Cilantro Citrus Chicken and Rice

Last weekend I went through my cookbook and made a list of recipes to make this month, with an accompanying list of ingredients that became my shopping list. When I make lunch each day, I remind myself to get meat out of the freezer to thaw for dinner at the same time. After picking which meat I’m in the mood for, choosing from a handful of recipes makes dinner less overwhelming. Planning makes dinner prep much easier, and leads to much more cohesive meals, like this one: Cilantro Citrus Chicken with Cilantro Citrus Rice and Spicy Chili Cooked Carrots.

Cilantro Citrus Chicken with Cilantro Citrus Rice and Spicy Chili Carrots

Today I chose chicken, and my fiance chose Cilantro Citrus Chicken from the list of chicken recipes. I originally clipped this recipe from Cooking Light, and it called for 12 8-oz bone-in chicken breasts. I cut the rest of the recipe in half for nearly 1 pound of boneless skinless chicken breasts, and it ended up being nearly perfect. I’d say these amounts I used are spot-on for about a pound of chicken.

Cilantro Citrus Chicken Recipe

  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp fresh chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 Tbsp orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 lb chicken
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

The original recipe calls for the first 7 ingredients to be mixed in a food processor before adding with the chicken to marinade for an hour. I just add the ingredients straight into a marinading dish with the chicken, adding a few tablespoons of pineapple juice I had on hand and subbing fresh parsley for dried because that’s what I had. I’d say that blending in a processor is optional.

At this point, I notice a similar recipe on the opposite page in my cookbook, a recipe for Swanson Citrus Chicken & Rice. I decided to incorporate this rice recipe, featuring similar flavors, to serve with my Cilantro Citrus Chicken.

So, after about 45 minutes of marinating the chicken, I began preparing the liquid for the rice. (Keep reading for the rest of the chicken recipe!)

Swanson Citrus Rice

  • 1 can (14 1/2 oz)(1 3/4 cups) Swanson chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 3 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley

For once in my life, I didn’t have any chicken broth on hand (sorry, Swanson). So after adding 1/2 cup orange juice, I filled a 1-cup measure with the rest of the OJ (a few tablespoons), plus the rest of the pineapple juice (a few tablespoons), a few drops of lime juice, and about half a cup of white wine to fill the remainder of the cup. To this I added 3/4 cup of water (so this creative concoction equaled the 1 3/4 cups broth originally called for).

Bring this to a boil, then add one cup of white rice. Reduce heat to simmering, cover, and stir often while cooking for about 18-20 minutes. I add about 3 Tbsp of fresh cilantro instead of parsley to the cooked rice, mimicking the flavors of the chicken to make Cilantro Citrus Rice.

At the same time I start the rice, I heat olive oil in two separate skillets – one for the chicken and one for my mom’s Spicy Chili Cooked Carrots. This one is simple: a few small handfuls of organic baby carrots, enough to cover the bottom of the skillet (makes just enough for 2 servings). Cover and cook a few minutes on med-high until they start sizzling. Add a pad of butter then sprinkle generously with chili powder, cayenne pepper, garlic and black pepper. Cover and cook till soft.

Meanwhile, add the salt, cumin and pepper to the chicken. The original recipe called for grilling, but it is January in Cleveland after all, so I pan-fry instead. Add the chicken and some juice to the heated, oiled pan, and cook till browned outside and no longer pink inside. The juices from the marinade brown into a nice sauce, so this alternative to grilling works well.

We both really liked this meal of Cilantro Citrus Chicken with Cilantro Citrus Rice and Spicy Chili Carrots. We’ll definitely make it again! 

Homemade Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

20160101_101027_Brooke-baking-biscuitsOne of my New Year’s Resolutions is to try a new recipe at least once a week, and what better time to start than New Year’s Day?

My newly engaged fiance and I stopped at the grocery store yesterday, on New Year’s Eve, which actually wasn’t as bad as you’d imagine. We needed horseradish and ketchup to make cocktail sauce for shrimp, as well as milk and bacon for breakfast. In the breakfast meat section of the store, he spotted some ground sausage, and offered to make sausage gravy for brunch on New Year’s Day. With the addition of orange juice and champagne for mimosas, and Lucky Charms (‘just this once’) for good luck, we had the ingredients for a proper New Year’s Brunch.

