Monday, January 30, 2012

Food Blog South 2012 Recap

What do you get when you combine 200 foodies and bloggers, amazing cookbook authors, incredibly talented food photographers and food stylists, and wonderful chefs all in one building?  Well, Food Blog South, of course!

Food Blog South held its second conference in Birmingham, AL this year, and I feel so lucky to have attended.  It has quickly become the second largest food blogging conference in the nation, and it can best be described as a whirlwind of culinary wonderfulness, if you ask me!  

Not only did I get to meet and spend valuable time with Virginia Willis, Helene Dujardin, Dianne Jacobs and Lisa Ekus, but I also got to meet some pretty awesome food bloggers from around the USA.  People came from as far away as California for the event. 

When I heard that both Virginia Willis and Hélène Dujardin would be there, I didn't waste any time buying my ticket.  Virginia Willis is the author of both Bon Appetit, Ya'll and Basic to Brilliant, Ya'll (which are both amazing cookbooks!).  She is a graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne, she worked as the Kitchen Director for Martha Stewart Living Television, and she has prepared meals for President Clinton, Aretha Franklin and JULIA CHILD to name a few!

Me and Virginia Willis!  :)

I discovered Hélène Dujardin's food blog, Tartelette, back in 2007 and have been a faithful follower ever since.  In fact, her blog is one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place!  Her french macarons have got to be the most amazing, creative creations you'll ever see and her food photography skills are unbelievable.  She is incredibly talented and her work continues to be a huge inspiration to me.  Her first book, Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling, is a must-have read for anyone who wants to improve their food photography.

 Hélène Dujardin

I learned so much at this conference and really found the classes very informative.  Kara Nielsen gave a great presentation about the art of mapping food trends.  Her predictions for the biggest food trends in 2012?
  • Fine Dining (modernist cuisine meets land-to-table)
  • Return of Animal Fats
  • The Veritable Kouign-Amann (is this the next cupcake???)
  • Packaging Wild Foods
  • Sprouted Grains
  • Wholesome Beverage Choices
  • Yogurt (keeps growing!)
Here are some more photos from the weekend...Please excuse the quality.  I had to use my cell phone in a few low-light situations.  You can get the idea, though.  :)

Friday night, a few of us had the opportunity to dine with Virginia Willis and Lisa Ekus at Hot & Hot Fish Club.  The meal was superb...It was quite a treat!!  

So much deliciousness on one table!

I'm not usually a huge fan of raw oysters...BUT...when Virginia Willis personally hands you an oyster to try, you eat the dang thing!  HAHA.  Of course, it was actually delicious!

At the conference, I got to meet Chef Justin Balmes.  You might remember him from Season 7 of Next Food Network Star.

One of the classes that I was most excited about was the Food Photography & Styling Class taught by photographer Jennifer Davick and food stylist Marian Cooper Cairns.  This class was especially helpful and fun, because Jennifer and Marian set up tables with assorted fruits, plates, napkins, utensils and other food styling props.  We were able to pick and choose what we wanted to use and style our own photos.  There was gorgeous natural light coming in through the windows, and big diffusers really made for special lighting.  It's moments like those that make me really wish I was able to take advantage of natural lighting for my food photography.  Unfortunately, shooting mostly at night makes that impossible for me.  Here are a few of my photos from the class:

After the main conference, 6 of us headed over to Chez Fon Fon for dinner.  This is easily one of my favorite restaurants in Birmingham.  It's a quaint French bistro owned by James Beard nominee Chef Frank Stitt.  To our surprise, Chef Stitt personally came to our table at the beginning of the meal to bring us a special charcuterie platter.  He sure knows how to make a table of foodies feel extra special!

Compliments of the chef...

I ordered the Cassoulet at Chez Fon Fon:

The conference came to an end with a beer and cheese tasting at Good People Brewing Co, which was tons of fun!

I also want to take a minute to share a few food blogs from some of the talented food bloggers that I met over the weekend.  Be sure and give them some blog love and visit their pages:

Want more information about Food Blog South 2012?  CLICK HERE for another great article from!

I can't wait for Food Blog South 2013!  Will you be there?

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dreamy Coconut Pecan Brownies

Have you ever stopped to think what life would be like without chocolate?

