Saturday, December 28, 2013

Turning off the Stove for Awhile

          I love cooking and tinkering with recipes. And I've loved sharing some of the recipes I've created, which have won cooking contests. But I'm also a writer, and I have several plays, books, and musicals tugging at my sleeve.  So I’ve had to make a hard choice.  I’m taking a break from the "Cooking with Joni" and the "Writing Class with Joni" portions of this blog.
          The humorous essays I post twice a week will continue on Joniopolis, and previous posts about writing and cooking will still be here for you, available anytime. This will—I hope—leave me more time to work on the new projects.
          You’ll still find me on my YouTube Channel, where I’m the YouTube Mom.  New videos are posted here daily.  Many are about cooking, clever household tips, relationships, and life skills. You can even leave a request in the comment box, and I might make a video just for you.  These same videos are also on Pinterest and elsewhere.
          And links to my books are all listed on the home page here, as well as at Amazon and  Createspace.  Get the whole collection!  I hope to add more to that list, now.  I hope you’ll continue to join me on my humor blog—see you there.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Easy Chocolate Coconut Truffles

Check it out:
These scrumptious truffles are so easy to make it's ridiculous.  And they can have a zillion variations.  Here's what you need:
Very little patience (perfect, right?)
1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
3 Cups (18 oz.) chocolate chips  (here's a variation already-- I used dark but you can you milk chocolate or white)
1 teaspoon extract (I used coconut.  Imagine if you used raspberry, peppermint, lemon, vanilla, etc.)
1 Cup of something to roll them in (Again, I used toasted organic coconut.  But you can use cocoa, powdered sugar, crushed nuts, sprinkles, etc.)

You don't even need a double boiler!  Just stir the condensed milk with the chocolate in a sauce pan over medium heat until smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in extract.  Cool.  Now chill until firm.  Overnight is fine.  Here's a picture of an ice cream scoop, which I had to use, since mine were a little too cold and firm.  If this happens to you, just let the mixture sit out at room temperature until it's easier to scoop. 

Now, with clean hands, roll it into one-inch balls, then into your coating.  As Your YouTube Mom, I made a video about how to toast coconut, here.  It's the same procedure for toasting nuts.  You want to toast coconut until it's just golden, not dark brown.  Mine looked like this:

Toasting coconut or nuts brings out the flavor.  But you could even skip the toasting if you want.  And you can also sprinkle them with sea salt, but I wouldn't coat them all over with it-- just a pinch is plenty. Now package them up to give as gifts, or store them in a covered container at room temperature, and let the family fight over them.  Because it will happen.  Oh, it will happen.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Almond Brittle with a Twist

I hate candy thermometers.  There.  I've said it.  I like candy I can make without trying to clamp a thermometer onto the side of the pot, at which point it either falls in, touches the bottom and gives me a false reading, or ends up stickier than all get-out and nearly impossible to clean (usually all three).
So you can imagine my glee when I discover a candy I can make just by EYEBALLING it!  That's my kind of cooking, Honey.
I also like to give recipes a twist.  In this case, there are actually THREE twists.  The first is that it's so easy my mentally challenged chihuahua could make it (no thermometer!).  The second is that I've added a spicy kick (optional), and the third is that I've drizzled it with chocolate, something that should be a law, don't you think?

And this time I've added 7 photos, something I have never done!  Granted, they will not be appearing soon in National Geographic, but pretend I took them with my cell phone.  Okay, you don't have to pretend; I did take them with my cell phone.
This candy makes a wonderful Christmas gift, too (as do my 22 books-- you can see them here).  Cut the recipe in half, if you want a smaller amount.
So here we go:
2 sticks butter
2 Tbsp. white corn syrup
2 Cups slivered almonds
1 Cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
1/4 Cup dark chocolate pieces (use the best quality you can)

Place several strips of foil on a work surface.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat, stir butter, syrup, almonds, sugar, and pepper.

It will melt into a mixture that looks like this.

Stir it until it turns the color of caramel.  If you like a harder, less sweet toffee, cook it until it browns a bit more.

Pour the mixture onto the foil, spreading it as thinly as you can.  Cool.

Warm chocolate in a microwave-proof bowl just until it begins to melt.  Stir the pieces and the heat from them will melt each other.  Once melted, dip a fork into the chocolate, then fling it back and forth over the brittle, to create streaks of chocolate.  Don't go crazy with the flinging; your fridge does not need a chocolate coating.

  Let harden, then break into chunks. Wrap in a tin, a box, or a cellophane bag.  Tie with a fluffy bow and you have a great gift to give.

This one is for Janet Barton, whose darling daughter, Tiffany, married my son, Cassidy, last year.  Janet is an amazing food blogger who just happens to make the most PERFECT candy truffles in the universe and I am not kidding, so it's intimidating to give her anything from the kitchen.  However, she loves nuts, spicy foods, and dark chocolate, so I'm hoping she will enjoy these treats as she concocts her next fantastic dish.  Did I mention she's also a marathon runner, younger and thinner than me, and, and, and???  Sigh.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Easy Mini Pizza Melts

This is one of my most-requested recipes and you will love it!  It's both easy and delicious.  It's great for appetizers, snacks, brunches, dinners, just about any occasion.  Get ready for the stampede.

