Chock-full of Goodness Cookies

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I came up with these quick, easy,  healthy-ish (at least I’d like to believe that – haha) cookies on the fly today to satisfy a sweet tooth.  This recipe falls under the category of  “Use What You Have”, but I’m very pleased with the way they turned out.  Not too sweet, a little chocolate, a little tart from the cranberries and a nice texture from the coconut and rolled oats.  I used dark chocolate and pecans, but milk chocolate, white chocolate, walnuts or macadamia nuts would be tasty too!


Chock-full of Goodness Cookies

½ c. shortening
½ c. butter
1 c. to 1 ½ c. of packed brown sugar (I used 1 c. which made a moderately sweet cookie)
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 ¾ c. flour
1 c. rolled oats
1 c. coconut flakes
1 c. pecans
1 c. dried cranberries
½ c. chocolate chips or chunks

Cream butter and shortening together.  Add brown sugar, and mix.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.  In a small bowl combine salt, baking soda and flour. Slowly add to egg / sugar mixture.  Mix until incorporated.  Add oats, mix well.  Continue adding the rest of the ingredients, mixing after each addition.

Drop by teaspoonful on to baking sheet (I use parchment paper lined baking sheets), and flatten each dough ball slightly.   Bake at 350° F for 8 10 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 3 – 4 dozen.

Damn Good Crock-Pot Chili

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This is a chili recipe with beans. Every time I make chili I do it slightly differently. It’s one of those things that is wide open for interpretation. You can’t really mess it up. I’ve made many types of chili including white chili with chicken or turkey, green pork chili and various types or red beef chili. This time I wanted to make a chili that was a little more subtle, and less acidic. I focused on the flavor of the meat, chiles and spices which is why I used very little tomato. I made this up as I went along, and was pleasantly surprised at how well it turned out. It’s a little spicier than I usually make – I may have accidentally grabbed jalapenos, instead of the milder poblanos when I was shopping, but over rice or with crackers or bread, it’s perfect.

If you’re looking for different take on chili, check it out. As with most of my recipes, the ingredient amounts are just a suggestion. Flavor to your tastes. If I were to make this again, I might add a little more cumin. Other than that, I think the flavors are well rounded. Let me know what you think!


Damn Good Crock-Pot Chili

1lb of dried beans (I used small white beans)

1t kosher salt

Pepper to taste

1t oregano

1t onion powder

2 cans of beef or chicken broth + enough water to make 6 cups total

2T minced garlic

½ large yellow onion diced

Approx 1lb beef steak (I used Chuck London broil steak), sliced and cut into small chunks

2T flour

Fresh chiles, roasted, skinned and de-seeded (I used 2 poblano & 2 anaheim)

2T water

2t paprika

1t cumin powder

2T chili powder

1T unsweetened cocoa powder

1 small can of tomato paste

½ bag (approx 8oz) frozen corn

Clean, sort and soak beans in water over night, or use the fast method of soaking beans*.

Drain beans and pour into crockpot, add salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, oregano, broth + enough water to make 6 cups of liquid total. Cook on high for 3hours.

Place chiles on tinfoil and roast until most of the skin is black, remove from oven and wrap chiles in tinfoil so that they will continue to cook in the steam. Once cool, unwrap, skin and de-seed chiles and place in a mini-chopper or food processor. Add 2T water, paprika, chili powder, ½ can of tomato paste, cocoa powder. Process into thick paste and set aside.

Add a little oil to a frying pan and brown chunks of steak. Once the steak is brown add flour and toss to coat steak.

Add steak, diced onions, remaining tomato paste and prepared chile paste to crock-pot, stirring occasionally. Cook an additional 3 hours or until beans are done.  Add frozen corn at the end.


Microwave Fast Soak Process:

*Place cleaned beans in a microwave safe bowl, cover with a couple inches of water and microwave until water starts to boil. For the white beans, in my microwave, that was about 20 minutes. Remove from the microwave, stir a couple times and then let the beans cool in the water.

Pavlova Nests With Raspberries and Dark Chocolate

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Pavlova. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was when a friend suggested it as a way to use up some of the bumper crop of raspberries I had posted a picture of.  I had heard of it, but never had it. I vaguely knew what it looked like, but had no idea how to make it. I was intrigued. So, off to do one of my favorite things, research recipes!

