My husband and I love going to our neighborhood farmers' market on Sundays to buy all the delicious fresh local veggies and fruit and support our local farmers. Last weekend we found beautiful Japanese eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, peppers and basil...which were perfect for this delicious dish. 

In regular ratatouille, the veggies get quite stewed and soft and I searched for a way I could cook the veggies without them losing their form. I forgot I posted a simple Delicious Deconstructed Ratatouille on my blog back in 2013! When I found this similar amazing recipe, I wanted to try it in my cast iron skillet. Although the concept in both recipes is the same, simmering the tomatoes with the peppers and onions into a flavorful sauce and drizzling the finished dish with basil and parsley olive oil puts this dish over the top!

Veggies sliced, topped with herb oil and ready for oven

Ratatouille right out of the oven

  • 2 Japanese eggplants
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 2 yellow squashes
  • 2 zucchinis

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, from 8-10 leaves

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, from 8-10 leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

  • Preheat the oven to 375˚F 
  • Slice the eggplant, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini into approximately ¹⁄₁₆-inch (1-mm) rounds, then set aside.
  • Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch (30-cm) oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, garlic, and bell peppers until soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add the crushed tomatoes. Stir until the ingredients are fully incorporated. Remove from heat, then add the basil. Stir once more, then smooth the surface of the sauce with a spatula.
  • Arrange the sliced veggies in alternating patterns, on top of the sauce from the outer edge to the middle of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Make the herb seasoning: In a small bowl, mix together the basil, garlic, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Spoon the herb seasoning over the vegetables.
  • Cover the pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover, then bake for another 20 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.
  • Serve while hot as a main dish or side. The ratatouille is delicious the next day--cover with foil and reheat in a 350˚F oven for 15 minutes, or microwave to desired temperature.
  • Enjoy!

Ratatouille appetizer served on a slice of ciabatta

Ratatouille served over pasta



Roasted Rainbow Carrots

Roasted carrots are such an unexpected but delicious side dish. Both my husband and I love them and prefer them savory versus sweet. The herbs in this recipe offset the sweetness of the carrots perfectly!

Roasted Rainbow Carrots

  • 2 pounds rainbow carrots, cut in half lengthwise and the large sections of the carrot quartered
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cut carrots with olive oil, salt pepper, and herbs on baking sheet. Cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes. If carrots are not tender, uncover, lower heat to 375 degree and bake 10 to 15 minutes until tender.  Serve hot, warm or room temp. Enjoy!


Prosciutto Eggs Cups

Prosciutto Eggs Cups are the perfect brunch entree and are a great gluten-free protein option. I made these for Easter brunch and often make them on the weekend to have in the fridge to bring to work for breakfast for the week ahead. They are so simple to make and use just a few simple ingredients!

Prosciutto Eggs Cups

  • 12 thin slices prosciutto
  • 12 eggs
  • chives, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tin lightly with non-stick spray. Gently lay one prosciutto slice into each cup. Crack an egg into the cup and sprinkle a few chopped chives on top. 
Bake for 11minutes for runny yolk or 13-15 minutes for more well cooked egg. You can also add cracked pepper but these don't need salt because the prosciutto is so salty!

Serve Prosciutto Eggs Cups with a fruit salad, marinated beets and roasted carrots for a delicious spring brunch!


Heirloom Tomato Galette

Taking full advantage of the peak of tomato season, I purchased some beautiful heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market this morning. There were pre-made pie crusts in my refrigerator that were ready to use, so I decided to make a couple of galettes. Galettes are so easy to throw together with fresh ingredients you have on hand and look rustically beautiful. 

This galette makes a perfect appetizer or summer side with grilled chicken and a corn salad. I had it cooling on the counter when my daughter and her friend returned home from a trip and it was the perfect bite after their travels. They loved it!