Here's all you need:

1 pkg. of 6 English Muffins, split
4 Cups shredded Cheddar or Colby-Jack cheese (or any cheese you like)
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 (4.5 oz.) can chopped olives
mayonnaise to moisten (about a cup, but use more or less as you prefer)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Split the muffins and place the 12 muffin halves on a baking sheet.  In a large bowl, stir cheese, onions, olives, and mayonnaise.  Spread over muffins and bake 12 minutes, or until cheese is melted.  That's it!
Now... for those of you who want to make life more complicated, you can also add chopped artichoke hearts, shrimp, crumbled bacon, or whatever else you like. 
And, if you have some left over, use it in an omelette, or as a sandwich spread.  Deee-Lish!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Flourless Chocolate Cake

The holidays are upon us.  And, while most people enjoy pumpkin and a few other favorite pies at Thanksgiving, you can never go wrong with a decadent, chocolate confection, thrown into the mix for a little variety.  It's especially fun to bring one if you're the guest.  And, with today's rising gluten-intolerant crowd, you will be doubly loved for bringing this marvelous, flourless cake that I adapted from a Bon Apetit recipe.  Dense and moist, it's always a hit.  And when Christmas comes, you can sprinkle it with some finely crushed peppermints.  Here's one I just made.  Notice the glaze dripping down onto the platter.  I am cool with this.

12 oz. semisweet chocolate (bars or chips)
3/4 Cup butter
6 eggs, separated
6 oz. sugar, divided (12 Tbsp.)
2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

1/2 Cup corn syrup
1/2 Cup heavy whipping cream
9 oz. semisweet chocolate
Optional garnishes: Berries, chocolate shavings, chocolate leaves, etc.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9-inch springform pan with non-stick spray.  Line the bottom with a circle of parchment and then spray that as well.  Wrap the outside of the pan with foil. In a small sauce pan over low heat, melt chocolate and butter until smooth.  Let cool to lukewarm.
2. In a large bowl, beat yolks with HALF the sugar (3 oz.), until they're pale yellow and thick, about 5 minutes.  Fold in chocolate mixture and extract.
3. In a separate bowl (use clean, dry beaters), beat egg whites until frothy.  Keep beating as you slowly add the other 3 oz. of sugar.  Beat until peaks form.  Fold a little at a time into chocolate mixture.  Pour into prepared pan. Bake 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out with a bit of baked batter on it.  Place cake, still in pan, on a cooling rack until cool.  The top will be cracked; don't worry, as this will be the bottom of the cake.  Press down on the cracked parts to make a level surface.
4. Use a knife to loosen pan edges, then invert cake onto a serving platter.  Remove parchment.  In a medium sauce pan, simmer cream and corn syrup.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until smooth.  Pour a small amount over top of cake, smoothing it onto the sides.  Freeze 5 minutes.  Pour remaining glaze onto cake (I leave most on top, as you can see), then chill until firm, about an hour.  Now you can store it at room temperature, and garnish it before serving (serves 10 or more).  Or, it's possible people will not be able to wait for the garnish, and may slice it up and start eating, as you can see below!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sausage and Sweet Potato Dutch Baby

What's better than a showy but totally scrumptious breakfast dish?  A Dutch Baby is an oven-baked pancake that puffs up and BEGS to be devoured!  And when you fill it with sausage and sweet potatoes, the sweet-and-spicy mixture is truly divine.  Perfect for autumn, too (and for all those Thanksgiving house guests!)  And since it's in a contest, you know it's super easy to make.
This creation of mine needs your votes.  Please go to this link and vote for my Dutch Baby, then click on the recipe for complete instructions.  You can even pin it if you like.  Definitely one to keep on file.  Here you go:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pumpkin Wonton Appetizers

I made this one up after having squash ravioli at a restaurant, and you will love it!  It won a Taste of Home contest and works as a snack or dessert, too.  It's the perfect thing to enjoy this time of year, when we can't seem to get enough pumpkin yummies.

This makes 40 appetizers, and 1 & 1/2 Cups of dip, so cut it in half for a smaller crowd.

