Tag Archives: easy recipes

My Baby turned 29 last week

She'll always be our baby

I haven’t written about it yet because it has taken me a week to come to terms with the fact that my baby turned 29 last week. How did this happen? Where did the time go? I swear I remember taking her to her first day of kindergarten like it JUST HAPPENED. I can tell you exactly what she was wearing – a pale turquoise jumper with pink buttons and little pink sneakers. She had her hair in pigtails with pink ribbons. But now our baby is 29, and I’m gonna need a minute. {insert long pause here}

At her request, I made rainbow cupcakes for the occasion. If you were a reader last spring, you’ll remember that my big sister led a baking session when she, my baby sister, and our mother came to visit. We had a blast and the rainbow tie-dyed cupcakes were a hit. At that time, we used Big Sis’s scratch-made white cake recipe and the expensive Wilton food colorings. This time, I used white cake mix. Guess what? It worked! Two cake mixes made one dozen regular cupcakes and six jumbo-size cupcakes. For the mixes, I used whole eggs instead of eggs whites and dialed the amount of water back just slightly so the cupcakes would have better structure. I also added a teaspoon of almond extract, which added great flavor. With a basic set of Wilton food colors from the grocery store, I divided the batter into 6 bowls and colored each. For the regular cupcakes, I swirled the colorful batter; for the jumbo cupcakes, I layered it. Here’s how they turned out:

Unfrosted in 2 Sizes - Jumbo = 5" and Regular = 2"

A jumbo rainbow cupcake - frosted with sprinkles

Look out! She's going in for a bite!

Too tall for a normal approach, she had to turn it sideways.

She did it! And apparently, she liked it.

Happy birthday, honey. I’m so happy you loved your cupcakes, but I’m especially happy that you are our girl. Your dad and I are so very proud of you. And now that 29 is behind you, we’ve got 12 months to plan for next year – when you turn 30 and I turn 50. I’m pretty sure that requires a big blow-out of some kind, don’t you? I’m thinking Vegas (with bail money, of course).

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Granola Brownies: they’ve got granola in them, so they’re good for you…right?

Granola Brownies: breakfast or snack? You choose.


Last week, I experienced a “fail” on a first-time recipe. I attempted to make homemade granola bars with chopped dates, coconut, almonds and dark chocolate chips. While it tasted spectacular, the bars just never stuck together. Guess my granola mix was too dry. Next time, I’ll add more honey. BUT… from lemons we make lemonade, and from failed granola bars, we make granola (which was great over Greek yogurt, by the way). And since I can can never seem to leave anything alone, I decided to kick it up a notch by making granola brownies. I mean, it makes sense in an unconventional way. Oats are good with chocolate. So are almonds, dates and coconut. And nothing satisfies a craving for sweets like a brownie, so…

Here’s how it all went down:
1 stick of unsalted butter
3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of granola, divided
Optional Ingredient: 2-3 Tbsp. Hershey’s Dark chocolate syrup
(because I’ve learned that nothing makes chocolate brownies taste more chocolatey than adding more chocolate, or a pinch of instant espresso powder)

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter and chocolate squares (and the optional chocolate syrup, if you so choose). Beat with a whisk until smooth, and add the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, blend flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into the chocolate mixture just until combined; do not over mix. Stir in 3/4 cup of your favorite granola (if it’s in bigger chunks, break it up). Press into an 8″ x 8″ baking pan lined with parchment paper or foil. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of granola over the top and press gently so it sticks.

Bake at 350F for 18-22 minutes (depending on your oven) or until the center is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pan. Using the parchment paper or foil edges, lift the brownies from the pan and cut into squares. If you want nice, clean edges put your brownies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to cool, then cut into squares.

Tip: individual brownies can be plastic-wrapped and frozen for a quick snack to drop into your child’s lunchbox (or your own). It’s perfect for back-to-school snacks, after school snacks, or my-kids-are-grown-and-I-just-want-a-granola-brownie-for-myself treats. Unconventional? Perhaps, but they’re still nutty, and gooey, and delicious. And just like that, a fail becomes a win.

