Ribboned Asparagus Caprese Salad

I know you can now get asparagus pretty much year round. And, it’s pretty good year round. However, like most fruits and vegetables, fresh is best, and local & fresh is king(or queen). That is the case with asparagus as well. If that were not the case, you wouldn’t have local farmers protecting their roadside land like guard dogs. In most rural areas I know, if you have spots where wild asparagus is coming up in the spring, you keep your mouth shut and pray that you get to it before anybody else knows it’s there. It’s kind of like morel mushrooms, except instead of battling tree branches, prickly brush or crazed land owners, you can often pull over on the side of the road, cut your find and be back in the car before anyone knows you were there.

What makes it tough is getting to it before the farmers, who always know where they are, and they get up reeeaaallly early. If you do find a patch, or are fortunate enough to know someone who sells wild asparagus, it is a treat. Everything that comes from the earth unspoiled by us is usually better. It may not be bigger, but it will taste better. Take for example the asparagus caprese salad that we made recently.

Fresh tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella and long curling strips of fresh asparagus drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with some sea salt and fresh pepper. Yum. Also, like most vegetables, asparagus is really good raw and it’s pretty easy to peel with a vegetable peeler. I know, I know, asparagus may be in season, but tomatoes and basil are not. Not in Wisconsin anyway. Heck, those two won’t show up for awhile in my yard.

Thank goodness both can be readily found in the grocery stores these days, and unlike many vegetables, you can get pretty good vine ripened hot house tomatoes and fresh basil these days. They’ll never grow naturally together in the midwest, so sacrifices must be made. That may be the only sacrifice however, because the flavor is still wonderful. Give it a try. It’s beautiful, delicious and a creative new way to showcase this long vegetable that can get a little boring after a couple weeks of roasting it. Enjoy and remember to cook with love and live to cook.

Jim & Jena


Ribboned Asparagus Caprese Salad
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Fresh asparagus is rarely paired with the classic caprese salad. However, we gave it a whirl and found when the asparagus is peeled into ribbons, it adds a sophistication that is welcome and delicious.
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
  • 12 stalks Fresh, wild asparagus, peeled lengthwise into thin strips
  • 6 medium Heirloom or vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
  • 16 ea. Fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup Small fresh mozzarella balls
  • 2 tsp. Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. Layer asparagus and next 3 ingredients on a large plate or individual salad plates.
  2. Drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Serve.


Peek-a-Boo Berry Smash Cake | First Birthday Party

Vintage Circus Theme First Birthday Party Smash Cake - Jena Carlin Photography - FB

There is something truly special about planning your child’s 1st. birthday party. It’s a time when all those images you’ve thought about for years as a girl playing with dolls, having tea parties and playing house is now realized. When you can harness that energy into making your little boys 1st. birthday party something to remember.  Maybe not for him.  After all, they probably won’t remember any of it. But as a mother, it doesn’t matter. Creating special moments in time and making your kids happy at that moment is what is important. Letting them know how special they are and how much you love them.  I know, I know, it was a year ago and Austin is now two!  But reflecting back on that day still puts a smile on my face. Not everything went as planned. However, it was still a special day.  Now that he is already two, I reflect back on that day and the wonderful smash cake I made for him. His cake was so good last year I may just do it again!  Buried the lead here…  You can see all of the darling images, games, and crafts from Austin’s first birthday party on Martha Stewart!

Vintage Circus Theme First Birthday Party Healthier Smash Cake - Jena Carlin Photography - Web-4Vintage Circus Theme First Birthday Party Healthier Smash Cake - Jena Carlin Photography - Web-7Vintage Circus Theme First Birthday Party Healthier Smash Cake - Jena Carlin Photography - Web-10If you’re wondering how I made this cake, it was really pretty easy.  Jim and I did an article in 2015 called “Wildberry Poundcake with Mascarpone Yogurt Creme”. You can read the article here.  That cake was a buttery pound cake colored with three different colors of batter and made in tin cans.  It was so good, that I thought it would be a great base for Austin’s cake.  After all, the “natural” cake mixes you can get in the store nowadays are really similar to that cake as far as ingredients go, so why not really know what’s in the cake and make it myself?  Instead of making it 3 colors, I decided on just one color, blue.  I used 6″ cake pans instead of the tin cans, because I wanted to give Austin a special surprise when he dove head first into the middle of it.  Blue pound cake may not be “healthy”, but an all natural cake filled with fresh berries is definitely an improvement from a boxed mix and canned frosting.  Adding fresh blueberries to the cake mix also added some nutrition as well as give great color to the cake.  So how did I get the fruit in the middle?Vintage Circus Theme First Birthday Party Healthier Smash Cake - Jena Carlin Photography - Web-11

