Shrimp Cocktail



Greetings blog readers! No excuse for my long hiatus. With the current busy state of my life, I think blogging may continue very sporadically. My kitchen equipment and I are still a team, though, and I’ve whipped up a few dishes worthy of sharing.

And this Shrimp Cocktail is definitely worthy of sharing, yet I’ve hoarded it in my files for almost two years now. I resurrected the recipe recently when Hubby requested this for his birthday.

My mom and my aunt, both stellar cooks, often include shrimp cocktail as an appetizer for holiday gatherings. This version blows away theirs, though. The shrimp only cooks for a few minutes in water combined with a multitude of flavorings, but it really absorbs the aromatics yet not overpoweringly so. Instead, the flavors subtly creep in and stay, providing a light and refreshing citrus hint.

The cocktail sauce provides a spicy kick. Now, I am not a huge fan of cocktail sauce, but I did allow my index finger to take a teensy tiny dip into the sauce for a taste, and I could feel that spice. Hubby, however, reacted by mumbling with a mouthful of shrimp, “Mmmmmm, that’s f@#!% good.” Yep, that’s my man for ya. But his reaction definitely informed me that this recipe goes in the winner pile.

Best of all, the recipe is easy to make. For the cocktail sauce, just stir together a few ingredients. As for the shrimp, add a few seasonings to water, heat, then cool. And you can prepare all of this a day or two in advance. Go ahead, add shrimp cocktail to your cooking repertoire and impress the heck out of your guests.

Shrimp Cocktail

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  • 2 pounds jumbo shrimp, raw & deveined
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp. peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed (I bought from bulk bins at Sprouts since I don’t often use this spice)
  • 2 lemons: cut 8 (2-inch) strips lemon peel
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (save the lemon halves for later)
  • 8 cups ice

Cocktail Sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup prepared horseradish (not horseradish sauce)
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper


  1. Rinse the shrimp. Devein if needed. In a large pot, combine shrimp, cold water, salt, thyme, peppercorn, bay leaves, and celery seeds.
  2. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until water reaches 170 degrees F and the shrimp just begin to turn pink, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Remove pot from heat; add lemon peels, lemon juice, and the squeezed lemon halves. Cover the pot for 5-7 minutes, allowing shrimp to turn completely pink and firm as well as absorb the flavors.
  4. Stir the ice into the pot and allow shrimp to cool completely, about 5 minutes.
  5. Drain water. Peel shrimp, leaving tails intact. Refrigerate until ready to serve (can chill for 24 hours in advance).
  6. For the cocktail sauce, whisk together all ingredients until combined. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Can be made a day or two in advance.

SOURCE: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe via Cooks Country Dec/Jan 2013

Grasshopper Ice Cream Cups

Grasshopper Ice Cream Cup

mint fudge cookies & mint chip ice cream & ganache topping

I think “grasshopper” in the title of this recipe is a lot more fun than just “mint and chocolate ice cream cups,” but why is the chocolate and mint combo called “grasshopper”?

I looked it up and didn’t find much except that the grasshopper is a minty after-dinner cocktail. The creme de menthe liqueur gives the green color to the drink as well as the minty flavor while the creme de cacao adds the chocolate portion. Apparently the drink originated in New Orleans back in the 50’s.

Truth be told, in my childhood I had no desire to go near anything that mixed these two flavors. Chocolate, YES! Mint? No thanks.

Then I grew to savor the sweet coolness of the Junior Mint candies–my pick of candy at the movies in my adolescence. Later I widened my sophistication when I discovered Andes Mints in my young adulthood.

However, I never had a desire to make anything with both mint and chocolate in my desserts…until last year when I crossed paths in March with a few brownie/mint combos (St. Patty’s day, you know) ,and I have been dying to try them but haven’t made the time yet (I know, I know, March was like many moons ago).

