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Category — Recipes

up your box cake mix game

My son, Connor, celebrated his 29th birthday on Sunday. He requested a chocolate cake. Even though I hate to bake, I generally make cakes from scratch. Instead, I decided to use a box mix and share a secret on how you can use a cake mix and make it as rich and fancy as any scratch cake.

To do this, you are going to substitute and increase these basic cake mix add-in ingredients.

  • Use the same amount of milk or half-and-half in place of the water.
  • Substitute the same amount of melted unsalted butter for the vegetable oil.
  • Increase the number of eggs from 3 to 5. Follow the directions on the box for mixing and baking.

Another change I made was to use one 8-inch cake pan, a 6-inch cake pan, and a 4-inch ramekin in place of the usual two 8-inch round cake pans.

Of course the baking times for the smaller pans needed to be adjusted.

Once the cake layers were cool, I sliced off the tops to even them out and then cut each cake layer in half horizontally.

Next, each layer was spread with chocolate pudding purchased at Trader Joe’s, leaving about 1-inch bare.

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May 26, 2020   5 Comments

handmade crackers

I must admit, making crackers at home doesn’t seem like something one needs to do. There are so many delicious cracker varieties to choose from, why bother?

Turns out, crackers are quick and easy to make, so if you don’t feel like hopping in the car if all you need is a few crackers, why not make your own? You most likely have everything needed in your pantry. Flour, sugar, salt, and olive oil along with a little cold water. Add Parmesan and fresh rosemary and you can have fancy handmade crackers.

There are several toppings you may sprinkle on the crackers before baking. I used my Fresh Italian Herb Salt, but use whatever you prefer.

I also used my cool cactus rolling pin because I have no idea when I’ll ever use it to make cookies. It didn’t leave any sort of markings since the dough is not smooth or soft enough to hold a pattern. Oh well, I tried. I guess sugar cookies are going to have to be made after all.

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May 22, 2020   3 Comments

a look outside

When the shelter in place began back in March, one of my first posts was titled “walking away from the stress.” In it, I explained that I was walking more than ever. Soon after that post, as the gyms and fitness centers were required to close, my dear friend and former neighbor, Lisa, was furloughed from her side-hustle as a morning fitness instructor at the YMCA. She is a full-time PR whiz and mom of four the rest of the day.

Lisa and I already walked two to three mornings a week before this all began but since she now had her mornings free, we took to walking seven days a week.

I drive to her house and we either walk inside the neighborhood of Equestrian Manor, or we venture out the back gate and head west to walk the golf course at Orangetree Country Club.

Other mornings we exit out the front gate and go east to see some horses at a barn where Lisa swears she saw a foal while driving by on Cactus Rd. We’ve yet to see the baby from the backside of the barn. But, I believe her when she says it’s there somewhere. 😉

We’ve gone as far as the nearly 5-mile roundtrip from her house to Sprouts Market at Tatum and Cactus. That was when the mornings were still cool, now it is too hot for that kind of extended adventure.

These first several photos are of the things we see and admire as we walk. Including the photo below. That is a gorgeous bobcat on the wall. He was huge!

The rest of the photos are from around my house. It’s amazing what you see when you’re forced to stay home and slow down. Oh, and I’ve saved the best for last, a discovery I made just yesterday!

My five fig trees have leafed out like never before. I’m thrilled to be back in business and able to put them to good use as the base for Harmony Boards.

These next two photos were taken on the same night, as you can see in the timestamp at the top. The first was taken in my backyard, facing east.

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May 20, 2020   9 Comments

Chrissy’s Spicy Carbonara

Along with nearly 30 million others, I follow Chrissy Teigen on Instagram. The other day in her Instagram Stories, I watched as she made a Carbonara with a spicy Asian twist. I was intrigued and decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, once I gathered all my ingredients, I discovered that there wasn’t enough of the chili garlic sauce called for in the recipe. Oh well, I went ahead anyway. Yeah, it made a difference, it needed it to be spicier. I plan to make it again once I can get to the store and get a jar (or two) of chili garlic sauce because I like spicy!

The miso that Chrissy and I used is available at Whole Foods or on Amazon.

I’m giving the recipe almost as Chrissy wrote it, only upping the amount of bacon. No surprise there! Check out Cravings by Chrissy Teigen.

Spicy Miso Carbonara

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons blond or light miso, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 pound dry spaghetti or capellini (angel hair)
  • 2 ounces finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

Bring a large pot of water to a low boil, cover, and keep hot on a low burner. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet, then add the bacon and cook until crisped and the fat is rendered, 9 to 10 minutes. Remove the bacon to cool and then chop. Remove the skillet from the heat and drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of the drippings, and set aside the skillet.

Whisk together the chili garlic sauce, miso, and hot water until smooth, then beat in the eggs, set aside.

Add salt to the water in the pot on the back burner and cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente and drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.

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May 15, 2020   No Comments

tips and tricks

Have you or someone in your house made banana bread during the last many weeks of quarantine/staying home? I bet if not, you know someone who has. Baking, in general, has been one of the main activities people have had in common, but for some reason, banana bread appears to be number one on the list of things to make.