Our first engaged New Year’s Eve was memorable without being rowdy. After a few shopping errands together, we grabbed burgers before heading to 16 Bit Bar+Arcade for some video games, where we drove virtual race cars, shot virtual moose and bear, rescued the princess from Donkey Kong, and smashed some mushrooms as Mario.

With one hour left in the night – and the year – we hailed an Uber and headed to a party bar on the west end of town. Multiple bars indoors and out, live bands and DJs, plus no cover charge meant the place was packed with lots of young, drunk, insufficiently-clad hoards. We made one full loop through the grounds (which consisted of elbowing our way through the aforementioned drunk, loud crowd) and quickly decided this was not our scene. We Ubered back home and rang in the New Year together on the couch sipping champagne…Much better.

For brunch the next morning, he kept his promise to make sausage gravy. Then I realized I didn’t have any quick biscuits in a tube, and to be honest, I kind of suspected that when we were at the grocery store yesterday, but I have always wanted to make my own. What better time than today, I thought, to make biscuits from scratch, and to start working toward one of my resolutions. I knew I could trust Paula Deen for my first time, so I found her basic biscuit recipe here. We ate a small bowl of Lucky Charms to christen 2016 with good luck, and to hold our stomachs over while I started baked biscuits for our New Year’s Brunch of Biscuits and Gravy.

Homemade Biscuit Recipehomemade biscuits from scratch

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cubed
  • 3/4 cup milk

Combine dry ingredients. (Some would recommend sifting here, but I don’t have time or tools for such things when brunch is waiting.) Cut in cubed butter until the mixture resembles cornmeal (which takes a few minutes, a little elbow grease, and a handheld pastry blender). Make a well in the middle of the mixture and slowly add milk, stirring often and kneading lightly at the end to combine dough into one ball.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface. Her recipe doesn’t say how thick to roll the dough, so I had to experiment to learn that you want to roll it at least an inch thick, and even thicker, almost like the biscuits that come in a can. I used the top rim of a glass to cut out biscuits, or you can use a round cookie cutter or, ideally, a biscuit cutter.
She bakes them in a skillet; I used my trusty baking stone from Pampered Chef. Her recipe didn’t include baking time or temperature for a conventional oven. I heated my oven to about 375, and it ended up closer to 400 because it tends to run hot. Bake for 12-14 minutes. These biscuits don’t really brown; they are lighter than the golden brown color that come from the can, so watch them closely. When the bottoms are brown and you can’t leave ‘thumbprints’ when you press on the tops, remove from the heat.

20160101_111616_Sausage-Gravy-Biscuits-and-MimosasHomemade Maple Sausage Gravy 

While I made these, my fiance made maple sausage gravy. He browned a pound of maple sausage in the skillet on med-high, adding seasoning salt and fresh ground black pepper. Then he sprinkled approximately 1/2 cup of flour over the meat, which absorbs to make a crumbly meat mixture. He slowly added approximately 1-1 1/2 cups milk, stirring, adding up to 1/3 cup more flour as needed to desired consistency. I emphasize “approximately” because he doesn’t really measure anything, he just adds until it’s right (which is one of the reasons I love him – a man who can cook!) You do want to make it thinner because it will thicken as it continues to cook (which was about another 12-15 minutes, as I baked a second, thicker batch of biscuits). He added some red pepper flakes to spice it up a little more. The maple sausage does make it taste sweeter and richer, which makes it delicious!

Maple Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

To put it all together, he cracked the biscuits in half and spooned the sausage gravy over them. Enjoy with mimosas, as we did for our New Year’s Brunch.

The gravy freezes really well, so we put all the leftovers (which was a quart-size container full) directly into the freezer for the future. This is good for us because we only allow ourselves to this indulgent breakfast splurge a few times a year. I’ll admit that, while this recipe helped my resolution of trying new recipes, it may have violated another resolution of mine: to fit into a single-digit wedding dress, and look damn good in it….but at least this tasted damn good as an indulgent way to celebrate a New Year and a new life together with my man!