1 ( 15 oz.) can solid pack pumpkin
1 Cup ricotta cheese
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice 
1 tsp. salt
40 wonton wrappers
oil for frying

1 Cup powdered sugasr
1/2 Cup sour cream
1/2 Cup apricot jam or preserves
1 tsp. cinnamon

1.  In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin, cheese, spice and salt.  Place 1 tablespoonful in the center of each wonton wrapper.  (Keep remaining wrappers covered with a damp paper towel until ready to use.) Moisten edges with water; bring corners to center over filling and press edges together to seal.  Repeat.
2. In an electric skillet or deep fat fryer, heat oil to 375 degrees.  Fry wontons in batches for 30 to 40 seconds on each side or until golden brown.  Remove with slotted spoon or tongs, and drain on paper towels.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine dip ingredients.  Serve with wontons.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Seasoned Greetings" Rice Mixes

Here's a brand new idea of mine, a treat I'm giving to friends this Christmas, and something I invite you to copy.  It's a gift from the kitchen that's a snap to assemble, and keeps in pantry until they're ready to use it.  The challenge came from, and I'm happy to contribute this easy recipe.  Here's how it looks:
I made three different batches of seasoned rice: An Italian one, a Tex-Mex one, and a savory one that simply includes a great blend of herbs and spices that would go with anything.  You can see some of the spices I used, in the background. This recipe is for just 2 cups, but you can double or triple it, to make several gifts. 

Here's how to make your rice mixture:
2 Cups rice, any kind you choose
4 Tablespoons seasoning (look for spice blends of Cajun, Tuscan, Southwest, Garlic-Herb, Caribbean, etc.)
2 teaspoons bouillon granules, optional, if you want the rice to cook in a broth

Just stir it together in a bowl, then pour it into your container. I used a funnel for these bottles. You could use bottles like the ones I chose, mason jars, tins, cellophane bags-- whatever you like. Just be sure your container holds at least one cup.

I'm attaching a tag that says, "Seasoned Greetings!  Boil 2 Cups of water, add one cup of rice mixture, cover and simmer for 30 minutes to make a tasty Italian side dish!  Add butter if you wish.  And use the bottle for oil, once it's empty (it holds 2 cups)"  Obviously, that's for the Italian one.  Tie on the tag and a fluffy bow, and you have a wonderful Christmas gift!  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jazzy Jamaican Stuffing

Are you looking for a different twist on the usual Thanksgiving stuffing this year?  I have created just the recipe for you!  It won a Better Homes & Gardens contest, and appeared in one of their cookbooks.  It's colorful, easy, and has just the right amount of spice to perk up those sleepy turkey-eaters!  The tasty ingredients are exotic without being too unheard-of--- goodies like mango, black beans, pineapple, and lime.

Here's what you need:
1 (15 oz.) can crushed pineapple, NOT drained  (or use fresh if you wish)
1/2 Cup chopped onion
2 Tbsp. Jamaican Jerk Seasoning (I like Schilling/McCormick)
1 & 1/2 teaspoons finely shredded lime peel
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1/2 Cup butter
2 Cups cooked white rice
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 medium mango, seeded, peeled, and chopped
1 (4.5 oz.) can diced mild green chili peppers
3 Tbsp. snipped fresh cilantro
5 Cups soft bread cubes (7 slices)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a large skillet, cook undrained pineapple, onion, Jerk Seasoning, lime peel, lime juice, and butter, for about 5 minutes or until onion is tender.  Remove from heat.  Stir in rice, black beans, mango, chili peppers and cilantro. 
2. Place bread cubes in a large bowl and add the pineapple mixture.  Toss lightly to mix.  Place stuffing in a 3-quart, rectangular baking dish.  Bake, covered, for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake 10 minutes more, or until hot.  Makes 6 side-dish servings.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Maple-Chile Glazed Shrimp

 Oh, my.  What flavor says autumn joy, more than maple syrup?   And what's more fun than a recipe with only 3 ingredients, made in one pot?  Holy Shrimpboat, right?
Pure maple syrup is an ideal sweetener, folks.  You don't have to sift it, you don't have to cook it until crystals dissolve, it's ready NOW.  It's also completely natural, and the depth of flavor cannot be equalled.  So, first of all, go to and check out all the wonderful ways you can use this staple ingredient.
Then, make this amazing dish. You will love the spicy-yet-sweet flavors. It can be served as an appetizer, as I've shown in the photo, or piled on a bed of fluffy rice for a main dish.  And then (as if there will be leftovers!) you can chill what's left, chop up the shrimp, mix it with a bit of mayo, and have an incredible sandwich filling!  It's also amazing in omelettes the next morning, or over salad greens for lunch. (Yes, this recipe is actually a killer salad dressing as well!)  Come to think of it, you'd better double the recipe so you can enjoy it the following day.  Here we go:

2 lbs. shrimp (fresh or frozen, medium or jumbo), peeled and deveined
1/2 Cup maple syrup
2 Tablespoons chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (from a 7-oz. can), chopped.  I snip them with shears.

In a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, stir all ingredients until shrimp are pink and opaque, about five minutes.  Whaaaaat?  It's ready that fast?  You betcha. Dig in!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Caramelized Pear & Brie Tart with Cranberries and Candied Pecans

Time for another prize winner, perfect for autumn, great to pin and save for Thanksgiving. This savory tart is creamy and crunchy, sweet and flaky. The only problem is that it is so good that you’ll be asked to make it again and again. It won 3rd place in Imperial Sugar’s 2012 Homemade Holidays Recipe Contest.  Enjoy!

