Friday, June 24, 2011

Let's Get Cooking Together! Mixed Berry Cobbler

Grab your car keys and head on over to your local farmer's market......or roadside produce stand.....or berry farm.....or supermarket.  Wherever you can get some gorgeous fresh summer berries, you need to go right now.  It will be worth the trip.  Promise. 

This dessert is so simple and quick to make that you can whip it up shortly before the guests arrive to your cookout.  For Father's Day, we made it with a combination of raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, but you can use whatever berries you like best.  Be sure to taste your berries and adjust the amount of sugar accordingly (ours were a bit tart, we used about 3/4 cup sugar).  Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Grab a partner (because the whole point is to have fun cooking with someone you love), pour a few glasses of your favorite beverage and turn on some great music. Let's get cooking!


Mixed Berry Cobbler

Fruit layer:

8 cups fresh berries (4 pints), rinsed

1/2 to 1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

juice of 1/2 lemon

zest of 1/2 lemon

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

pinch salt

Topping layer:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cubed

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.

Fruit layer: In a very large mixing bowl, toss berries with sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, almond extract and salt.  Transfer to a 7 x 11 baking dish.  Set aside.

Topping layer: Place flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Cover and pulse several times.  Remove lid and add cubed butter.  Cover and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Pour heavy cream and almond extract through feed tube and process just until a loose dough forms.

Drop dough by tablespoons over bottom layer until fruit is covered and dough is gone.  Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar over all.

Bake at 350° for 35 - 40 minutes or until fruit is bubbling and topping is golden.  Let cool slightly before serving. 



Monday, June 13, 2011

Musical Suggestion Box

We spend a lot of time outside in the summer.  Whether we're doing yard work, swimming, or just hanging out, we've almost always got music playing.  During the daytime our music of choice is usually alternative or rock.  At nighttime, we like to slow things down a little and listen to something more mellow.  The problem is, we've been listening to the same playlist for a long time.  I need to add some new selections to it but I keep drawing a blank when I try to think of what that would be.   

Sometimes there will be a small group of people having coffee and dessert and we need some relaxed after dinner music.  The age range could be anywhere from children to grandparents, so there would be a vast array of musical tastes.

Other times, it's just Mr. Willoughby and me, sitting at the bar enjoying a glass of wine.  We'll usually have dozens of candles lit, so the setting is rather romantic, but we're not necessarily looking for love songs or romantic music.  Just something a little slower paced.

We have pretty eclectic musical tastes.  Good music is good music, regardless of the artist or genre, so most anything mellow would work.  At the bottom of this page, I've included a mini sample version of our playlist to give you an idea of what we've been listening to you.  There's a little bit of blues with John Mayer, some old school Frank Sinatra, a contemporary twist from Adele, mixed with some light Matt Nathanson, Colin Hay, Foreigner and Sting.  The Eagles Hotel California is a summer tradition, Santana and Rob Thomas because they're so Smooth and Staind because I can't bring myself to have a playlist that doesn't include a little Aaron Lewis.

From here, I'm leaving it to you to drop some fantastic ideas in my musical suggestion box.  Whatcha got?     


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Let's Get Cooking Together! Caesar Salad With Spicy Grilled Shrimp

This is a quick and easy dish to make at the end of a busy summer day.  With two cooks working together, you'll have the prep done in minutes.  If you want to speed it up even more, don't bother to measure the ingredients for the shrimp marinade.  A drizzle, a squeeze and a few dashes will do just fine.  You'll still end up with amazingly flavorful shrimp.  We use a perforated grilling pan to cook ours (it sits on top of the grill grate and keeps smaller foods from falling into the fire), but if you don't have one, you can thread the shrimp onto skewers.

For the Caesar dressing, we've given you the classic recipe which includes a raw egg yolk, but we've included the substitute amount of mayonnaise.  If you're uncomfortable using raw egg, go ahead and use the mayo.  You won't lose any flavor in the bargain.

Speaking of flavor, we're begging you not to eliminate the anchovies.  Yes, they're a little creepy looking jammed together in that little jar (or tin), but they add a saltiness and a complex flavor that you really can't get without them.  We swear on our salad tongs that they won't make your dressing taste fishy.

Ready for a fabulous, light summer meal?  Grab a partner (because the whole point is to have fun cooking with someone you love), pour a few glasses of your favorite beverage and turn on some great music. Let's get cooking!

Caesar Salad with Spicy Grilled Shrimp

For the Spicy Shrimp:

1 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined, tails removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (adjust to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Caesar Salad:

1 head romaine lettuce
1 egg yolk or 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 anchovy fillets
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup salad croutons, homemade or prepackaged
1/2 cup freshly shaved Parmesan cheese*

In a large bowl, combine shrimp, olive oil, lemon juice, hot sauce, garlic powder and black pepper.  Toss until shrimp are well coated.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Rinse romaine lettuce leaves and spin or pat dry.  Tear or cut into bite sized pieces and place in a large salad bowl.  Thinly slice red onion and separate into individual rings.  Add to lettuce.

