Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Fun: No Recipe Required

Above: Who couldn't use a turkey pineapple for Thanksgiving? We could all use a little more fruit during the holiday season...especially when it is so appropriately and festively dressed!

Above: Oreos + Reeses' Peanut Butter Cups + malt balls + candy corn + chocolate frosting + red frosting=delicious little Thanksgiving turkeys. The kids had a lot of fun with these.

Goodbye to Fall

It's always hard to say goodbye to fall and to see the winter set in. Below are two great recipes featuring fall flavors.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping


1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted

3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional ground cinnamon, optional


In a small bowl, combine crumbs and sugar; stir in butter. Press onto the bottom and 1 1/2 inches up the sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 5-7 minutes or until set. Cool for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the pumpkin, milk, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add eggs; beat on low speed just until combined. Pour into crust.

Place pan on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 55-60 minutes or until center is almost set.

In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla; spread over filling. Bake 5 minutes longer. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer. Chill overnight.

Remove sides of pan. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before slicing. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon, if desired.

Yield: 12-14 servings.

Source: Taste of Home recipe originally published October/November 2001. You can find it here.

Notes: I baked my cheesecake a few minutes longer than stated in the recipe due to my altitude. Also due to my altitude, my cheesecake fell slightly in the middle. However, it was smooth and creamy and it tasted fantastic. One warning though, this dessert is really rich! A little goes a long way.

Autumn Brew (Wassail)


1 gallon apple juice
1 cup orange juice
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
4 to 5 orange slices, without seeds


Pour apple and orange juices into 4 1/2 to 6 quart slow cooker. Place cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange slices into slow cooker. Cover and cook on high heat 3-4 hours. Turn on low heat to keep warm. Remove cinnamon sticks, orange slices, and cloves before serving.

Makes 16 servings.

Source: This is from a cookbook called 101 More Things to do with a Slow Cooker by Stephanie Ashcraft. You can find more information on that cookbook here.

Notes: This was so easy. My only warning is that it was literally boiling hot even after I turned it onto low heat. Perhaps my slow cooker is hotter than some. If your slow cooker is anything like mine, I would suggest unplugging it about 15-20 minutes prior to serving. It will still be plenty warm, it just won't burn anyone's tongue that way.

When I made this, it was an uncharacteristically warm day, so I had some leftovers. I refrigerated them and rather than heating up the leftovers, I just drank it cold. It was fantastic that way too! This drink has such a subtle, yet defined flavor. Good stuff!

Easy Side or a Nice Lunch

I just love side dishes that can become your lunch the next day. This is just one of those kinds of recipes.

Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Orzo


2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper


Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add orzo and cook for 8-10 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Place basil leaves and sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor. Pulse 4 or 5 times until blended.

In a large bowl, toss together the orzo, basil-tomato mixture, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled.

Source:, submitted by kgwen. You can find it here.

Update 3/14/15: This has become a family favorite side dish. So flavorful, and awesome leftovers for lunch the next day!

Merely a Trifle

Trifle is the ultimate comfort food isn't "merely" anything.

So, now to share some yummy trifle recipes!

Caramel Cream Brownie Trifle


1 box (1 lb 2.3 ox) Betty Crocker fudge brownie mix
Water, vegetable oil, and eggs called for on brownie mix box
1 box (4-serving size) chocolate fudge instant pudding and pie filling mix
2 cups milk
1/4 cup caramel topping
1 container (8 oz) frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 cup chopped walnuts, optional


Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake brownie mix as directed on box, using water, oil, and eggs, in 13x9-inch pan. Cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make pudding mix as directed on box for pudding, using milk; refrigerate. Cut brownies into 1-inch pieces. Thoroughly stir caramel topping into whipped topping.

In 3-quart glass bowl, layer half each of the brownies, pudding, walnuts (if using), and whipped topping mixture; repeat.

Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving, but no longer than 24 hours. Store covered in refrigerator.

Makes 20 servings.

Recipe notes: You can garnish with chocolate shavings or chocolate curls.

Source: Betty Crocker. You can find the recipe here.

Notes: So good! Chocolate comfort food at its brownie finest.

Chocolate Toffee Trifle


1 box devil's food cake mix
Water, vegetable oil, and eggs called for on cake mix box
1 box chocolate instant pudding
Milk called for on pudding box
1 container (8 oz) frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 cup toffee pieces (or crushed Heath bars)


Bake cake according to package instructions. Cool completely (about 1 hour).

Make pudding; set aside.

Cut cake into 1-inch pieces.

In a trifle bowl, layer one third of the cake, pudding, whipped topping, and toffee pieces. Repeat two more times.

Source: Honestly, this was served at a party and I overheard the woman who made it explain how it was made. I don't know who she was, but I can tell you that this is one yummy trifle!