Wait...who am kidding??  That thought is just too unbearable, and I don't want to even think of that sort of craziness.  Craziness!  After all, then we wouldn't be able to indulge in the wonderfulness that are these brownies!
I mean, straight up perfectly fudgy, nutty, chocolate-coma-inducing, chocolatey goodness on a plate, folks. 

I've tried quite a few brownie recipes in the past...What can I say, they are my weakness.  Thomas Keller's Brownies from the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook are quite incredible and are among one of my favorites that I've made.  And now, ladies and gentlemen, this recipe from Dorie Greenspan has found a special place in my recipe collection as another HUGE favorite.

I adapted the recipe just a bit in order to add my own little flair.  See, I have this thing for anything that involves chocolate and coconut together.  They are a match made in culinary heaven, and I just can't help but add a little coconut extract here and there to chocolate desserts any chance that I get.  Can you blame me?  If coconut just isn't your thing, simply substitute vanilla extract instead.

These brownies are fudgy and dense, without being too heavy.  They are rich and decadent and would of course be wonderful with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream melting over the top.  
Bon Appetit, my friends!

Dreamy Coconut Pecan Brownies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe for Classic Brownies in  Baking: From my Home to Yours

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Semisweet instead)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon coconut extract (OR vanilla)
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional, but really good)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (according to taste)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans (OR walnuts)

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, butter the foil and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Put the butter in the bowl, top with the chopped chocolates and stir occasionally until the ingredients are just melted - you don't want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

With a whisk, stir in the sugar. Don't be concerned when your smooth mixture turns grainy. One by one, whisk in the eggs. Add the vanilla and give the ingredients a vigorous whisking before gently stirring the espresso, if you are using it, salt and flour; stir only until incorporated. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the chopped walnuts.

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with the spatula.

Bake the brownies for 30 to 33 minutes, or until the top is dull and a thin knife inserted into the center come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the brownies to room temperature.
When the brownies are completely cool, turn out onto a rack, peel away the foil and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares, each a scant 2 inches on a side.

Serving: Like all great brownies, these are good eaten out of hang without a bit of embellishment or topped off with whipped or ice cream (coffee ice cream is really good with these), offered either way at room temperature or a bit chilled.

Storing recommendations: These are best served within 2 days of baking. If you're going to keep them at room temperature, just cut what you need and keep the remainder wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. To freeze for up to 2 months, wrap the brownies airtight. 

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Stellar Brunswick Stew

So, my sisters came to visit again a few weeks ago, and as usual we just HAD to spend some quality time in the kitchen trying new recipes together.  That's one of our favorite things to do.  Thankfully, I'm not the only foodie in the family!

They brought along this recipe for Brunswick Stew that they had found in their Southern Living magazine.  We couldn't think of anything that would be better for dinner than a comforting, hot bowl of meaty stew that night.

And I mean meaty!

The original recipe calls for 2 lbs. of chicken and 1 lb. of beef brisket.  We decided to kick things up a notch and add 2 lbs. of beef brisket instead.  

Yes, because we're daring like that!  

After all, an extra pound of beef brisket can only make it extra delicious, right?  Yes...I think so!

The recipe called for chopped barbequed beef brisket.  Instead of taking the easy way out and stopping by the nearest BBQ joint for our brisket, we headed to the store and bought a beautiful hunk of meat to cook ourselves.  We plopped it into the crock pot (along with beef broth, onion, garlic, salt & pepper) that morning and let it go for about 6 hours until it was melt-in-yo-mouth tender. 

I have to say that this stew is quite delicious.  It will warm you up on a cold night and put a smile on your face.

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Brunswick Stew
Adapted from Southern Living magazine

  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons jarred beef soup base (Add one box of beef broth OR add another 2 cups of water in with the 1 1/2 tablespoons beef soup make sure there is enough liquid in the soup)
  • 2 pounds skinned and boned chicken breasts
  • 1 (28-oz.) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (OR 2  14-oz cans)
  • 1 (12-oz.) package frozen white shoepeg or whole kernel corn
  • 1 (10-oz.) package frozen cream-style corn, thawed
  • 1 (9-oz.) package frozen baby lima beans
  • 1 (12-oz.) bottle chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 1 pound chopped barbecued beef brisket; without sauce (We used 2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Hot sauce (optional) 


