Monthly Archives: January 2010

Black Bottom Cupcakes…

You make the rockin’ world go round!

I channeled Freddie Mercury making these cupcakes. 🙂 All afternoon, I was singing about taking them home tonight and enjoying them beside the red firelight and how these sweet treats make the rockin’ world go round. Maybe we should just call these the QUEEN of all cupcakes.

ANYWAY. Black bottom cupcakes that make the rockin’ world go round. What are they and why should you care? Well, maybe they should make whoever came up this idea QUEEN for a day because it is GENIUS. Rich and tender chocolate cake surrounds a sweet, creamy, chocolate-studded cream cheese center.

Um. I’m listening. You had me at cake.

I kind of found this recipe by accident. It was meant to be! Last weekend, I grabbed a different cookbook out of the cabinet where I keep them in a jumbled, messy pile super neat and organized and my Jack Daniel’s book fell out. On my foot, actually. But that’s a different story. After I was done cursing, I looked down to see that the book had fallen open and this recipe for Black Bottom Cupcakes appeared. I picked it up and started reading. Turns out, I had everything I needed to make them on hand, including a bottle of Uncle Jack’s special sauce. Ah! I knew what I was baking that afternoon!

These are super easy to make and a chocolate lovers dream. I loved the warmth and spice the JD adds. The cake part is not overly sweet, so the cupcakes don’t seem super rich with the addition of chocolate chips. My only beef with the recipe is that it says it makes 18 and I only got 13. Yes, I baked one lonely cupcake all by itself in a big old pan. LOL. I probably over-filled my cups, which I tend to do. What can I say, I’m a giver when it comes to cupcake batter. I would not recommend filling the cups three-quarters of the way full…half may be a good place to start.

BLACK BOTTOM CUPCAKES (Recipe Source: Jack Daniel’s Spirit of Tennessee Cookbook)


  • 1 8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup Jack Daniel’s Whiskey
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tbs. vinegar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.
  2. Beat together first 4 ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl. In another bowl, stir together whiskey, water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and beat with an electric mixer until combined.
  4. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 (or maybe half…) full with batter. Drop 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture into the center of each.
  5. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until tester inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Makes 18 cupcakes (if you’re lucky. ;))
  6. Store leftovers in the fridge, but bring to room temp before serving. Or just eat ’em cold. They’re good like that too! 🙂


One Year Later: Apple Peanut Butter Crumble Bars – I INVENTED these. Yes. Really. I was going to work with this recipe a bit more to work out some kinks but I haven’t yet. I need to get to that!



Filed under chocolate, cupcakes

You can ring my bell (pepper)

I big pink puffy heart bell peppers. This is big, all. I don’t just throw around the term ‘big pink puffy heart.’ I mean, that’s not something you say all willie-nillie like. Only the truest of the true, the purest love of all, can be big pink puffy heart love. And peppers fall into that category. Right along side these pink cable knit bootie slippers I got for Christmas that I’m wearing now.

Peppers. And booties. Swoon-inducing. 🙂

So I guess bell peppers are kind of an acquired taste? Maybe? I once saw them on a list of the top 10 love ’em or hate ’em foods. People really hate bell peppers? Oh, that hurts me so! Look. That’s an actual real tear.

Acquired taste. Pa-shaw! I’m thinking those that haven’t acquired it should really take a second look. They are so flavorful and delicious. And versatile.

Oh bell peppers, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I love thee raw in my salads and sandwiches

I love thee in my chili, soups and stews

I love thee piled high on my Italian sausage. (at Portillos specifically)

I love thee roasted, sauteed and stuffed.

I love thee in every which way!

Now Eric, he has no love for the bell pepper, much to my sadness. I’m pretty sure his complaint is commonplace among the pepper haters out there – he says it takes over the dish and it’s all you can taste.

Well. Hmpf. Okay, okay. It’s a strong flavor, I’ll give him that. But it’s a DELICIOUS strong flavor.

Well, Eric had to go out of town this past week for work so I did what any normal girl would do when her husband is away – I gorged myself on bell peppers. 🙂 In the form of this absolutely fab chunky, tomato/bell pepper pasta sauce called peperonata.