Prep time : 40 minutes
Baking time: :50 minutes
Serves 6
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour*
  • 1 tablespoon Imperial Sugar Extra Fine Granulated Sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons chilled water
  • 3 pears
  • 1 tablespoon Imperial Sugar Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (or substitute sour cream)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup candied pecans
  • 1 cup brie cheese, cut into small chunks
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (craisins)
*Spoon & Sweep method: Use a spoon to fill your measuring cup with flour until the required amount is obtained. Scooping your measuring cup directly into the flour bag will firmly pack the flour, resulting in too much flour required for this recipe.


  1. Process 1/2 cup of the butter, flour and sugar in a food processor or blender, until crumbly. Add egg yolk and water and process until dough begins to form. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth, then wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Roll out pastry on a floured surface and place in a tart dish. Trim excess by rolling over top with a rolling pin. Heat oven to 400°F. Peel and slice pears, sprinkle with brown sugar, then sauté in remaining butter, in a skillet over medium-high heat until foaming and caramelized, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Place pastry weights (or dry beans or rice) on crust and bake, on a baking sheet, for 10 minutes to prevent puffing. Remove weights and bake another 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
  4. Beat cream until just beginning to thicken. Beat in eggs, cinnamon and salt. Arrange pears in crust, tucking in pecans, brie cheese, and cranberries as well. Pour cream mixture over all. Bake 30 minutes or until just set. Cool for 5 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve. (Note from Joni: You can substitute apples for pears in any recipe calling for either one.)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Not Your Mom's Tuna

If you're already a seafood lover, you know how delicious a tuna steak is.  If you've only had tuna sandwiches, or tuna casserole, allow me to introduce you to a truly delightful dish that will wow company and save you oodles of time.  Ahi tuna.

Ahi, also known as Yellow Fin Tuna, is almost fat free, and tastes a little like swordfish.  It's not "fishy" tasting, but mild and scrumptious.  And it cooks in 2 minutes.  Crazy, right?  But stay with me, here.  Fresh Ahi is expensive (sashimi grade), but look for sushi grade, which is often frozen, and thaw it.  It will still be wonderful.  You do not have to make sashimi or sushi; you can cook this in a skillet or on the grill. And it's basically a 3-ingredient dish!

You want to sear this rare.  Now, don't panic and think it will be bloody and blue like a rare beef steak would be. It's rosy red, but tender and perfect.  One thing that will surprise you, is that it will not taste like a tuna sandwich.  I happen to love tuna sandwiches, but it's another whole experience.

Next time you open a can of tuna, before you mix it with the mayonnaise, check out the texture. It's dry and crumbly, right?  Nobody eats a can of dry tuna (cats excluded).  It has been overcooked.  And this is what will happen if you try to cook your ahi "medium" or "well."  It will turn tan, dry out and crumble.  We compensate for canned tuna by mixing it with mayonnaise, to save the day (or other creamy ingredients in a casserole).  And it works.  But wait 'til you taste it as a steak.  Here's what you need:

2 (5 or 6 oz.) ahi steaks
4 Tbsp. cooking oil (I mix olive or coconut oil with butter, equal parts-- keeps the butter from burning)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat your oil in a skillet over high heat.  Add the steaks.  Salt and pepper them.  Cook them 1 minute per side (or 2 at the most, if they're thick).  Slice thinly and serve.  Ta-da!  It's that easy. Serves 2.  Dinner will be on the table in no time.  BUT... here are some variations you can try:

1. Once you slice the steaks, serve them over a salad tossed with a tangy Asian dressing.

2. Coat your steaks first, with your favorite rub-- it could be sesame seeds, soy sauce and brown sugar, honey and thyme, a purchased spice blend, cilantro and lime-- anything you like, even salad dressing.
3. Grill them instead, again just 1 to 2 minutes per side.  
4. Marinate them first, just to infuse them with more flavor-- try a wasabi ginger mix, teriyaki, soy, or any Asian flavored marinade.  But don't marinate them for more than 30 minutes; you don't want the acids to make the steaks mushy. 
5. Just serve them, as un-cut steaks, along with other sides (rice, veggies, etc.)-- what a fast, easy supper!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pumpkin Bars

I should really call these My Favorite Pumpkin Bars.  I've been making them for more years than I claim to be alive, and they come out perfectly every time.

They're moist and flavorful, deceptively easy to whip up, and this recipe makes 30 bars, perfect for a crowd.  You bake them in a rimmed cookie sheet, and they come out thick, like cake.  It's a shame we wait until fall to make pumpkin desserts-- these are good enough to enjoy all year!
Here's what you need:

4 eggs
1 & 2/3 Cup sugar
1 Cup cooking oil
1 (16 oz) can solid pack pumpkin
2 Cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 Cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Cups powdered sugar, sifted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, beat eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin until well mixed.  Sift flour and remaining dry ingredients into batter.  (It's worth it to sift, to prevent little white lumps in the batter.)  Mix thoroughly, then spread on an UNgreased (10x15-inch) baking sheet.  Bake 25 minutes, or until knife tests clean when inserted in center.  Cool, frost, then cut into bars.
To make frosting:
In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until smooth.  Add sifted powdered sugar a little at a time, beating until smooth.  (Again, worth it to sift the sugar so you don't get lumps.)