  1. If you are cooking your own beef brisket, place it into a crock pot set on high heat.  Cover the brisket with beef stock, 1 chopped onion, 1 clove minced garlic, salt and pepper.  Let it slowly cook in the crock pot for 5 - 6 hours, or until the meat is very tender and comes apart easily with a fork.  Once it's done, place the brisket on a cutting board and shred it using 2 forks.
  2. Next, sauté onions and garlic in hot oil in a 7.5-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat 3 to 5 minutes or until tender.
  3. Stir together beef soup base and 2 cups water, and add to Dutch oven. Stir in chicken and next 9 ingredients. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 hours.
  4. Uncover and shred chicken into large pieces using 2 forks. Stir in brisket and lemon juice. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Serve with hot sauce, if desired.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lime-Honey Glazed Salmon with Warm Black Bean & Corn Salad

Today, I bring you a beautiful dish that tastes just as pretty as it looks.  It makes a beautiful presentation and takes minimal time to put together.  Sounds pretty awesome, right?

It's been a rainy, cloudy and generally dreary day here in Birmingham.  There's some ugly, severe weather headed our way late tonight...Let's hope it doesn't get too bad!  So, just how do you brighten up a rainy day?  This cheerful dish is the perfect place to start.

Watch out...The colors of this recipe pop right off the plate and almost slap you in the face!  The lime juice really adds a great citrusy note, and the honey balances that by adding the perfect amount of sweetness to the glaze.


Salmon is such a wonderfully healthy ingredient that I love to use as often as possible.  I'm always on the lookout for new salmon dishes, and this recipe from Rachael Ray is definitely one that I'll refer back to in the future.  It's a keeper!
Bon Appetit, my friends!

The warm black bean and corn salad cooking in the skillet...Yum!
Lime-Honey Glazed Salmon with Warm Black Bean & Corn Salad
Source:  365:  No Repeats by Rachael Ray

4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium Red Onion, chopped
2 large Garlic Cloves, chopped
1/2 to 1 tsp. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes 
1 tsp. Ground Cumin 
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
Juice of 2 limes
3 Tbsp. Honey 
1 tsp. Chili Powder 
4  6oz. Salmon Fillets 
1 Red Bell Pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1  10oz Box Frozen Corn kernels, defrosted 
1/2 cup Chicken Stock
1  15oz. can Black Beans, rinsed and drained
2 to 3 Tbsp. Fresh Cilantro, chopped
6 cups Baby Spinach

Preheat a medium skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of the EVOO (twice around the pan).  Add the onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally , for 3 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, preheat a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of EVOO.  In a shallow dish, combine the juice of 1 lime, honey, chili powder, salt and pepper.  Add the salmon fillets to the lime-honey mixture and toss to coat thoroughly.  Add the seasoned salmon to the hot skillet and cook until just cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side.

To the cooked onions, add the bell peppers and corn kernels and cook for 1 minute.  Add the chicken stock and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.  Add the black beans and cook until the beans are just heated through.  Remove the skillet from the heat and add the juice of the second lime, the cilantro, and spinach.  Toss to wilt the spinach and then taste and adjust the seasoning.  Serve the lime-and-honey-glazed salmon on top of the warm black bean and corn salad.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Homemade Twix Bars - Yes, Please!

Two words:  Homemade + Twix!

If you love Twix candy bars like I always have, then boy are you going to adore this recipe!!!  These bars are made from 3 deliciously decadent layers - A layer of shortbread on bottom, creamy caramel in the middle, and chocolate on top.   

Seriously...does it get much better?

Instead of cutting these into square bars like I did, you could even cut them into longer slices and dip them into chocolate to resemble actual Twix bars!

When we first tried these bars, patience was not on our side (can you imagine that?), so the chocolate hadn't really hardened up all the way when we took our first bites.  I wish we had waited a little longer, because these bars are much better once they've had a chance to set up.  They are best stored in the refrigerator.  Before enjoying, just pull them out of the fridge and let them come to room temp.  That way, they'll be easier to slice.

Brad and I tend to love the taste of darker chocolate, plus I already had bittersweet chocolate on-hand, so that's what I used.  I will say that these would be even better if chopped peanuts were perhaps sprinkled on top of the caramel layer before pouring on the chocolate.  Or, you could even add a little sea salt.  They could have used just a little "something", and I think a little saltiness would have been amazing.

