Tim Brennan

Tim Brennan

Tim Brennan knew what he was doing when he named his bakery/cafe “Cravings.” Anyone who samples his offerings is apt to develop cravings. I crave his lemon bars and chocolate raspberry-filled cake. (Oh my, craving is such a humble word for this heart’s desire.) A fellow cooking colleague says nothing compares to Cravings’ carrot cake with caramel pecan filling, and another colleague raves about Tim’s  rustic apple pie. The James Beard Foundation declared two of Cravings’ desserts “Best Dessert in the Midwest.” Tim’s Hazelnut Zuccotto took honors in 1993 and his Lime-Blueberry Bombe won the award in 1995. Pies, tarts, cheesecakes, cookies, roulades and towering layer cakes. Everyone has a favorite.

Cakes seen through Cravings window.

Whole cakes from CravingsCakes from CravingsCut cakes from Cravings

And we haven’t even mentioned the savory delights served in Cravings Restaurant or through Tim’s catering company which have their own claim to fame. I’ve been a fan of Tim’s for many years and have interviewed him in the past. He told me that he is one of eight kids and that his mother made desserts every night of his growing up. He mentioned that he started baking when he was a graduate student in Ireland during a postal and phone strike; baking helped him feel close to home when home couldn’t be reached by traditional methods. He said that returned to St. Louis and went from teaching to wholesale baking in a Croatian church kitchen before opening Cravings at 8149 Big Bend in Webster Groves, Missouri, in 1993. The small and charming Cravings bakery/cafe delights happily ever after.

Inside Cravings Restaurant

Inside Cravings

We asked Tim for a 2021 update—and let him answer in his own words. We also asked him to share a favorite recipe. Here are his replies?

Q: Has your philosophy of baking changed through the years? Seems you started out with such popularity that you didn’t need to change much to succeed? 

A: My philosophy has always been to narrow the gap between the visual expectation and the actual taste. More simply put, food needs to taste good! What our culture offers is much more superficial and concerns itself with the appearance: think of strawberries heavily glazed in something artificial. It attracts the eye but then lets you down when you taste it. I never want my food to disappoint.

Lemon Bars and Turtle Cheesecake Brownies

Lemon Bars and Turtle Cheesecake Brownies

Q: Cravings has so many fans devoted to special items, How do you decide what keep on the menu and what to add to keep the creative juices flowing?

A: Initially it was difficult to make any changes. Some customers eat exactly the same dish every time they come to Cravings; others are in constant pursuit of what’s new and different. It took time to strike the right balance. In the restaurant I devoted weekend specials to new and different ideas without really changing the staples. Oddly enough, the pandemic has provided greater opportunity to experiment with a wider range of cuisines and at the same time forced my hand to prepare dishes that reheat well and still taste great.

Q: Have you found peoples craving for sweets has changed during the Covid lock-down. Are they more after comfort or the exotic?

A: In the initial panic stage people craved comfort food: chili, potpie, brownies and such. As lockdown ebbed and flowed, people wanted GOOD FOOD for a consistent and dependable source.

Individual pieces of cake on a tray.

Q: How have you and Cravings adapted to Covid?  What do you see for the near future?

A: I’ve had to re-create myself. The newest version is Zoom cooking & wine pairing  classes. With advance registration, each participant receives the prepared food with heating instructions, the recipes and a live 1-1/2 to 2-hour instruction by me.  I love it. Yet with that brief class about 25- 35 hours of behind the scenes work.  I’m working harder than I did as a start up. Wine pairings include the prepared food, samples of all wines and a discussion with both me and the wine rep talking about our respective fields. Fun and educational!!

Tim whipping cream

Catering was non existent.  Weddings have been postponed or shrunk to 10-20 guests vs. 200-300.  People weren’t entertaining. But now some small wedding cake orders are trickling in and so are a few tiny catering events. We don’t know the pattern, so we have to keep our fingers on the pulse of our customer. I personally take 90% of all takeout orders to cars so I have at least some interaction with those who really care about my business. This sustains and revitalizes me.

Q: What do you think about the baking shows on TV? Style without substance—or setting trends?

A: I’m usually annoyed by them because they create a false environment with unrealistic time deadlines or odd/bizarre ingredients. They also raise unrealistic expetations of the consumer which we, in the industy then have to respond to. “Reality” should be changed to “phoney” TV. Not a fan!

As for trends, I have been looking to both the east and west coasts for decades. I love to travel and take lots of notes especially about the food and then try to research and recreate my own versions of it. I purposely avoided following trends because I viewed myself as  more traditional.  Now I watch those trends with one eye ( e.g. Christina Tosi’s “naked cake” which I really think is a result of a lack of the skills to professionally frost one! Haha)  Essentially, I’ve embraced this business as a extension of me. I let my personal tastes guide me.

Q: Of all of your recipes, what stands out as your favorite?

A: I’m frequently asked about my favorite dessert.  My answer remains the same:  I don’t have to decide. If there’s something I’m craving, I simply make it. My ideal dessert would include all of these: crunchy, chewy, creamy, melt in your mouth….sweet, a bit of salt.

Q: Will you give us a recipe that fits your description of the ideal dessert?

A: Walnut Marjolaine with Cappuccino & Strawberry Mousse, Chocolate Ganache & Walnut Brittle fills the bill, but it takes from 18 to 25 hours to make and would be too complicated and frustrate many bakers.

Piece of Walnut Marjolaine with Cappuccino & Strawberry Mousse , Chocolate Ganache & Walnut Brittle

Walnut Marjolaine with Cappuccino & Strawberry Mousse , Chocolate Ganache & Walnut Brittle

I think it best to send you something simple and failproof. My banana oatmeal bread.


(Recipe supplied by Tim Brennan)

Yield: Two 8” X 4” loaves.