Recipe credit: brownie base is America’s Test Kitchen “Bake Sale Brownies”

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Mom’s Raw Peach Pie – Two Ways

Mom's Raw Peach Pie - on brown sugar biscuits or cinnamon sugar pie crust

Summer reminds me of fresh fruit – strawberries, blueberries, watermelon and peaches – and hot summer weather reminds me of my mother’s raw peach pie. It’s what I call a “freestyle” recipe. She made it every summer when peaches came in season. It’s a family favorite and a perfect summer treat because it’s easy, light, refreshing and delicious. Mom always made hers with pie crust, but for the sake of shortcake lovers, I’m giving you TWO versions to choose from. One is made with cinnamon sugar pie crust and one is made with brown sugar biscuits. I have a personal favorite, but I’ll let you decide which one sounds best.

There are only a few basic ingredients:
fresh peaches – peeled and sliced
sugar – to sweeten the peaches
whipped cream – I prefer homemade
your favorite biscuit mix OR pie crust recipe
cinnamon sugar to sprinkle on your biscuits/pie crust
brown sugar (optional, if you’re using the biscuit method)

To prep your raw peach pies, begin by peeling and slicing your peaches. Sample a few slices to determine how sweet your peaches really are. If they need it, add a few tablespoons of sugar, give them a good stir, and place them in the refrigerator to macerate for at least one hour. If you don’t need extra sugar on your peaches, e-mail me immediately and let me know where you’re buying yours. Our peaches smell fabulous, but they’re not very sweet.

The next step is deciding which crust appeals to you – are you a biscuit guy/gal or a pie crust person? If you’re making pie crust, simply use your favorite recipe, roll the dough into a rectangle and place it on a baking sheet. Brush the pie dough with melted butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 425F until the crust turns a beautiful shade of light brown, as if you’re baking a pie. Remove from the oven and allow the pie crust to cool to slightly warm or even room temperature. Can you cheat and use that store-bought brand that comes in a box and rolls out? Absolutely! Who’s going to know except you?

If you are a biscuit lover, grab your favorite biscuit mix. I prefer Pioneer Buttermilk Baking Mix, but if you are a loyal Bisquick user, that works, too. Depending on how many people you’re serving, measure the biscuit mix into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar for extra flavor (this is dessert, after all), stirring to combine it with the biscuit mix. Then add enough milk or buttermilk to form a nice biscuit dough. Place it on a floured surface and roll it to approximately 3/4″ thick. Cut into round biscuits, placing them on a baking sheet. Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 425F until they are fluffy and light brown. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool to slightly warm or even room temperature.

While your pie crust or biscuits are baking, beat up a batch of homemade whipping cream. I like to use one pint of really cold heavy cream, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste. You can use vanilla extract. It works just as well, but I love those vanilla bean flavor flecks you get with vanilla bean paste, so if you can find it, use it. You’re worth it.

To assemble, grab a serving bowl or plate and begin with a layer of pie crust or biscuit. If you’re using biscuits, I like to split them in half. If you’re using pie crust, just grab your slab of cinnamon sugar crust and break it into serving dish size pieces. Top your crust of choice with a big spoonful of sweet peaches and a dollop of whipping cream, then create another layer. You can stack them as high as you like; the sky and gravity are the limits. Or you can just pile cut biscuits or pie crust into the bottom of a bowl and top it with peaches if presentation is not high on your priority list. It’s your bowl; do whatcha’ wanna do. Now for the big flourish – top with a generous blob of whipped cream and you’re done. Grab a spoon and a glass of ice tea and enjoy the best summer and my Momma has to offer. Thanks, Mom.

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Recipe Review: Pasta al Pomodoro


She’s young, she’s spunky, she’s a Chicagoan and she makes a mean Pomodoro sauce. Who am I speaking of? Well, that would be the lovely Jenna of Jennaseverthingblog.wordpress.com. On May 11th, she posted a recipe that caught my eye and made my tummy grumble. And I had just eaten. I knew when I saw it that I would have to try it. It’s her version of Pasta al Pomodoro, and if you’re a rabid pasta fan like me, you’re going to want to make it, too.