Pavlova, is a meringue based dessert, covered in fresh fruit, topped with whipped cream. Some recipes I found also included a lemon curd layer and / or a syrup made from fruit reduction.  The trickiest part of making Pavlova is baking the meringue. The perfect Pavlova has a meringue that is pale in color, with a dry, crisp outer shell and a somewhat gooey, marshmallowy center.

It’s a perfect summer dessert. Elegant looking, decadent, in a light and refreshing way, and pretty easy to master once you understand the potential challenges. It’s the type of dessert that will make you look like a baking superstar!

Lessons Learned:

As I mentioned earlier, the most challenging thing about making Pavlova is perfecting the meringue. It took me three tries. Avoid some of the pitfalls I encounterd by reading my lessons learned.

Oven temperature. This is critical. This is what my first round of meringues looked like.

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 Not overly brown, but far too crunchy. There was not a marshmallowy fluff in sight. They tasted good, but did not fit the bill of a Pavlova meringue. The problem was that my oven temp was too high. Meringues bake low and slow. Even though my oven was only at 250°F, it was too hot.  If your oven runs hot, you may have to adjust the temperature during the baking time.

Tip: Don’t open the oven too often.

Use your oven light to check on the progress. Opening the oven causes a change in temperature that will activate the preheat mode, to bring the oven back up to the correct temperature, which could affect your meringue.


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My second attemp looked like a SUCCESS! I preheated my oven to 275°F and then turned it down to 250°F when I put the meringues in. I checked them about 7 or 8 minutes in and they looked like they were getting a little golden on the top, so I lowered the temp closer to  225°F.

Time is another factor. Baking time for the recipes I researched all said between 50 and 60 minutes. I was a bit skeptical about that. It seemed way too long.  I learned it does take that long.  I tested them about 35 minutes in, and they were beginning to feel like they were forming a crisp crust, but they were still a bit sticky to the touch.  A done meringue will feel dry to the touch, but still have a spring. Keep in mind that they will crisp up further as they start to cool.


 What I didn’t take into account when baking these was the weather. Humidity is not a friend of the meringue! I baked these earlier in the day with the intention of finishing the dessert right before serving them. It was cool in the house, so I thought they’d be fine. I went out to run some errands, and when I came back and checked on them I found that they no longer felt dry and crispy.

I didn’t have time to make a new batch, so I decided to try and salvage them. Right before dinner, I put them back in the oven at 225°F for a few minutes. When they started to feel dry again, I turned off the oven, opened the door a bit and let them sit in there. After dinner I took them out for assembly. They still looked great, but they had dried out too much. Some of them still had a little marshmallow texture in the middle, but based on the research I’d done, I knew they were overbaked. I served them anyway! Sometimes, in a pinch, you gotta just go with the flow. My family, having never had Pavlova either, loved them. A great dessert, but not really Pavlova. In hindsight, to counterbalance the crispiness, I might have added a fruit sauce – crushing some of the fruit in a small pot, adding a little sugar and water and cooking it down  until it thickened. I would then cool it down quickly in an ice bath before serving.

Me, being me, I couldn’t let this project go without getting it right. I needed to make a correct Pavlova. It had become my mission! The next day, I took what I had learned so far, and tried again. Thinking about perfecting that marshmallow center, I decided my chances for success would be greater if the nests were thicker. I was right!

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This time the meringues had a beautiful, light and springy, marshmallowy center.


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It was worth the work and wait!

A little foreknowledge makes mastering the Pavlova easy!

Get creative! Go ahead, and give it a try. The results will be delicious!

You can use a variety of different berries or soft fruits. Try adding a lemon curd or a fruit sauce. Even a custard might be nice.

Impress your family and friends!

Or better yet, indulge and impress YOURSELF! You can do this!

Happy Baking!