Butter and flour to prepare pans

6 ounces unsalted butter for batter

Individual Banana Bread

Individual Serving of Banana Bread topped with Cravings icing.

2-1/4 cups granulated sugar        

3 large eggs      

About 2-1/4 cups mashed ripe bananas   

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 tsp pure vanilla extract        

1-3/4 cups cake flour        

1-3/4 cups rolled oats  

1 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda        

1/2 tsp kosher salt

Butter and lightly flour two 8” X 4” X 2” bread pans. Heat oven to 325°F.

In a large mixing bowl, with electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until soft and well blended. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl thoroughly after each addition. 

In a seperate bowl, mix the bananas, buttermilk and vanilla until well blended and set aside. Put flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a third bowl and mix until well blended.

Add 1/3 of dry ingredients to butter mixture and stir until blended. Stir in 1/3 of banana mixture. Scrap the bowl after each addition. Continue alternating and scraping until all ingredients have been added.

Divide between the two prepared pans. Place pans in the preheated 325°F oven and bake until center of bread springs back when lightly touched, 35 to 50 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and then invert on a rack to cool completely. 

Serve with additional butter.

Poster inside Cravings



For more information about

Cravings click HERE.

To sign up for Cravings’ online cooking classes click HERE. 

To follow Tim on Facebook click HERE.

To sign up for Cravings’ daily menus click HERE. 











Mark Katzman holding pizza.Lo and Behold—my photographer son, Mark Katzman, has started cooking. He’s not been interested before—and why should he have been, being married to a fabulous cook, Hilary Skirboll, who puts glorious meals on the table that would eclipse any effort on his part.

Nevertheless he is cooking, but not just cooking ordinary stuff—he’s going for the biggies.

I learned about this new interest about three weeks ago when he copied me on an email to Italian cooking maven, and cousin, Elizebeth Minchilli. He said that he was researching a recipe for a pizza bianca that they had enjoyed together at Rome’s famous Forno Campo de’Fiori. 

Pizza from Forno Campo de'Fiori

Pizza from Forno Campo de’Fiori

Then he called to ask if he could borrow my KitchenAid mixer. 

Then he called to ask my husband and me to dinner.

Then he presented us with two of the best pizzaz I’ve ever encountered. 

One was a pizza rossa–a “red” pizza with sauce.

One was a pizza bianca–a “white” pizza without sauce.

Pizza bianca

Both had a crispy, crunchy crust that was richly flavored, tender and tasty. Both were divine!

I had no idea how complicated Mark’s recipe was until he sent it to me.

He weighs all ingredients. He uses Italian products that he buys from an Italian speciality market. He has authentic equipment. Too much for me, but if you want to make the recipe, and if we are in the same town at the same time, I will drop anything I am doing and run over to your house for a taste test. It’s that good!


Pizza IngredientsYield: 2 pizzas.

500g Italian milled flour for pizza for the dough plus additional flour for shaping and baking dough (Mark uses Granoro “O” pizza flour.)

425g ice water

11g (a smidgen less than 2 teaspoons) salt

¼ tsp dry instant yeast (Mark uses Caputo brand.) 

Oil for oiling 4-quart container

  1. Combine: flour, 375 g of the water, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir with a rubber spatula just until a rough dough forms. With the dough hook, mix on low (2 on a KitchenAid mixer) for 4 minutes. Turn the mixer to medium-high (8 on a KitchenAid mixer) and continue to mix, very slowly drizzling in the remaining 50 g water over the course of another 12 minutes. The dough will be very loose, almost liquid. Continue mixing for 3 to 4 minutes, until the dough comes together. Turn the mixer to the highest speed and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, another 2 to 4 minutes.
  2. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, clear 4-quart container with a lid. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours. 
  3. Refrigerate the dough for 18 to 24 hours.
  4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let sit on the counter to warm up, about 1 hour.A bowl of bubbling dough.
  5. About 1 hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack of your oven. Preheat the oven to as high as it will go. Pour the dough onto a lightly floured countertop and very gently press into a rectangle measuring 6 by 20 inches. Use a bench scraper or sharp chef’s knife to cut the dough into two rectangles measuring 6 by 10 inches. Evenly and moderately dust each with flour and lightly drape with plastic wrap. Let rest 30 minutes.
  6. Line a pizza peel with parchment paper. Evenly dust with a good coat of flour using a sifter to make it even. Re-dust the top of one of the rectangles and gently transfer it to the peel turning it over so the floured side is down (this is a very sticky and wet dough. By keeping the bottom floured you will prevent it from sticking to the parchment and your fingers as you gently stretch it – add more flour as needed; try to only use what you need to stretch it without it sticking). Dimple the dough all over with your fingertips. Stretching pizza dough.Lift two corners of the rectangle from the peel, stretching it as you lift, and place it back down on the peel several times to stretch the dough to 12 by 18 inches (this is tricky and takes patience and practice. Move slowly. Do not stretch the dough larger than the peel. Try to make dough all the same thickness (paper thin areas will burn).  If you tear holes you can pinch them shut or patch them with excess dough. Pizza on pizza peel.
  7. Gently dimple the dough again. 
  8. Top the pizza as desired (see NOTE)
  9. Slide the topped pizza, still on the parchment, onto the baking stone. After 7 minutes use the peel to lift the pizza and remove the parchment. Bake until the pizza is bubbled and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Slide the pizza onto a cutting board. 
  10. Repeat with the remaining pizza. Slice and serve immediately. 


Mark topped his red pizza with a smear of rossa sauce (recipe follows), dots of sausage, mozzarella di bufala and broken leaves of basil. 

Oven Ready Red Pizza

He topped his white pizza with a drizzle of olive oil, strips of prosciutto, dabs of fig jam, cut fresh figs, a sprinkling of gorgonzola and rosemary.