Here’s what I loved about Jenna’s Pomodoro:
1. It’s incredibly easy to make.
2. It’s made with a handful of all-natural ingredients.
3. It packs a wallop of flavor you don’t get from jarred sauces.
4. It can be paired with every type of pasta – from bow-ties to lasagna.
5. I can make big batches of this and freeze it for quick meals.
6. It contains fresh basil. Everything is better with fresh basil.
7. It contains lots of fresh garlic. Everything is better with garlic.
8. It tastes better than any other pasta sauce I’ve ever eaten. Seriously.

Here’s what I didn’t love about Jenna’s Pomodoro:
Nothing! This is my new go-to sauce. No more Prego for me, baby.

So do me a favor. Jump over to Jenna’s blog and take a look at her step-by-step instructions, complete with full-color photos. If you’re not sold on this sauce, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Which will be tricky, since I am neither a monkey nor an uncle. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find an Altoid.

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Quite Possibly the Easiest Summer Berry Dessert You Will Ever Make


This is one of those “accidental” recipe finds, discovered while browsing comments on The Pioneer Woman’s website. PW posted a photo blog of fabulous strawberry recipe photos (many of which made me weep with joy), but it was the first comment posted that really grabbed my attention. Sydney B posted a link to a strawberry clafouti recipe. A strawberry what?!? Clafouti. That’s klah-FOO-tee. Say it with me. “Klah-FOO-tee.” I like it! It sounds like a party in a Pyrex. Reminds me of KC & the Sunshine Band. It’s got me singing, “Shake shake shake…. shake shake shake… shake clafouti. Shake clafouti.” Let’s see if that’s not stuck in your head the rest of the day, right? But what IS a clafouti, really? I needed to know.

“Clafouti, is a baked French dessert of black cherries (or other fruit) arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. The clafouti is dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm.”

There. Now we know. So back to Sydney B’s link. It took me to www.shutterbean.com, where I discovered the easiest berry dessert I’ve ever made. And since I love berries and I love custards, this has the potential to become my go-to throw-down company’s coming dessert-in-a-hurry recipe. Thank you, Tracy the Shutterbean!

Here’s how easy this recipe is. For the record, it calls for strawberries, but I threw in some raspberries, too. Basically, you butter a glass baking dish. Toss your fruit with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch and arrange them in the bottom of the dish. Combine the other ingredients in a blender and whiz for 15 seconds. (I didn’t want to dig out my blender, so I used a mixing bowl and a whisk – old school style). Pour the mixture over the fruit and bake it until the center is set and the top is lightly browned. Remove it from the oven, sprinkle it with powdered sugar, and serve it warm. Done. Can you believe it? Seriously… from start to finish, it took 10 minutes to pop this into the oven. To see Tracy’s step-by-step photos and recipe, click here. You won’t be sorry.

If you love summer berries and creamy custards, you should try this. I will give you a few tips. Use really ripe, sweet strawberries. If your strawberries are really large, cut them into bite-size pieces. If you add raspberries like I did, increase the sugar to 1/2 cup or it will be really tart. Other than that, this recipe is simple, easy to make, and bursting with the fabulous flavors of summer berries and vanilla. And that’s all I need. Well, that and the Strawberry Kiss Cake posted by Brooks the Cakewalker from the Pioneer Woman’s photo post mentioned above. Have mercy! If you make that one, I am SO coming over!

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A Recipe Review: A Sweet Pea Chef’s Easy Crème Brulée

Food bloggers amaze me. Their dedication to cooking, staging and documenting recipes knocks me out. How do they do it day after day after day? My fellow blogger Lacey at A Sweet Pea Chef is one of those amazing people. Browsing her recipes and photos is like browsing through food porn. It is a glorious, guilty pleasure. But my favorite thing about Lacey’s blog is that her recipes are not just pretty. They are easy to understand, easy to prepare, and unbelievably tasty. She’s the real deal. She loves to cook and she happily shares that love with her readers. It’s just one of the many reasons I love her beautiful blog.