Pavlova Nests With Raspberries and Dark Chocolate

Makes 4 – 4 inch desserts

3 – egg whites

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 T. cornstarch

pinch of salt

1 1/2 t. white vinegar

1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

1 pint of fresh berries or equivalent (approx 2 c.) of soft fruit (like kiwi, peach, mango)

1/2 c. dark chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet chips)


Whipped Cream

1 pint of whipping cream

1 1/2 t. vanilla

1/2 c. granulated sugar (or to your taste)


Preheat oven to 275°F

In a small bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Set aside. Combine vinegar and vanilla and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, add egg whites and salt. MAKE sure there is NO YOLK in your egg whites, or they will not whip up correctly. If you are using a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment. Beaters on a standard hand held electric mixer work just as well. Whisk on medium until egg whites start to turn white and look very foamy. Gradually start adding the sugar mixture and increase the speed to medium high. Continue to whisk until all sugar is added and you can no longer feel the sugar granules. Increase speed to high and slowly add the vinegar / vanilla mixture. Continue to be beat until stiff peaks form.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a can or cup, draw 4 – 4″ circles on the parchment. Using an icing bag (or snip the end off a gallon sized plastic bag), pipe, or spoon a meringue nest within each circle, making sure there is a well in the middle of each nest.  Place baking sheet in the oven and reduce the temperature to 250°F. Set timer for 50 minutes. After about 7 or 8 minutes check on meringues. DO NOT open the oven if you can help it. If it looks like the meringues are starting to get golden, reduce the temperature to 225°F and check again after 7 or 8 minutes. At the 35 to 40 minute mark, test the meringues by touching one. If they feel dry, kind of like styrofoam, but still springy, they are done. Remove them from the oven to a cooling rack, or if not using right away,  turn off oven and leave it open, leaving the meringues in there to cool. If they are still a little sticky, continue baking until they feel dry to the touch. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Meringues will get crisper as they cool.

While the meringues are baking, prepare fruit and Whipped Cream, and refrigerate till ready to use.

To Make Whipped cream:

(For best results, make sure the whipping cream is kept very cold. I usually place the bowl I’m going to use and the beaters or whisk attachment in the freezer for a few minutes before I start whipping the cream. The colder the better.)

In a large bowl add whipping cream and vanilla. Beat on medium until it gets foamy and begins to thicken. Gradually add sugar and continue whipping. Increase speed to medium-high / high and whip until thickened and peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Constructing desserts:

Melt chocolate chips in a bowl placed over hot water. If the chocolate is too thick to drizzle, try adding a couple drops of vegetable oil and stir.

Pipe or spoon a layer of whipped cream into the center of each nest. Add berries / fruit.  Add another layer of whipped cream, and then more berries. Drizzle melted chocolate over dessert and serve.


If you are planning this for a dinner party, have the fruit (and sauce if applicable)  pre-prepared. About 15 minutes before you are ready to plate the food or sit down to dinner, make the whipped cream, and put the meringues in.  Keep the whipped cream in the refrigerator while the meringues are baking. Check the meringues after 7 or 8 minutes and adjust the oven temp if needed.

Once they are done, turn off the oven, and leave the door open so they can cool, or if serving immediately, take them out of the oven, and cool on a rack. Cool completely before assembling.

If meringues get too crisp, try adding a layer of curd / custard or make a sauce by crushing some of the fruit, adding a little water and sugar and cooking over heat until thickened. You can cool the sauce off quickly by placing the pot in an ice water bath. In a pinch, melt a little jam to use as an alternate for sauce.







Use What You Have Pasta Salad

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Use What You Have Pasta Salad

I almost skipped writing this post, because it’s so simple. But, if you’re like me, during the dog days of summer, I don’t want to cook and I certainly don’t want to go out into the heat to go to the grocery store, unless I absolutely have to. So I get creative, and when that creativity is successful I write it down.

A few days ago, it was humid and hot and I had NO desire to cook, or go to the grocery store, even though I knew my cupboards were pretty bare. I was gonna have to use what I had. I started pulling random things out of the refrigerator and cabinets – a serving of cooked frozen broccoli, a bag of petite carrots, half a red bell pepper, kalamata olives, parmesan cheese, sundried tomatoes, and about 2 servings worth of dry pasta. It came to me – pasta salad! Very little work or cooking involved, and the payoff would be a cool and refreshing side dish. Perfect! I added a little zesty italian dressing, and it was AWESOME! It was so good in fact, that I decided to make it again. A larger batch this time. And since I really did need to go to the store, I added a few things. The recipe below is the latest version that I made. It’s delicious and so easy!