Notes: Pretty similar to the trifle above, but with cake instead of brownies. Good stuff!

Simple Berry and Vanilla Cream Trifle


1 purchased butter loaf (pound) cake (11.5 oz), sliced
1 box (6-serving size) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups whole lmilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 container (8 oz) whipped topping, thawed
1 lb. fresh strawberries, stems removed, sliced
1 pint (2 cups) fresh blueberries


In a medium bowl, beat pudding mix, vanilla, milk, and sour cream with electric mixer on medium speed until soft pudding forms. Cover; refrigerate.

In trifle bowl or large clear bowl, arrange 1 layer of sliced cake to cover entire bottom of bowl. Top with a layer of pudding, then a layer of whipped topping, and then a layer of strawberries. Repeat all layers except use blueberries. Continue with layers until bowl is full.

Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 12 servings.

Source: Betty Crocker. You can find it here.

A Little Cheesy


Who doesn't love cheese? If you raised your hand, you are either Vegan or crazy.

At any rate, throw a little extra cheese onto that salad of yours and take a bite!

Three Cheese Green Salad


1 large head leaf lettuce--rinsed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup cubed Swiss cheese
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup toasted pecan pieces, optional (toasted sliced almonds may also be used)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine lettuce, Swiss cheese, feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and pecans (if using) in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, Italian seasoning, and pepper. Add dressing to salad, toss well, and serve.

Source:, submitted by amylrowe. You can find the recipe here.

Notes: You could even throw some berries (such as raspberries) into this salad as well.

Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing


1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons diced onion
1 teaspoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 head romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
4 ounces shredded Swiss cheese
1 cup cashews or macadamia nuts (optional)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced
1 pear, peeled, cored, and sliced


In a blender or food processor, combine sugar, lemon juice, onion, mustard, and salt. Process until well blended. With machine still running, add oil in a slow, steady stream until mixture is thick and smooth. Add poppy seeds, and process just a few seconds more to mix.

In a large serving bowl, toss together the romaine lettuce, shredded Swiss cheese, cashews or macadamia nuts (if using), dried cranberries, apple, and pear. Pour dressing over salad just before serving, and toss to coat.

Source:, submitted by Nora LaCroix. You can find it here.

Notes: This was so delicious. We only used about 1/2 of the dressing though. So, you can either halve it yourself, or have some dressing left over for another day/time.

Triumphant Return!

Good news for me on the allergy front! My boys' allergies have improved a lot. My youngest son grew out of his egg allergy and his peanut allergy lessened considerably. My older son is no longer allergic to almonds, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, and coconut! (Though some other nut allergies remain).

I can't tell you how much I have missed almonds over the past few years! When the allergist told me that it was time to reintroduce these things back into my sons' diets, I was more than happy to comply.

Here are a couple of my favorite almond recipes that I have recently been able to make again. Yay!

Almond Cake


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped, sliced almonds, toasted and divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup amaretto (or 1/4 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, 1/4 cup almonds, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Combine milk, butter, amaretto (or water and almond flavoring), and eggs; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Spoon the batter into a 9-inch round cake pan coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle batter with remaining almonds. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. 

Recipe note: this cake freezes well. Bake it ahead, cool completely, ,and store in a freezer bag. To serve, thaw at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition information: 286 calories, 11.1 g fat, 5.8 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 1.4 g fiber, 71 mg cholesterol, 1.7 mg iron, 349 mg sodium, 108 mg calcium.

Source: Cooking Light, December 2000. You can find it here

Notes: I LOVE this coffee cake. It is so delicious. Please excuse the picture. I have made this cake a number of times down in the valley and it rises beautifully. Up on my mountain, it fell a little in the middle. It still tasted just as wonderful as ever though!

Above: We served our almond cake with some crepes filled with cook and serve lemon pudding (crepes and lemon pudding had been off limits due to my younger son's egg allergy). You can find my favorite crepe recipe here.

Almond Scones


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter (not margarine)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon almond flavoring
2 eggs, slightly beaten


Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. Stir in sour cream, milk, almond flavoring, and eggs until just moistened.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth (about one minute). Divide dough in half. Roll each half into an 8-inch circle. Cut into 8 wedges. Place 1 inch apart on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with additional sugar, if desired.

Bake for 13-18 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes 16.

Source: We have had this recipe for years. I am uncertain as to where my mom found it.

Notes: Holy cow, these are so good. When my mom made them for the first time, years ago, she had also made some homemade blueberry freezer jam. We used to eat this with that blueberry jam and it was just heavenly. I didn't have any blueberry freezer jam, so I served mine with a little strawberry freezer jam. So delicious! They are great plain, just on their own, too!