Heirloom Tomato Galette

  • One store-bought pie crust (or you could make your own)
  •  pounds heirloom tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz firm cheese like Gruyere or Gouda, finely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 large egg, beaten 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • flaky sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives or thyme

Preheat oven to 400°. Gently toss tomatoes, garlic and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large bowl. Let sit 5 minutes (tomatoes will start releasing some liquid). Drain tomato mixture and transfer to paper towels.
Unroll room temperature dough and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Scatter cheese over dough, leaving a 1½"" border. Arrange tomatoes and garlic over cheese. Bring edges of dough over filling, overlapping as needed to create border; brush with egg. Sprinkle tomatoes and edge of crust with flaky sea salt and tomatoes with pepper as well. Chill in freezer 10 minutes.

Bake galette until crust is golden brown and cooked through, approximately 40 minutes. Let cool slightly and sprinkle with herbs. This is delicious hot out of the oven as well as at room temp. Enjoy!

Scatter shredded cheese on dough
Dry tomatoes on paper towels

Galette ready for the oven!

Cut a slice and enjoy!


Homemade Onion Dip (Gluten Free)

Gathering for an Easter Celebration at my parents' house with most of my family felt like such a special gift this year since we are still dealing with the reality of the pandemic.  We dearly missed my daughters and nephew, but it felt very special to be together in a way we have not been for over a year! Most of our family has been vaccinated, but since not all of us are yet, we continued Covid protocols by wearing masks and eating distanced between families outside.

I brought this tasty Homemade Onion Dip that paired perfectly with fresh veggies from my farm box as an appetizer. Whenever I host meals for my extended family, I always try to keep in mind making menu items gluten-free in consideration of my sweet sister-in-law who is gluten intolerant, as are many, so this is an easy alternative to store dip mixes that often include gluten. Just toss the ingredients together a few hours before serving and you have a fabulous gluten-free dip for your veggies or chips!

Homemade Onion Dip (Gluten free)

1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons granulated beef bouillon
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 cup sour cream

Combine all ingredients in bowl and refrigerate. After two hours, stir and serve with fresh vegetables or ridged potato chips. Yum~


Thai Curry Meatballs

When I saw this recipe on instagram, I was inspired to make it that same day and it was delicious! The generous amount of spices that are included in the meatballs as well as the sauce make it very rich and flavorful. And you gotta love how it takes only about half an hour to make all in one pot!
The meatballs ready to be baked in the oven

The Final Dish


1 pound ground turkey, chicken, or pork

3 scallions, thinly sliced, divided

1/3 cup almond flour/meal

1 large egg

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 1/2 tablespoons curry powder, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder, divided

1 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, divided

1 tablespoon Whole30 compatible cooking oil

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk

1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

1 tablespoon coconut aminos

Juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cups de-stemmed, roughly chopped kale

1 cup green peas (you can use frozen /the fresh bag of TJ's english peas were great)

Preheat oven to 450°F.

In a large bowl, combine ground meat, 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, 1/3 cup almond flour, 1 large egg, salt,

1 tbsp curry powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp ground ginger. Create 10 meatballs and place on an

oiled ovenproof skillet, such as a cast iron. Add the thinly sliced bell pepper and a bit of oil.

Roast for 10 minutes.

Place on the stovetop and add coconut milk, drained tomatoes, 1 tablespoon coconut aminos, the juice of

1 lime, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1 1/2 tablespoons curry

powder. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through.

Stir in the kale and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until wilted. Add the green peas and simmer for another minute

or two, until bright green.

Garnish with scallions and serve over steamed rice or riced cauliflower. Yum!

source: adapted from caroline chambers


Super Easy Homemade Bread

Although I have slowed down on my bread making days, I felt I had to include this recipe on Keeping It Real With Joy because it just represents what my blog is all about - easy to make, uncomplicated food that tastes good. My son loves this bread- he enjoys a chunk of it out of the oven slathered with butter and honey and then makes sandwiches with thinner slices after it has cooled. Clearly I may need bigger loaf pans, but they were still delicious!

