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Tomatillo Salsa

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Time: 45 minutes

Serves: this recipe yields approximately 3-4 cups of salsa

Inspired by: I love any salsa that does not have raw onion or cilantro (super spicy is fine, but no pico de gallo for this gal!). My favorites have always been those with a tomatillo base. I’ve learned that adding just about any type of roasted pepper to roasted tomatillos creates delicious flavors. No exact recipe is required.


  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 16 tomatillos; husks removed
  • 1-2 Anaheim peppers
  • 1-2 large Poblano pepper
  • 2 Jalapeno peppers
  • 1 lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh pepper
  • Optional: Other spicy peppers – Habanero, Serrano, depends how spicy you like it!
  • Optional: Garlic – a few small cloves


  • Smear olive oil on your foil or pan to keep the peppers from sticking
  • Wash and lay your tomatillos, peppers, garlic on the pan
  • Roast at 350-400 degrees for about 15 minutes
  • Turn over and roast for another 10-15 minutes until well done
  • Remove stems and put everything into the blender, except the spiciest peppers
  • Add salt and pepper and blend well
  • Add the spicier peppers a little bit at a time; keep tasting to be sure it doesn’t get spicier than you wish
  •  The lime juice adds a nice bit of acidity – add lime juice and additional salt to taste

Notes: This freezes well.


Spicy Crispy Chicken Strips

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Time: 20-30 minutes

Serves: 12-15 as an appetizer / party finger-food

Inspired by: I’ve always liked crispy chicken tenders/nuggets/strips, but wished there was a non-greasy version that had real chicken inside that was safe to eat. I thought it might be fun to use my blackening spice for this and try making them for a small party. I love the crispiness, and the spice gives them an awesome kick!


  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless, organic chicken breasts
  • 1-2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (4 tablespoons)
  • 1 cup (16 tablespoons) of crispy bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup of Spice it up …by Karen™ (more if you like super spicy)


  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (or if you have a good toaster oven, there is no need to preheat, but you will need to cook these in batches)
  • Get a non-stick cookie sheet or rub a bit of olive oil on a cookie sheet so your chicken will not stick as it cooks
  • Lightly beat the eggs with a fork or whisk, and mix with the olive oil in small bowl
  • In a low, wide bowl (such as a soup bowl), mix the bread crumbs well with the spice
  • Cut chicken into strips – approximately 1.5 inches wide by 3 inches long
  • Dip the chicken into the egg/olive oil mixure to coat and then roll in the breadcrumb mix
  • Lay the chicken strips a half inch to an inch apart on the cookie sheet
  • Bake until golden brown – probably at least 12 minutes, possibly as long as 20

Notes: Because these are getting so much more surface area covered with spice than making blackened chicken with whole or half chicken breasts, these can get pretty spicy – so if you like spice, but not too much, I suggest using a bit less spice and a bit more of the bread crumbs. For parties, I have prepared these on the cookie sheet early in the day and kept them refridgerated and then took them out to bake when ready to serve. You can bring them to room temperature first, but it really isn’t necessary.

Wine Suggestions: A medium bodied red with some good fruit and spice on it would be perfect. A Syrah or Southern Rhone blend, Zinfandel or a spicy older Barolo. Off dry whites are often a fantastic pairing for spicy foods such as a Riesling or Viognier/Condrieu.

Kale, Broccolini, Avocado & Grape Salad

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Time: 5-10 minutes to prepare dressing, 30+ minutes to soften kale, and approximately 30-45 minutes to prepare and serve salad.

Serves: 8 – 10

Inspired by: This was my attempt at closely replicating a unique and delicious salad I had at the Prado Restaurant at the Montelucia Resort in Phoenix. It was served with a crispy piece of salmon over the top.

Salad Dressing: I recommend using my Favorite Lemony Salad Dressing

Salad Ingredients:

  • 8-16 handfuls of chopped kale (any kind, perhaps a mix of Russian Red and Dinosaur)
  • 1-2 bunches broccolini (approximately 2 cups once cut into pieces)
  • 3 avocados, cut into small chunks 
  • 2 cups grapes halved
  • ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • ½ – 1 cup aged Manchego or other hard salty cheese


  • Cut out the main vein of each kale leaf, and chop into 1 inch pieces or thin strips.
  • Massage some of the salad dressing (lemon juice/olive oil base) into the kale for 2-3 minutes to break it down and soften it – at least 30 minutes ahead but up to a day ahead. 
  • Cut just the tops off of the broccolini so it’s in small, tender, easy to eat pieces (you can also use some of the thinner/tender stems cut into 1 inch length for crunch). Blanch quickly (30 seconds), rinse with cold water, drain.
  • Toast the almonds in a pan over the stove or in a toaster oven until they are lightly browned.
  • Cut grapes in half – should yield about 2 cups after being cut.
  • When ready to serve, toss the kale, broccolini, grapes and ½ of the grated cheese with enough dressing to coat well.
  • Cut the avocado and gently toss separately in lemon juice or some dressing.
  • Lay the salad into a large shallow dish and top with the avocado, toasted almonds and remainder of the cheese.