Oven Ready White Pizza

Toppings on both pizza were added with a light touch. Toppings should not overwhelm the crust. 


Yield: About 6 cups. 

2 (28-ounce) cans whole San Marzano tomatoes

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 sprigs basil

1 bay leaf

Salt to taste

¼ teaspoon black pepper

With an inversion blender, crush the tomatoes (not too much just to make an even, chunky sauce).

Set a large, straight-sided skillet over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is warm, add garlic and cook until just lightly golden, then cook 30 seconds more. Stir in tomatoes and juices, basil, bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Bring sauce to a simmer and simmers steadily until sauce is thick and tomatoes have mostly fallen apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and discard basil or bay leaf before using. 

To buy an authentic pizza peel, click HERE.

For a cocktail recipe from Mark, click HERE.

For another wonderful Italian recipe–this one from Elizabeth Minchilli, click HERE. 

Mark and Matt Katzman eating pizza.

Mark and Matt Katzman




Terri Havens

Terri Havens

I don’t know Terri Havens, but I am astounded by her creations.

Everything that Terri touches seems imbedded in splendor. 

I love the georgous Cal-a-Vie Health Spa that she and her husband own in the lavender-scented hills of Southern California. I adore the spa’s majestic setting, the flowers, the French antiques, the bedrooms, the public rooms—all perfection.

Distant view of Cal-a-Vie Health Spa.

Distant view of Cal-a-Vie.


Front door to bedroom and bedroom at Cal-a-Vie.

Door to bedroom and bedroom.

But what totally blows me away, is Terri’s new book, Beautiful Living: Cooking the Cal-A-Vie Health Spa Way. To call this piece of food art a cookbook underestimates the magic. Page after page of wonderful recipes, seductively photographed by Debora Smail, showcase beautiful food surrounded by table-top design elements that sets my heart aflutter. I rave. Who could not.

Cover of Beautiful Living book.

As I said, I don’t know Terri, but would sure love to know more about her, so I asked her some questions and she answered:

Q: How did you grow up that gave you a such a refined sense of style and beauty?

Terri A: I grew up in New Orleans which I feel had a profound influence on me. New Orleans has that old world charm with a huge French influence. The streets are labeled Rue, the streets are all French names and the buildings are all 150 years old! I was exposed to fabulous high ceilings, crown moldings cast from original designs in France, wrought iron, gas lantern medallions, all hand made by artisans that are groomed from generation to generation. I appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into every piece of furniture that is hand made. I pay particular interest in the details of curtains, trims, and fabrics all from my exposure of fabulous architecture and design growing up in New Orleans.

A French-style room with a tapestry backdrop.

Rooms at Cal-a-Vie are filled with French pizzazz.

Q: Cal-a-Vie is the essence of elegance and luxury, yet it’s not pretentious or forbidding. How did you strike that perfect balance

Terri A: I love to blend historic design for grounding reasons and a sense of place with modern luxury features and amenities. My kids taught me that. They were tired of not being able to sit in an 18thc chair. They begged to just have a comfortable chair to sit it. I started combining the two so that all could be happy. It works out much better like that. You need both form and function to get by these days.

Beautiful comfortable room at Cal-a-Vie.

A public room at Cal-a-Vie offers style and comfort.

Q: You even have a vineyard, Can you tell us a bit about it? How does wine fit in with a spa diet?

Terri A:  When the fires were constantly threatening Cal-a-Vie Health Spa we wondered if we could protect the property by getting rid of all of the brush on the mountainsides. It took lots of environmentalist working together, but we finally came to the conclusion grapes would be the best agriculture to work on our soil. They don’t use as much water as avocados or other fruits.  So, we planted 15 acres of grapes. Our original plan was to sell the juice as it wouldn’t fit in with the spa life.    Then, we started noticing lots of research on resveratrol’s benefits to the heart and other positive aspects of one drink in moderation. Not to mention we were constantly being asked for one glass of wine! So, we built a 200 year old Parish house in the middle of the vineyard to use for small wine tastings for guests who want them. 

Q: The 300-page Beautiful Living has more than 100 recipes, all beautifully photographed with style ideas. Can you tell me what inspired the book? How long did it take you to produce the book from conception to completion?

Terri A: The book started as a coffee table book about the beauty of the property. We spared no expense in the decorating of each room, exercise rooms, and kitchen. We had hand-tooled leather imported for the boxing bags. Our weight equipment is in a buttery leather and 18thc chandeliers hang in the workout rooms, etc. Everything we do at Cal-a-Vie Health Spa we do over the top luxurious. Our guests were constantly asking for a book to take home. So, we started with an award winning photographer to make sure the pictures were beyond amazing. Once we started shooting the property the chef said while you are at it we need a new cookbook. Guests are asking for that as well. I came up with the idea to combine the two. Since guests always want something to remember their amazing time at CAV, I thought the gorgeous pictures of CAV combined with delicious recipes would be a winning combination. The book took over a year to produce, but it was worth the wait. We won the Academy Awards of cookbooks with the Gourmand Best Cookbook Award. We continued to win every award in all of the biggies.

  • •2020 Gourmand World Cookbook Award
  • •2020 “IPPY” Medalist, Independent Publisher Book Awards
  • •2020 Benjamin Franklin Award Gold, Independent Book Publishers Association
  • •2020 Silver Addy, American Advertising Awards
Three dishes with recipes in Beautiful Living.

Three dishes with recipes in Beautiful Living.

Q: Would you choose one favorite recipe from the book to share with readers?     

Terri A:  I will give you a dessert since most people feel like they can’t have a dessert when eating healthy. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is all in moderation and using the right ingredients. This one will totally surprise you. Don’t tell your family or guest what they ate until after they give you compliments on how delicious it was! The secret ingredient is avocado, which is used as a base to give a creamy texture with a rich chocolate flavor for the ultimate decadent dessert. We love piping this into a beautiful mini-martini glass so you can have the proper amount without feeling deprived.