Above: Who couldn't go for a homemade scone and a cup of cocoa on a cold winter day?

Simple Weeknights


Weeknights can be crazy, so simple meals are best during the week. However, simple meals don't have to be boring meals. Here is a simple meal that looks like you put a lot more effort into it than you really did.

This recipe is similar to the chicken piccata recipe that we already posted, found here. Though it has fewer ingredients and the chicken isn't dredged in flour.

Chicken with Lemon-Caper Sauce


1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon olive oil
Cooking spray
1/3 cup extradry vermouth (or chicken broth)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Hot cooked spaghetti (optional)


Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper over chicken. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add chicken, cook 6 minutes on each side, or until done. Remove from pan. Set aside, keep warm.

Add remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper, vermouth, lemon juice, and capers to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 2 minutes). Stir in choped parsley. Spoon sauce over chicken. Serve over spaghetti, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 chicken breast half and 1 tablespoon sauce).

Recipe notes: You may want to consider doubling the sauce to serve over noodles or rice.

Source: Cooking Light Chicken cookbook, ISBN: 0-8487-3063-1. You can also find it here.

Notes: I used chicken broth in place of the vermouth. I also tripled the sauce and tossed my spaghetti noodles in the sauce. I then returned the chicken to the pan to coat it in the sauce as well. I also used a little more capers than the recipe called for. Just do it to your own taste. This is yummy stuff!

Above: You could skip the chicken and just make the sauce for some noodles by themselves if you wanted.

No Guilt!

I couldn't believe how easy this dessert was to make. Besides that, it is so low calorie that it is a great way to get your sweet fix without going overboard. (That is, if you can only eat one)

Guilt-Free Creme Brulee


1 can (12 fl. oz.) Evaporated Lowfat 2% Milk
1 cup egg substitute, or 4 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 teaspoons light brown sugar, divided


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk evaporated milk, egg substitute (or eggs), granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and salt in medium bowl until mixed. Pour evenly into six, 6-ounce ramekins. Place ramekins in a 13x9-inch baking pan. Pour boiling water into baking pan to a depth of 1-inch (about half-way up sides of ramekins.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until gently set in center. Remove to wire rack to cool slightly. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Preheat broiler. Blot tops of creme brulees with paper towel. Sprinkle each creme brulee with a teaspoon of brown sugar. Place on baking sheet with sides. Broil with tops 4 to 6 inches from heat for 5 to 6 minutes, rotating pan once, watching closely, until sugar is melted and caramelized. Alternately, tops can be caramelized using a kitchen torch.

Refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes or until topping hardens (do not refrigerate longer than 1 hour or topping will start to soften).

Source: I found this in one of my email newsletters for Very Best Baking. You can find the recipe here.

Notes: I don't have 6 ounce ramekins, so I used my 4.5 ounce ramekins. I ended up with 7 creme brulees as a result. I also learned that I can't just eat one of these unless I am making them for others to eat as well!

Festive and Easy Cake


I love this ice cream cake. I love how easy it is to come up with fun and different variations. Besides that, it is simply easy to make and absolutely delicious!

Ice Cream Cake


1 box of cake mix (this time, I used spice cake)
Oil, eggs, and water called for on cake mix box
1 quart (or more) of ice cream (I used pumpkin ice cream), softened
1 small container (or more) frozen whipped topping, thawed


Spray two 9x13-inch pans with nonstick cooking spray. Mix cake mix according to directions on box. Divide cake batter evenly between the two 9x13-inch pans.

Bake according to directions on box, except check cakes for doneness with a toothpick after 15 minutes. Bake until toothpick comes out clean (anywhere from 15-25 minutes depending on your oven and altitude). Remove cake from oven when done and allow to cool completely.

Divide softened ice cream evenly and spread over cooled cakes. Put cakes in the freezer until ice cream is set.

Divide whipped topping evenly over set up ice cream layer on cakes. Return cakes to the freezer until whipped topping is set (you can prepare these cakes the day before and keep them in the freezer until ready to serve).

When ready to serve, allow cakes to soften for 10-15 minutes at room temperature. Cut into squares and serve.

Source: My mom has been making these for years, but I am not sure where she found the idea.

Notes: I used only one quart and one small container of whipped topping between the two cakes, but in the future (and for my personal preference), I would use more. You wouldn't need as much as 2 quarts, but I would buy two quarts of ice cream just so I had more flexibility and more choice in how much ice cream to use per cake. As for the whipped topping, in the future, I would personally buy one small container for each cake (so, a total of two).