Easy Homemade Bread

2 ½ cups milk
¼ cup butter
⅓ cup honey
2 ½ tsp active dry yeast
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp salt
5-7 cups all-purpose flour (add 5 cups to start and as you blend, add 1/2 cup more at a time until the dough gets stiff)

Heat the milk, butter and honey in the microwave for about 45 seconds. Stir and heat for another 45 seconds. Make sure liquid has cooled to luke warm before you mix with flour.

Pour the milk mixture into a large bowl or in a heavy duty mixer. Add the yeast, egg, salt and enough flour to stir together to make a moderately stiff dough. Knead for about 6 minutes by hand or in a bread mixer.

Generously grease two bread pans.  Form dough into 2 loaves and place in pans. Cover with a dishtowel. Let dough rise until doubled. 

Bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes on the middle rack, until browned on top. Enjoy!

This bread toasted makes tasty sandwiches!


Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip- Socially Distanced Entertaining

I am so incredibly grateful for our deck and temperate weather in California during this crazy covid living episode we are all trying our best to live through. As I mentioned, we have just started inviting friends to join us on our deck and I am trying to get creative with ways to serve appetizers in individual servings. Tonight we entertained dear friends with whom we lived together in Philadelphia and shared life changing experiences in our children's educational lives, our professional lives and person perspectives on our new world. I was happy to offer these Individual Spinach Artichoke Dips with healthy crudite and a side of sliced sourdough as an appetizer during our interesting conversations.

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip

15 ounces fresh spinach, sauteed and chopped or 1 cup frozen spinach thawed and drained
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces cream cheese
1/3 sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 Gruyere cheese, grated (reserve 2 tablespoons for sprinkling on top)

If using fresh spinach, saute with 1 T olive oil until soft, drain and squeeze out liquid, then chop.  Put cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, garlic  and cayenne in bowl and blend with hand mixer until fluffy. Add Parmesan cheese, Gruyere and spinach and mix until combined. Sprinkle with a bit of Gruyere on top to make a nice crust.
Bake in individual ramekins or in one small baking dish at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes until bubbling. Serve with sliced baguette, crudite or crackers. Enjoy!


Pasta Bar for a Crowd

Pasta Bars are a fabulous way to feed a crowd. When my brother-in-law and his kids came to visit us earlier this summer, this made many of our peeps happy because everyone could tailor the bowls to their taste- some liked pesto, a few preferred Alfredo, some piled on veggies of sauteed mushrooms and steamed broccoli and others had just Italian sausage with red sauce. Having a variety of different styles of pasta made it fun as well. And everyone loved the garlic knots!

Pasta Bar for a Crowd 

  • Pasta- I served fresh linguine, fresh ravioli plus dried gemeli (1 pound of each for 9 people with some leftovers)
  • Alfredo (you could make your own, but I made it simple with Rana Alfedo)
  • Pesto (you could make your own, but I used Rana Pesto)
  • Marinara Sauce (I like Rao's Homemade Marinara)
  • steamed broccoli
  • sauteed mushrooms
  • browned Italian sausage
  • grated Parmesan
  • Garlic Knots


Focaccia Art

It's amazing how creative people have been getting with baking during these longs days of staying safe at home due quarantine requirements. I made plain focaccia in the early days but after I saw focaccia art popping up on Instagram, I knew I eventually wanted to try it out! It was very fun to make a little scene atop the focaccia with fresh veggies and herbs and they actually add additional yummy flavors to the finished bread.
Before Baking

Baked Focaccia Art

Focaccia Art

  • 1 recipe focaccia bread- I used the Bon Appetite Recipe for Easy No-Knead Focaccia Bread
  • veggies and herbs of choice- I used baby bell peppers, small zucchini, yellow squash, kalamata olives, chives, thyme, oregano leaves, shallots

Before baking the focaccia, place vegetables on top of the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with flaked sea salt. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.
Serve with sliced cheese and meats for an easy appetizer.

Original plain focaccia I made before I learned about making art out of it!