When this recipe for chocolate & mint ice cream cups flashed across my computer screen, though, I knew I had to make it soon, and the September heatwave in So Cal brought just the right opportunity. So, when this school year’s first Salad Club invite showed up, I knew exactly which dessert I would create for the event.

These Grasshopper Ice Cream Cups make for a fun presentation, they look more complex to make than they actually are, and they taste refreshingly cool.

Below is my spin on the recipe. The original site says add a handful of this and a splash of that. Well, those kinds of directions don’t work for me, so I made sure to track measurements to share with you. Enjoy!

Grasshopper Ice Cream Cup


Grasshopper Ice Cream Cups

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Yield: 24-30 (depends on whether you use some crumbs to sprinkle tops of the ice cream cups)


Cookie Layer

  • 1 package mint & fudge cookies (I used the Keebler brand 10-ounce package)
  • 1/4 cup (4 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted

Ice Cream Layer

  • 1 quart mint chip ice cream

Ganache Topping

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli 60% cacao baking bar; semisweet chocolate chips would work, too)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • optional: chocolate jimmies or green sugar sprinkles


  1. For bottom cookie layer, break cookies into chunks and place in a food processor. Process until cookies form into fine crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse a few times until crumbs are coated with butter. (If you want to sprinkle some crumbs on top of the ice cream cups, set some aside before adding butter, about 1/4 cup. However, adjust how much butter you use. For each cup of crumbs, use 2 tbsp. melted butter.)
  2. Place 1 tbsp. crumbs into each muffin paper, then tamp down the crumbs using a tamper or the back of a spoon.
  3. Scoop 3 tbsp. ice cream into each muffin cup (I used my small cookie scoop), and either flatten the ice cream with your fingers or with the back of a spoon. Place ice cream cups in freezer while making the ganache topping. Note: If the ice cream is too hard, let it soften a bit while in the muffin paper. The first time I made these, I let the ice cream soften before scooping. The second time, I scooped while it was frozen hard and found it easier to work with than when it was softened.
  4. For the ganache topping, chop the chocolate into small bits. Place in a bowl or cup with a spout.
  5. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream, milk, and corn syrup just until it begins to bubble. Stir it occasionally so it won’t scorch bottom of pan. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Give the bowl a tap to settle the milk into the chocolate. Let stand one minute undisturbed, then gently mix from center outward until chocolate melts and mixes into the milk.
  6. Pour the ganache over the ice cream cups to cover the ice cream (it will pour thickly). Start at outside edges and work your way to the center. Use your finger or the back of a spoon the spread the ganache to cover all exposed ice cream.
  7. If you want to sprinkle with cookie crumbs, do so quickly because the ganache will harden quickly atop the frozen ice cream. Sprinkle it on after pouring ganache onto every two muffin cups. Chocolate jimmies or green sugar sprinkles would make for fun presentations, too. Place in freezer to harden, which shouldn’t take long. After hardening, store in an airtight container.

SOURCE: adapted from Dreyer’s

Dark Chocolate Fudge Pops


rich, decadent fudgepops!

Happy Labor Day!

I awoke before 6am, and after reading emails and a few blog posts, I remembered the fudgesicles I had whipped up yesterday afternoon. So yes, at 6:30 a.m., I ate a fudgesicle. Oh-so-very healthy of me, huh?

And it tasted yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuumy!

I’m using a HUGE amount of willpower right now to not eat another. And another. ‘Cause I easily could.

I took one bite, then a second, followed by a third. I really wanted to devour it pronto. But I made myself stop long enough to snap a quick picture. Luckily it came out okay enough to share on the blog. And then I promptly devoured the remaining frozen treat!

It has taken me over a year to find a fudgesicle recipe that I like. This one works. And it works well. The others tasted grainy, powdering, chalky… But this one? Creamy. Rich. Decadent.

And it uses NO added sugar. None. Can you believe that? I’m still stunned by that one. Granted, the chocolate has sugar in it, but not one spec of added sugar to the ingredients list.  So cool.