P.S. Mimosas

We found this dry sparkling wine, the Blanc de Blancs from Anna de Codorniu, a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 15% Parellada and 15% Xarel-Lo, Macabeu. I don’t know what most of those words mean but we were enchanted by the classy white label covering the bottle, and the contents didn’t disappoint. This cava was delicious alone, and even better paired with OJ for mimosas. Highly recommend!

Cheers to making 2016 the best year ever! 

Blackberry Cabernet Cupcakes

My friends are hosting a Valenwine’s Party tonight to celebrate Valentine’s Day with wine tasting. Most people think of cheese and crackers and other charcuteries, but I go straight to the cupcakes. When I found this recipe for Blackberry Cabernet Cupcakes, I knew what I’d be taking to the party.

The first bottle of wine I picked up for this recipe was Cupcake Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. How appropriate, I thought. But then I saw this bottle of Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet that made me swap.

Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet Red Wine 2012 CaliforniaAccording to the description on the label, “This wine shows a heady nose of chocolate, deep rich blackberries, red fruits, and a creamy mocha finish that is unmistakable in its intensity and length. It’s reminiscent of a blackberry chocolate cupcake with a mocha coulis.” Sounds perfect for making blackberry chocolate cupcakes, right?

Of course, we had to taste the wine first as a safety precaution. The cocoa and mocha flavors were unmistakable, with dark hints of berry. I had to pour a cup aside to save for the recipe to make sure we didn’t drink it all!

ingredients to make chocolate cabernet cupcakes from scratch

Chocolate Cabernet Cupcakes:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cabernet sauvignon
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Cream butter and sugar till smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Combine flour and baking powder separately, and add to batter. Pour in red wine and mix well, being careful not to overmix. Add cocoa powder. Scoop batter into cupcake tins lined with papers, and bake 15-20 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. When cupcakes are cool, brush tops with additional cabernet sauvignon (uses about 2 tablespoons.)

blackberry cabernet sauce for frosting

Blackberry Cabernet Frosting:

1 cup blackberries
½ cup cabernet sauvignon
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Bring blackberries and cabernet to a simmer in a small saucepan. Reduce until wine thickens to syrup and berries mash easily. Strain out seeds. Remaining liquid should total about ¼ cup.

Beat butter with mixer till creamy. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk (may need slightly more or less of each) to reach thick consistency. Add blackberry cabernet sauce and mix well. I added more powdered sugar at this point, but the frosting was still runny. It’s easier to spread with a knife than to try to pipe on.

Press a blackberry into the center of each frosted cupcake and serve. Happy Valenwine’s Day!

chocolate blackberry cabernet cupcakes for Valentine's Day

chocolate blackberry cabernet cupcakes for Valentine's Day


Oh, and this is what my recipe notebook looked like after baking (so you can imagine what the rest of my kitchen looked like):

messy recipe notebook after baking blackberry cabernet cupcakes

S’more Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Filling for DIY Craft Party

Some friends of mine started a hot cocoa blog, Hot Cocoalicious, where they rate the best hot chocolates around Cleveland. To accompany their quest for great hot cocoa, they hosted a little Creating + Cocoa party last weekend, bringing together people to share chocolately drinks and sweets while getting crafty with paper, paints, pencils, tape, and glue.

Creating + Cocoa DIY painting event hot chocolate cupcakes art craft workspace

Before we start crafting, we each ladle homemade hot cocoa from the host’s crockpot into fancy mugs. The spread of toppings spans homemade whipped cream, strawberry and vanilla flavored heart-shaped marshmallows, Junior Mints, caramel Junior Mints, butterscotch chips, lavender and a kaleidoscope of sprinkles.