Favorite Lemony Salad Dressing

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Time: 5-10 minutes

Inspired by: Lemon is one of my favorite flavors, and I think a lemon-based (versus vinegar-based) dressing is a much better pairing with wine. Since we drink wine with most dinners, this is our “almost daily” dressing.


  • Juice of two lemons (Meyer lemons recommended)
  • Olive oil – approximately 1/2 of the quantity of lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • A squirt of Dijon mustard – this Annie’s Horseradish mustard in the picture has been perfect
  • A pinch of salt and pepper


  • Mix the above ingredients and shake well. We combine the ingredients in a small bowl, funnel them into a bottle and shake well before using. This bottle was a gift from a very sweet family member and we love it.
  • Between uses we keep in the refrigerator. If you take it out of the fridge 15-20 minutes before using, the hardened olive oil will soften. You can also put in the microwave if necessary for a few seconds to warm it.

Shiitake-Vegetable Soup with Ginger & Lemongrass

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Time: 1:45

Serves: approximately 30 1 cup servings

Ingredients for Broth:

  • 1 white onion chopped
  • 1/2 – 1 Serrano pepper minced fine (if you like a bit of a kick)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 quarts of chicken stock or 4 quarts water and 1/2-1 jar organic “better than bouillon” chicken soup base
  • 3 tablespoons fresh minced ginger (1/4 dry ground ginger can be a substitute for fresh)
  • 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes (if you like a bit of a kick)
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
  • 8-10 4″ pieces of “bruised” lemongrass stalks (after trimming base and spiky tops,  beat them up a bit – crush with something heavy and cut into them with a knife to help release the flavors)
  • 5 cups sliced Shiitake mushrooms
  • 5 cups chopped vegetables such as:
    • carrots
    • celery
    • snow peas (or snap peas)
    • bell pepper
  • 1, 8oz can water chestnuts (rinsed)
  • 1, 8oz can bamboo shoots (rinsed)
  • 1, 14oz can baby corn (rinsed)
  • Optional garnish: fresh parsley or leafy greens such as spinach.


  • Sauté onion and Serrano in 2 tablespoons olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon salt on medium heat. Do not brown, just sauté until soft, translucent and well-cooked.
  • Add 4 quarts of chicken stock (or 4 quarts of water and 1/2 of the soup base), ginger, minced and bruised lemongrass, freshly ground pepper and red pepper flakes.
  • Simmer covered for 60 minutes to bring out flavors.
  • Adjust seasoning and add more chicken soup base as desired.
  • Add vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes or until they begin to soften.
  • Add Shiitakes and simmer 5-8 more minutes until they are the texture you like them.
  • Turn off heat and add water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and baby corn.
  • Remove lemongrass stalks.
  • Serve with optional chopped parsley or leafy greens as a garnish.

Notes: This is a broth-based soup so it should freeze well.

Seared Ahi Salad with Wasabi-Ginger Vinaigrette

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Time: 20-30 minutes

Serves: 2-4

Inspired by: My Armenian “sister” Michelle Babayan, who is a phenomenal personal chef and caterer. Michelle’s Ahi (Yellowfin Tuna) salad with a creamy wasabi dressing is to die for, and the 18 spice blend she uses to coat the Ahi before searing is amazing with fabulous flavors to bring out the flavors of the fish without being spicy hot and overwhelming the fish.  I love her spice blend on the Ahi and have now found that I love mine too!  When I use mine, I use it more like a rub – because it’s much spicier than hers. I like it to add beautiful flavor, but not overwhelm the fish. What’s interesting is that when I use my blend, I find that it tastes a lot different than when I use it in other dishes. It’s very chameleon-like! I really love both spices with this salad. This is one of my favorite meals.


Ingredients – Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons wasabi (I get it freshly prepared at the sushi counter at whole foods)
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Ingredients – Salad:

  • 1 pound sushi grade or searing grade Ahi tuna
  • 4 tablespoons Michelle’s 18 spice blend or 1-2 tablespoons Spice it Up …by Karen™
  • Mixed greens or watercress
  • Papaya or mango – cut into small pieces
  • English cucumber – sliced
  • Red radish – sliced (optional)
  • Red pepper – sliced (optional)


  • Mix all of the dressing ingredients in a shaker.
  • Put the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Rub olive oil on the Ahi and coat it with the 18 spice blend, or give it a good rub with my spice blend.
  • Heat a skillet to sear the fish (a cast iron skillet is best as it gets very hot) – add a tablespoon of olive oil, and then sear just a couple of minutes on each side – it should get crispy on the outside but not cooked through.
  • Slice the Ahi quickly so it doesn’t continue to cook – 1/4 to 1/8 inch slices.
  • Toss the salad with the dressing (but reserve a bit of it).
  • Lay the Ahi over the salad and then drizzle it some dressing over it.

Notes: I also love charred red pepper in the salad – especially when I want a warmer salad. You can cook that on one side of the skillet and the fish on the other  – but start it about 5 minutes before the fish. Spread that over the top of the salad along with the Ahi.


Wine Suggestions: My favorite with this salad is a California Pinot Noir or a Red Burgundy. I’ve also had it with a light Chinon that was really yummy. I’ve also found that when using my spice blend, it’s really nice with a slightly bigger red such as a Grenache/Syrah or a Rioja.


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