Thanks to the creative genius of Amanda Rettke, a friend of ours and fellow food blogger, it was really easy.  If you like cake, her blog “I Am Baker” is for you.  To get the cavity in the center of the cake, all you need to do is cut a circle out of the two layers of cake when you cut them into layers. I used the top of one of Austin’s sippy cups for the template. Why not, it was the perfect size and it was right there with the the half a dozen other soppy cups and kids spoons that I see every day. Simply place a round object about an inch or two smaller than your cake in the center of your two middle layers and cut around it with small, thin knife.  Remove the center and safe it for later when everyone goes to bed and you need some me time with a bowl of ice-cream.  Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

To assemble the cake, place one layer of cake on a serving plate, top with a layer of frosting, then place a layer of cake with a hole cut out over on top. Top that layer with frosting, then add the other layer of cake with the hole in it. Frost that layer, then add fresh fruit into the cavity. Top with the remaining whole layer and frost the entire cake. I used a sugar free frosting recipe I found online at An American Housewife Barbie.  It uses Xylitol, which is a plant based sweetener, instead of sugar that was used in the original recipe, because I wanted a healthier option that would hold up better on the sides.  To give the frosting that multi-colored look, I made three different shades of frosting, then frosted the cake from bottom to top starting with the lightest color.  The colors blend when you run a spatula around the whole cake when you are done.  A simple pressing a spoon into the frosting to create little peaks gave it texture.  Of course, a 1st. birthday wouldn’t be complete without a 1st. birthday cake topper?  In the end, Austin got to dive into a delicious, homemade cake that was filled with fresh fruit and the love that went into making it. I can’t believe it was a year ago. I guess it’s time for another cake.  Enjoy.

Jena & Jim


Peek-a-Boo Berry Smash Cake | First Birthday Party
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When your baby turns 1, everyone anticipates the moment when they shove handfuls of cake into their mouth for the first time. This smash cake is all natural, buttery good and filled with lots fresh berries to offset the sweet cake. The frosting is sugar free too!
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 1
  • 1 cup of butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 5 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • food coloring of choice, to desired color
  • ½ cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • ½ cup fresh strawberries, stems removed, quartered.
  • Frosting:
  • ¾ c granular Xylitol
  • ¼ c water
  • 3 large egg whites (separate and use the yolks in another recipe)
  • 3 sticks real butter
  • 2 T vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 6" cake pans with parchment paper cut to fit on the bottom. Spray generously with non-stick spray. Dust with flour and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking powder. Beat together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add flour and beat until it resembles a thick paste.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down bowl until very light and fluffy.
  5. Color batter with food coloring to desired color.
  6. Fold in blueberries.
  7. Transfer cake batter evenly into pans.
  8. Place pans on a baking sheet and transfer to pre-heated oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer cans to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
  9. While cake is baking, make the frosting. In a saucepan, place the water and Xylitol. Heat over medium high until it comes to 240 degrees. With normal sugar this would be soft ball stage but because Xylitol and Splenda do not thicken, you cannot test this by traditional soft ball stage.
  10. As you are heating the sugar substitute and water, mix the egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, pour the hot Xylitol mixture down the side of the bowl in a thin stream, mixing into the egg whites. Beat approximately 7-10 minutes on high until the egg whites resemble a thick and glossy meringue.
  11. Start to add the butter in chunks, about a tablespoon at a time. Keep the mixer running and whip the mixture about 7- 10 minutes more. If the mixture breaks up when you first add the butter and it looks like cottage cheese, no worries. Just keep whipping until it's smooth again. Once the frosting is smooth, add your vanilla and whip again for a few minutes. If it's a really warm or humid day it might get too warm to work with. Just refrigerate it for about 7 minutes, whip again. The cooler temperatures will cause it to harden up again. Transfer half of the frosting to 1 bowl and then divide the remaining frosting into the other two bowls. Leave one bowl white, then tint the bowl with half the frosting the shade of color you want the top and layers to be. Tint the last bowl a shade in between the white and the darker shade. Set frosting aside while preparing cakes.
  12. To Frost Cake:
  13. Cut the tops of the cakes off to create flat cakes.
  14. Cut cakes in half horizontally using a long serrated knife. You should have 4 cake layers. Set the bottom two layers aside to use for the top and bottom.
  15. Using a 3"- 4"round lid(or sippy cup lid), cut a round out of the center of the two remaining cake layers using a thin knife.
  16. Place one of the bottom layers bottom side down on a serving plate. Frost top with a thin layer of the darkest frosting. Carefully place one layer with a hole in it on top of the first layer. Frost top with the same frosting. Place second cake layer with the hole in it on top. Frost with the same frosting.
  17. Fill cavity with raspberries and strawberries.
  18. Place remaining bottom layer cut side down on top of fruit filled cake.
  19. Frost outside of cake:
  20. Starting with the reserved white frosting, using an offset spatula, spread a 1-2" wide band around cake, being careful not to frost anything else except the bottom. Next, using the reserved medium shade frosting, repeat frosting process with the middle section of cake. Finish the top section and top with the remaining darkest frosting. Run the spatula around side one more time to blend colors. Smooth top.
  21. Using a small spoon, create small peaks by pressing the back of the spoon into the frosting , then pulling it straight out. Repeat that around the entire cake and on top. Chill cake until ready to serve. To serve, place in front of your child and enjoy the fun.
This cake was colored blue and filled with fresh berries. Feel free to make the cake without coloring and filling it with apples, bananas, melon grapes or any other fruit your child may enjoy.


