3-step (or so) Spicy Potato Salad

Spicy Potato Salad

Like many in our area, we had stocked up on food to survive a few days without power, anticipating Hurricane Joaquin would make landfall just down the street. And just last week, the US models had the center line of the hurricane’s path pushing right into the Chesapeake Bay, towards Baltimore and DC. So yes, that line was less than 8 miles down the road.

Thankfully, Joaquin moved east and is somewhere out in the Atlantic. That said, we still are dealing with a Nor’easter (fancy colloquialism for a massive rain and wind storm blowing in from the northeast.) Our problem now? It’s Saturday night, the grocery store is closing, and the church pot luck is tomorrow.

But we stocked up on food, right? There must be something…different…tasty…with a little zip, right?

[Cue light bulb over head]

Of course! Here’s a nice side dish you can whip up without too much trouble. And you probably have many of the ingredients siting inside your refrigerator right now! Bonus: it only takes three steps to make – four if you count baking the potatoes, which I didn’t. Well, yes. I baked the potatoes. But no, I did not count that as one of the steps. If I did, I’d have to change the name at the top. Okay fine, here you go:

4-step Spicy Potato Salad


10 – 12 baked potatoes, peeled and cubed (I baked these in advance, thinking they would go bad if we lost power)

2 celery stalks, ends trimmed, diced

3/4 cup bread and butter pickles, rough chopped

3/ 4 cup mayonnaise

4 Tablespoons spicy brown mustard

4 Tablespoons yellow mustard

2 Tablespoons cracked black pepper (use more if you want extra tang-ee-ness!)

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon onion powder


Step 1: bake the potatoes. There. Everyone should be happy!

Step 2: Once the potatoes have baked, let them thoroughly cool, then peel and cube.

Step 2 and a half: Place the cubed potatoes in your serving container to make sure you have enough. Or to make sure you don’t have too much. Take your pick. If you have extra potatoes, fry them in some butter with a few chopped onions and serve with a fried egg on top. But let’s get back to the recipe, shall we?

Step 3: In a separate large bowl, mix all of the other ingredients.

Step 4: Add the cubed potatoes to the mustard mixture and gently fold using a spatula or wooden spoon until all of the potatoes are coated.

Step 4 and a half: Return the spicy potato salad to the serving bowl.

Step 4 and three quarters: Cover with clear wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day – serve with your entree of choice and a fine Merlot. For some of us , the Merlot “is” an entree of choice, but then again – this is a church potluck. No wine to be had, but let’s not talk about that now. Time to hit the rack so I don’t oversleep and miss the dang pot luck!

Enjoy the recipe!






We have a Chocolate Festival – again?

f66585_788a9f4976f447c586ca333a5febcf3c.png_srz_p_672_225_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzCame across this the other day and at first I was flummoxed. We have a chocolate festival? Why have I not been to it before? It’s like going to Paris and not taking the scary, glass-walled elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It’s like seeing a sign that says wet paint and not touching it to be sure the paint has dried. Some things you just have to do.

If there’s a chocolate festival, well, this is an important thing to know about.

Then I did some research. We apparently did have a festival in conjunction with the Virginia Arts Festival in years past. We did not have one last year. That begged the question – why not?

I checked some Yelp reviews and, as I suspected, the festival was decent but not spectacular. Prices were high, vendors (some at least) were snooty. Attendance dropped. Money was not made. Thusly, last year there was no festival.

How can you mess up a chocolate festival, people? Apparently it happened. We suck.

But we can do better!

Looking at the current list of sponsors, I see some potential. Flour Child Bakery is a family-run business and it is one of the best in town. The Royal Chocolate has been a Beach favorite at the Virginia Beach Town Center since the beginning. Duck Donuts, while not my number one pick for locally-owned and freshly made donuts, is a big hit with everyone at work.

However, Fudge Brother’s Fudge? I went to their website and found it has been “suspended.” It didn’t even rate a 404 Not Found. This does not bode well.

But, I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. I would give you a first hand account of the festival, but I will be spending the same week secluded up in the Shenandoah Mountains sampling fine beverages brewed by the Old Hill Cidery and Cross Keys Vineyard. But I digress. Back to the chocolate!

I’ve done my civic duty. I have passed on the information about the chocolate festival. Now it’s up to you to go! In fact, as Monty Hall would say – let’s make a deal.

If you go to the Virginia Beach Chocolate Festival – let me know how it went. You could end up as a guest blogger on Exploding Potatoes!

Think about it. A new culinary critic’s career could be launched.

Apparently not at Fudge Brother’s Fudge, though. Come on guys – let’s see what you got! Now I’m curious.

Send samples!

Mac ‘n Pimento Cheese

The secret ingredient!

The secret ingredient!