Open up your refrigerator and get creative! The ingredient combinations are endless. You can serve this as a side dish or add a meat or another protein and serve it as a main dish. I jotted down some other ingredient ideas, and have shared them at the end of this post. I think I’ll be making versions of this salad often this summer.




½ box Radiatore pasta

½ c. chopped sundried tomatoes that have been soaked in hot water to soften

⅓ c. parmesan cheese

1 bag of broccoli slaw

½ c. sliced kalamata olives

½ red bell pepper, chopped

¼ c. finely diced red onion

½ c. chunky sliced petite carrots

2 c. chopped fresh cauliflower

garlic powder

zesty italian dressing


Chop and combine all the vegetables, parmesan cheese, garlic powder in a large bowl. Add  the dressing of your choice and mix. Continue to add dressing until vegetables are coated. Stir, and set aside to let veggies marinate. Cook pasta. Drain and let pasta cool. DO NOT RINSE. Once the pasta is cool, add to the vegetables and mix.  Add additional dressing until salad is is coated. Amount of dressing is to your taste. Chill and serve.



  • The amounts of ingredients are based on your tastes. I tend to add more vegetables than pasta in my salads.
  • If you make a large batch, you may have to continue to add additional dressing the longer it sits.
  • If you decide to add cubed cheese, I would not mix it in, but add it as the salad is served, so that it doesn’t get soggy.
  • I like crunchy vegetables, so when using frozen, I would either defrost and add them or only cook them for a minute or so in boiling water, and cool them down quickly in an ice bath.
  • Try adding nuts or seeds before serving. I added a sprinkling of sunflower seeds when I served this.
  • You can substitute pasta with cooked quinoa, barley or rice

Additional Ingredient Ideas:

frozen peas

frozen corn

frozen broccoli

rainbow slaw

cubes of salami or pepperoni

cubes of cheese (leave on the side)

crumbled feta cheese, bleu cheese, or goat cheese

choice of dressing – even creamy dressings

fresh herbs like basil, parsley

canned tuna or chicken

cucumbers (seeded)

fresh zucchini or summer squash

green and/or black olives



snow peas, fresh or frozen

fresh mushrooms

bean sprouts

green beans, fresh or frozen

kidney or black beans

barley, quinoa, rice

Missing Tucson Crockpot Carnitas

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Missing Tucson Crockpot Carnitas

It’s times like these, when I’m craving authentic, Mexican food that I especially miss my days in Tucson, Arizona. Massachusetts, for the most part, has not mastered the art of real Mexican food.
Tucson, is situated about an hours drive north of the Sonoran border of Mexico. It’s full of fantastic little, sometimes hole-in-the-wall restaurants AND food trucks that would put to shame any Mexican cuisine found around here. Sure, we have the chain restaurants, but they are in no way, shape or form, real Mexican food. In my eight years here, I’ve come across only 2 independently owned restaurants that served any thing close to authentic Mexican food. So, I find myself researching recipes and experimenting to try and recreate the flavors, as I remember them, of some of my favorites. Carnitas would be on that list.
Carnitas are essentially Mexican pulled pork. In researching how to make them, I found that there are several different methods to prepare them, including my pick, which is using a crockpot. My motto is: USE WHAT YOU HAVE. Other methods, which are probably closer to the authentic version, involve boiling the meat in lard, or in water, and then finishing it in the oven. The goal is always the same though – to produce a moist, tender meat that easily pulls apart.
I also noticed when researching, that a wide variety of ingredients are used, some of which I’ve never heard of. My thought is that the ingredients may vary by regional preference.  None of them sounded like they would taste the way I remember them from Tucson though. What I remember about carnitas is that they have a very subtle citrus and spice taste that doesn’t overpower the flavor of the meat, but enhances it. I think the following recipe does just that. 
A couple of notes about this recipe: The ingredient amounts for the dry rub are more of a guideline than a must. Feel free to adjust amount of spices based on your own personal  taste.  For the purposes of this post, I used what I had on hand, which were limes and a 2.5lb pork loin roast. The limes gave a nice hint of citrus, but my preference would have been to use oranges. Instead of pork loin, I would have preferred using a pork butt or shoulder roast. The meat is more marbled, and with slow cooking, holds more moisture and flavor than a loin cut. 
I would also suggest browning the meat well.  This helps produce some crispy bits that hold a lot of flavor. 
Serving suggestions:
One of my favorite parts about carnitas are the crispy bits. To do this, after the meat is cooled, pull off serving size pieces. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a little oil or bacon grease. Add the chunks of meat to the hot skillet and quickly heat them through, allowing parts of the outside to brown and get crispy.
Serve with corn tortillas, Spanish rice, limes and your favorite salsa or pico de gallo