The cake pictured is a pumpkin spice ice cream cake, but the variations are only limited by your own imagination. Below are some favorite flavor combinations:

Ice Cream Cake Variations:

Peppermint Ice Cream Cake (Peppermint ice cream, chocolate or white cake, frozen whipped topping)
Eggnog Ice Cream Cake (Eggnog ice cream, white cake, frozen whipped topping)
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake (Mint chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate cake, frozen whipped topping)

Above: This mint chocolate ice cream cake was a big hit. Devil's food cake, mint chocolate ice cream, frozen whipped topping, and chocolate syrup. Good stuff!

Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Cake (Cookies and cream ice cream, chocolate or white cake, frozen whipped topping, crushed Oreos)
Cookie Dough Ice Cream Cake (Cookie dough ice cream, white cake, frozen whipped topping, cookie dough crumbles)
Cake Batter Ice Cream Cake (Birthday cake ice cream, Funfetti cake, frozen whipped topping, rainbow sprinkles)
Strawberry Ice Cream Cake (Strawberry ice cream, strawberry cake, frozen whipped topping--tinted pink)
Classic Birthday Cake Ice Cream Cake (Chocolate ice cream, yellow cake, frozen whipped topping flavored with Hershey's syrup)

Seriously, the possibilities are endless! This is only the tip of the iceberg. Get creative and enjoy!


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Soup Time: The Antidote To That Autumn Chill

This is another easy weeknight recipes.  I peeled the potatoes and left them to soak all day, also chopping the onions and celery the day before when I made another recipe.  Once I got home from work, this dinner took 30 minutes tops.  So, so tasty!


3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup diced cooked ham
3 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground white or black pepper, or to taste
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk

Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham and water in a stockpot.  Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir in the chicken bouillon, salt and pepper.

In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat.  Whisk in flour with a fork, and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute.  Slow stir in milk as not to allow lumps to form until all the milk has been added.  Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot, and cook soup until heated through.  Serve immediately.

Source:, submitted by Ellie11. You can find it here. It is currently rated 5 stars with over 7,500 reviews!

Cook's note:  This was a little salty, so be careful in the seasoning.  It was really good and I can't stress how easy it was when the chopping was done ahead.  Yum.

Easy, Cheesy Weeknight Meal

I'm like Sarah in that pasta never gets old.  I've seen a lot of pasta recipes in the crock pot, but they can easily end up like a big pot of mush.  This one works really well because the tortellini isn't added until right before the end.  I really liked it and ultimate comfort food after a long day a work with just a little effort in the morning.


1/2 lb. lean ground beef (at least 80%)
1/2 lb. bulk Italian sausage
1 15 oz. container refrigerated marinara sauce
1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with Italian herbs, undrained
1 9 oz. package refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini
1 cup shredded mozzarella or pizza cheese blend (4 oz.)

In 10" skillet, cook beef and sausage over medium high heat 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until brown; drain.

Spray inside of a 4 to 5 quart slow cooker with cooking spray (see cook's note).  Mix beef mixture, marinara sauce, mushrooms and tomatoes in cooker.

Cover; cook on Low heat setting 7 to 8 hours.

Stir in tortellini; sprinkle with cheese.  Cover; cook on low heat setting about 15 minutes longer or until tortellini are tender.

4 servings.

Source: You can find it here.

Cook's notes:  BC recommends spice Italian Sausages if you like heat.  Also, I never cook anything in my crockpot anymore without using the Reynolds Crock Pot liners.  Yes, they do cost $1.00 each, but it's worth it.  Finally, I didn't use refrigerated marinara sauce.  I had some canned (cheap brand) that we purchased at a case lot sale.  It worked like a charm.  This recipe will definitely be made again!

Nah, Try Just One

I have made these bars twice now.  Be forewarned that they are very, very rich.  Megan said that they tasted like hot fudge in a cookie form.  I really appreciate when I find a good and easy cookie bar recipe.  They are so easy for all of those pot luck functions or when you are asked to bring a treat somewhere.  This would work as a good pantry recipe, too, for impromptu treats to take to a sick neighbor, work sharing, etc.  Oh, you will find a lot of uses for this one.


1 package white cake mix (regular size)
2 eggs
1/3 cup canola oil
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter, cubed

In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, eggs, and oil.  Press two-thirds of the mixture into a greased 13x9 in baking pan.  Set remaining cake mixture aside.

In a microwave safe bowl, combine the milk, chocolate chips and butter.  Microwave, uncovered, until chips and butter are melted; stir until smooth.  Pour over crust.

Drop teaspoonfuls of remaining cake mixture over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool before cutting.  Yield: 3 dozen.

Source:  I found this in a couple of places, but printed it up from Taste of Home. You can find it here.

Cook's notes:  I think I made this once with milk chocolate and it was a little too sweet.  I know, I know that sounds almost impossible.  But try it with the semisweet.  I think you'll like it.