Spoilers: this recipe contains a secret ingredient. Of course, trained chef’s are reluctant to tell their secrets, but I’m not a chef. I’m just a decent cook. Says so on my business card. But this dish has received too many great comments from taste-testers to keep the recipe under wraps. It’s easy to assemble, cooks in the slow-cooker so you don’t have to watch it much, and is a great twist on what might be the world’s most popular comfort food.

Did I sell you on it?

I hope so.

Next time you need something new for a potluck, try this version of Mac ‘n Pimento Cheese!


  • A 4.5 quart crock pot, or the equivalent-sized oven-safe casserole dish or pot.


  • 16 oz. cooked macaroni (I use spirals, but the traditional elbow style will be fine)
    • Helpful hint: cook the macaroni the day before and keep refrigerated until needed. Saves time the next day when you are worried about the guests coming early. And they always come early.
  • 10 oz. Colby Jack cheese, shredded
  • 12 oz. Pimento Cheese
    • Spoiler: I use Palmetto Cheese with Jalapeno as my secret ingredient. This South Carolina low country specialty food is thankfully available in most higher quality grocery stores, or online here.
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (any version that works for you. Except chocolate milk. That would be a bad choice.)
  • 12 oz. Evaporated Milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced


I use a “layer” approach to building this mac ‘n cheese.

  • Place enough cooked macaroni in the bottom of the crock pot to cover the bottom.
  • Sprinkle a handful of shredded Colby Jack cheese on top of the cooked macaroni.
  • Using a small spoon, or a melon baller, place 4 – 5 small scoops of pimento cheese evenly on top of the Colby Jack cheese. I do four corners and a center.
    • Helpful hint: use the spoon to spread the pimento cheese into a thin layer across the entire pot.
  • Repeat the layering of macaroni, Colby Jack cheese, and pimento cheese. Make the top layer one of the cheeses.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients.
  • Pour the liquid mixture on top of the macaroni and cheese. Try to drizzle it around the entire top surface so liquid will seep down throughout the crock pot.
  • Cover and cook on low heat for 3 hours. If using the oven, bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
  • Now check the inside of the crock pot wall. Using a plastic spatula, scrape the macaroni away to keep the cheese from forming a burnt crust.
  • If your mac ‘n cheese has thickened to the point a large spoonful will maintain its shape, you are done!
    • If still soggy, then cover and continue to cook for 30 additional minutes.
    • Check again. The dish should be done.
      • The longest I have let this cook is 4 hours, but I ended up with a thick inedible crust which wasted probably three servings.

This dish has won rave reviews from both office-mates and church ladies. I don’t which group has the more discriminating palate, but on both occasions I returned home with zero leftovers.




Savory Sweet Potato Fries

Savory Sweet Potato Fries

Savory Sweet Potato Fries

You ever have a day when you want something good to eat for dinner, but everything you want requires a trip to the store? And you have no desire whatsoever to go to the store?

That was us tonight. Could we go to the store? Sure. Is it far away? No, just about two miles from the house, probably less. And since wine alone does not qualify as a meal we had a random supply of potatoes, I offered to make sweet potato fries. No brown sugar required; no marshmallow was harmed in the making of this dish. This is not sweet – this is my new version of Savory Sweet Potato Fries!


2 medium sized sweet potatoes, washed, dried, but not peeled

Olive oil – enough to drizzle for about five seconds

To taste:

Sea salt

Cracked black pepper




Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Carefully, cut off the ends of the potatoes such that your fries will have squared-off ends, not tapering.

Cutting lengthwise, slice the potatoes into fries about two inches long and a half inch thick.

Drizzle a little olive oil on a baking sheet; two sheets if you need them. I did.

Place the fries on the baking sheet, in a single layer. Make sure the fries do not touch each other.

Drizzle a little more olive oil on top of the fries.

Season the fries with the salt, pepper, thyme, and oregano.

Bake the seasoned fries in the oven for 20 minutes.

Once done, serve and serve quickly. Your guests will be hungry after smelling the fries baking in the oven.

Happy eating!

Veggie Lettuce Wraps

Tofu Lettuce Wraps

Veggie Lettuce Wraps

If you like the lettuce wraps at P.F. Chang’s, then you will love this version – perhaps you will like them more. I do. Thanks to a great recipe courtesy of vegan cook, Namely Marly, for once I was able to stay true to (most of) the recipe. The only substitution was iceberg lettuce for butter lettuce. You use what you have, right?

The clincher? The blackberry hoisin sauce, made with blackberry jam, garlic, soy sauce, a little vinegar, and the best part – ginger. It was good tonight. I think it may be awesome tomorrow. I’m thinking adding it to fried potatoes for breakfast. Really.

I’d post the recipe, but you should stop by Marly’s website. Plenty of tasty recipes there; why try just one?