This recipe is based on approximately a 2.5lb to 4lb roast, so please adjust amounts accordingly.
Dry Rub:
1 T. kosher salt
2 T. chili powder
2 T. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. cumin powder
1/3 c. vegetable oil
Citrus: Juice of 2 medium oranges (2/3 c. or 1 c. of orange juice from concentrate)  OR Juice of 4 or 5 small limes (4 – 5 T.)
2 T. cider vinegar
1 can of chicken broth OR approximately 12 oz of beer –
1/2 large onion cut into chunks
1 T. bacon grease


Using a small, sharp, pointy knife, press the point of the blade in to make several deep slits on all sides of the roast. Start with the salt by itself. Press liberal amounts of salt firmly into the meat on all sides. For the rest of the dry ingredients, you can combine them, or apply them inidividually. You want to press firmly so that you create a crust with the dry rub.


Carnitas - use pork butt or shoulder                        Carnitas Dry rub

In a small bowl whisk together orange or lime juice, vinegar and oil. Place roast in a ziploc bag or a container that can be sealed. You don’t want to lose any flavor, so make sure to add any dry rub that falls of the roast into the bag or container as well. Pour in liquid. Let meat marinate for at least a couple hours, or overnight. Turn meat every couple hours so that all sides get to steep in the marinade.
Heat bacon grease in a skillet on medium heat. Brown roast on all sides. DO NOT DISCARD MARINADE. Place roast in crockpot. Pour in marinade. Add broth or beer, and onion. Cook on low until meat begins to fall apart. Pull apart and serve.
This roast cooked about 7 hours on low.
 Carnitas - browned roast                     Carnitas



Better Than Best Banana Bread

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Better Than Best Banana Bread


You know it’s time to make banana bread when you open up the freezer and several frozen bananas come spilling out. Obviously I’m a terrible judge on how many bananas to buy at one time. It seems that at least one out of every bunch starts to turn too spotty and black before I get to it. I know, I know… That’s when they’re at their most nutritious. Which is why I freeze them for banana bread, or to put in smoothies. Makes those treats healthier, right?

This is an easy, moist, delicious recipe for banana bread that tastes better than the best. Yes, I said it. I’m claiming it. This banana bread IS Better Than Best!

I’m teasing. Better Than Best is my nod to all those adjective laden recipe titles out there, proclaiming they are ‘outstanding’, ‘awesome’, or the ‘ultimate’.

Has this bread earned it’s title?  Let me know what you think.


Better Than Best Banana Bread


¾ c. granulated sugar
¾ c. packed brown sugar
2 ¼ c. flour
½ t. salt
½ t. nutmeg
¼ t. cinnamon
1 ½ t. baking soda
⅓ c. sour milk
¾ c. vegetable oil
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ½ t. vanilla
4 – 5 medium sized frozen bananas that have been thawed and mashed
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease or spray 2 loaf pans.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Using a spatula or spoon, stir the ingredients to blend them. Set aside. In a small bowl combine sour milk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Pour milk mixture into flour mixture and stir just enough to incorporate liquid. Add mashed bananas and stir until combined, making sure to scrape sides and bottom of the bowl. Add walnuts and stir.
Pour into greased pans. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

My Trusty, Tasty Yellow Cake

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I have used this recipe several times, most recently to make a wedding cake and cupcakes – see Picture Today entry: Tips for Constructing & Decorating a Cake When You’re Not a Cake Boss.
Trusty, Tasty Yellow Cake

This recipe will make a half sheet cake, 2 – 9 inch rounds, or 22 jumbo cupcakes. This cake has a great buttery taste and is moist and a little dense. It’s the perfect consistency for large or tiered cakes.