Heavy whipping cream plus milk plus a bit of cocoa plus finely chopped chocolate and a bit of vanilla. That’s it. Only that. And it produces a rich, chocolatey scrumptious frozen treat. I’m in awe right now. And so darn excited.

And really annoyed that my impatience last night caused me to lose one of the fudgesicles. I pulled the cap off the popsicle mold only to have the not-yet-frozen chocolate spill ALL OVER the kitchen floor. Into far corners. Little dots of chocolate mess speckling the tiles. Not happy. About the mess. And now about losing a darn yummy fudgesicle.

I had planned to use a bar of Ghirardelli baking chocolate in this, but I only had chocolate chips in the pantry. And I grabbed the container of Hershey’s Dark Cocoa so I used that. Both worked out just fine. Very fine, actually.

So, I guess we can call this a Dark Chocolate Fudgesicle. Or maybe Darn Delicious Dark Chocolate Fudgesicle.

I just had a thought. Is “fudgesicle” a brand name? If so, then I guess I should label these fudge pops instead?

Dark Chocolate Fudge Pops

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  1. Finely chop the chocolate, then place in a 4-cup (or larger) bowl with a spout (makes pouring into the pop molds much easier).
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, and sifted cocoa (to break up lumps). Place over medium heat, whisking until cocoa dissolves and mixture comes to a simmer. If you go beyond a simmer, you risk creating a grainy texture for the pops.
  3. Remove from heat; pour over the chopped chocolate and allow 2-3 minutes to pass before mixing. Then whisk gently until the chocolate melts and is thoroughly mixed in.
  4. Add the vanilla and mix.
  5. Pour the mixture into ice pop molds and place in freezer until solid.
  6. To unmold, place pop in lukewarm water for 1-2 minutes until it easily releases from mold. Now, enjoy every last rich and decadent bite!

SOURCE: Alton Brown’s Fudgepops from



Sweet and Spicy Fish Tacos

Fish tacos with sweet and spicy marinade as well as pineapple/red pepper/jalapeno salsa

Fish tacos with sweet and spicy marinade as well as pineapple/red pepper/jalapeño salsa

My blogging motivation disappeared on me a few months ago. It makes a brief appearance every few weeks, though. I keep waiting for it to return full force. Actually, this summer has presented loads of stress as I handled some home renovation projects (still in progress), so blogging has dropped on the priority list. I haven’t cooked nearly as much as I usually do as a result of the projects.

However, last night hubby came home from a three-day fishing trip with some fresh yellowfin tuna. Perfect time to try the grilled fish taco recipe in the recent issue of Cooks Illustrated. What a winner of a recipe, too!

The marinade, along with a couple of chile spices, includes the sweetness of orange juice and the tang of lime juice. Although it intrigued me, I wasn’t sure how hubby would react. Rather than our usual toppings of cheese and tomatoes, this called for a pineapple/red pepper/jalapeño salsa. I’m the one usually not open to unique toppings like that, but for some reason, my taste buds were in the mood for something new and different. But hubby? I thought for sure he would nix this idea.

Turns out we both really really liked this variation of our usual fish tacos. We dubbed it the Sweet and Spicy Fish Taco recipe. It provided a palatably pleasurable change of pace from our usual fare.

Sweet and spicy fish tacos

Sweet and Spicy Fish Tacos

Serves 6


  • Rather than buy expensive bottles of the chile powders, I found small bags for much less cost near the spice section at the market.
  • Leftover fish easily freezes for another taco meal. Just place in resealable bag and remove as much air as possible before freezing.
  • This works well as a salad, too. Just omit tortillas and toss other ingredients.