Looking for a hot cocoa inspired cupcake recipe, I found these S’more Cupcakes that I tweaked to fit the party theme. I doubled Rachel’s original recipe to make 18, and added some hot cocoa mix to the chocolate buttercream frosting to top off these cinnamon graham cracker cupcakes stuffed with gooey homemade marshmallow filling.

hot cocoa with hot chocolate smore cupcakes


The Cupcakes: S’more Cupcakes with Marshmallow Filling and Hot Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup graham cracker crumbs (about 4 graham crackers)
¾ cup milk

Marshmallow Filling:

2 egg whites
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract


1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 ½ cups powdered sugar
½ cup cocoa powder (I had just less than ½ cup left, so I filled up the measuring cup the rest of the way with 2 packages of hot cocoa mix. I used a slotted spoon to “strain” out the mini marshmallows, which I saved for the topping.)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line cupcake tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, mixing well. Slowly add in milk, mixing just until batter is smooth. Scoop batter into prepared cupcake liners with a cookie scoop, filling ¾ full. Bake for 18 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack.

Situate a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water so the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Whisk together egg white, sugar and cream of tartar until sugar dissolves. Continue whisking in your makeshift double boiler until the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove from heat and take a mixer to it, beating several minutes until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla in the last 30 seconds.

Hollow out the centers of the cooled cupcakes using a knife, or – much easier – using a nifty cupcake corer like this one my mom gave me. Note: cupcake balls can be used to appease hungry boyfriend so he doesn’t eat the real cupcakes before the party!

cupcake corer for filling cupcakes

hollow graham cracker cupcakes for filling with marshmallow cream

Transfer marshmallow cream to a large plastic Ziplock bag with the corner snipped off, and pipe into the hollow cupcakes.

cinnamon graham cracker cupcakes with homemade marshmallow cream filling

In a large bowl, cream the butter for frosting. Mix in powdered sugar and cocoa powder (which may have some hot cocoa mix added). Mix in vanilla and milk. I like to add milk and powdered sugar alternately to find the perfect consistency. I ended up using less than the 5 cups of powdered sugar the original doubled recipe called for, and I still had frosting left over.

Transfer frosting to another Ziplock bag with a snipped corner, and pipe onto cupcakes. The piped chocolate frosting started looking a little poopy to me, and I had plenty of marshmallow cream left over, so I piped an extra dollop on top of the buttercream. On top of that, I sprinkled the mini marshmallows I’d saved from the hot cocoa packets. You can also buy these mini marshmallow garnishes in bulk at some grocery stores. They’re the perfect finishing touch for these yummy s’more hot chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow filling.

cinnamon graham cracker cupcakes with homemade marshmallow cream filling and hot chocolate buttercream frosting

The Craft:

In between sips of sweet hot cocoa and nibbles of marshmallow-filled cupcakes, we each painted very different projects. Our hosts picked three crafts to inspire us for the day: tape painting geometric shapes, glue painting organic shapes, or modge podging any shapes onto painted wood blocks.

tape painting DIY craftglue painting DIY craftmodge podge diy painting craft

Intrigued by the stained glass appearance of the first project, I decided to create some geometric shapes with straight tape lines. I started with a 12×12 canvas board, and started cutting masking tape in half to make thinner lines. I experimented cutting various widths, but it became a tedious task. I’d recommend buying various widths of tape – but only if it’s cheap enough you don’t mind painting over it and then pitching it. Another crafter used decorative Washi tape that she left on the painting, so you could experiment with that, too.

In the spaces created by my tape lines, I painted blocks of acrylic paint in red, dark blue, light blue, green, and a purple I made by mixing red and dark blue. In the lower right corner, I toyed with the idea of incorporating a “b” stencil. Then, at the last minute, instead of painting in the “b,” I decided to use the negative space around the “b” instead to block out the shapes more subtley. This is what it looked like before I removed the tape – and before I decided how to handle the corner.

painting tape DIY craft idea project

After letting the paint dry, I carefully peeled off the tape to reveal white lines between my color blocks. The edges weren’t totally precise and there was some bleeding, but the lines are pretty consistent. (I didn’t leave the tape on my “b” corner as long, and I noticed the paint bled more noticeably here.) If you had more time, it would be fun to paint a base color, tape over that, paint darker colors around it, and then peel the tape to reveal colored lines.