Yield: 4 servings.Chocolate mousse in mini-martini glass.

1 to 2 medium avocados

1 cup dark cocoa powder

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 

Pinch of kosher salt

Salted almonds, optional garnish (recipe follows)

Put 1 and 1/2 avocados in the bowl of a food processor. Add cocoa powder, honey, syrup, vanilla, oil, cinnamon and salt. Turn processor on and blend for two minutes. Scrape down the sides and blend for another minute. If mousse is too thin, add the remaining half of avocado and blend well. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving. Sprinkle with chopped salted almonds if desired. 


1/2 cup whole raw almonds

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon water

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Combine the almonds, salt and water in a small bowl. Toss the almonds around until the salt and water have completely coated them. 

Place the almonds on a small baking sheet and bake for about 7 minutes. Remove from oven and let almonds cool. Chop almonds and sprinkle on top of mousse, if desired.


Table set for al fresco lunch at Cal-a-Vie.

Table set for an al fresco lunch.

To find out more about Cal-a-Vie, click HERE.

For a few reasons that Sweet Leisure thinks Cal-a-Vie is the world’s best destination spa, click HERE.  

To order Cal-a-Vie products including antiques and Beautiful Living, click HERE.

To order Beautiful Living from Amazon (where I may—usually not—receive a commission) click HERE.


Three style photos in Beautiful Living

Lovely photos by Debora Smail fill Beautiful Living.



Nohoch Mui Pyramid surrounded by jungle. Many years ago my husband and I were at the top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid at Coba (Yucatan Peninsula) admiring the view when we heard a voice drift up from below, “Ya ba wor it?” the voice asked. Looking down we saw a small old woman, hands like parentheses around her mouth, shouting up to us. 

“What?” I hollered back. 

“Is it worth it?” she yelled. 

“Yes,” I answered and she appeared grateful when she reached the top, explaining that she aways checks if the view would be worth falling on the slippery climb causing injury or interrupting her trip.

I tell you this because in 2020 I became an “is-it-worth-it experiencer.” 

I now ask myself is it worth exposure to Covid by taking that longed-for trip to L.A.? “No,” I answer.

Is it worth slipping on ice and catching pneumonia by walking the dog in glacial temperature?” “No,” again.

Is it worth being cranky and exhausted by staying up all night to watch just one more episode of the current stream?” “Don’t think so,” I reason. 

The only question that gets my unequivocal rousing “Yes”  is when I ask, “Is it worth gaining weight and feeling out of control by gorging on Lemon Bundt Cake?”  “Always,” I say. Here’s why: 



Yield: six cakes.

Cake ingredients:

Shortening to grease bundt cake cups

1-1/2 cups flour

A basket of lemons.1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 heaping tablespoon lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butte, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1/2 cup buttermilk

Syrup ingredients:

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Icing ingredients:

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

About 1-1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon cream or milk

Make cake:

Heat oven to 350°F. Heavily grease six cups of a mini bundt cake pan. (Brushing on shortening with a pastry brush helps fill the creases.) 

Combine flour, baking powder, lemon zest and salt in a medium bowl; set bowl aside.

In another medium bowl, with an electric mixer set on high speed, cream butter and sugar together until mixture is pale and fluffy, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn mixer to low and beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in lemon juice, vanilla and lemon extract. 

With mixer on low speed, add one third of the flour mixture and beat until almost combined. Add half of the buttermilk and beat until almost combined. Repeat with another third of flour and then remaining half of buttermilk and then the last third of the flour. Beat just until combined.

Spoon batter into the prepared cake cups, giving each cavity an equal amount of batter. 

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven until cake is light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center of one cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs, 20 to 25 minutes. Don’t over bake.

Cool cakes in pan for about 15 minutes while you make the syrup.

Make syrup:

Stir lemon juice and sugar together until smooth. Carefully invert cake pan onto a cooling rack to release cakes. Brush syrup on cakes while Lemon bundt cakes on a rack cooling.they are still warm. Cook cakes completely.

Make icing:

Put sugar in a small mixing bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice and cream. Icing should be thick, not runny. If too thick, add more lemon juice to desired consistency. Spoon icing over top of each cake, giving each cake an equal amount of icing. Let icing set completely before serving. 



Lemon bundt cakes--one whole, one with a big bite take.

For another wonderful buttermilk cake–this time chocolate, click HERE.



Mary had a little lamb

The Big Lambowski lamb burger topped with Cucumber Feta Relish

The Big Lambowski lamb burger.

And spinach topped with cheese.

She also had some buttered bread

And seconds on the peas.

She had some cream of celery soup, 

And fluffy mashed potatoes,

And lots of Roquefort dressing

On thickly sliced tomatoes.

She had a wedge of apple pie,

A piece of chocolate cake,

A slice of cherry strudel,

And, then, a stomach ache.

“How simply dreadful,” Mary said

As she headed for the door,

“I only had a little lamb,

“I should have had much more.”


Sign out side of Riff Raff Brewpub and Eatery Riff Raff Brewing Company in Pagosa Springs, Colorado,  produces a lamb burger that, despite being huge and rich, falls into the “can’t-get-enough” category.

Fans would say that the Brewery’s inventive Flagship beers and seasonal taps also leave the imbiber wanting more—and more.

The Big Lambowski ranks as the restaurant’s most popular item.

 The brewery calls its beer “Earth Powered Beer,” as Riff Raff taps into  the world’s deepest hot spring for geothermal energy to heat not only their building, but also their brewing tanks (complicated process, won’t go into it here).

Sign of some beers sold at Riff Raff BrewerySuffice it to say both the burger and the beers are hot stuff and so worth indulging.