Monday, September 30, 2013

Walnuts and Prawns

I just learned that I live in the caviar capitol of the world!  I knew Sacramento was the tomato capitol, and several other capitols, but caviar??  We're inland!  Not to be deterred by a few measly miles of dry, hard land, Sterling Caviar has made this the headquarters of its sturgeon egg processing operation.  All over the world people are shelling out hundreds of dollars for tiny tins of it-- in Paris, in Russia, everywhere.  What's that, you say?  You don't like caviar?  You don't have a zillion bucks for these fish eggs?  What's wrong with you?
And welcome to the club.  I first tasted caviar in junior high and thought it tasted like gooey ashes.  Also, having gone fly fishing with my dad a number of times, and having used salmon eggs for bait, this was a hard mental image to discard.
Which brings me to a recipe that has nothing to do with caviar, and everything to do with pleasing the masses: Chinese Walnuts and Prawns. 

This is easily one of the most popular dishes at Chinese restaurants here in Capitol-Land, and while it's not an original, it's one I am happy to pass along.  It's very sweet and everybody goes crazy for it.  Even folks who dislike seafood love this.  I happen to be allergic to walnuts and I still love it (I just pick out the nuts).  Speaking of nuts, the original version of this recipe asks you to boil them, boil again, then deep fry them.  With sugar and honey.  The result is candied walnuts, so my version just starts with candied walnuts in the first place. Here's what you need:

1/2 lb. prawns, shelled and deviened
2 egg whites
1/4 Cup bread crumbs (or panko crumbs)
oil for frying
1/2 Tablespoon vinegar
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon sweetened condensed milk (Oh, like you can't find a recipe for the rest- ha!)
1 Tablespoon sugar
4 ounces candied walnuts (or candied pecans.  Sometimes in pouches in the produce section)
2-3 Cups cooked rice

1. Pat prawns dry with paper towels.  Dip in egg whites, then dredge in crumbs, to coat.  Deep fry for two minutes.
2. In a hot skillet, stir vinegar, mayonnaise, condensed milk, and sugar. Fry the prawns in this sauce for 1 minute.  Stir in candied walnuts, then serve over rice, if desired. Serves 4.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Spicy Wontons with Red Pepper Apricot Dip

This is the perfect finger food for all you football fans as you watch your favorite teams!  It's also a wonderful party appetizer or simply a delicious snack.  And you know it's good, because I won a trip for four to Hawaii from the National Dairy Council, with this super simple, but knock-out delicious creation. Crispy wontons encase a creamy surprise-- and the dip is out of this world. 

Here's all you need:

48 square wonton wrappers
2 lbs. Jalapeno Montreey Jack cheese, cubed
Vegetable oil for frying
1 Cup ricotta cheese
1 Cup apricot jam
1 Cup bottled roasted red peppers, sliced

1. Wrap each cube of cheese in a wonton wrapper, pinching with moistened fingers to seal seams.  Heat an inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Fry wontons 2 to 3 minutes per side, until golden brown.  Remove with tongs and drain on paper towels.
2. In a blender, whirl ricotta cheese, apricot jam, and sliced peppers until smooth.  Pour into serving bowl as a dip for cooked wontons.  Makes 4 dozen.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chicken Vegetable Chowder

Okay, the mercury in Sacramento may still be in the 90s, but it's FALL, doggone it, and we're going to eat chowders.  This recipe won me a thousand buckaroos in a contest sponsored by Contessa Food Products and you are going to love how super easy it is.
First of all, do you know this line of frozen convenience meals?  They're a boon for busy families who want dinner in a hurry-- and this is just one way to remake them into another delicious comfort food:

1 pkg. Contessa Chicken Alfredo Convenience Meal
1 (15 oz.) can corn
1 Cup sour cream
2 Cups milk
2 Cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
basil for garnish
salt to taste
bread sticks (optional)

In a large soup pot combine the Contessa Chicken Alfredo, corn, sour cream, milk, cheese, and cayenne pepper.  Simmer (do not boil) on low heat for 25 to 30 minutes, or until mixture is completely cooked through. Garnish with basil and serve with bread sticks.  Serves 4 (and doubles well)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Healthy Sweet Potato Cranberry Doughnuts

Ha ha ha.  You believed that?  That was a total lie.  No doughnut is healthy, I don't care if you cram it full of kale and beet powder.  It's still deep fried and on the Do Not Eat list of every diet in the land.  Maybe that's how they got the name-- someone was saying, "Do Not--" and someone else interrupted them and thought they said, "Do Nut."