Joan - This cake is so wonderfully clever on all levels – the colors, the fruit surprise and the frosting are off the charts cool. I can see this type of cake for so many fun celebrations and truly special for a little boy’s first birthday. You both are amazing and thank you for sharing such greatness!

ps….LOVING your cookbook!!

3 Beet Watercress Tart Recipe

The beet has a reputation not unlike politicians. You either love them or you hate them. They are a gorgeous vegetable with a very unique flavor that some would describe as earthy, while others would say they taste more like dirt. Well, regardless of which side of the beet your on, beets need to stop taking a beating from beet haters and start getting some well deserved credit.

Beets are extremely good for you. They are loaded with phytonutrients which give them their deep purple color. These nutrients are known to help fight cancer by slowing the growth of tumors. They are also known to have exceptional detoxifying benefits and are helpful at reducing inflammation, which these days it seems everyone is trying to accomplish. But wait, there’s more. Beets are also good for boosting mental health, helping with digestion and lowering blood pressure. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals including iron and potassium.

Back when I was a kid, you couldn’t get me to choke down a beet. Then, as I grew older and started actually TRYING new foods, I realized that beets weren’t so bad after all. They are great in salads with goat cheese and nuts, and there are very few vegetables that can match their beauty. Red beets, yellow beets, or my favorite chioggia beets, which are white, with red circles going through them, are all beautiful and each has a different flavor. Jena and I thought they would all taste good together in a recipe, so we decided to try a tart version of a beet and goat cheese salad.

This tart is loaded with flavor and beets galore, so if you don’t like beets, this is not the recipe to try to learn to accept them. It actually has 4 kinds of beets. Cooked roasted red beets, roasted yellow beets, roasted pink beets and raw slices of chioggia beets. We added these beets to a puff pastry shell topped with a goat cheese spread made with fresh dill. Peppery watercress, micro greens and toasted pumpkin seeds are sprinkled on top making this the most stunning tart we’ve ever seen. The bonus is that it tasted so good, we decided to put it in our cookbook Herbs For Flavor, Health and Natural Beauty. If you don’t like beets, don’t make the recipe, but don’t forget to buy our book. It makes the perfect Mother’s Day gift. Especially if mom likes beets! You can buy it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble online, or through Jim’s website Rude On Food. Enjoy and remember to cook with love and live to cook.

Jim & Jena


4.0 from 1 reviews
3 Beet Watercress Tart Recipe
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Beets are the hero in this beautiful tart, but the fresh flavors of goat cheese, watercress and pumpkin seeds add layers of flavor, while the buttery puff pastry gives it that rich flakiness that makes this a crowd favorite. You can find the recipe in our cookbook Herbs for Flavor, Health and Natural Beauty.
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 6
  • 1 sheet Puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 lg. Egg white, beaten
  • 2 tsps. Sesame seeds
  • 4 ozs. Goat cheese, softened
  • 4 ozs. Cream cheese, softened
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. Fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 whole Small chioggia beet, thinly sliced, optional
  • 3 whole Small pink beets, roasted, halved
  • 4 whole Small red beets, boiled until tender, peeled & sliced
  • 2 whole Small yellow beets, roasted, halved
  • ½ cup Watercress, washed
  • ¼ cup Microgreens, optional
  • 1 tbsp. Pumpkin seeds, roasted, optional
  1. For Tart Shell Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Unfold puff pastry onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Cut ½” wide strips from all 4 sides of puff pastry and set aside. Brush remaining sheet of dough with egg white. Place reserved strips of puff pastry along edges on top of pastry sheet, creating a border. Press to seal. Brush edges of pastry with egg white. Using a fork, poke center area of puff pastry all over to prevent pastry from rising too much. Sprinkle sesame seeds along edges. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
  2. For Cheese Spread In a medium size bowl, combine goat cheese and cream cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. To Assemble Tart, Spread mixture over cooled puff pastry. Sprinkle dill over cheese mixture. Place beet slices, watercress and micro greens evenly over cheese. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds if desired. Cut into squares and serve.
If yellow, pink or chioggia beets are not available, you can use red beets.

