional meals. At our latest dinner, we shared antipasto, four cheese and spinach stuffed shells, meatballs, both sweet and hot Italian sausages and coffee panna cotta and cookies to finish off our Italian dinner.

four cheese stuffed shells

Four Cheese Stuffed Shells

The stuffed shells were a lightened version of a recipe I created several years ago. They turned out excellent and I want to share the new recipe with you. What I like is that any leftovers are just as good a day or two later reheated so you can make a large platter.

Four Cheese And Spinach Stuffed Shells

Serves 8 – 10 generously.

  • 4 Tbsp. Wondra flour (quick dissolving flour) or all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 1/2 c. milk, warmed (more if needed)
  • 1/2 c. Locatelli Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 12 oz. box Jumbo pasta shells (contains about 40)*
  • 5 oz. fresh baby spinach
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 lb. ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1 c. shredded fresh Mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1/4 c. grated Locatelli Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten

*Figure about 3 shells per person for a typical serving but boil a few more as some may break while cooking or stuffing.

  • 4 – 6 c. more or less, homemade “Sunday Gravy” or marinara sauce (depending on quantity of shells you are preparing and if you want some to serve on the side)
  • 3 plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and cut into dice (optional)
  • fresh basil leaves, torn for garnish

Prepare a light Alfredo sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan then whisk in the flour, stirring constantly for about two minutes. Slowly add the warmed milk and continue to stir until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Add the cheese, salt and pepper and cook for about three minutes more. Let cool, then place in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate. (Can be made a day in advance).

Prepare the cheese filling: Sauté the garlic in the olive oil until soft then add the spinach and cook until wilted. Let cool, squeeze out excess moisture and chop fine. Place in a bowl and mix in half of the mozzarella and all the other cheeses, nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary, then add the beaten egg and mix well. Place in a resealable plastic bag. (Can be made a day in advance).

Prepare the shells: Boil the shells for 9 minutes, drain, run under cold water then place on a sheet pan to drain and cool. Pour about a cup or more (depending on size of dish and the number of shells you are preparing) of sauce into the bottom 9 x 13 glass baking dish or a large rimmed sheet pan (if preparing a whole box as I did). Cut a tip off the plastic bag of cheese mixture and pipe some into each shell then line (open side up) on the sheet pan. Place about a tablespoon of sauce on each shell and sprinkle on the remaining mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and uncover. Cut a small tip off the Alfredo sauce and pipe across the center of the shells, return to the oven uncovered and bake an additional 10 minutes until bubbly and just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and let rest for five minutes before serving.

Serve this meal family style right out of the baking dish or plate with a little extra sauce on the bottom of each plate, top with the shells, add a dollop of Alfredo sauce and then garnish with chopped fresh tomatoes and basil for an elegant presentation. Serve any remaining sauces at the table, if desired.


While not Italian myself, I have an Italian husband who loves the Italian dishes that I have learned to prepare over the years. In our many travels to Italy, we have had some outstanding and memorable meals prepared by famous chefs but when it comes to my husband’s favorite, give him a typical Sunday traditional dinner and he will be happy.



Posted in food, Home, lifestyle, photography, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 93 Comments

Here Is To The New Decade

Here Is To The New Decade

happy new year

Here Is To The New Decade


As 2019 comes to a close

and we begin not only a new year but a new decade as well

join me in celebrating both the passing year

and all that we found good in it

and welcoming 2020 with eager anticipation.

I hope the New Year will bring renewed hope,

peace, happiness and good health into your life.

Happy New Year!

Thank you for taking time out of your busy days throughout the past years to stop by and read Back Road Journal. I always appreciate when you leave comments to let me know that you have enjoyed the time spent here reading about our travels or learning about a new recipe I have created for you to try.


Posted in Home, lifestyle, photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 39 Comments

The Joys Of Christmas

The Simple Joys Of Christmas

the simple joys of Christmas

The Simple Joys Of Christmas


May the simple joys of Christmas

bring you and your loved ones

peace and happiness now and throughout the new year.

I wish you all the best during this joyous season

no matter how your celebrate.

May your home always be filled with happiness, laughter and good friends.

With warm wishes from my home to yours,

Merry Christmas, Karen







Posted in Home, lifestyle, photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 42 Comments

Panna Cotta With Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Creamy and velvety smooth Almond Panna Cotta turns into a decadently delicious finale for your holiday meal when topped with Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. The amazing marasca sour cherries from the Veneto region of Italy are candied and then steeped in a syrup made from cherry juice and sugar. The panna cotta, which means “cooked cream” in Italian, is a special treat your guests will enjoy but they will never imagine how easy and quick this chilled dessert is to prepare…there is only about five minutes of cooking involved in the recipe.

almond panna cotta with cherries

Almond Panna Cotta With Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Even if you aren’t familiar with their name, you may have had the Luxardo maraschino cherries if you have been to an upscale bar or restaurant and ordered a Manhattan, Rob Roy or Old Fashioned. The delicious dark burgundy, almost black, cherries were probably stuck on the swizzle stick in your cocktail.

My husband discovered the cherries when he ordered a special “New Old Fashioned” at the bar in the Pillars Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. Needless to say he loved them and went in search of the cherries when we returned home. I must confess that we were surprised that the imported cherries were pricy but considering that they are not the artificially colored neon red supermarket cherries, my husband decided to splurge. You only need one or two to top each almond panna cotta so I knew my husband wouldn’t mind sharing his special cocktail cherries for this wonderful chilled dessert that we served to our friends.

almond panna cotta with cherries

Almond Panna Cotta With Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Almond Panna Cotta Topped With Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Serves 4 – 6, depending on the size of the molds.