In cup of food processor combine egg yolk (or mayonnaise), Dijon mustard, garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, sea salt and black pepper.  Process until smooth.  With food processor running, slowly pour olive oil through feed tube.  Remove lid and add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.  Replace lid and process for an addition 10 - 20 seconds.  Drizzle dressing, a little at a time, over romaine lettuce and red onion rings.  Toss to coat.  Lettuce should be coated, but not soggy.
Light charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to medium high heat.  Grill shrimp until pink, about 3 minutes per side.

Divide salad between four serving plates.  Top each serving with shaved Parmesan, croutons and grilled shrimp.  Serve immediately.

Looking for a wine pairing?  Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice.

*To shave Parmesan cheese, run a vegetable peeler along the edge of the block or use the large slicing edge of a box grater to create large, thin shavings.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Letting Go

It's never easy to say goodbye to a dear friend, but sometimes you have no choice.  You have to make tough decisions and do what is best for your buddy no matter how much it hurts.

We found ourselves in that very position Tuesday night.  We were sitting on the back porch, enjoying some time with our friend when she suddenly lost the ability to turn to the right.  Despite our attempts to lure her out of the corner, she huddled there, weak and vulnerable.  It was difficult to accept that the time had come to "pull the plug", although we've known this day was coming for some time.
We've been enjoying her company since the day we discovered her, among her brothers and sisters, at a local store.  Other shoppers passed by them without so much as a glance, but for us, it was love at first sight.  She was practically begging us to give her a good home.  If we had known how much we would love her, we would probably have taken her siblings, as well.  That was more than five years ago, although I can hardly remember a time that she wasn't part of our household. 

Summer nights and rainy days were when we enjoyed her the most.  She would sit on the back porch, patiently waiting for some attention.  Inevitably, we would play with her, often losing track of time and playing into the wee hours of the morning.  She may not have been the most sophisticated playmate, but we loved her just the same.

Our attempts to resuscitate her were in vain.  If only her reset button would have been the cure for her ailments, but, alas, it was not.  Turning her off and then on was of no help, either.  Even fresh batteries could not save her.  We had to accept that she had navigated her last maze and eaten her last energy dot. 

And so today we lay to rest our beloved plug and play Ms. Pac Man game.  She will be mourned, not only by the Willoughby family, but by her nemeses Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Sue.  We will miss you, my friend.  You will never be replaced (unless we can find another unit, in which case you will be replaced immediately).

Our dear friend Ms. Pac-Man 2004-2011
She will be missed


Monday, June 6, 2011

We Have A Winner!

Congrats to Polly from The 5th Sister!  You have won a $50 Novica gift card!  Have fun shopping!

Treasure Found and Last Chance For Giveaway

I use a laptop now, but we used to have a big desktop computer.  One day, just after picking up my daughter from preschool, I smelled something burning.  When I walked into the office, smoke was pouring out of the computer.  I unplugged it and left it alone until the smoke finally cleared.  That night, when Mr. W opened the CPU to see what had happened, he found that all the plastic components had melted.  It seems I had discovered the situation moments before it burst into flames.  I can only imagine what would have happened if we hadn't come straight home from school that day.

More than losing the computer, I was upset about all the files that were lost along with it.  I hadn't thought to save anything on disc (I don't think flash drives were available at the time).  We had countless hours of music files, personal files and, most precious of all, hundreds of family pictures.

Over the weekend, my son was looking through a box of CDs, most of which were unlabeled.  He popped one into his computer and found that it was a photo CD with pictures from 2003 and 2004.  I don't know who made it or when it was made, but it contained all of those pictures I had thought were lost forever.  I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I was.

Here are a few of my favorites (chosen specifically because my friend Lisleman from A Few Clowns Short refers to us as the Witness Protection Family):

A nice picture of Mr. Willoughby and our son
in North Carolina.

From left to right - A friend's son, our son and Mr. Willoughby

From top to bottom - A friend's daughter, our daughter

Our daughter on the computer before it melted.
Our son jumping his dirt bike.

Mr. W and the kids racing a friend on a Go Cart.
Me with the kids and a little glare from my sunglasses.
The kids at an air show.  Some soldiers put camouflage paint
on my son's face.  

Last Chance For Giveaway

You have until 5:00 pm Eastern Time today (June 6, 2011) to enter the Novica Giveaway.  Click here for more information.  If you are having trouble posting your entry, please feel free to email it to me at  The winner will be announced this evening.  Good luck!


**I'm still unable to post comments on some of my favorite blogs.  I hope Blogger gets this issue fixed soon.  Holly, Matty, Amy and Liz - I haven't stopped reading your posts, I just can't leave a comment.