This would be a great project for varied age groups. I could see a child making very simple lines and shapes, while a more experienced artist could get intricate with various line widths, curves and detail. You can always go back over it and add in finer details, too. Here’s what my finished project looked like:

stained glass geometric shape tape painting canvas acrylic

While I was waiting for my paint to dry, I quickly experimented with the second craft. I slapped some orange acrylic paint on a scrap of watercolor paper, then leafed through the host’s stash of paper collage pieces. I grabbed a cut-out rose cardstock, and two scraps of peachy-pink paper. I layered these on top of my orange background with a gluestick, and then traced the lines of the rose petals with clear-drying tacky glue.

orange rose collage glue DIY craft project idea

The project seems unfinished to me, so I might experiment with watercolor on top of it, although I’m not sure how receptive the cardstock will be to watercolors.  I also realized after it dried that I should have sprinkled some gold glitter onto the glue to really distinguish the lines.

But I’m just happy I didn’t drip marshmallow filling or hot cocoa spatters onto my artwork!

Skillet-Grilled Burgers and Oven-Baked Fries

There are fewer flavors better than a warm, juicy burger on soft bread with fresh tomatoes, onions and lettuce from the garden. Of course, when it’s 2 degrees in Cleveland with heavy January snow falling outside, there’s no grilling going on. I can’t wait for warmer weather to enjoy a nice, thick burger, so tonight we warm up inside with skillet-grilled burgers, oven-baked fries and wine while the snow flies outside.

Farm-raised hamburgers with baby swiss cheese, romaine lettuce and jalapenos with a side of french fries

Before I start the burgers, I preheat the oven and slide in a pan of French fries. These will be served with malt vinegar and ketchup. Because what’s a burger without a side of fries? So much for New Year’s resolution-inspired salads…I’ve only had one salad so far this year. But then again, this is only my first burger of the year, too, and we’re only a week in.

My hometown butcher packages ground beef in 1-lb. rolls, so I cut a thawed pound in half, set aside half of it for tomorrow, and cut the remainder in half again to make quarter-pound burger patties. I make an indentation in each mound of raw, red meat and pour in a couple teaspoons of locally made Honey Habanero Barbecue Sauce from Maize Valley Winery, which I encountered when I got to write the copy for their new website. The sauce gives the burgers extra moisture and flavor, and even though this one has a bit of a kick to it, it doesn’t make the burgers too spicy.

I also sprinkled several generous shakes of black pepper, sea salt and garlic powder onto each mound of beef. Then (this is the fun part), you mush each patty together in your hands till it’s consistently mixed, then pat it into a ball and flatten to desired size and thickness. Remember to wash your hands after touching raw meat!

Don’t forget to check the fries. Shake them, scoot them around, and turn them over so they cook evenly.

I preheated a ceramic skillet over the stovetop on medium heat. I let the patties sizzle in the skillet for a few minutes, till I could see the bottoms browning and they were firm enough to easily flip over. As soon as I flipped them, my man started preparing slices of onion, lettuce, jalapeno and baby Swiss cheese to top our burgers. When the burgers started to brown on the other side, leaving a thin sliver of red meat in the center, I melted a slice of cheese on each one for a minute before scooping them up out of the heat and into buns.

Farm-raised hamburgers with Maize Valley Honey Habanero Sauce, jalapenos, onion, lettuce and baby Swiss cheese, with a side of French fries.

Farm-raised hamburgers with Maize Valley Honey Habanero Sauce, jalapenos, onion, lettuce and baby Swiss cheese, with a side of French fries.

Between the jalapenos, the Honey Habanero Barbecue Sauce and the crunch of onion, there’s just enough zing in these burgers to warm us up on a cold, snowy night. We washed them down with a glass of Rihannon, a delicious red blend of Petite Sirah, Barbera and Zinfandel that was recently dethroned as our favorite red wine. Rihannon has a vivid bouquet of strawberries and blackberries, with a pronounced nose of jammy fruits. The flavors are dry but smooth and fruity, like a fermented jam that coats your mouth in cherry and berry juice before slowly dissipating into a bright, balanced acidity. It brings a nice sweetness to the heat of the burgers.