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  • 2 pounds of a skinless, meaty, dense fish, such as swordfish, mahi-mahi, tuna, or halibut
  • 16 (6-inch) tortillas

Marinade Paste 

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp. ancho chile powder
  • 2 tsp. chipotle chile powder
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (from 1 large orange)
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • optional: I included the zest from the orange and lime


  • 1 pineapple
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 4 tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 tbsp. minced cilantro

Other Toppings

  • 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced (or use any lettuce you prefer; original recipe calls for iceberg lettuce)
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • cilantro, minced
  • lime wedges


  1. Fish prep: Cut fish into one-inch thick slices and one-inch wide strips. Place in bowl or resealable bag; place in refrigerator until marinade is ready.
  2. Marinade: Heat oil and both chile powders in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring continuously until fragrant and bubbles begin to form, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add oregano, coriander, minced garlic, and salt; stir for 30 seconds more.
  4. Add tomato paste, mashing it into the spices.
  5. Whisk in citrus juices (I added a bit at a time to fully incorporate it and reduce any clumping). Cook mixture for about 2 minutes, until slightly reduced, then allow to cool for 15 minutes. When cooled, add to container with fish, stirring gently to coat fish. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  6. Salsa: In a small pan, roast the jalapeño, turning until charred on all sides. When jalapeño cools, remove membrane and seeds (unless you want the heat); finely mince the jalapeño. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  7. Add diced red pepper, lime juice, and minced cilantro.
  8. Cut pineapple in half, then into quarters. Cut each quarter in half. Lightly oil each strip of pineapple, then grill for 3-4 minutes per side. I grilled on the stovetop using a grill pan. However, original recipe calls for outdoor grilling. Dice grilled pineapple and add to salsa.
  9. Grilled fish: Grill fish steaks until cooked through. Grilling time will depend on how thick your slices are and what type of fish you used. I cooked yellowfin tuna for about 4-5 minutes per side. When fish is cooked through, transfer to a large plate and flake into pieces.
  10. Toppings: Prepare toppings before grilling or during grilling. Thinly slice cabbage. Cut avocado into slices. Cut lime into wedges. Mince more cilantro.
  11. Heat tortillas if desired. I like to heat tortillas in a pan on the stovetop.
  12. Fill tacos with fish, salsa, cilantro, avocado, and cabbage. Squeeze with a bit of lime. Enjoy the burst of flavors!

SOURCE: Cooks Illustrated (Sept./Oct. 2014 issue)

Veggie Bowl with Tahini & Lemon Dressing

Veggie  Bowl with Tahini Dressing

roasted veggies with a zing of tahini dressing

Dang! I totally forgot about that bundle of kale I bought last week. I discovered it languishing in the back of the fridge this morning. I managed to salvage 5 leaves from it, though, to add to the veggie bowl I had in mind when I originally bought it.

A couple of weeks ago, I lunched with a pal of mine at VeggieGrill, a healthy-style fast food place. I ordered and devoured a Harvest Bowl, which included vegetarian sausage, roasted cauliflower, steamed kale, and some kind of creamy sauce. Rather yummy, I wanted to somewhat replicate it. Not sure how close I came to imitating it, but I’m very satisfied with this version.

Best of all, this dish is highly versatile. You can use rice of your choice or quinoa or any other grain or seed. Hot or cold. As for the veggies, add your favorites. Roast ‘em, like I did, or steam them or add them fresh. See what I mean about versatility? Also, you can serve it as a meal on its own or as a side dish.

I roasted my kale along with the other veggies simply because my hunger pains were making me rush (that’s just a fancy way of saying I was lazy). However, the roasted kale added a slightly charred taste, which I enjoyed. I also wanted to add grated carrots, but in my rush of hunger I forgot. And, thankfully, I had cooked the rice the night before so I would have some on hand for the week. I often do that with rice or quinoa. Anyhow, that quickened the process as well as lessened the work load.

And the dressing? The best part! Lots of tang from both the tahini and the lemon, and then lots of pungency from the garlic. It’s a zinger of a dressing that makes the nutty rice and earthy veggies totally pop with flavor.