Here are some tips that are helpful for successful baking:

  • To ensure ingredients combine properly, make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before using.
  • Use shortening and flour to grease pans, rather than cooking spray or butter. It’s been my experience that using shortening and flour to coat pans makes it easier to remove the cake from the pans, and keeps the crust intact making it easier to frost.
  • Oil can be substituted for butter. Butter provides a great flavor, but makes a denser cake than when baking with cooking oil. I have experimented with using half butter which still provides a great flavor, and half oil which makes the consistency of the cake a little lighter.
  • Once you have filled the baking pans with batter, gently tap the pans a couple of times on a flat surface to distribute and even batter out, and release any large air bubbles.


1 cup butter or oil (see note above about using butter vs. oil)

2 cups white sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups milk + 2T white vinegar

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda


Preheat oven to 350° Grease and flour pans.

In a small bowl combine milk and vinegar, stir and let sit for approx. 5 minutes. Set aside

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Work butter into dry ingredients until you have a sandy consistency.

  • I find that this is easier if you slice the butter up into chunks and then add it to the dry ingredients. Use a fork, pastry blender or, if using a mixer, the paddle attachment seems to work the best.

Add slightly beaten eggs to milk mixture and stir to combine.

Add approximately half of the liquid mixture to the butter / dry ingredients and mix on low to combine, scraping bowl to ensure all ingredients are combined. Add the rest of the liquid and beat until thoroughly combined – approximately 1 minute.

  • Be careful not to over mix. Over mixing will produce a denser, rubbery consistency, rather than a light and fluffy consistency. Mix until the ingredients are combined and the batter has an over all even consistency, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl, to ensure that all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Time for baking will depend on the size pan you are using. It’s been my experience that a 9” cake generally takes about 20 minutes, though I check it at 15 minutes and adjust the time appropriately. For jumbo cupcakes, I would start with 10 minutes and then test by inserting a toothpick into the center. Cake is done when toothpick inserted into the center of cake / cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool.

  • For cakes, I generally let them cool on racks in their pans for about 10 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Okay, now that you have your fabulous cake baked, are you ready to decorate it? If you’re a fan of buttercream icing, I have just the recipe for you. Check it out HERE

Dreamy Creamy Buttercream Icing

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If you read my blog post: Tips for Constructing and Decorating a Cake When You’re Not a Cake Boss, this is the icing I used to decorate the wedding cake and cupcakes, and it was a big success! I did a lot of research to find just the right decorating icing that I hoped would taste good and hold up in uncertain weather. You never know what kind of weather April will bring to Tucson. I lived there for ten years and remembered that early Spring can run the gamut for temperatures. I needed an icing that I could count on to hold up even if the weather was warmer than anticipated. I was not disappointed. As usual, I cobbled a few recipes together and came up with this recipe that did not fail me. This creamy, great tasting icing can be used to simply frost a cake or to decorate with. It holds it’s shape beautifully!




1 c of salted butter (room temperature)

1 c of vegetable shortening

  • 2 c of butter or shortening is needed for the amount of confectioners sugar. I found that, in the environment I was working in,  equal amounts of butter and shortening had just the right amount of creaminess and firmness to use to both cover the cake and decorate it. Experiment with different amounts. More butter will create a more flavorful creamy texture, but it might not hold up for decorating purposes. The more shortening you use the less likely the icing is likely to melt. If you use all shortening, I would suggest adding a butter flavor extract, or using butter flavored shortening to enhance the overall icing taste.

2lb bag of confectioners sugar

2 t of vanilla extract

1/3 c very hot water + 2T of powdered coffee creamer dissolved and cooled

Mix 1/3 c of hot (almost boiling water) with 2 T of powdered coffee creamer. Stir until creamer is completely dissolved. Cool and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, using paddle attachment (if you have it) combine butter, shortening and vanilla. Beat on medium until combined. Add 1 c of sugar and mix on low until combined. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to add 1 c at a time until mixture is stiff, mixing on low only until combined. Be sure to scrape bowl often to ensure all sugar is incorporated. By now you should have added close to half the sugar. Add 2T of creamer mixture and beat on low just until combined. Continue adding the rest of the sugar and more creamer liquid until you get the desired consistency. Scrape bowl, and beat mixture on medium high or high until smooth and creamy.