A few nights ago – with that salad, I might note – we discovered a new wine that rivals Rihannon for our vote as best red: Los Dos. A Grenache Syrah blend, Los Dos comes on with a comparably jammy bouquet of blackberries and blueberries. It’s fruit-forward from the first sip, smooth and silky on the palate with a well-structured balance of juicy berries and spicy pepper. Here’s a much more sophisticated review of the 2012 Los Dos than I could ever write, from the chairman of The Wine Institute of Las Vegas. For only $8 (compared to $12 for the Rihannon), this is a great value wine that is way too easy to drink!

Burgers, fries and wine (and perhaps a salad if you’re abiding by New Year’s resolutions) can taste just as great in the frigid winter as they do on a warm summer evening.

Soft Marble Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze

It’s not that I need to have cake on my birthday. I’d already had ice cream, and that was key. Making this cake was more about trying out my new birthday presents.

You see, amidst a flurry of Christmas cookie baking, my trusty mixer that had blasted its way through who-knows-how-many pounds of flour, sugar, butter and eggs to make who-knows-how-many hundreds of cookies, cupcakes and cakes – finally died. I heard it dying slowly through several recipes, as the motor whirred loudly in a rumble that sounded like it belonged inside of my car, not my kitchen. At the most opportune time – just when the ingredients combined to form my final batch of frosting for the last batch of sugar cookies before Christmas Eve – the mixer started moaning at a dreadful new low as the beaters finally stopped beating. My mixer had mixed its last.

old messy hand mixer beaters baking

Farewell, fair mixer.

Somehow, I managed to save the birthday presents my family sent back with me at Christmas until the big day: Sunday, January 4, The Big 3-0. I needed something to look forward to when turning 30, after all, so I unwrapped gifts that morning. There were cute polka dot storage bins from one sister, filled with caramel sea salt hot cocoa, warm vanilla sugar and white lily hand soaps. A monogramed black-and-white chevron Thirty One bag from the other sister. And from my mother – who has heard me gripe about the strange noises coming from my mixer and the excessive, uneven heat coming from my crappy old stove: an oven thermometer and a fancy new beater.

birthday presents

showing off my birthday spoils

I had to try it out, right? So I heated up my oven with the thermometer hanging inside, and learned that I only have to set my oven to 225 to reach 350 actual degrees. Having an accurate temperature reading makes it so much easier to bake consistently!

I chose this recipe for Chocolate Cake with Jack Daniels Fudge Icing that I pinned from Pizzazzerie. As delicious as this recipe looks, I made a few changes. I’ve always preferred white cake to chocolate, and I didn’t have a chocolate cake mix anyway, so I used marble cake mix and omitted the chocolate chips. I didn’t have any Jack Daniels either, but I did have a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 (which I’ve had since a birthday quite a few years ago) so I used it instead, and reduced the amount because I didn’t want to overpower my cake with chocolate-flavored Turkey sauce.

Here’s the recipe I came up with (thanks to my new hand mixer).

Soft Marble Birthday Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze

Soft Marble Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze

For the cake:

  • 1 box Duncan Hines Fudge Marble Cake Mix (or use chocolate, or yellow cake, or whatever you like)
  • 1 box (3.4-oz) instant pudding (I used cheesecake flavor)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 4 eggs

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, until batter is fluffy. Using new beaters with a slower lowest setting makes it easy to mix these quickly without splattering a cloud of wet dust over your countertop!

If you’re using a marble cake mix, scoop out 1 cup of batter and mix it with the provided cocoa pack to make your swirl. Pour the large bowl of white batter into your greased pan (I used a silicone Bundt pan). Then, dollop the chocolate batter over it and drag a knife through to marbleize. Bake at 350 for about 38-45 minutes in this type of pan – follow the times suggested on the box for others.