All in all, a bowl loaded with healthy goodies = happy belly.

Veggie Bowl with TahiniDressing2

a bowl of healthy goodies: veggies & tahini dressing

Veggie Bowl with Tahini & Lemon Dressing

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Note: use your favorite veggies and favorite seasonings as well as your choice of grains for this dish; the ingredients below are just a starting point



  • 3 cups cooked rice (brown or white) or quinoa (I used short grain brown rice which cooks up plump and chewy and nutty…I sometimes buy Lundberg brand or buy from bulk bins at Whole Foods)
  • 1 small crown of broccoli
  • 1 small yellow squash
  • 5 leaves curly kale
  • olive oil
  • seasoning (I used Penzey’s Shallot Pepper, which is fantastic of all veggies, corn on the cob, and baked potatoes)

Tahini Dressing

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. tahini (which is sesame paste…I bought mine at Trader Joe’s)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp. lemon zest (I actually left this out)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper


  1. Cook rice or quinoa, following directions on package. For the short grain brown rice I purchased from the bulk bins at Whole Foods, I rinsed the rice thoroughly using a strainer, then added it to a pan with 2 cups chicken broth (water or vegetable broth works, too). I brought it to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and cooked covered for 25 minutes. Keep it covered for 10 more minutes after cooking, then fluff with a fork. This makes about 3 cups cooked grains. It keeps well in the refrigerator for several days. Just microwave when ready to use after refrigerating if you want hot rice.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Chop broccoli and squash into bite-sized pieces; place in roasting dish. Separate kale leaves from stem, then tear into small pieces; add to dish. FYI: If you don’t want your kale charred, I suggest adding it after 10 minutes of baking. Or massage it instead to tenderize it (yep, it really works!). Or steam it.
  4. Generously drizzle olive oil over vegetables, then give a hearty sprinkling of your favorite seasoning (or I bet skipping the seasoning would be fine because the dressing gives a powerful punch of flavor). Toss to mix. Roast veggies for 15-20 minutes, until done to your desired tenderness.
  5. For Tahini Dressing: While veggies are roasting, place lemon juice, tahini, minced garlic, zest, salt, and pepper in a small food processor and pulse until mixed. Alternatively, you can just whisk with a fork until it’s all mixed. Or even easier, shake it in a container. If the dressing needs thinning, use a bit of water.
  6. When veggies finish roasting, toss with dressing, then add to rice and mix.

SOURCES: inspired by the Harvest Bowl at VeggieGrill; dressing from A Full Measure of Happiness

Balsamic Reduction for Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

fresh garden tomatoes graced with mozzarella and sweet basil and drizzled with sweet balsamic reduction dressing

A few years ago at a night out to dinner with friends, one gal ordered a caprese salad. I had never heard of that before, nor did I find it very appealing when layers of mozzarella cheese and basil and tomato slices came to the table. To me, a salad equals greens smothered in dressing, not slices of tomato and cheese.

Well, I’ve come a long way in my food experiences since then. Truth be told, it was only last summer when I finally found thick slices of tomatoes from our garden sprinkled with salt and pepper to taste utterly satisfying and refreshing. I finally understood the appeal of adding some equally thick slices of soft mozzarella and basil leaves picked straight from the garden, adding another dimension of freshness and summer splash to the mix.

However, creating a balsamic reduction dressing eluded me. I think last summer I simply tried reducing the balsamic vinegar. This summer, I added a bit of sweetener and other flavorings, and I hit the jackpot.

This makes about 1/3 cup balsamic reduction, and unless you make a ton of caprese salads, it will last awhile in the fridge. I store my dressing in a condiment bottle with a little spout, which makes it very easy to dress the salad (I found a 6-pack at Smart and Final, or you can find mini ones at Micheal’s).

So, if you are a fan of Caprese Salad and like your dressing on the sweet side, this balsamic reduction will likely satisfy your taste buds.