Although the beers might be hard to come by if not in Pagosa Springs, The Big Lambowski–or at least a reasonable fascimile can be enjoyed at home. See for your self with this recipe:


(Adapted from recipes supplied by Riff Raff Brewing Company)

Yield: 6 servings.A lamb burger with bowls of lemon Oregano Aioli and Cucumber Feta Relish

2 to 3 pounds ground lamb 

Salt to taste

White pepper to taste

6 hamburger buns

Lemon Oregano Aioli (recipe follows)

Cucumber Feta Relish (recipe follows)

Form ground lamb into 6 patties, season with salt and pepper, and grill until done as desired. (We like our lamb slightly pink).

Spread Lemon Oregano Aioli on the bottom half of each hamburger bun, distributing the aioli equally among the buns. Put a hot lamb burger on the top of aioli. Mound 1/6 of Cucumber Feta Relish on top of each lamb burger, add bun top and serve immediately.


1/2 cup mayonnaiseA bowl of creamy Lemon Oregano Aioli

1 tablespoon finely sliced green onions

1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves

Salt to taste

White pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a small bowl and stir until well blended.


2 cucumbers, trimmed, seeded and diced

1 cup crumbled feta a bowl of chunky Cucumber Feta Relish

1/2 cup diced green onions 

1/4 cup diced red onion

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1/4 cup roasted garlic oil (or 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 cloves mashed roasted garlic

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt to taste

White pepper to taste

Put cucumbers, feta, onions and thyme in a medium bowl and toss gently. Drizzle oil, honey and lemon juice over cucumber mixture and toss gently.  Season to taste with salt and white pepper.



For more information about Riff Raff Brewing Company click HERE.

Taps inside Riff Raff

For more information about Pagosa Springs, Colorado, click HERE.

Pagosa Springs, CO, with backdrop of mountains


We met in Miami when I was barely into adolescence. Despite being tender and impressionable, I fell deeply in love. Even today, much older and shamefully experienced, my desire remains passionately alive and unrelenting. 

Granted the object of my affection is as rich as sin and rich is a powerful aphrodisiac, but rich isn’t all. My love is also super smooth, exceedingly sensual and …well…how should I say it…completely satisfying. I am obsessed. I am made hungry where most I’m satisfied. Once is never enough. All the clichés apply. Just saying the name makes my breath quicken and heart beat faster. Key Lime Pie. 

Fueled by lust, I became wildly promiscuous. I toured the Florida Keys, said to be the pie’s birthplace, searching for the one peak-pie experience. I tried the tall, short, thin, plump, creative, traditional, unadorned and accessorized-to-the-max and confess, I loved them all.


Two Slices of Key Lime Pie

Two fancy slices of Key Lime Pie

Two Slices of Key Lime Pie

Despite indiscriminate indulging and never settling on a sole, soul-mate pie, one pie remains in my memory as a top contender.
Sign of Little Palm IslandWith a crust made of ground cashews and a topping enhanced with fresh orange, the Key Lime Pie from Little Palm Island Resort and Spa is as good as it gets. The resort gave me their recipe and, although it is not my one and only, I have been devote to this pie happily ever after.


(Recipe adapted from Little Palm Island Resort and Spa)

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.Cashew crusted piece of key lime pie with fruit garnish.

Shortening to grease pan

2 cup very finely chopped or ground cashews

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

3/4 cup melted butter

3 cups sweetened condensed milk

9 egg yolks

1-1/2 cups fresh lime juice (preferably from Key limes)

2 cups heavy cream

Zest (finely grated peel) of one orange

Make crust: 

Grease a 9- or 10-inch springform pan. Heat oven to 350°F.

Combine cashews, crumbs and 1/2 cup sugar in a mixing bowl. Add butter and stir until well blended. Pat crumb mixture evenly and firmly over bottom of greased pan. Bake until crust is light golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool before filling.

Make custard filling:

Reduce oven heat to 300°F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat milk and egg yolks until well blended. Slowly beat in lime juice. Pour mixture over pre-baked crust. Bake in a 300°F degree oven and until custard is set in the center, 20 to 25 minutes. Set on a rack to cool completely. 

Make topping:

Put cream, orange zest, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until cream is stiff. Spread whipped cream over top of pie. Refrigerate until pie is fully set, at least 1 hour. Cut around edge with a sharp knife and remove ring before serving. 

Statue of chef holding a platter of key limes.


I’m getting sloshed on New Year’s Eve. It’s the only way to end the terrible, horrible, no good, really bad 2020. I’m loading up on cocktails. But not just any cocktail. My cocktails must be spunky enough to chase away doom and gloom and usher in the light and bright. 

I’ve come up with three candidates—favorites from past trips.  Will share recipes with you. Rum, gin, tequila—take your pick. I might go for a trifecta myself. 

So in the spirit of spirits, I’m wishing you a beautiful boozy HAPPY NEW YEAR and light, bright, luscious 2021.

The LUCILLE cocktail from B. B. King’s Blues Club on the Nieuw Amsterdam cruise ship 

The Nieuw-Amsterdam cruise ship docked at it's private island Half Moon Cay

Nieuw Amsterdam Cruise ship docked at Half Moon Cay

Eight Holland American Line cruise ships sport B. B. King’s Blues Clubs, bringing not only soulful music to cruisers, but also soulful speciality cocktails. As the club’s namesake, legendary blues singer B.B. King, named all of his guitars Lucille, it’s only fitting that the club’s signature drink be a Lucille.

Here’s what B.B. King sings about Lucille, 

I don’t think I can just talk enough about Lucille. Sometimes when I’m blue seems like Lucille try to help me call my name.

Well the ships’ Lucille called my name (over and over again)—just like it did for B. B.

Again quoting “My Lucille” lyrics:  One more now, Lucille. Sounds pretty good to me. Can I do one more? Look out, Lucille. Sounds really good, I think I’ll try one more. Allright.