One thing that I will add is that the shortbread was a tinky tiny bit crumbly.  After reading the recipe reviews, this seems to be a common concern.  However, the kind folks at King Arthur replied to those reviews, and they seemed to think it might be because the shortbread either had a little too much flour added or that it was cooked a little too long.  Either way, it still tasted fabulous!

I'll definitely be making these again...with the peanuts next time!

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Thousand Dollar Bars (aka homemade Twix bars)

Shortbread Layer:
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

Caramel Layer:
2 cups caramel, cut into small chunks
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Chocolate Layer:
3 cups chopped milk chocolate or dark chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (optional)

1) FOR THE CRUST: Preheat your oven to 300°F. Spray a 9" x 13" pan lightly with cooking spray, or line with parchment, and set aside. 

2) In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the flour. At first the mixture may seem dry, but will come together as you continue to beat at medium speed. 

3) Take the dough (it will be somewhat stiff) and press it evenly into the pan. Lightly flouring your fingertips will help with any sticking. 

4) Prick the crust all over with a fork. The holes will allow steam to escape and the crust will bake evenly with fewer bubbles. 

5) Bake the crust until it's lightly golden brown on top and the edges are deeper golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately run a knife around the edges to loosen the crust. Set it aside to cool completely.

6) FOR THE CARAMEL LAYER: Melt the caramel and cream over low heat in a small saucepan. Pour the caramel over the cooled crust and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill and firm up. 

7) FOR THE CHOCOLATE LAYER: Melt the milk or dark chocolate slowly in a double boiler or over very low heat. If it seems very thick, add a tablespoon of shortening to thin it. Pour evenly over the chilled caramel layer and spread to cover all of the caramel. Return to the fridge until the chocolate is well set. Cut into 2" x 2" squares to serve. It's best to store these bars in the refrigerator.

8) These bars can also be cut and dipped in milk chocolate to resemble Twix ® bars. After the caramel layer has chilled firm, cut down the length of the pan, splitting the bars into two long, narrow bars. Then cut each long strip into "fingers". Dip the chilled bars into melted chocolate and place on parchment paper to set for several hours. 

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Mexican Lasagne

How do mexican ingredients piled into tall layers in between soft flour tortillas sound?  Oh, yes...that is the deliciousness that is Mexican Lasagne!  

A yummy sauce packed with onion, red bell pepper and tomatoes is used, along with a filling of black beans, sweet corn, and cheddar cheese to make the lasagne-like layers.  And what to use instead of pasta...?  Well, soft flour tortillas are just perfect.  They dissolve just enough to almost taste like soft cheese in between the layers.  Who knew??

Nigella tops hers off with a fresh Avocado Salsa that sounds divine.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the needed ingredients for the salsa, so I couldn't make it.  However, I served mine with a fresh salad of chopped lettuce, tomatoes, and a dollop of sour cream...just like they do at my favorite Mexican restaurant.  It was perfection on a plate!

And leftovers?  Yep...this lasagne is even better the next day, after all those flavors have had time to meld together.

One addition I did make was ground turkey.  I simply added it as part of the sauce and cooked it along with the onions and red bell pepper in step 1.  I also had to drain a little of the water out of the sauce, to avoid it being too runny.
Bon Appetit, my friends!  :)

I tore the tortillas into pieces so that there were no gaps.

A layer of filling...

Then a layer of sauce...

Top it all off with shredded cheddar cheese...

And voila!

Mexican Lasagne
Source:  Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson



  • 1 tablespoon garlic flavoured oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 green chiles, chopped, with seeds
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stalks
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, plus 1   2/3 cups water to rinse out empty cans
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup 
  • I added 1 lb. of cooked, ground turkey


  • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 1/4 cups drained canned corn, from about 1   1/2 (15-ounce cans)
  • 2 1/2 cups grated mature goats Cheddar, or cheese of your choice
  • 8 soft flour tortillas (approximately 10-inch diameter)
  • 1 round ovenproof dish, approximately 10 inches diameter and 2   1/4 inches deep
  • Avocado Salsa, for serving, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, slipping in a cookie sheet at the same time. 

For the sauce: Heat the oil in a saucepan on the stove and fry the onion, bell pepper and chiles (along with ground beef or turkey like I did...until meat is cooked through). Add the salt and cook gently for 15 minutes, and once soft, add the chopped cilantro stalks. 