Every once in a while, Lacey will post a food poll, letting her readers choose recipes or topics that will be covered at a future date. One such poll featured possible dessert recipes. Choices included crème brulée, carrot cake cheesecake, lemon bars, oatmeal raisin cookies and cranberry sorbet. I was intrigued by the carrot cake cheesecake, but I voted for crème brulée. Several times {wink}. Why? Because I love simple foods with tremendous flavor, and crème brulée is one of those foods. Four ingredients. Full of flavor. Out of this world texture. I’m in.

The recipe says “easy” and by golly, she wasn’t kidding. You combine 4 ingredients, pour them into ramekins and bake them in a water bath. The cast of characters include 5 egg yolks, 2 cups of heavy cream, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. For this recipe, I broke out the good stuff – the pure vanilla bean paste. If you’ve never tried this stuff, you have to. This recipe is perfect for it. If I were making a chocolate cake, I would most definitely use the regular vanilla extract. But for this dish, the good stuff really shines.

Once your little pots of creme are baked and cooled, it’s decision time. You can stop here and just enjoy this as an incredible custard, or you can pour some sugar on it and brulée those puppies. I’m going whole hog. Conveniently, TCP just happens to have one of those baby blow torches. “Break out the blow torch, honey! I’m gonna’ burn some sugar, Sugar!” Fingers crossed that I don’t burn the house down. Oven mitt? Check. Fire extinguisher? Check. Let’s roll!

The verdict: this stuff is almost too good to be true. It’s so easy and inexpensive to make, it makes me a little angry at all those hoity-toity restaurants that charge $12.50 a serving for it. Shame on them. Deep, money-grubbing shame. Thanks to Lacey, I can now make fabulous crème brulée at home. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Good because this recipe is really fantastic. Bad because I really shouldn’t have the power to make this all the time. I’m having a vision of “Good Nana” and “Bad Nana” sitting on each shoulder screaming at each other. (Secretly, I’m rooting for Bad Nana. Go, Bad Nana! You go with your bad self!)

To see this recipe with all of the glorious step-by-step photos, visit Lacey’s blog at: http://www.asweetpeachef.com/sweets/easy-creme-brulee/

PS – A very special thank you to Katie at Lucky Girl Sweets ‘n Stuff. She selected my name for her first giveaway last week, which happened to be those super cute red ramekins. They look just like miniature Le Crueset Dutch ovens. They are too stinkin’ cute, and perfect for crème brulée. Thanks, Katie! I love them. You should click on the link above and drop in on her. She’s a feisty Texan like me. And tell her I said “howdy!”

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Playing With Your Food, Recipe #2: Mom’s World Famous Piggy Buns

Mom's Famous Whole Wheat Piggy Buns

Sorry I’ve been absent from the blogging universe this week. My mother and two of my sisters came down to visit. It’s not that I wasn’t thinking of you, it’s just that we were busy hitting every antique shop in a 50 mile radius, stuffing ourselves at various local restaurants, and baking out the wazoo. Which brings me, in a round about way, to the first recipe from our fabulous week I want to share with you. Remember those photos I posted from our annual Hoegarden Weekend in March? One photo featured the fabulously cute piggy buns our mother made for pulled pork sandwiches. They were truly adorable until the barbecue sauce started pouring from their eyes. Then it got a little Zombieland on us. Then we laughed hysterically and ate them anyway. With gusto. This week, mom allowed me to photograph a tutorial so you can make these precious piggies in your own home. Thanks for sharing, Mom. Now, let’s make piggies!

Here’s what you’ll need:
1/4 cup of granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 packages of rapid rise instant yeast (or 1/2 teaspoon)
1 Tablespoon of gluten powder
1/4 cup of malted milk powder
1 cup of whole wheat flour
4 to 5 cups of bread flour, divided
1/4 cup of butter (1/2 a stick), softened
1 egg, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups warm tap water

Start by combining the sugar, salt, yeast, gluten, malted milk powder, whole wheat flour and 3 cups of bread flour in a large mixing bowl. I used my big KitchenAid mixer, since it’s got a big deep bowl and a bread hook. (I prefer to make the mixer do all the work. I’m lazy like that.) Using the mixer paddle, mix the dry ingredients on low speed just until combined. Add the butter, egg and water; beat on low speed until combined. Stop the mixer, scrape the sides of the bowl, and continue beating on medium speed for 5 minutes. It will be sticky.