Katie - This post is so timely, as we have a bag full of red beets in the refrigerator just waiting for a recipe to use them. I’ve had the cookbook for a while now and am kicking myself for not trying anything from it yet, so good timing all around.

Lori Rice - This is absolutely stunning! Do you shoot with a macro lens for shots like these?

Keith Gooderham - Looks so tasty and the photography is absolutely stunning!

littlerustedladle - Thank you, Lori! Yes I do! 100mm Canon

Alia @ Everyday Easy Eats - What a beautiful tart! All of the colors look so pretty!

Irish Whiskey Thyme Sour – Food and Travel in Ireland

Hello March! We have been especially excited for St. Patrick’s day coming up for two different reasons. We took a trip to Ireland last August and can’t wait to show you the photos. The second reason is that it is within one week of our our due date for the next Baby Carlin! We found out two weeks before our trip that my husband Brandon and I were having our 2nd baby. Being pregnant on our trip to Ireland really cramped my drinking style, but luckily we have a Irish cocktail recipe inspired by our trip ready for after the baby arrives!

Here is a look at our favorite parts of our vacation. We ended up doing a road trip around all of Ireland and I have to say, the beauty is undeniable. While driving around, some of it seemed similar to Wisconsin, until there is a castle ruin in the middle of the green landscape and also the scary narrow roads that were sometimes covered in sheep.

Throughout our trip we did some incredible sightseeing. We made it up to Northern Ireland and back down through the Atlantic Way and also toured the Cliffs of Moher. On our last day in Ireland we went into downtown Dublin where we toured the Jameson distillery. The kind bartender there made up a beautiful mocktail for me. Below is a cocktail recipe inspired from our trip, Irish Whiskey Thyme Sour. In the mood for Irish food? Check out this recipe for ST. PATTY’S DAY CORNED BEEF POT PIE Cheers! – Jena and Jim

Irish Whiskey Thyme Sour - Food and Travel in Ireland
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Recipe type: Drinks
Cuisine: Irish
Serves: 1 glass
  • 2 oz. Jameson Whiskey
  • 1 oz ginger liqueur
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small bunch of thyme
  • ¾ oz. simple syrup
  • 1 white of large egg
  • 4 drops orange bitters
  • 3 oz sour
  • lemon wedge
  1. Place lemon juice, simple syrup, and ½ of the thyme in a stainless-steel shaker and muddle
  2. Add whiskey, ginger lacquer, and egg whites with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Tap glass bottom to disperse air bubbles.
  3. Top with sour and garnish with 4 drops orange bitters, lemon wedge, and the rest of the thyme.


Paula | My Common Table - Ireland is one of my dream travel destinations. I only know Dublin and I loved the friendliness of the Irish people. Your pictures capture the magic of the Irish countryside.

Amazing Fried Cheese – Best Super Bowl Party Appetizer


Amazing Fried Cheese - Football Superbowl Party Best Appetizer Ever - Little Rusted Ladle - Jena Carlin Photography -fb

Cheese is as much a part of a Wisconsinites everyday routine as any food available. When it is in melted form, it only increases its desirability. Batter or bread it and deep fry it, and you have what almost every restaurant and bar in the state would be crazy not to have on the menu. Fried cheese curds are salty, gooey, savory, crunchy, and extremely delicious.

Cheese curds are indeed gooey pillows of yumminess. However, it occurred to me that other than curds and of course mozzarella sticks, there aren’t many other flavors of fried cheese available. Yet there are hundreds of delicious Wisconsin cheeses even tastier than the simple curd. Why not cut some of these many delectable cheeses into cubes and batter them as well? That is the purpose of this article.