Balsamic Reduction for Caprese Salad

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  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey (use less to reduce the sweetness level)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes


  1. Place all ingredients in small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.
  2. Simmer for about 10-20 minutes, until reduced to about 1/3 cup. Reduction will be thick but will thicken even more when refrigerated.

Note: Allow dressing to sit at room temperature for a few minutes if it’s too thick right out of the refrigerator. You can speed up this process by placing it in a bowl of hot water or even microwaving it for 15-20 seconds.

SOURCE: adapted from





Cream Cheese Brownies

Cream Cheese Brownies

Decadent brownies with swirls of tangy cream cheese filling

Want something beyond the ordinary brownie? Try these Cream Cheese Swirl versions. Not only do they look gorgeous with that swirl effect, but every bite awards you a taste of tangy cream cheese flavor to complement the rich chocolatey brownie. Furthermore, not only will you impress with the flavor combo, but you will impress with the attractive swirl design. And you know what? It’s really a simple technique!

Cream Cheese Brownies

Cream Cheese Brownies

Cream Cheese Brownies

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Cream Cheese Filling

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

Brownie Batter

  • 2/3 cup (3 1/3 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and set oven rack to middle position. Make foil sling for 8-inch square baking pan by pulling off two 14-inch pieces of aluminum foil from roll and folding each to 8-inch widths. Lay sheets perpendicularly in pan, with extra foil hanging over edges. Smooth foil against pan. Finally, grease the foil in the pan.
  2. Cream Cheese Filling: In a small bowl, whisk together softened cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, and flour until combined.
  3. Brownie Batter: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate and butter. Do this by microwaving in 1 minute increments, stirring occasionally. (Alternatively, you can use the double boiler method, if preferred.)
  5. In medium bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add melted chocolate/butter (do not clean bowl yet); whisk until combined. Add flour mixture and fold to combine.
  6. Transfer 1/2 cup of brownie batter to bowl that had melted chocolate in it. With remaining batter, spread it into the 8”x8” pan.
  7. Spread cream cheese filling evenly over batter in pan.
  8. Microwave bowl of reserved batter until warm and pourable, 10-20 seconds. Using spoon, place 6-9 dollops of softened batter over cream cheese filling, spacing them evenly. Use a knife to swirl the brownie batter through the cream cheese filling, creating a marbled pattern, about 10-12 strokes. Leave a 1/2-inch border around the edges.
  9. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean with a few moist crumbs attached (test in brownie portion rather than cream cheese portion), 35-40 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through baking.
  10. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire rack for 1 hour. Use foil overhang to lift brownies from pan, returning to wire rack until completely cool, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares. Refrigerate leftover brownies, but allow to come to room temperature for 1 hour before serving. The brownies also freeze well when wrapped in plastic wrap and then place in resealable bag.

SOURCE: Cook’s Illustrated, July/August 2014 issue

Red Velvet Berry Trifles

Red Velvet Berry Trifle

Red Velvet Berry Trifle

Ever eaten red velvet cake? Sounds so elegant, doesn’t it? It has a vibrantly rich red color, a subtle chocolate flavor, and a stunningly contrasting and tangy white cream cheese frosting layer. Elegant indeed!

I’ve tried to bake red velvet a few times. No luck. Too dry. Too oily. Too bland.

Then Todd and Diane of the blog White on Rice Couple posted the most lovely rustic-looking layered Red Velvet Berry Cake. I have found their recipes reliably yummy, so I thought I’d give red velvet another attempt.

Score! Their cake has the moistness that has eluded me. And it uses a bit more chocolate flavoring than other recipes I’ve tried, so that deepens the flavor profile.

Rather than make a layered cake, though, I made individual trifles, mainly because I have these adorable trifle cups I bought a few years back and don’t use as often as I’d like to. I baked my batter in a half-sheet pan and froze the baked cake, then used a cookie cutter to cut mini cake rounds to fit into the trifle cups. I took all the leftovers and chopped them up into small bits and also used those for trifles in the tall glasses. You could even make one giant trifle, which would look stunning in a large glass dish.