After 5 minutes, stop the mixer and remove the paddle attachment. Replace it with the dough hook, turn mixer to low speed, and gradually add additional bread flour until the dough forms into a soft ball. Allow the mixer and dough hook to knead the dough at low speed for an additional 8-10 minutes.

Lightly flour your work surface. Scrape the dough out onto the floured surface, and gently knead the dough into a smooth, gorgeous dough ball.

Spray a large mixing bowl with cooking spray (or butter/oil it lightly) and place your dough ball in the center. Lightly spray or oil the surface of your dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean, dry towel and set aside to let it rise until doubled in size (approximately one hour).

Once your dough ball has doubled, remove the plastic wrap and using your fingertips, gently punch down the dough.

Dump it onto a lightly floured work surface and divide the dough into 24 pieces.


Tip: we used a bench scraper to divide it in half, then each half into half, etc. (like those old Faberge shampoo commercials, if you’re old enough to remember them – you’ll tell 2 friends, and they’ll tell 2 friends…).

Once you have 24 equal pieces, form each piece into a round ball.

Using a lightly floured rolling pin, flatten each ball into about a 1/4″ thick circle.

Place the circles onto baking sheets, about 1/2″ to 1″ apart. I used large insulated cookie sheets with non-stick silicone mats. I love those silicone mats. Best thing since slice bread, I think.

Now here’s the fun part: using a biscuit cutter approximately 1 1/2″ to 2″ in diameter and a fat wooden skewer, a chopstick, or a round wooden spoon handle, start to create your piggy faces. Feel free to unleash your inner arteest.

Step One: form the nose by pressing the cutter just below the imaginary center line in a full circle halfway into the dough (don’t cut all the way through!).

Step Two: turning the cutter at a 45 degree angle, cut a half circle creating a piggy smile. Pigs are so much cuter when they’re friendly, don’t you think?

Step Three: holding the cutter at a 45 degree angle, cut in each ear.

Step Four: using a fat skewer, chop stick, or the round handle of a wooden spoon, gently press in two eyes and two holes to form the snout.

If you’re wondering if you could make these 3-D, the answer is YES! Big Sis made one just to see how it would turn out. It takes a little more work to shape the dough, and you have to wet it a little to make it stick, but you can make a 3-D snout and ears for your piggy. Pretty cute, huh? Pays to be an art major… metaphorically speaking, of course.

Allow your precious piggy buns to rise an additional 15-20 minutes while your oven pre-heats to 375 degrees. You want your piggies to be portly… plump… chubby… uh, big-boned… healthy? You get the picture.

Bake one tray at a time for approximately 15-20 minutes or until your piggy buns start to turn a light, beautiful brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Did I mention these smell heavenly when they’re baking?

Once they are completely cooled, you can store them in freezer bags or containers in your refrigerator or freezer. Of course, there’s no hard and fast rule on how long they have to cool before you eat one. I can neither confirm nor deny that one of these bad boys died violently right after coming out of the oven.

But he was delicious.

These little piggy buns are cute and versatile. They make fabulous French toast, and are yummy toasted on a griddle and slathered with butter and honey or jam for breakfast. They’d make cute ham sandwiches this Easter. They make excellent pulled pork sandwich buns, as I’ve said before. And tonight, the Complete Package and I are making Squealer Burgers with them for dinner. Ever had a squealer? It’s easy. You just grind bacon into your hamburger meat, then shape and cook them like any other burger (although I don’t recommend medium rare here). Mmmm….juicy, smoky, moist. And perfect on a piggy bun.

However you choose to consume them, these little piggies are sure to be a hit. Thanks for sharing your recipe, Mom. You’re a baking rock star. Stay tuned, kids…later this week I’ll be sharing The Complete Package’s Steak Sandwiches with soy ginger mayo (to…die…for) and Big Sis’s gorgeous Rainbow Cupcakes. Better break out the yoga pants and Diet Coke right now because you’re going to want to make all of these. Fo’ shizzle.

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