But if you're going to eat donuts ANYWAY, at least make these yummers that contain the wonderful goodness of yams and cranberries.  You can kid yourself that they're healthy, and the mind is a powerful tool, right?  Kids would love to come home from school to such a wonderful, comfort-food snack.
By the way, these won a Taste of Home contest a couple of years ago (minus the word "healthy"), so you know they're both easy and delicious.  Colorful, too.  (The title says sweet potatoes, but we're talking yams.)  Here's how to do it:

1/4 Cup sugar
1 & 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 to 4 & 1/2 Cups flour
1 Cup 2% milk
1/4 Cup shortening
2 Tbsp. water (or organic apple juice, just making it even more healthy- ha!)
2 eggs
1/2 Cup mashed yams (canned or cooked fresh)
1/2 Cup finely chopped dried cranberries (this makes it as healthy as a granola bar)
Oil for deep frying
1 Cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 Tablespoons apple cider or juice (for glaze)

1. In a large bowl, combine sugar, yeast, cinnamon, salt, and 1 & 1/2 Cups of the flour.  In a small sauce pan, heat milk, shortening, and water to about 120 to 130 degrees; add to dry mixture.  Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add the eggs, yams, and cranberries.  Beat 2 more minutes.  Stir in enough flour to form a firm dough.
2. Do not knead.  Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place, until doubled, about 1 hour.
3. Punch down dough.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface; roll out to 1/2-inch thickness.  Cut with a floured  2 & 1/2-inch donut cutter; reroll scraps.  Place 1 inch apart on greased baking sheets.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.
4. In an electric skillet or deep fryer, heat oil to 375 degrees.  Fry doughnuts, a few at a time, until golden brown on both sides.  Remove from oil with tongs or slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels.  Combine powdered sugar with apple cider; dip warm doughnuts in glaze.  Makes 2 dozen.

Monday, September 2, 2013

What on Earth is a Vacherin?

Folks, I'm glad you're at your computer, because this means you're sitting down.  And that's the perfect place to be when you hear shocking news, right?  Well here's a dessert that looks like this:

yet is unbelievably easy to make.  In fact, you can't really call this baking.  It's more like assembling.  And you will love it!  Your guests will go wild and you will want to make these again and again.  I have de-constructed this French wonder to make it as simple as possible. Basically it has layers of EASY meringue, and then decadent fillings.  You can go as tall as you like with the layers

Or make it a rectangle, the way they do cakes in Europe.  Doesn't matter.

First of all, how do you pronounce Vacherin?  In the U.S. we see that and want to say, "Vacka-rin."  But I have consulted with one of my French-speaking sons (I have three) and was told the ch makes a shhh sound, the a is ahh, and the n is silent.  So it's vosha-rah.  That last part is tricky, because it has the short A sound, as in "ran," but without the n.  Okay, enough pronouncing, time to eat!  Here's what you need:

5 egg whites
1 & 1/4 Cup granulated sugar

First Filling:
1 (8 oz.) tub whipped topping, thawed
1/2 Cup seedless raspberry jam (or any jam you like.  Or lemon curd.  Or caramel. Or apricot jam.  Or strawberry puree. Or peanut butter.)

Second Filling:
1/4 Cup chocolate chips
1/4 Cup cream cheese
2 Tbsp. butter
1 (8 oz.) tub whipped topping, thawed

OR... just use chocolate frosting mixed with whipped topping.  OR... chocolate whipped topping.  You get the idea here, right?  Use whatever fillings you like.  Stir in little Heath Bar chunks.  Whatever.

Powdered sugar (or cocoa)

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Beat egg whites until very foamy.  Beat in sugar until meringue is stiff.  When you lift the beaters out, it will make points, not soft peaks.  Spread this meringue into circles or hearts, on parchment, on baking sheets.  I made thick ones, but you can make more if you make them thinner.

Be sure you make the top one fancy, because it will show.  Lattice, swirls, whatever.  You can put the meringue in a Zip-Loc bag, snip off one corner, and use that to pipe the meringue if you don't have a pastry bag. OR JUST MAKE IT ANOTHER CIRCLE, and then cover it completely later, with whipped cream and berries!  Now bake them with the oven door ajar, for 1 hour.  Cool completely.

2. Make the fillings.  For the first one, just stir the jam into the whipped cream.  For the second one, microwave the chips, cheese, and butter, until melty and smooth, then stir in the whipped topping and chill.

3. Assemble your layers.

 Put a baked meringue on a cake plate, cover with a filling, then top with the 2nd meringue and cover with a filling.  How much easier could this be?  If you want to add layers, just make extra meringues and stack it higher, using half as much filling atop each one (or make more filling).  Add berries here as well, if you like, or save them for just the top.

Top it with your lattice meringue, pile on berries then sift powdered sugar over all.

Slice and serve!  The meringue will be light and crispy, a perfect contrast to the creamy fillings.  Delish.  AND you can make little individual ones, too.
Okay, one last variation-- you can make chocolate meringue just by adding 1/4 cup cocoa.  Ooh-la-la!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Easy Creme Brulee

I wish I had a nickel for everyone who says Creme Brulee is their favorite dessert.  Actually, I wish I had a creme brulee, not just a nickel.