For the glaze:

  • ¼ cup bourbon whiskey (the original recipe called for Jack Daniels whiskey; I used about 2/3 this amount of Wild Turkey 101. Just experiment with what you have – you can’t really go wrong with whiskey and chocolate.)
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup evaporated milk
  • ½ cup milk chocolate chips

I waited until the cake had baked and started to cool before I started to make the glaze, because you have to pour it on immediately before it sets – and I wanted to let my cake cool so I could pop it out of the pan before glazing.

When you’re ready (maybe after a few shots of whiskey for yourself), combine the butter, sugar and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring regularly, until it comes to a rolling boil. Stir constantly at this stage for one minute, then remove from heat. Pour over cooled cake immediately.

Soft Marble Birthday Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze

This is a great glaze for Bundt cakes – whether they’re chocolate or not – because it drips down the sides beautifully. So there you have it, a slightly improvised late-night birthday cake concoction I call Soft Marble Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze.

The cake gets an A, as do the oven thermometer and mixer. (Thanks, mom.) Here’s to new baking experiences in 2015!


old hand mixers replaced with new Hamilton Beach hand mixer

Messy old mixer, meet your shiny new replacement.


Kale Carrot Banana Berry Blast

Started the morning off right with a NutriBlast from my NutriBullet. We’ll call this one the Kale Carrot Banana Berry Blast with Red Macca.

From the bottom up, I filled my large NutriBullet cup with:

  • 1 leaf organic kale
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 carrot
  • about a handful of raspberries
  • about a handful of frozen blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon red macca powder

frozen banana blueberry raspberry kale smoothie NutriBlast NutriBullet

As with every NutriBlast, these fruits and veggies get covered up with water and then pulverized into a nutritious smoothie that looks like this:

NutriBullet NutriBlast recipe with banana, carrot, kale, berries


The more frozen fruit you can add to a blast, the better. I’m used to semi-warm, room temperature blasts made with filtered (but not chilled) tap water. Cold water helps, but when I started using frozen bananas a while ago, and it went from room temp to tasty. This week I’ve been adding frozen blueberries too, and the frozen fruit makes a huge difference.

It was a delicious, nutrient-packed start to the day, especially when paired with scrambled eggs and bacon:

breakfast eggs and bacon


Homemade Kale Chips

There’s really no excuse for not making kale chips at home – believe me, I know, I dodged the process for far too long. Now that I’ve tried making them a few times, I know that kale chips are so easy, it’s stupid.

organic kale chips recipe

  1. Tear kale leaves into pieces – maybe double or triple what you could consider bite-size for a salad, because they’ll shrink.
  2. Toss these into a pan with a drizzle of olive oil, then lightly rub the oil into the leaves between your fingers.
  3. Sprinkle with sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and any other spices you like. I also used garlic powder and Pampered Chef’s Red Thai Curry Rub for a little spice.
  4. Put in 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes, but keep an eye on them and turn them over at least once or twice.
  5. Slide from the pan to the plate (these don’t take long to cool, and enjoy!

Actually, the list of kale’s health benefits is way longer than this simple recipe. For starters, it’s fat-free, low in calories (about 36 per cup), high in fiber, iron, calcium, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins K, A and C. It aids in digestion and detoxification to keep your body running.

So what was your excuse for not having 10 minutes to make a deliciously crunchy snack of homemade kale chips?


Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cupcakes in Cleveland Browns colors

Wanna taste 2 of the 100 Best Cupcake Recipes? At least, according to this cupcake cookbook called “100 Best Cupcake Recipes,” these two easy cupcake recipes are “sensational,” paired in chocolate and peanut butter. But are they good enough for a Cleveland Browns victory?

The challenge: 
Bake some cute football-themed cupcakes for a Cleveland Browns pre-season tailgate party. Look for inspiration in chocolate-frosted footballs, makeshift goalposts, and tedious turf icing topped with mini almond footballs, and decide that Pinterest bakers must have much more time on their hands than I do.