LUCILLEThe Lucille cocktail in the B.B.King Club on the Nieuw Amsterdam cruise ship

Yield: 1 serving.

2 ounces coconut rum

1-1/2 ounces orange juice

1-1/2 ounces pineapple juice

1/2 ounce Blue Curacao

Pineapple wedge for garnish

Partially fill a 16-ounce glass with crushed ice. Put rum, juices and Curacao in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour over ice in glass. Add a straw and garnish with the pineapple wedge.




The BELLISIMA cocktail from Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Back view of the flower-filled Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya

There is nothing like getting away from it all at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. Set on a glorious white-sand,1,000 foot-long beach where I would like to be at this very moment, the luxury resort offers a range of stunning suite accommodations, eight great restaurants and six super cool, stylish bars. My favorite bar is the Koi and my favorite cocktail aptly named the Bellisima. 

Soft lights fill the romantic Kio Bar located in the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Resort

Koi Bar

Two of the Koi bar’s best fringe benefits is that one can enjoy as many Bellisimas as desired and not have to drive home. And the resort embodies a prize-winning spa to help restore the morning after.


Yield: 1 serving.

Garnish with orange wedge, lime peel and a grape.

A collage of four Bellisimas and the recipe written on a coaster.


The ROSE OF SHARON cocktail from Commonwealth Bistro in Covington, KY 

Main Street in Covington with entrance to Commonwealth Bistro

Located on Main Street in Covington, KY. the Commonwealth Bistro is uncommonly good. Love the menu which showcases some Southern accented specialities tinged with a whole lot of international sophistication. And love their core values especially the  “Perseverance of Purpose”  which seem particularly fitting to 2020 and hopeful for 2021.

Statement of Commonwealth Bistro Perseverance of Purpose value.

The restaurant focuses on giving hyper-local ingredients uncommonly worldly interpretations and the bar is no exception. I ordered the Rose of Sharon—wanting gin instead of bourbon as I had been tasting bourbon all day on a Kentucky  B-Line  Bourbon Trail tour (highly recommend it) and was ready for a change.


Cocktail the Rose of Sharon Cocktail garnished with orange wedge, rosemary sprig and pink pepper corns plus fruit peels.Yield: 1 serving


Put 1 ounce Kentucky Wild Gin and 1 ounce white port in a wine glass. Add ice cubes. Pour in Fever Free Tonic water until the glass is half full. Stir lightly. Garnish with a strip of grapefruit peel, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a few pink peppercorns.










HERE for Holland American Line cruise line

The powerful Nieuw Amsterdam ship.

and HERE for Grand Velas Riviera Maya Front sinage of Grand Velas Riviera Maya

and HERE for the Commonwealth Bistro  The Commonwealth Bistro Sign

and HERE for the The B Line tourBarrel painted with B-Line Logo



HERE for a Two Bunch Colada recipeCocktail: The Two Bunch Colada

 and HERE  for a Grand Residences Habanero Margarita recipeClose up of the Grand Residences Habanero Cocktail

and HERE for Anse Chastanet’s The Bentley recipe The bright red Bentley cocktail served at Anse Chastanet Resort

and HERE for more and more and more and more luscious cocktail recipes…



Nancy Mehagian makes me feel staid and uninteresting. She filled her life with an abundance of delicious food, travel, sex and drugs. I’m mourning that I missed a lot.  (Well, I didn’t miss the food and travel.)  Nancy indulged in all with avid passion. She says one of her achievements was inaugurating a program of healthy eating by growing vegetables in an infamous London prison—not as a do-gooder, mind you, but as an inmate with a baby so that she could have vegetables in her diet while incarcerated.

We met in Los Angeles a year or so ago and Nancy outlined her life story for me. I was fasciated then, and even more so when I read Nancy’s culinary memoir, Siren’s Feast, An Edible Odyssey. The book provides not only details of her well-lived life, but also over 40 recipes that she encountered or created along the way.

 Nancy grew up in Phoenix the daughter of food-loving Armenian immigrants. Her parents were strict. Nancy was not and emerged from high school as a mini-beatnik and then bloomed into a full-blown flower child. She enrolled in college but didn’t stay tethered. Instead she traveled–London, Paris, Spain, India, Afghanistan, Nepal–making friends wherever she wandered, experimenting with hallucinogens, chasing spiritual enrichment, exploring on pennies and always cooking for the people surrounding her.

Nancy Mehagian by Artist Salvador Maron, 1991

 Somewhere along the way she turned vegetarian and planted her roots on the Spanish island of Ibiza where, in 1969, she opened a vegetarian restaurant named the Double Duck.  Taking a break from the restaurant, Nancy landed in Syria where she became pregnant by a Bedouin gypsy musician and, through a series of mishaps, ended up incarcerated in a London prison for 16 months, along with her newborn daughter, Vedra (read Siren’s Feast for the full scoop). 

Upon her release, Nancy returned to the United States, earned a degree in English and began her studies of the ancient healing art of Jin Shin Jyutsu, later incorporating massage therapy to become therapist to, as Nancy says, “Some of the most well-known people on the planet.”  

Throughout her life Nancy retained a passion for food. When I asked Nancy about her favorite recipe, she chose her version of the treasured Armenian treat Yalanchi Sarma.

Here’s what she wrote about the dish: 


(Nancy Mehagian’s Chilled Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Yield: About 50 sarma.

1/2 cup olive oil

3 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon dried dill weed

1 teaspoon dried mint

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 cup long grain white rice

1/2 cup tomato sauce


1/2 cup pine nuts


1 jar (16 ounces) grape leaves packed in brine (Nancy suggests Orlando brand.)