And most of these folks think they have to go to a restaurant to get this creamy wonder.  But wait no longer-- it's actually super simple to make-- only 5 ingredients!  (Although one of my sons got mad at me for "ruining" his desire to have one in a restaurant, by making it so often at home!)  Remember that it's basically just custard, with a crackling, caramelized top.  Here's the easiest way to indulge:

2 Cups heavy cream
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
5 egg yolks (save the whites for a health-conscious omelette, to make up for the creme brulee!)
1 tsp. vanilla (use the best kind you can)
6 Tbsp. powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  In a sauce pan over medium-low heat, stir cream and sugar until hot and sugar is dissolved.  Don't boil, don't get out a candy thermometer, don't make a big deal of this.  Just hot. 
2. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks, then slowly drizzle hot cream mixture into yolks as you whisk them.  If you drizzle slowly, you won't cook the yolks or curdle them, and you'll just a have a nice, creamy mixture.  Stir in vanilla.
3. Pour this custard into 6 ramekins, custard bowls, or creme brulee dishes.  Line a roasting pan with paper towels, then place the ramekins on the towels.  Pour hot water into the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake for 1 hour.  You may need a few more minutes if you're using deep, rather than shallow ramekins.  Stick a knife into the center of one custard; if it comes out clean, they're done. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and let the custards rest in the water for 10 minutes.  Remove custards and chill completely, overnight if possible.
4. When ready to serve, sprinkle each with 1 Tbsp of powdered sugar (some use brown sugar, which also works).  Broil for a minute or less, until sugar caramelizes to a golden brown.  OR use a creme brulee torch to create the same effect.  Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes, so sugar can harden, then serve.  (Garnish with berries, if desired)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wagon Wheel Pizza

Yee Haw!  Here's a super easy recipe of mine that won the grand prize-- a gas grill-- in a contest sponsored by Original Western Dressing a few years back.

 It's so simple a child could make it, but it's a hearty meal and a great twist on usual pizza fare.  Fun for a hoe-down or cowboy-themed party, too.  If you can't find the dressing, try your favorite barbecue sauce!

3/4 lb. lean ground beef
3/4 Cup Original Western Dressing
1/2 Cup chopped red onion
1 (4.5 oz.) can chopped mild green chilies
1 (12-inch) Boboli Italian Bread Shell (or any purchased, baked pizza crust)
2 Cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a skillet, cook ground beef until crumbly, about 5 minutes.  Drain off drippings.  Stir in dressing, onion, and chilies.
2. Spoon meat mixture over bread shell.  Sprinkle with mozzarella.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese melts.  Sprinkle with cilantro.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chocolate Cream Puffs with Strawberry Truffle Filling

When was the last time you had an indulgent, messy cream puff?  Too long, right?  Time to be a kid again, and take a bite of something jazzed up with chocolate and strawberries! 

This creation of mine was a finalist a few years ago, in the California Strawberry Festival's Berry Off cooking contest.  Cream puffs are super easy to make, so dive in and impress your family and guests!  (This makes 24; cut it in half for a smaller crowd.)

2 Cup boiling water
1 Cup butter
2 Cups flour
1/3 Cup unsweetened cocoa
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
8 eggs

2 Cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
1 Cup strawberry jam
1 (8 oz.) carton whipped topping (or use real whipped cream)
Powdered sugar, if desired, for dusting
Whole, fresh strawberries, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray. In a medium sauce pan, melt butter in boiling water.  Add flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt.  Stir vigorously until it forms a ball.  Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth after each one.  Drop 1/4 cup of batter for each puff onto greased baking sheet.  Space about 3 inches apart.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, melt chocolate chips in top of a double boiler (or microwave them 30 seconds at a time and then stir until melted).  In a large bowl beat cream cheese and jam until smooth.  Beat in melted chocolate, then stir in whipped topping.
3. When puffs are removed from oven, cool for a few minutes, then split them in half and remove any soft dough inside. Cool completely.  Fill with cream cheese mixture, dust with powdered sugar, and garnish with fresh strawberries. (Or drizzle them with melted chocolate, or dip them in chocolate icing!)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Blackberry Frozen Yogurt

Fresh blackberries... ahh.  Ice cream... even more ahh.
Okay, this is technically frozen yogurt, but it's still cold and creamy and perfect for a summertime dessert. Gorgeous color, too.  I found the recipe (as did many of you, I'll bet) on Pinterest and it looked so easy-- just two ingredients!-- that I had to try it.  Plus it uses my favorite yogurt brand, Greek Gods.  Here's the super simple recipe plus one ingredient I added:

3 cups blackberries
1 (24 oz.) carton Greek Gods yogurt, vanilla honey flavor
2 Cups powdered sugar, optional