Back to basics: 
Brown and orange. Simplicity will let the flavor speak for itself, right? So I abandon Pinterest and turn to my cookbook shelf for guidance. Dreaming of Reese’s, I land on these two in the cupcake cookbook: Celebration Chocolate Cupcakes and Peanut Butter Cupcakes. (See recipes below)

Game time:
Teams quickly took sides with the cupcake choices in the field. The Celebration Chocolate Cupcakes were easily the crowd favorite at the tailgate…but when I shared some with friends a couple nights later, everyone there preferred Peanut Butter.

Final score:
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cupcakes are both winners.
Go Browns.

Celebration Chocolate Cupcakes
(Originally for mini cupcakes, but I doubled it 
to make this recipe for a dozen jumbo cupcakes)
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cupcake tins with paper or foil liners.
2. Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl, then add wet ingredients and beat with whisk or mixer on medium speed until well blended. Fill cupcake tins 3/4 full with batter.
3. Bake 12 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely and frost with…chocolate frosting from a can, if you’re lazy like me.

Chocolate Celebration Cupcakes
from “100 Best Cupcake Recipes”
Publications International Ltd.
Peanut Butter Cupcakes
(Originally frosted with chocolate peanut butter frosting, but I needed orange 
frosting for Browns colors, so I used  vanilla icing with red and yellow dye.)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cupcake tins with paper or foil liners.
2. Mix first three ingredients in medium bowl. Then, beat butter and peanut butter in another large bowl with mixer at medium speed until smooth. Beat in sugars until mixed, and then beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Fill cupcake tins 3/4 full with batter – these do not round off like the chocolate ones do so you can fill them a little fuller.
3. Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely and frost.

Summer Squash, Scallops and Rice Pilaf with Balsamic Glaze

Nothing beats homegrown veggies straight out of the garden. Every time I’ve gone home to Indiana this summer, my mom – who inherited an impressive green thumb from her farming father, sends me back to Cleveland with a bounty of fresh produce, grown in the same rich soil my grandpa farmed for 60 years. This time, it was zucchini, yellow summer squash, cucumbers and tomatoes.
Zucchinis are classic – especially in grandma’s famous recipe for rice and zucchini, a common staple at our table growing up.  But some of my fondest zucchini memories have nothing at all to do with eating. See, when zucchinis would overgrow in the garden – sometimes more than a foot long and the circumference of a softball – they’d become too tough to eat. So we got crafty with our food and made Pickle Pigs – imagining the stem as the pig’s nose, and carving white lines into the zucchini’s dark green skin to make a face around it. We’d add little triangular slices of zucchini to resemble ears, and carve stripes, scales and other designs to decorate the body. The most fun was sticking in toothpicks as frail little pig legs, spikes of hair, or even a body full of spines – turning our Pickle Pigs into Pickle Porcupines.
Yes, I play with my food – which led to some experimentation with the yellow summer squash I brought home. Not to be confused with the golden zucchini (it’s OK, I’m a farm girl and I just learned the difference between yellow summer squash and yellow zucchini while writing this post), yellow summer squash joined rice pilaf and scallops in this experimental dish, adding some twists to my grandma’s old zuc & rice recipe. I’m sure grandma and grandma never ate squash this way:
Summer Squash, Scallops & Rice Pilaf with Balsamic Glaze
This is all the creation of my boyfriend/personal chef, who agreed to cook dinner if I washed the dishes. With the rice pilaf (box mix) cooking on the stove, he sliced and sauteed the yellow squash in olive oil over medium heat, seasoning with salt and pepper as they cooked. When they were cooked soft all the way through, he removed them from the stove top and covered them to stay warm while he moved onto the main attraction: the scallops.
He tossed thawed scallops in the skillet with a couple tablespoons of butter and began to sear them, then poured in enough milk to cover the bottom of the pan. He grated some Parmesan cheese into the skillet – making a mock Alfredo as the liquid began to bubble and cook any fishyness out of the scallops. When they were tender, he drained them, and began plating the plump scallops with the soft squash slices and the fluffy rice pilaf.
Over this, he drizzled a balsamic reduction, which I think gives a very artistic pizzazz to the final plate, and dresses up these summer squash to look like modern art. Bon appetit – I think Grandma would have been proud (as long as I didn’t tell her the rice came from a box).