Amazing Fried Cheese - Football Superbowl Party Best Appetizer Ever - Little Rusted Ladle - Jena Carlin Photography - Web-15Amazing Fried Cheese - Football Superbowl Party Best Appetizer Ever - Little Rusted Ladle - Jena Carlin Photography - Web-2

When trying to decide what cheeses to use, a few important things are needed. If you are going to batter cheese, it must be able to be battered or breaded. It can’t be too soft and it can’t be too hard. If it’s too soft, it can’t be coated. If it’s too hard or aged too long, it won’t melt very well. Flavor is also important. If you fry a cheese with too strong a flavor, it is less than pleasant to eat, especially in any quantity. So, a semi-soft or firm, meltable cheese with good flavor is what is needed.

The cheeses chosen for this grand experiment were very different. One of my favorite wisconsin cheeses is a fenugreek gouda. It’s sweet, salty and very meltable. Blue cheese is very soft and very strong in flavor, which would normally rule it out as an option. However, when combined with cream cheese, it’s flavor is just right. Form the mixture into small balls with scoops, then freeze them and they are able to be battered as well. Horseradish and chive havarti is very creamy and full of horseradish that cleans the sinuses. Ghost peppers are very popular right now. When they are added to cheese, it makes the cheese much hotter than any other cheese. Call it torturous, but it sounded like a tasty option. The last cheese chosen was a smokey cheddar swiss combo. It’s combination of flavors seemed perfect choice for frying.

What about the batter? A standard beer batter would normally be the choice, but a lighter batter is a better choice so the cheese doesn’t get dominated by a thick coating. A tempura style batter gives a crunchy but light flavor. Instead of all-purpose flour, rice flour was used. It eliminates the gluten as well as making for a tasty alternative. The recipe is very similar to the fried sage bundles that are in our new cookbook called Herbs For Flavor, Health and Natural Beauty. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon here. Instead of ice water, I did use beer, but a light one. Any pilsner or ale will do. To add extra flavor, fresh herbs were added to the batter. Parsley, chives and thyme was used, but feel free to use whatever herbs you prefer.

Amazing Fried Cheese - Football Superbowl Party Best Appetizer Ever - Little Rusted Ladle - Jena Carlin Photography - Web-22

The last detail was coating the cheese with plain rice flour and freezing the cubes so when they are fried, the cheese doesn’t melt too quickly. All that’s left is to batter the cheese, fry it and eat it up. Be sure to use a good electric fryer and do your frying outside. Otherwise, your house will smell like a fried food stand, which may be fine now, but won’t be as pleasant when the feast is over. All the varieties of cheese were great. I mean come on, bad melty cheese, Really? The only negative was that the ghost pepper cheese was hard to pick out of the pile, so if you picked the wrong piece, you were greeted with a blast of molten fire. Kind of a russian roulette kind of choice.

So tomorrow, when you’re trying to decide what to make for the big game, maybe some fried cheese is a good way to start the show. Pick any cheese you like. If it doesn’t work, you can always eat it cold. Either way, you’ll be eating cheese. Preferably from the dairy state. The recipe will be posted tomorrow. Until then, cook with love and live to cook.

Jim & Jena


Battered Cheese
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Pillows of gooey cheese, enrobed in a crunchy batter.
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 30 pcs.
  • 2½ cups Rice flour, divided
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 2 lg. Egg yolks
  • 1 cup light beer
  • 1 tbsp. Parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Chives, chopped
  • 8 ozs. Cream cheese, softened
  • 4 ops. Blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 lb. Assorted cheese cubes of choice
  • 1 cup Ranch dressing.
  1. Pre-heat 1 gallon of vegetable oil in a large electric fryer and pre-heat to 375 degrees.
  2. Combine 2 cups of the rice flour and the next 5 ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and blue cheese.
  4. Scoop the mixture into 1" balls with a small scoop and transfer the balls to a foil lined sheet pan. Freeze for 2 hours or until firm.
  5. Transfer remaining ½ cup flour into a resealable plastic bag. Add frozen blue cheese balls. Roll around balls until well coated. Set aside.
  6. Add remaining cheese cubes to the bag. toss in the bag until cubes are well coated. Set aside.
  7. Transfer 4-5 pieces of the reserved cheese balls and cubes into the batter. Stir them around to coat them completely. Using a wooden toothpick, transfer cubes one at a time into the hot oil.
  8. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and cheese starts to melt out.
  9. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Serve with a side of ranch dressing.


Karly - I can’t act like I wasn’t totally committed at Fried Cheese, but I’ll still say that I am totally obsessing over this post. Cannot get over how good these look!

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