First I crushed the berries in my food processor.
Then I poured half the yogurt into my ice cream maker, followed by all the berries, then the remaining yogurt.
 And  it works!  It comes out as very soft "ice cream" (freeze it thoroughly before serving).  However, this is frozen yogurt for people who think most desserts are too sweet.  In fact, they don't much like dessert; they're salt-and-spice people.  These are the women, at a party, who say, "Oh, try the punch; it's not too sweet," which tells me I'm not going to like it, and probably its main ingredient is ginger-ale. 
So, while my "sherbet" was still soft, I tasted it and realized I'd like it much better if it were a bit sweeter.  I stirred in some powdered sugar and now it tastes right.  To me.  If you like a less sweet mixture, by all means leave it out.  When I make it again, I'll add the sugar in the first place.
And here's another idea-- why not make this same recipe using other fruits, berries, or jam?  You can definitely taste the yogurt flavor, but since I like that brand, I think it's simply divine!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Garlic and Ginger-Crusted Salmon with Jamaican Mango Sauce

If that isn't the most mouth-watering name for a recipe that you've ever heard, then you just don't like fish.  But for those who do, YUM and YUM again.  This is another prize winner, but it's one that my husband, Bob, took 3rd place with a few years ago, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. See the photo, below.  This festival is a blast, by the way-- like a State Fair-- they even have garlic-flavored ice cream.  So watch for it, go and enjoy a wonderful feast.
Meanwhile, make this dish to dazzle your guests:

12 garlic cloves, minced
1 Cup gingersnap cookie crumbs (whirl the cookies in your food processor)
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 eggs, beaten
4 salmon filets, 4 to 8 oz. each
nonstick cooking spray
1 Cup sour cream
1/4 Cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Caribbean Jerk Seasoning blend (he used Schilling/McCormick)
1 Cup chopped mango, fresh or bottled
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, mix half the garlic with the gingersnap crumbs and set aside.  In another bowl, whisk lime juice into eggs.  Dip salmon filets into egg mixture to coat, then into gingersnap-garlic mixture, coating both sides.
2. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.  Arrange filets in a single layer.  Bake until fish is opaque when center is pierced with tip of knife, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to warm serving platter.
3. While fish bakes, make sauce. In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, whisk together remaining garlic, sour cream, mayonnaise, and jerk seasoning until well blended.  Stir in mango and cook until heated through.  Spoon sauce over salmon filets and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Italian Stuffed Artichokes

I just got a call from my darling daughter-in-law, Tiffany, asking me how to cook artichokes.  Let me just say that I am always thrilled to hear from her, but this time I was both thrilled and stunned, because Tiffany's mom, Janet, is the very famous and accomplished food blogger of SIMPLY SO GOOD.  Let me just say that, if you are unaware of this blog, you must check it out immediately at You will not believe her amazing food, her dazzling, magazine-looking photography (which routinely gets stolen), and her step-by-step instructions.
So... why would Tiffany call anyone else for recipe help, right?  She has the world's foremost expert for her MOM, for heaven's sake.  Well, it turns out they are not artichoke eaters!  And I, living in the nation's agriculture capitol, California, eat all kinds of stuff folks in other states find a little "iffy."  Not all people like fish tacos, guacamole, sushi, and a host of other fad foods that are slowly working their way across the country, but which were first popularized on the West Coast.  Our farmers' markets have pink mushrooms, four kinds of persimmons, stuff you'd never find in some places.  And we are the Artichoke Capital of the world, where Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1947, after all.
So we know a thing or two about how to cook them.  Here's a great way to enjoy a scary vegetable that's not only delicious but easy to cook:

4 large artichokes (not the baby ones)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Cup seasoned Italian bread crumbs
1 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese from a chilled tub (not from a green can)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. freshly minced basil leaves (or 1 tsp. dried basil)
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt & pepper
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1. Snip the pointy ends from all the leaves, and cut an inch off the top.  Cut off the bottom stem as well.
Rinse in cold water. Brush with lemon juice to preserve color.  (If you plan to dip the cooked leaves in mayonnaise, as many do, skip step 2).
2. Turn the artichoke upside down (stem side up) and hit it against the counter top to make the leaves open for stuffing.  In a large bowl, stir bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, and HALF the oil (or use your favorite stuffing recipe).  Press spoonfuls of stuffing into spaces between leaves.
3. Pack artichokes tightly in a dutch oven or large soup pot (not aluminum, as that will discolor them).  Make sure they are stem-side-down.  Add enough water to come halfway up the artichokes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour (less time if you cook fewer artichokes).  You'll know the artichokes are done when a leaf pulls off easily.
4. Serve with a dipping sauce if you wish-- melted butter or mayonnaise with a bit a lemon is good-- and the proper way to eat them is honestly to scrape the leaves against your bottom teeth, then set aside the paper-thin part of the leaf. (These are sometimes called petals).  Once the leaves are gone, dig out the choke (the hairy part) at the base, using a spoon.  Discard this; it's inedible.  But UNDER the choke is the filet of the artichoke, the heart.  Cut it up and eat it-- it's the very best part!  Artichokes are yummy hot, cold, or at room temperature.  Serves 4.