Buen Provecho, amigos!


Sweet & Spicy Eggplant Parmesan for Two

Sweet & Spicy Eggplant Parmesan

Sweet & Spicy Eggplant Parmesan

My better half had just returned from three days of driving across and around two states. I knew she would be tired and not in the mood to eat much at all. Sitting in a car all day will do that to a person. Fortunately, I had a spare eggplant and some noodles so I knew, with a little help from some spices, I could create a nice dinner she could not refuse. And it only took about 30 minutes to prep and cook!

Sweet and Spicy Eggplant Parmesan for Two

Prep: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and start heating a large stock pot of salted water for the pasta.


1 large eggplant, sliced crosswise, between a quarter and a half inch in thickness

Olive oil, you will need a good bit of this. Just keep the bottle handy.

8 oz. angel hair pasta (capellini)

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon lime juice

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves


Tip: to keep the eggplant slices from sticking to the baking sheet and casserole dish, you may want to apply a light coat of cooking spray first.

Place the eggplant slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush a little olive oil onto each slice.

Turn the slices over and brush olive oil onto the eggplant, just as before. Place eggplant slices (still on the baking sheet, silly) into the preheated oven. Bake for 10 minutes or until the top of the eggplant slices start to brown.

By now your pasta water should be boiling. Add the angel hair pasta, stir once with a wooden spoon, and let cook.

Once the eggplant has browned on top, using an oven mitt (hot oven, remember?) and a metal spatula, flip the eggplant slices, then bake for another 10 minutes.

Time for the sauce!

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, lime juice, sugar, cayenne pepper, cumin, and sea salt. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.

When the eggplant has finished baking, remove from the oven BUT DO NOT TURN OFF THE OVEN.

Layer the eggplant slices in a 9×13 casserole dish, offsetting the slices slightly. Drizzle the sauce over the eggplant. Bake in the oven one more time, for 10 minutes.

Your pasta should be done by now. Drain in a colander, then return the cooked pasta to the pan and cover.

Tip: to help keep the noodles from sticking together, gently stir in a tablespoon or two of butter.

Putting It All Together

Begin by creating a nice bed of cooked pasta in the center of your dinner plate.

Place 4 or 5 eggplant slices on top of the pasta.

Sprinkle a few chopped mint leaves on top of the eggplant.’

Finish by sprinkling grated Parmesan cheese over everything.

Kripyā bhojan kā ānnaṅd lijīyai! (enjoy the meal!)

Smokey Black Beans and Rice

Smokey Black Beans & Rice

Smokey Black Beans & Rice

A good friend living in Nicaragua (see footnote) asked if I could post a recipe or two that would work for her, given the lack of gourmet grocery stores in her part of the world. Having lived there myself, years ago, I knew gallo pinto, or rice and beans, was a staple, and she confirmed nothing had changed. So to help out – here is a great recipe to spice things up a bit!

This is best done with a crock pot / slow cooker; but you can also make this in a regular pot on the stove, cooking over low heat. You may need to stir at times to keep things from sticking and burning to the bottom of your pot.

Smokey Black Beans and Rice

Serves 8 – 10, depending on your serving size. I used one big ladle per serving.


4 Tablespoons of olive oil (you could use vegetable or peanut oil – whatever you have)

1 onion, chopped – any type will do. I used a Vidalia

1 red bell pepper, cored/seeded, and chopped

1 green bell pepper, cored/seeded, and chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and chopped

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

8 cups cooked (and drained) black beans

1 cup uncooked white rice

3 Tablespoons smoked paprika

2 Tablespoons black pepper

(I didn’t use any salt – personal choice.)

5 cups liquid – I used 3 cups of unsalted vegetable stock and 2 cups of water.


Heat the oil in a large pan and saute the onion, bell peppers, carrot, and garlic for about 10 minutes. When the onions start to become translucent, you are ready to move on.

Sauteing the vegetables.

Sauteing the vegetables.

Put the black beans in the crock pot, stir in the sauteed vegetables.

Mix in the uncooked rice, smoked paprika, and black pepper.

Pour in the 5 cups of liquid. Gently stir into the mix. You want enough liquid to just cover the rice, beans, and vegetables.

Just before cooking started.

Just before cooking started.

Cover and simmer for 8 hours, or until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid.


Pairs well with fried plantain slices dusted with a bit of sugar and cinnamon.

This is perfect in any climate – from the wonderfully warm temperatures of Nicaragua, to the frozen tundra I currently find myself inhabiting in Virginia.

* If you want to help children in need, and can spare a few dollars a month – please consider sending a donation to http://newsongnica.org/ Thanks!

Who ordered all this snow? Not me.

Who ordered all this snow? Not me.






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