Anyhow, I made these for a book club meeting, and they received rave reviews. Not too cloyingly sweet, the berries with the cake make a light summer dessert.You can lighten this dessert even more by using the heavy cream and cream cheese frosting from the Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes recipes. I may try that next time I whip these up. (FYI: I made both the cake and frosting ahead of time, freezing the cake after cutting for the trifles and refrigerating the frosting. Wrap cake in plastic wrap, then place in resealable bag. It was a snap, then, to put these together a few hours before I needed them.)

Finally, the red, white, and blue colors of the cake, frosting, and blueberries make this a perfect Fourth of July dessert!

Red Velvet Berry Trifle

Red Velvet Berry Trifle


Red Velvet Berry Trifles

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  • 2 cups (275 g) cake flour (cake flour is lighter than all purpose)
  • 1/4 cup (22 g) unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Penzey’s Dutch-processed Natural Cocoa Powder)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk (or substitute with 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp. lemon juice or white vinegar; let sit for 5-10 minutes)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. (30 ml) liquid red food coloring or about 1 tbsp. (15 ml) Americolor #119 Red Red color gel
  • 1 tsp. white or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick/113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs

Layers: Frosting & Fruit

  • 2 (8 oz/225 g) pkgs. cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick/113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups (270 g) powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • mix of fresh berries (about 1 1/2 lbs./680 g): sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or butter your baking vessels (two 9-inch rounds, a 9×13 inch pan, or a half-sheet pan) (you can also make cupcakes from the batter). If you want to make sure your cake comes out of the pan easily, consider lining with parchment paper. TIP: Grease pan first, then parchment paper will stick to it. Follow by greasing parchment paper, too.
  2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. (I always sift my cocoa powder to break up any lumps.)
  3. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, red food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla until well blended.
  4. In a large bowl, beat together sugar and butter until creamy, 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time, to sugar/butter until blended.
  6. Add 1/2 of the dry mixture and 1/2 of the wet mixture; beat until smooth. Repeat with remaining wet and dry mixtures.
  7. Pour the batter into baking vessels. For cake rounds, bake about 25-30 minutes. For half sheet pan, bake about 15-18 minutes. Since I haven’t used 9×13 or cupcake pans for this recipe, start at 15 minutes and check every few minutes for doneness: when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, cake is done.
  8. When finished baking, transfer pans to wire racks to cool cakes.
  9. For frosting, cream together cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. If your frosting seems too loose, chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours; it will thicken. You can make the frosting a day or two ahead of time and just store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.
  10. To make trifles or layered cake, start with a cake layer, add a frosting layer, then add a fruit layer. Make as many layers as you desire…or that your trifle dish will hold.
  11. You can assemble trifles a few hours in advance and store, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If making a layered cake, be careful so plastic wrap won’t squish your lovely creation.

SOURCE: White on Rice Couple

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

Hello and pardon my long hiatus. Reasons? Busy at work, rebalancing dinner responsibilities now that hubby is back to work, adding gym workouts to my life, gardening, etc. Nothing serious. Getting out of the habit of blogging just happened so easily, and I’ve had a hard time finding the motivation to start again.

My love of cooking and baking, though, haven’t waned. So let’s see if I can get back into the habit of sharing the kitchen delights, starting with these Lemon Poppyseed Muffins. Bursting with refreshing citrus flavor and the crunch of poppyseeds, these sweet treats disappear in a flash (and reappear on the thighs!), so beware. I fool myself by making them in mini form, thinking I’m not eating as many. Yah, right. I end up popping mini muffins all day until the entire batch disappears, which has occurred numerous times.