2 lemons

Heat oil in a large heavy pot. Add onions and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft. Stir in the garlic, dill, mint, salt, pepper and paprika and saute 1 minute. Stir in rice, tomato sauce, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, pine nuts and 1 cup water. Lower heat, cover pan and cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until the rice is partially cooked (check on occasion to make sure rice doesn’t stick to bottom of pan). Remove from heat and set aside until cool. 

Remove grape leaves from jar (see NOTE).  Rinse leaves in cold water and set in a colander to drain. 

Lay one leaf on a plate, veins up and stem side towards you. (If the stems are thick or tough, cut them off near the leaf.)

Place about 2 teaspoons of rice mixture in the center of the leaf.

Fold sides of leaf over filling and roll leaf up into a small tight bundle. Put filled leaf in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, seam side down. Repeat with remaining leaves and filling, stacking filled leaves in a circular pattern around the perimeter of the pan, covering the bottom with the bundles and then stacking bundles on top of each other. 

Pour 1 cup water and juice from one lemon on top of bundles. Cover pan and cook over low heat until all liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool, then transfer bundles to a platter and refrigerate until cold. 

To serve, squeeze the juice from 1/2 lemon over bundles and top with the thinly sliced remaining half lemon. Garnish with sprigs of parsley.

NOTE: Retain liquid from jar so that you can can put any leftover leaves back in jar for another use.

Books by Nancy Mehagian




















Ben Poremba

Such a complex man. Such a complicated time. I am curious how Ben Poremba—chef, restauranteur, entrepreneur, world traveler, culinary award winner, family man and total whirlwind of creative energy—manages in the time of Covid.

All St. Louis foodies know his restaurants/food outlets operating under the Bengelina Hospitality Group: 

Elaia—the flagship, upscale restaurant producing mostly modern Mediterranean fare; 

Olio, adjacent to Elaia, a casual wine bar with small plates reflecting Mediterranean and North African influences; 

Nixta, a colorful restaurant/bar, showcasing dynamite cocktails and artistic, Latin-infused food;

La Patisserie Chouquette—a French bakery/cafe, that Poremba co-owns with Simone Faure


AO&Co., a specialty market, cigar and gift shop.

These special places sit steps from each other in St. Louis’ newly rehabilitated Botanical Heights neighborhood (otherwise known to fans as Poremba’s dining district). In addition Poremba opened The Benevolent King, a tiny, unusual Moroccan/Israeli—influenced bar/restaurant in Maplewood, MO.

Anyone visiting The Bengelina Hospitality Group’s website can read that Poremba was born in Israeli to a Moroccan mother (herself a chef) and jewish father, and that he studied philosophy at University of Missouri. But the website gives only glimpses of the man. Eager to know more about Poremba’s energy and enterprises, I sent some questions by email which he graciously found time to answer.

Q: Tell us a bit about your childhood. How did the food of your childhood influence your career as a restauranteur?

A: I grew up in Israel — just outside of Tel Aviv. My parents were (and continue to be) the ultimate hosts. Dinner parties, cocktail parties, fundraisers, exchange students, diplomats, politicians, artists, musicians, etc. Our house was always busy, and my parents welcomed guests from all over the world. My mother is an exceptional cook, and a collector of beautiful tabletop goods. I absorbed from early age the true meaning of hospitality: welcoming people in your home and making them feel special. My parents have always been lavish and generous with guests — even at times of financial lows. They set up a beautiful table and fill it with goodness. That’s what I’ve been trying to do at my restaurants.

Q: You traveled and worked around the world. What made you decide to settle in St. Louis?

A: I went to UMSL. And before that to Parkway North High School. St. Louis has a truly welcoming spirit — I’ve made lifelong friends here. And I think that in terms of cultural anchors, St. Louis can compete with best in the world: amazing universities, beautiful museums, a committed and extensive art scene, world class musical venues, rich architecture, and of course a thriving food scene.

Q: Walt Disney said, “There is no magic in magic, it’s all in the details.” Can you give examples of how attention to detail helped create the magical experience of dining in your restaurants?

A: I think of myself as a stage designer. Lighting, furniture, garden, tabletop appointments, graphics — all of it is considered.  Jean Paul Sartre (the French existentialist philosopher) said “Being determines Essence.” I take it to mean that you can transport experiences by the environment that you create.  I’ll give you an example from someone else’s restaurant. Bar Les Freres truly feels belle epoque. I adore it, and admire Zoe (Robinson) vision and mentorship.

Inside The Benevolent King


Inside Nixta

Q: Your website states that you majored in philosophy. Can you tell us your personal philosophy of (1) living the good life, (2) cooking and food and (3) surviving the unexpected?

A: I don’t do philosophy “on one leg” as it were. But there are tenets that I apply in my personal life as well as in my business: respect for people and places; integrity; dignity; accountability; and charity.

Q: Covid 19 must have had great impact on you. What are you doing both personally and professionally to adapt?

A: I’m staying focused on what matters most: the wellbeing and safety of my family and my team. Every decision that Patrick Hassett (my Director of Operations) and I have made during this period was through the lenses of “how does this impact our people?”

Q: What do you envision for the future post vaccine days?

A: I hope that we — the hospitality industry — learn to become more team-focused.  The cliche “happy workers make happy guests” is proven to be true. We also need to learn how to be more sustainable — there’s something incredibly wrong with our business model. Restaurants small and large demonstrated how our poorly we manage cash flow. No one will have survived this without government relief. And that’s a sad commentary.

Q:  Will you share a recipe for one of your favorite dishes—one that has remained a favorite through the years?

Poremba sent a link to Olio’s exceedingly popular egg salad recipe, saying that the egg salad “is still a favorite and probably the most popular and demanded dishes” at Olio. The link features a Post-Dispatch recipe adapted from the recipe making restaurant amounts (Olio goes through 75 pounds a week). I’ve adapted the Post-Dispatch recipe below—sticking pretty much as it was printed. 