  • 1 packet (1/4oz.) of Knox unflavored gelatin powder*
  • 2 Tbsp. milk or cold water
  • 2 c. (1 pint) heavy cream
  • 1 c. half and half
  • 1/3 – 1/2 c. powdered (icing) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • Luxardo Maraschino Cherries, 1 or 2 cherries and a little syrup to drizzle on each individual serving

*If you are using bulk powdered gelatin, a packet is slightly less than 2 1/2 tsp.

Place milk into a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it and let sit (do not stir) until the gelatin becomes soft and spongy. Place the cream, half and half and sugar into a pot over medium low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste for sweetness. Simmer over low heat until small bubbles appear around the edge. Add the gelatin and stir until it dissolves. (Do not let the cream boil.) Remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve into a container with a pouring spout. Stir in the vanilla and almond extract and let cool.

Pour into serving containers or molds and refrigerate for 4 – 5 hours, depending on their size. (If making the day before, once the mixture has gotten firm, place a piece of plastic wrap  on top of each panna cotta so that a thick skin doesn’t form.)

To serve, let the molds sit out about 5 to 10 minutes. Wipe the dessert plates with a damp paper towel. This makes it easier to reposition the panna cotta if you haven’t placed it in the right spot on the plate. Loosen the top edge of the molds with the tip of a thin knife then warm each mold in your hands or dip into warm water for just a second or two. Place a dessert plate on top, turn over and gently tap to unmold.


  • Sweetness level of the panna cotta can be adjusted depending on your tastes and whether or not you are adding a sweet topping.
  • If you plan to unmold the panna cotta, you can run cold water on the inside of the molds, then pour out but do not dry before filling.
  • A thin film of non flavored oil can be lightly wiped on the inside of the molds instead of using water, which will also help when unmolding.
  • It is important that the mixture should never boil or the panna cotta will not set properly.
  • If you plan to not unmold the panna cotta, you can serve when firm, about 2 hours. If umolding, refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  • To unmold, dip the container into hot water for a few seconds and run a knife around the edge.
  • If you don’t have molds, you can use small disposable Dixie bathroom cups, they are flexible for easy removal.
  • If you are worried about having problems unmolding the panna cotta, you can pour the cream mixture into pretty small glasses or cups, chill until firm and serve in the glasses.


Luxardo cherries imported from Italy are quite a bit more expensive than their American counterparts but they will add a special touch to your holiday meal. The panna cotta is easy to make and looks beautiful when presented with its topping of the deep burgundy colored cherries. I’m sure you will get raves from your guests when they have had a taste of this luscious, remarkably creamy dessert.

Posted in food, Home, lifestyle, photography, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 71 Comments

Green Beans And Pecans With A Tart Cherry Vinaigrette

Green Beans And Pecans Tossed With A Tart Cherry Vinaigrette is a sweet and savory side dish that can be prepared in under thirty minutes. The recipe is as delicious as it is easy and goes well with most main courses. I believe your guests, especially your vegan and vegetarian family members and friends, will really enjoy these green beans.

Green Beans With Pecans And Tart Cherry Vinaigrette

Green Beans With Pecans And Tart Cherry Vinaigrette

Pecans are my favorite nut and add nice texture and flavor to this dish but can be substituted with other nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts or even pine nuts. If you can’t find the sweet tart dried cherries, the green beans are equally good made with dried cranberries…I’ve prepared the recipe both ways and love it.

Green Beans With Pecans And A Tart Cherry Vinaigrette 

Serves 4 – 6, adjust the recipe accordingly.


  • 1/4 c. Sherry wine vinegar
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 shallot, minced (about 2 Tbsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 c. or more, dried tart cherries

Whisk the first eight ingredients together in a small bowl. Mix in dried cherries, set aside for at least 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. (The vinaigrette can be made a day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Before using, bring it to room temperature and whisk).

Green Beans

  • 1 lb. small green beans (haricots verts, if available), stems trimmed off
  • vinaigrette to taste
  • 1/4 c. or more pecans, toasted and broken into large pieces

Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set aside. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water (enough water to cover the beans) to a boil. Add the green beans and cook until tender crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on their size. Drain in a colander and immediately put in the bowl of ice water. When cool, drain well and put on a towel lined baking sheet. Pat dry so that the dressing will cling to the beans. (The recipe can be prepared up to this point one a day in advance. Wrap the beans in paper towels and place in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate. Let the green beans come to room temperature before tossing with the other ingredients and serving).

Place the green beans in a large bowl and gradually pour in enough vinaigrette to coat, then toss. You may not need all of the vinaigrette, if not, spoon out any remaining cherries and add to the beans. Taste for additional seasoning, if necessary. Add the toasted pecans and give one final toss. Transfer to a platter and serve. (The recipe can be prepared 2 hours in advance and kept at room temperature.)


I love the green beans and toasted pecans tossed with the delicious cherry vinaigrette. This colorful dish with its flavorful combination of sweet, savory and crunchy tastes is special enough to serve during the holidays but is easy enough to serve at a weeknight meal.

Besides the green beans being a great side dish, they can be served as part of a salad. Top sturdy greens, such as romaine, with the green bean recipe then sprinkle on goat or blue cheese crumbles for protein to create a simple, light and delicious lunch. If you would like a more filling main course salad for your evening meal, you could add another vegetable such as colorful golden beets and sliced chicken or turkey. I do hope you give the green bean recipe a try and let me know how you liked it.

Posted in food, lifestyle, photography, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 84 Comments