Add the canned tomatoes then rinse the cans out with water and add this too. Spoon in the ketchup and let things come to a simmer, leaving the sauce (or salsa in keeping with the Mexican mojo) to cook while you get on with preparing the filling- about 10 minutes. 

For the filling: 
Mix the drained beans and canned corn in a bowl. Add most of the grated cheese, reserving some to sprinkle on the top at the end, and mix together. 

Start to assemble the lasagne by spooning about a third of the salsa into the bottom of your ovenproof dish and smear it about, then layer on 2 tortillas so that they cover the sauce overlapping slightly, like a Venn diagram. 

Add a third of the beans and cheese mixture covering the tortillas, and then about a quarter of the remaining salsa and another 2 tortillas. 

Repeat with another third of beans and cheese, and more salsa before layering on another 2 tortillas. 

Finally, add the last layer of beans and cheese, nearly all of the remaining salsa and cover with the last 2 tortillas. Spread the very last bit of salsa over the tortillas and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. 

Place on top of the cookie sheet in the oven (to catch any over-flow from the lasagne) and bake for 30 minutes, and let it rest for a good 10 to 15 minutes before slicing like a pizza, and eat with the avocado salsa. 

Make Ahead Note: The lasagne can be assembled 1 day ahead. Cool the tomato salsa before assembling. Cover dish tightly with plastic and refrigerate until needed. Bake as directed in recipe, allowing an extra 5 to 10 minutes baking time and checking the lasagne is piping hot in centre before removing from oven. 

Freeze Note: The assembled but uncooked lasagne can be frozen for up to 3 months. Wrap dish tightly in double layer of plastic and a layer of aluminium foil. Thaw overnight in fridge and cook as above. 

Further Note: Leftovers should be covered and refrigerated as soon as possible. To reheat, put individual slices in ovenproof dish, cover with foil and reheat in oven preheated to 350 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes. Check the lasagne is piping hot before serving. Wedges of leftover lasagne can be frozen for up to 2 months, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and then either in foil or in resealable bag. Thaw overnight in refrigerator and reheat as above. 

Avocado Salsa
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped green jalepenos from a jar or can
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro

Halve the avocados, remove the pits, and then, using the tip of a sharp knife, cut lines down the flesh of each half, about a 1/4-inch apart and then the same across. Turn the avocado halves inside out, or otherwise release the pale green cubes into a bowl, then tumble in the scallion, chopped jalepenos, salt to taste, lime juice and most of the cilantro and toss gently to mix. Taste to see if any more salt is needed before scattering with the remaining cilantro and taking to the table.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Homemade Dog Treats...BONE Appetit!

With all of the yummy goodness that we all make in our kitchens on a day-to-day basis, we can't forget about our furry four-legged friends.  After all, they are a part of the family!  Making homemade dog treats is something that I've thought about doing for quite a while now.  I finally got around to it recently, and boy were my two dogs happy as can be!

These wholesome treats are made with peanut butter, honey and oats.  Plus, if my dogs' reactions to these goodies are any indication, they taste irresistible, too!

They are a lot of fun to make, are easy to whip up, and if you don't have a dog bone shaped cookie cutter, really any shape will do.  I promise...your dog won't care if they are round, square or heart-shaped! 

Every time my springer spaniel heard the sound of the treat jar lid being opened, she'd rush to the kitchen with tail wagging.  Once I gave her a treat, she'd happily disappear into the other room until her treat was completely devoured.

My other pup - a cocker spaniel - is getting up there in age (she turned 13 last month!).  She likes softer foods the best, so I originally picked this recipe in hopes that they'd be softer than store-bought doggie bones.  They were indeed perfectly soft, so she LOVED them too!  They were easy for her to eat.

Make these soon for your pup.  He (or she!) will thank you with lots of tail wags and wet kisses!  :)

BONE Appetit, my friends!

That's Hannah on the left and Lady on the right.

Homemade Dog Treats
Source:  A Cozy Kitchen

1/2 cup of peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together peanut butter, honey, oil and chicken broth. In a separate bowl, combine flours and oatmeal. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients.

Place dough on flour dusted surface. Roll or press dough out to about 1/4” inch thick. Use a small bone cookie cutter to cut out cookies. My cookie cutter was a 5-inch bone-shaped , but for small dogs you may want to use a small cookie cutter (around 2″). Roll out leftover scraps and cut out as many as possible.