A few notes from when I made the recipe: (1) My yield was about 3 cups. (2) I had many more onions than needed (next time I’ll cut the onion amount to 1-1/2 pounds). (3) I don’t have a meat grinder so I simply finely chopped the eggs and onions with a knife. (Poremba cautions not to use a food processor as it will produce the wrong texture.) And (4) This is about the best egg salad I’ve ever eaten. 



Yield: 2-1/4 cups.

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and slivered

7 large eggs


2 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise plus more to taste 

White pepper

Chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Lemon zest, for garnish

Put oil in a Dutch oven or similar heavy pot set over low heat. Heat oil until it is warm and shimmery. Add onions and cook slowly until soft but not yet beginning to turn color, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover pan and set aside until cool. Refrigerate onions until they are firm.

Put eggs in a large pot and cover with cold salted water. Bring water to a rapid boil. Turn off heat and cover the pot. Wait 10 minutes, then drain. When cool enough to handle, peel the eggs. Cover and chill.

Weigh equal amounts of egg and onion (there will likely be extra onion for another purpose). Put eggs and onions through the small holes of a meat grinder into a bowl.

Stir in mayonnaise, just enough to bind the mixture. Season generously with salt and white pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Chill salad until ready to serve.

To serve Olio-style, mound about 3 tablespoons egg salad on three thick slices of good bread, garnish with chives and lemon zest.




Rosa Porto in the early days.

Just imagine. When you can’t travel the world—the world travels to you. I’m talking specifically about Porto’s Bakery & Cafe, a well-loved Los Angeles fixture. 
Porto’s  was founded by Rosa Porto who is a native of Cuba.
When communism took over Cuba, Rosa’s husband Raul Porto Sr. was arrested and taken to a labor camp. To help the family survive, Rosa started baking and selling cakes out of her home. In 1971 the family immigrated to L.A. where Rosa continued to bake cakes and pastries to sell from home.

Michelle Rodriguez, founder of 360viewPR, the public relations firm that now represents the bakery, tells a personal story that illustrates Rosa’s popularity:

Michelle Rodriguez

“Porto’s is a very special client for us,” says Michelle, “as my family are also Cuban political refugees who came to Los Angeles from Cuba. My grandparents learned of Rosa Porto through the Cuban community before she opened her bakeries. She made my Mom’s birthday cakes growing up, my parent’s wedding cake and all my birthday cakes as a kid. Our story is not unique as there are many Cuban and non-Cuban families in L.A. that have grown up generation after generation with Porto’s as a family tradition.”

In 1976 Rosa opened her first brick-and-mortar bakery/cafe in Echo Park, California. With the family’s help, the bakery flourished, offering breads, cakes, pastries and a variety of Cuban-accented baked specialities. Today, the bakery/cafe has five locations in southern California (Glendale, Burbank, Downey, Buena Park, and West Covina) with more on the way. 

Buena Park, CA. Photo by Brian Feinzimer/Fein Image.

Inside Porto’s in Burbank, CA. Photo by Brian Feinzimer/Fein Image.

And Ta-Da! Drum roll please! Perfect for those who can’t travel and visit in person, Porto’s has added a BAKE AT HOME category to its menu, making frozen signature items available nationwide. 

So what are those signature item? Two tops are the Refugiado (refugee), a guava & cheese strudel that and has been on Porto’s menu since first opening

and Papa Rellena, potato balls which are the bakery’s number one best seller.

The products come with baking instructions.

I’ve baked both at home. Divine!

I agree with Michelle Rodriguez, who said, “I often take out from the bakery, which is great, but I love the new Bake at Home, which one can eat fresh from the oven with all the flavor intact—just like eating hot from the oven in the bakery.”

Although some of Porto’s most popular items are available through Bake at Home, the popular Ropa Vieja is only served in Porto’s cafe. But not to worry. Porto’s shared its recipe. A national dish of Cuba, Ropa Vieja is made with shredded beef and vegetables that come out looking like a pile of old clothes (thus its name). Serve this dish with black beans and rice and sweet sautéed plantains. 

For super-happy eating throughout the day, breakfast on Refugiados, have Papa Rellena for lunch and make Ropa Vieja for dinner. Buen apetito!


Yield: About 6 large servings.


2-1/2 pounds flank steak

1 green bell pepper, stem removed, seeded and quartered

1 large yellow onion, peeled and halved

3 green onions, roots trimmed 

4 large garlic cloves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 bay leaves

Salt to taste 

2 gallons water

Put all ingredients into a large stock pot.

Set pot over medium heat and gently simmer until beef is fork tender and falls apart easily, 3 to 4 hours.

Remove beef from broth and set aside to cool slightly. Strain cooking liquid. Reserve liquid; discard solids. When beef is cool enough to handle, shred it into small pieces with your hands. 


About 1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 large onions, peeled and julienned

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large green bell pepper, trimmed and julienned

1 large red pepper, trimmed and julienned

About 1/4 cup tomato puree

1/2 cup white wine

1 large tomato, trimmed and coarsely chopped

1 ounce beef base

1 to 2 teaspoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

3 cups reserved cooking liquid (above)

Shredded beef (above)

About 1/4 cup sliced green olives

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or similar large pot. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes, stirring often. Add peppers and cook 10 minutes, stirring often. Add tomato puree; cook 2 minutes stirring often. Deglaze pan with wine and allow wine to evaporate. Add tomatoes, beef base, paprika, pepper, cumin, and reserved cooking liquid. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in shredded beef and green olives. Cover with a lid and simmer for 35 minutes. 

For more information about Porto’s Bakery & Cafe, click HERE.

To order Porto’s BAKE AT HOME click HERE.

For more wonderful immigrant chef recipes, click  HERE for Lona’s Lil Eats dumplings

and  HERE  for Kobee Factory’s kobee and HERE for Yuca’s Hut cochinita pibil.