Creamy Bacon Pesto Chicken

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Creamy Bacon Pesto Chicken

This is a recipe that I just threw together and wrote down as I went along. My original idea was a creamy, bacon, chicken dish to serve over pasta. As soon as I thought about pasta, my mind immediately went to pesto. I love pesto on pasta – say that three times fast! So I added pesto to the mental list of ingredients, and continued thinking about the flavors. I started thinking about the creamy base sauce. Bacon is salty, and when I make homemade pesto I add a lot of parmesan cheese which can be salty as well. I’m out of my pesto, so I would be using a store bought pesto that I had never used before. I guessed there would be a good amount of salt in it as well, so I really had to think about how I could make a creamy sauce that still had a lot of flavor, without adding salt or any other strong flavors that would compete or overpower the  fragrant, basily pesto flavor that I love. Cream cheese came to mind. Perfect. But cream cheese and pesto seemed a little ho-hum. I wanted to fill the taste out a bit. Make it a little more complex. I wanted some punches of flavor that wouldn’t overwhelm the overall dish, but would add bites of brightness. Savory dishes with bacon….Hmmm… Then it came to me. Another favorite of mine, and the reason I originally cooked all the bacon in the first place was to make a BLT&A sandwich, which was sublime I might add. To get the maximum tomato flavor I decided on sun-dried tomatoes.  I also decided more vegetable sounded like a great idea, so I lined my baking dish with a bed of fresh spinach, which I already had on hand, and before baking, topped the chicken with  fresh asparagus – again, because I had it on hand.

*** Things to consider BEFORE you start cooking:

Ingredient substitutions. In this recipe, the one substitution that could really affect the taste is the type of garlic you use. I used ready-to-use minced garlic from a jar. In my opinion, this type of garlic does not pack the same punch as freshly minced garlic does, so I used a lot. If I were to chop fresh garlic, I might only use about half, in this case, maybe only a tablespoon. If I were using garlic powder, I would only use 1 -2 teaspoons. In instances of substitution, I recommend adding a little and tasting as you go. The same goes for the pesto.  When making this recipe, I had not used this brand of pesto before, so I added and tasted until I got the flavor I was looking for, which equaled 2 heaping tablespoons. If I used fresh, or another brand, I might have to adjust this.


Creamy Bacon Pesto Chicken

3 – 4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into hearty slices (I sliced mine into 1″ to 1.5″ pieces)

1 8oz pkg of neufchatel or cream cheese

1/2 c sour cream

3 T. milk

2 T. pesto  (I used 2 very generous tablespoons)

2 T. ready-to-use minced garlic (pls see note *** above if substituting)

1/2 c. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, excess water squeezed out

1/2 c. chopped sun-dried tomatoes reconstituted in warm water and drained

1/2 c. cooked bacon, crumbled

12 oz of sliced mushrooms (I used portobello) sauteed in 1 T of butter


Chop sun-dried tomatoes and soak in warm water to soften. Drain and set aside.

Saute mushrooms and set aside.

Spray a large covered baking dish with cooking spray. Line bottom of dish with chicken pieces.

In a bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream, milk, pesto and garlic. Mix to combine. Stir in spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and bacon.

Spread mixture over chicken pieces. Cover and bake at 350°F for an hour. Serve over pasta or rice.

After the Dish Notes:

The chicken was fantastic! It delivered just the right amount of pesto flavor and tomato punch that I was looking for. The bacon flavor was present, but not overwhelming. It provided enough salt to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.