Put cut out cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 14-16 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Scrumptious Dark Chocolate Cake w/ Strawberry Cream Cheese Icing

Happy Birthday Brad!

January 2nd was Brad's birthday, and we celebrated with a delicious Dark Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese icing.  I even added freshly sliced strawberries in between the two cake layers to make it that much more decadent.  On the side?  Chocolate covered strawberries, of course!

I love making birthday cakes and it's become a little thing lately for everyone to give me some sort of birthday cake "challenge" on their birthday.  Brad wanted a cake that incorporated dark chocolate and strawberries, so this is what I came up with.

The result was pretty delicious, if I do say so myself.  Brad even had seconds, and when that happens you KNOW it's good!  I combined two different elements from two of my favorite cake recipes...I whipped up Hershey's recipe for Dark Chocolate Cake (I've used this recipe time and time again!), and combined it with Paula Deen's recipe for Strawberry Cream Cheese icing from her Simply Delicious Strawberry Cake.  Plus, the contrast of the pink icing looked so pretty on the dark cake.


The chocolate covered strawberries served on the side were the perfect touch to a perfect birthday celebration.

Bon Appetit, my friends! 

Dark Chocolate Cake
Source:  Hershey's Kitchens

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
(you can use regular cocoa, if you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup freshly brewed coffee


Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a different bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla extract; Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed of an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in hot coffee...the batter will be very thin!

Pour batter into the prepared pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely and add icing and strawberry slices.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
Source: Cooking with Paula Deen magazine - May/June 2008
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (10-ounce) package frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed and pureed
1/2 teaspoon strawberry extract (I used vanilla extract instead)
7 cups confectioner's sugar (a little less than 2 lbs.)
In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in 1/4 cup strawberry puree, reserving remaining for another use. Beat in extract. Gradually add confectioner's sugar, beating until smooth.
- For pinker frosting, add 2 to 3 drops of red food coloring to frosting.
- I added freshly sliced strawberries between the cake layers!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Burgundy Mushrooms - The Pioneer Woman

"These are excellent.  These just might be the best thing I've EVER eaten!"

These were the words that came rushing out of Brad's mouth as he tasted these mushrooms for the first time.  Let me remind you, that this is also the same man that wouldn't touch mushrooms with a ten foot pole just a few years ago.  

Folks, these mushrooms are a.m.a.z.i.n.g...Seriously.

They are slowly simmered in red wine for a total of 9 hours, and read that correctly.  It seems like an incredibly long amount of time to simmer mushrooms, but it's worth the long wait in the end.  They come out still a little firm, but packed with intense flavor from the chicken and beef bouillon cubes, Worcestershire sauce (which I've never been able to pronounce correctly!), butter and garlic.

And don't even get me started about the delicious smell that fills the entire house while these babies cook!

Next time, I may even try making these in a crock pot because of the long cooking time.  I can imagine they would simmer away all nice and cozy in a crock pot just perfectly.  They are so easy to put together.  You literally just wash the mushrooms, throw them in a stock pot along with the other ingredients and let it all cook for hours.  I garnished them with a little minced parsley before serving.  How easy is that?

Just don't be like me and forget to put them in the fridge overnight. was a horrible, horrible mistake.  Brad and I were both disappointed the next morning when we saw them sitting on the counter...all lonely and abandoned.  Because of the beef and chicken bouillon, it wouldn't have been safe to eat them.  I guess I learned that lesson the hard way.  What can you do, though?  We just laughed and went about our day.

Make these soon...You'll be in love!

Bon Appetit!

Burgundy Mushrooms


  • 4 pounds White Button Mushrooms
  • 2 sticks Butter
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 liter Burgundy Wine (other Reds Will Work)
  • 1 teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 cups Boiling Water
  • 4 whole Chicken Bouillon Cubes
  • 4 whole Beef Bouillon Cubes
  • 1 teaspoon Dill Seed
  • 5 cloves Garlic, Peeled
  • 2 teaspoons Salt


Thoroughly wash the mushrooms and throw them into a large stockpot. Add all the remaining ingredients except the salt. Stir to combine.

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for six hours.

Remove the lid, then continue cooking, uncovered, for three hours. 

Add salt to taste at the end if desired. The mushrooms will be very dark in color. Simmer until needed. 

Serve straight from the pot or in a serving bowl. Dip crusty bread in the juice---yum!

Mushrooms keep for days in the fridge. You'll love 'em!