Earlier this week someone asked me who my biggest influences are in the kitchen.


My Mom, of course, immediately springs to mind.

PS did you know “Iowa Mom Eats” is like the third most searched term for my blog? You love her as much as I do! ;)


My Mom passed on the desire to make home-cooked meals for my family no matter how hectic the week gets, then sit down to enjoy them together.


While Ben and I don’t get to physically sit down with one another for dinner as often as I’d like during the week, due to varying work schedules, he knows he’s always got a plate of somethin’ waiting for him when he gets home. ;)


Celebrity chefs I followed when I first got interested in cooking after college also influenced me in the kitchen. Women like Ina Garten & Giada Di Laurentiis who cook simple, uncomplicated recipes with in-season ingredients were, and continue to be, my absolute favorites to watch and glean inspiration from.


(FYI, I may or may not want to, uh, BE Ina Garten when I grow up. Oooo, or at least dress up like her for Halloween!! Ben can be Jeffrey! Now to track down a denim shirt and fake bangs… )


Ahem, anyways…

Tonight’s dinner really sums up what I’ve picked up from all these different sources of inspiration. It’s what I’m all about in the kitchen. A perfect combination of homemade & satisfying, simple & seasonal: Baked Panzanella CapreseSoul-satisfying flavors like salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic, meld with gooey mozzarella, fragrant basil, warm tomato and toasty bread in an intensely delicious dish.


As Ben put it, “this is seriously the best thing you’ve made in a really long time.” Gee, thanks?! ;)


Baked Panzanella Caprese is as easy as it is mouthwatering. It’s one of those “no recipe” kind of recipes. Once you’ve got all the ingredients together, you just kind of pile them in a baking dish as you see fit.

Here’s what you’ll need for 2 servings:


  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced into 1/2″ slices
  • salt & pepper
  • balsamic vinegar
  • 6-7 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 10-15 leaves of fresh basil
  • 4 slices good quality white bread (this is not the place to use store-bought and/or whole wheat!)
  • olive oil

Into two non-stick sprayed, personal-sized baking dishes (or one 8×8″ baking dish) layer the tomato slices.


Sprinkle on salt, pepper,


and splash of balsamic vinegar.


Layer on the fresh mozzarella cheese,


then spread on microplaned garlic (or finely minced garlic.)


Next sprinkle on fresh basil,


and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.


Top with thick-cut, fresh white bread, then drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil and salt & pepper.


I think individual sized baking dishes add to the rustic charm of this dish. :)


Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees, then dig into the best thing you’ve had all week.


The garlic permeates every bite, while the crispy, salty bread soaks up the warm tomato and balsamic vinegar drippings. OH MY GOOD GOSH, this was incredible. My mouth is still watering!!!


Now, while my Mom and several celebrity chefs have influenced my cooking, my dear old Dad has definitely influenced my eating. Namely imparting a wicked sweet tooth to his daughter. Thinking I might be able to convince Ben to take me Dairy Queen for a mini blizzard for dessert before football starts tonight?! Wish me luck!!!


Who has been YOUR biggest influence in the kitchen? Favorite celebrity chef?