When making it again, however, there are a couple of things that I would change. Please note that I did not add  the following to the recipe above, but they are in the blog entry, so I will mention them. First, I would skip the bed of spinach. For me, it served a purpose since I had it on hand and needed to use it up, but it really didn’t add anything to the dish. There is already spinach in the sauce, and unless you pack the fresh spinach into the bottom of the dish, it basically disappears. The next time, if I want additional vegetables, I’ll try thick slices of lightly sauteed zucchini. I say lightly sauteed because I’d want to sweat out some of the moisture of the squash before adding it, but not cook it so much that it would be overly mushy in the completed dish. This brings me to the second thing I would change. I would not add asparagus. The flavor of the asparagus worked beautifully with the other flavors, but for me, they got a little over cooked. Next time I would either serve a lightly sauteed asparagus on the side, or not add them until about halfway through the cooking time. Lesson learned.

The Versatile Chinese Pork Dumpling

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I’ve had a lot of indoor time on my hands this winter. With back to back snowstorms in the Northeast burying us in 5+ ft of snow, accompanied by bitter, bitter cold (do I sound bitter – lol?), my time outside this season has been mainly dedicated to two activities – snow blow, shovel, repeat. Over and over and over… To combat “cabin fever” I’ve started several creative projects like photographing the development of icicles outside my kitchen window, and cooking. This week’s project is a favorite of mine – Chinese pork dumplings.

I love these because they are very versatile – they can be served as a soup, an appetizer or even as part of a meal. They’re a little labor intensive, but so worth it! A single batch will produce five to six dozen, double it, and you’ll have dumplings through Spring!

Pork Potsticker / Dumpling
Pork Potsticker / Dumpling

Versatile Chinese Pork Dumplings

Makes approximately 6 dozen

1 ½ lbs of ground pork

1 bunch of green onions, thinly sliced

1 c. of cooked white rice

½ c. finely chopped Napa cabbage (optional)

1 t. garlic powder

½ t. ground ginger

½ t. white pepper

2 t. cornstarch

3 T. sesame oil

3 T. soy sauce

3 T. rice or white vinegar


Wonton wrappers

¼ c. water

2 t. cornstarch


Combine first 11 ingredients, except wonton wrappers. Mix thoroughly. See below for tips on how to fill wonton wrappers.

Stages of wrapping dumplings
Stages of wrapping dumplings

Tips for filling the wrappers: In a small shallow bowl combine 1/4c. water and cornstarch. Once you open the package of wonton wrappers, keep them covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. You don’t want them to dry out, or they’ll crack when you try to fold them. Below are the steps to fold them as shown in the picture:

  1. Lay out 5 to 6 wrappers at a time, and I set them up with a corner of the wrapper pointing towards the top of the work space.
  2. Using your finger, wet all four sides with the cornstarch water.
  3. Using two teaspoons, drop approximately a half a teaspoon of the pork mixture onto the center of the wrapper.
  4. Fold the wrapper by pulling the top corner down to bottom corner.
  5. Pick up triangle, point side up and hold with both hands using thumbs and forefingers. Start with one open edge, and pinch to close, pushing in around pork ball to get any air pockets out. Pinch other side closed.
  6. Moisten pinched edges with cornstarch water and fold over edge and pinch for an extra seal.
  7. Bend corners on long flat side back and pinch to seal.

See below for cooking instructions. For later use, freeze dumplings on a cookie sheet and then transfer to freezer bags for storage.

Directions for dumplings: Bring a pot of water to boil. Add dumplings and boil 6 to 8* minutes until dumplings look a little translucent.

Directions for Pot Stickers: Coat the bottom of a skillet with enough oil to cover the bottom. Heat skillet. Add dumplings and cook until bottoms begin to brown. Add water until bottom of pan is covered and water level is half way up the side of the dumpling. Partially cover the skillet allowing a little steam to escape and cook until water is evaporated, approximately 5* minutes. Once water evaporates, continue to cook, uncovered,  for an additional minute so that the dumpling bottoms crisp up again.

Directions for dumpling soup: Use chicken broth instead of water, and add your favorite seasonings like garlic, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, red chili flakes. Add favorite vegetables such as carrot shreds, spinach, Napa cabbage or Bok Choy, peapods, green onion, sliced water chesnuts.

*Extra time may be needed if cooking frozen dumplings.

Dipping Sauce:

1 c. soy sauce

1 T. thinly sliced scallions

2 T. minced garlic

3 T. sesame oil

¾ c. rice or white vinegar

Optional – red chili flakes or chili sauce to taste

Can be refrigerated for later use for approximately a week.