I’ve made these bunches of times in the past few months, but I cannot stop myself from eating them, so they’ve vanished before I could ever take a photo. It took a lot of willpower to save these last few for photos, but I finally did it. And now I can finally share a stellar muffin recipe with you. Enjoy!

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins


Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

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Yield: 12



  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 cups (8.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 tbsp. poppyseeds


  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2-3 tbsp. lemon juice


  1. Adjust oven rack to center position, and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Fill muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest, rubbing with fingers to distribute lemon zest.
  3. Whisk in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In a small bowl, blend yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and melted butter. Add to dry ingredients, stirring gently to blend but not overmixing.
  5. Stir in poppyseeds.
  6. Divide batter evenly amongst muffin tins.
  7. Bake at 400 degrees F for 18-20 minutes (about 15 if using mini muffin pan), until thin knife or toothpick inserted in center of muffins comes out clean.Transfer muffin pan to cooling rack, and after 5 minutes, remove muffins from pan and continue to cool.
  8. When muffins cool completely, drizzle icing over tops (using spouted container or just drizzling with spoon or fork). To make icing, combine powdered sugar with lemon juice. Begin with 1 1/2 tbsp. and add more until desired consistency is reached.

SOURCE: adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod via Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan


Bok Choy & Red Pepper Stir Fry

Bok Choy Stir Fry

Bok choy & red peppers star in this simple, quick stir fry

Tomorrow I return to work after a much-needed spring break from teaching, putting me in boo hoo mode, but at least I finally finished grading the essays I brought home. (Oh, the joys of teaching English.)

I did manage to set up the spring veggie plantings, trim a few trees in the backyard, and write a few letters to my nephew who recently headed off to Marine Boot Camp. 

However, I didn’t manage to read any novels, which I’m bummed about, and I didn’t take care of spring purging around the house. Honestly, I don’t know where the days have gone considering I got so little done.

Speaking of where the days have gone, I really don’t know how two months have passed and I’ve only blogged once! Somehow I lost my motivation and energy. The muses left me high and dry. Sinus infection and allergies contributed to the absence as well as a heavy work load of essay correcting (all my own fault for assigning so much work, I know).

Plus, hubby has returned to work after a couple years of schooling for a career change, and now our balance needs readjusting. He used to take responsibility for dinner since I was the one gone all day. Now I get home before him, so I find my evenings filled with kitchen duty, leaving little time and energy for blogging. 

Despite my absence the past couple months, I have experimented with and collected a few recipes to share, one of them this Red Pepper Bok Choy Stir Fry side dish. 

This dish cooks up quickly, uses few ingredients, has crispiness and crunchiness, and contains oodles of nutritional value. Plus, it’s pretty to look at with the bright red and green colors and the sprinkling of sesame seeds. And for us, at least, it adds a new veggie–the bok choy–to our lives, creating a nice break from the heavy doses of broccoli we consume.

It pairs well with brown or white rice for a veggie rice bowl, complements chicken and beef, and tastes especially yummy with Asian meatballs. Or, just eat it all on its own for a filling meal.

Bok Choy & Red Pepper Stir Fry

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  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp. dark sesame oil (don’t skip, for this adds a rich nutty flavor)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced (I omit this)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bunches bok choy, sliced any size you prefer (I got about 8 loosely packed cups from a bag of baby bok choy from the Asian store; I’ve used less, too, as well as used “grown-up” bok choy)
  • 2 red peppers, deseeded and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1-2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • toasted sesame seeds


  1. Add vegetable oil and sesame oil to a wok, heating over medium-high heat (use a large pan if you don’t have a wok). When the oil begins to shimmer, add the peppers, onion, and garlic; toss/stir constantly.
  2. After 3-4 minutes, when the onions turn translucent and golden, add the bok choy, stirring/tossing often. Cook for 1 minute, then add the soy sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes more, just until the green leaves on the bok choy begin to wilt. 
  3. Garnish with sesame seeds. 

SOURCE: slightly adapted from Cook for Your Life