I finally got on the bandwagon yesterday. After returning home from my daily walk, I preheated the oven, began gathering up the ingredients when I realized I didn’t have butter in the refrigerator, only frozen in the freezer. It may be spring in most of the country but here in Arizona, summer is in full swing. We’ve hit the 100’s so it is important to only use the oven in the morning before the temperatures get out of hand.

What to do about the frozen butter??? I didn’t have time to wait for it to come to room temperature as needed for most baking recipes. The answer? Use the large holes of a box grater and grate that rock-solid frozen block.

Be careful as you get near the end, the warmth of your hands will warm up the butter and may cause it to slip. Keep turning it as you grate it to prevent that from happening.

And then when you get down to the last little bit, stop grating and use a knife to cut it up. I don’t want to be responsible for any flaps of skin being taken off anyone’s hands!

You then have the option of spreading out the shavings and leaving them out to quickly come to room temperature or you can put it in the mixer before adding any other ingredients (as I did) and beat it into submission.

My other tip for this basic banana bread is to use my favorite honey-flavored Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. I love sour cream, but for sweet recipes, I always sub out with the Greek Gods Honey Yogurt.

And if you were wondering if I might already have a banana bread recipe on this site … I mean, how could I not? This blog is over 10 years old after all. Here is the link to a very fancy banana bread recipe. Today’s is basic and basically delicious!

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May 13, 2020   3 Comments

2 ingredient recipe

I saw this “recipe” on the stories of one of my favorite accounts to follow on Instagram, Cottonstem. If you’re on Instagram, I highly recommend you follow Erin. She is adorable, down-to-earth, extremely talented and creative.

Recipe writers and developers never include the simple small pantry items in recipes when they say things like “2 ingredient recipe,” so I’m not going to. You will need cornstarch, but I’m not counting that. Ditto with the tap water. And since you can eat this with a fork instead of in sandwich form, I’m not including the bread in the ingredient count either. All’s fair in love and cooking!

Connor’s such a baby in this photo from 2006. He’ll be 29 in 2 weeks. What!!!

Connor came over to make me dinner on Mother’s Day. I pulled a bowl of this chicken mixture out for him to sample while he was chopping and dicing. He loved it and said, “Dang it, this is better than what I’m making for you!” As I type this, while he cooks, I can’t say if he is right or not. All I know is that I will love what he makes for me no matter what it is! Just having him here is all I need. Marissa and I connected on Facetime. All a mama wants is to see or be with her babes on Mother’s Day. The best gift is their love and presence.

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May 11, 2020   9 Comments

one skillet meal

Is there anything better than only using one pot or pan to make an entire meal? I think not. I made this for our Cinco de Mayo buffet.

I’m using a couple of my favorite seasoning blends from Trader Joe’s. Don’t worry if you don’t have them, there are suggested substitutions you can use instead.

One Skillet Mexican Beef, Bean, and Rice Casserole

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
  • 1 small jalapeño, cored, seeded and minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon Trader Joe’s Chile Lime Seasoning Blend (or chili powder)
  • 1 teaspoon Trader Joe’s Everything but the Elote Seasoning Blend (or ground cumin)
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 can refried black beans
  • 1 can pinto beans, with liquid
  • 1 can Ro*Tel diced tomatoes with green chilies, with juices
  • 1 cup frozen (thawed) corn kernels
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Garnish suggestions: thinly sliced green onions, diced red onion, shredded lettuce, sliced mini peppers, sour cream, salsa, etc.

Heat a large skillet and add the oil, when oil is hot add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeño and garlic and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent.

Add the ground beef and cook until the beef is browned, stir in the taco seasoning and the two Trader Joe’s seasoning blends.

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May 7, 2020   No Comments


I have so many margarita recipes on this blog. Margarita cocktails and margarita desserts, but I’ve yet to post the basic classic margarita recipe. You’ll find the full list of all the previous recipes at the bottom of the post. Be prepared, there are many!

I made the classic last night for Cinco de Mayo, sometimes you forget how great simple can be.

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May 6, 2020   No Comments

a salt update

On April 28th, I posted a recipe for Fresh Italian Herb Salt. In the comment section, Linda G. posed this question, “Why is there a 3-week storage time limit? Does the moisture cause it to break down?” Her inquiring lead me to test drying out the salt to find if that would make it pantry safe and extend its shelf life.

The answer is yes, you can spread the salt out on a baking sheet, leave it out in the dry summer sun for a day (longer or inside if it is humid in your area) and it will dry and be able to be kept in the pantry and not have an expiration date. In the photo below, the jar on the left is the fresh salt that needs to be refrigerated and the jar on the right is the pantry-safe dry salt.

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May 4, 2020   1 Comment

Friday cocktail

Seriously, why am I not posting a cocktail recipe every Friday?!? While we’re all staying home, classic cocktails with new names, like the Quarentini are popping up all over the place.

This cocktail is my spin on the classic Zombie, tweaked and swirled to become a Zoombie. If you’re not on the phone with friends and family in FaceTime, you’re on your computer with friends and family in Zoom. Zoom Happy Hours have been the thing to do for weeks now. So please feel free to forward this recipe to your friends so that y’all can mix up a batch in your own kitchens and enjoy it together.

I enjoyed the Zoombie earlier this week with two dear friends who came by for a much-needed Social Distancing Happy Hour. By the way, the appetizer you see in the photos above is Zucchini Crostini. It is always a hit!

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May 1, 2020   3 Comments