Kel’s Tuna Pan Bagnat, With a Hat Tip to Rachel Ray


Kel's Cafe Tuna Pan Bagnat up close

It’s been more than a decade since several of us, on our then annual Thanksgiving trip to the Outer Banks, took a deep sea fishing trip and caught a boat load of yellowfin tuna. Seriously – more than 350 pounds of beautiful, beautiful fish, in less than an hour and a half! We were back to the marina much earlier than expected thanks to the wonderful captain and staff of Tuna Fever. It was an experience I think none of us will ever forget!

Tuna Fever catch

After getting our fish filleted and put on ice to bring home, I can’t remember how many pounds were divided among four couples, but it was a lot! Brad and I decided to invest in a food vacuum sealer once we got home to preserve all of our wonderful seafood bounty. And I started looking online for recipes to take advantage of our catch.

Back then I was hosting a lot of poker parties that our fishing friends attended. I wanted to have an appetizer to remind us our tuna catching trip and here’s where Rachel Ray comes in – I found her recipe online for Tuna Pan Bagnat (pronounced pahn-bahn-yah) and thought it would be great as an appetizer for all of my poker folks. And it was, with no leftovers and several requests for the recipe! Of course I had to tweak her recipe on my first try and then again over the years and am quite pleased with my latest version.
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Kel’s Tasty Turkey Taco Lettuce Boats

Kel's Cafe Turkey Taco Lettuce Boats

Since Brad loves Mexican food but is avoiding red meat and all things bread (anything carb-laden, really), I created these wonderful ground-turkey-filled-lettuce boats, and used traditional taco seasonings such as cumin, chili powder and paprika to help spice up the turkey.  Brad gave the dish two-thumbs up as well as a regular rotation on his new cardio-metabolic diet. That is a great thing, trust me!

You control the heat by using your desired amount of hot sauce and adding or omitting the sliced jalapeños. I used Romaine lettuce (before the national scare), but Bibb lettuce will work as well – just look for fairly big and sturdy leaves to hold all of the yummy fillings.

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These Chips Rule, No Joshing! Carolina Kettle Chips

Basket full of Carolina Kettle Chips

Love chips? Specifically kettle chips? Well of course you do, who doesn’t? I am so thrilled to introduce you to Josh Monahan, founder and owner of Carolina Kettle Chips. Josh started his business a couple of years ago while still in college at N.C. State University. It’s still going strong, thanks in part to his fresh, crunchy and delicious products, but also because of his refreshing entrepreneurial spirit. And it helps that he just loves chips. And I love, love, love his chips, especially his Bee Sting and Carolina Barbecue creations, crispy, crunching and so full of flavor, but more about them later.


I had so much fun interviewing Josh for the upcoming 2018 Southern Women’s Show this weekend in Raleigh (information about the show is at the end of this post). If more people his age had his passion, foresight, drive and smarts to launch a successful business, and a tasty one at that, this world would be a much, much better place. And in his case, one charitable snack at a time!

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Seriously Sweet: Rebecca Burnett, Durham Toffee Company

 Rebecca Burnett of Durham Toffee

Let me start by saying this: Best. Peanut. Brittle. Ever. And I mean ever! The Brittled Nut Clusters from Durham Toffee Company are simply divine and after just one bite if you’re not addicted to them, then something is seriously wrong with you. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning and let me introduce you to the delightful Rebecca Burnett – founder, chef, and owner of Durham Toffee Company, based in Durham, N.C.

Durham Toffee will be making its debut at this year’s 2018 Southern Women’s Show, and I was lucky to interview Rebecca about the show and her business.  Within the first five minutes of meeting her, I could tell that Rebecca was genuinely passionate not only about her products and business, but for her customers as well. She wants to ensure that her sweets are of the upmost quality, while at the same time displaying some artistic flair to make them feel truly special, such as decorative ribbons, holiday tags, or heart-felt messages to accompany each bag of her delicious goodies.

Easter packaging Durham Toffee

Here’s a peak on how Rebecca started with Durham Toffee Company, some of the challenges she has faced, and where she sees her business in the next several years.

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Kel’s Minty Irish Iced Coffee, Perfect for Saint Paddy’s Day!

So happy together

You all already know I’m a huge Guinness fan. I also love coffee and, when I do drink whiskey, I’ll always defer to Jameson’s, thank you very much. So here’s a great libation, a little bit off the traditional St. Patrick’s Day menu, to help celebrate this most awesome Irish holiday.

I discovered I was out of Bailey’s Irish Cream when I went to make this (okay, who drank all of my Bailey’s and didn’t throw away the bottle? Really? Really?) So I substituted light cream instead, but by all means, if you have Bailey’s on hand, definitely use it!


Also, I make a minted simple sugar for this cocktail, but if  you don’t like mint, just make regular simple sugar instead. But you really should go with the mint as it adds just another great dimension to this awesome iced coffee. Regardless, make the simple sugar about half an hour in advance to let it cool.

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Happy National Pi Day!

Tart - Let's eat

National Pi Day (3/14) snuck up on me again and I ran out of time to make a homemade pie to celebrate. So I dug into my archives and came across this most awesome strawberry chocolate tart, which actually qualifies for a pie since it’s round, has a crust, and, well just because I thought you’d love it, especially with strawberry season right around the corner. So enjoy, and I’ll try to have a brand new pie recipe this time next year!

Bon appétit!

Eat, drink and be merry!

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Kel’s Classic Cobb Salad, A Meal on Its Own

Cobb salad, ready to be served

The first Cobb salad I ever had was at the Fairview Dining Room at the Washington Duke Inn in the early 1990s, shortly after I started working at Duke University. To this day, it is my favorite Cobb salad in a restaurant and my gold standard for all others. The Washington Duke Inn has since renamed it the “chopped salad,” but luckily the ingredients are basically the same as decades ago.

One of the things I love about this filling salad is that you can change ingredients to fit your tastes and diet. For example, if you don’t eat meat, substitute black beans or tofu for the chicken and leave off the bacon. Fresh tomatoes aren’t in season? Use plum, grape or cherry tomatoes instead. The possibilities are endless, just make sure you are using the freshest ingredients possible.

Many restaurants like to plate this salad with the ingredients in rows on top of the lettuce, but I prefer to toss the salad instead. It’s entirely your choice! Plus, put the ingredients in any order you like it’s your salad after all. Same with the dressing — you can either drizzle it on top of the salad or serve it on the side.

Tossed Cobb salad

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