I found this recipe in an old cookbook I stole borrowed from my mom. I’m not sure where she got it but with a name like Great Taste, Low Fat, it sounds kinda gimmicky, doesn’t it? Like something you might find in the coupon inserts in the Sunday paper – right next to the tunics with matching elastic pants, orthopedic shoes and creepy dolls that NO ONE EVER BUYS. It’s actually a really nice book, with pics of every recipe (all of which are under 400 calories) and some really delicious dishes inside! Including this one! (PS…Mom, if you want this book back, let me know. I know you said I could borrow it, but I don’t think you said I could KEEP it. LOL.)

This is such a fun and refreshing pasta topping, with warm, chunky tomatoes, peppers and fresh herbs. I bet this would be SO GOOD with the bounty from your very own garden this summer. The ingredients are simple, but they come together really nicely. It’s not heavy (only 295 calories per serving! Before cheese, of course) so it’s a pasta dish you can feel good about eating.

The recipe recommends using wagon wheel pasta, which I really like but have a hard time finding for whatever reason. I subbed in a flower shape, which was fine, but didn’t really allow for the sauce to get all stuck in the nooks and crannies like a wheel shape would. I kinda miss that. And I’m not sure what I was thinking getting the tri-colored stuff…I hadn’t had it in a while and thought it might be fun, but it turns out it has a phony-baloney chemical dye taste to it that I just can’t recommend.

So, don’t be like me…you know…all “oooo. purty colors. me buy this now.” Resit. Really, you’ll thank me. If you can find whole wheat wagon wheels (whoa. that’s a mouthful!) I’d go with that as my first choice!

As far as other changes go, I left out the black olives because I’m not a big fan, but if you like ’em by all means add them. I’m sure they’d bring a great salty bite and tang. Instead of the olives, I added a chopped shallot for a mild onion flavor in the background. And I had a pint of grape tomatoes on hand, so I used those instead of chopped tomatoes – I just cut some of the bigger ones in half.

PEPERONATA PASTA (Recipe adapted from: Great Taste, Low Fat)


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow or additional red pepper, diced (I used another red, but I’d go with the yellow to punch up the color and wow-factor. It’s just that red was on sale and yellow wasn’t…so yeah…red it is. This cheapness. It’s a problem. )
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced (I used one pint of grape tomatoes, cutting the larger ones in half. Also…on sale.)
  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Calamata olives (I omitted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces wagon wheel pasta (Ruote)


  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the bell peppers, shallot and garlic and cook, stirring frequently until softened, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, broth, basil, parsley, olives, salt and black peppers. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the the flavors have blended and the mixture is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until just tender. Drain well. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Cook until the pasta is just warmed through, about 1 minute. Serve with an additional sprinkling of herbs and Parmesan cheese, if desired. Makes 4 servings.


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Filed under pasta, veggies

Lentils on the floor.

Lentils on the floor, lentils on the floor, looking like a fool with your lentils on the floor…

Man, I feel like dancing! With my lentils on the floor!

How often do you make a giant mess in the kitchen? I’m talking above and beyond the typical few dirty dishes that always occur when making dinner. For me, it’s pretty much every day. It’s a gift. Ingrained in me sense birth. If there is something neat and tidy somewhere, I will zone in on it and completely destroy it in a matter of about 4.3 seconds.

But I don’t contain my messes to just the kitchen. No, no I mess up all the rooms in my house equally. In fact, my husband has a nickname for me –Erin the Mess Maker.

I don’t do it on purpose! I swear I don’t! I really do try to be careful. It just….happens.

I’ll think I’ve adequately wiped my feet after coming in the house on a rainy day, only to track dirty footprints all over the place.

I’ll be enjoying my lunch in the living room on a Saturday afternoon and accidentally drop my oily salad fork on the arm of the couch.

I’ll spill my mineral makeup all over the bathroom counter.

I’ll pick up a strawberry smoothie from the cup holder in the car in such a way that the cap will literally SHOOT off, I’m talking full on rocket-mode here, sending drippy strawberry goop all over the dash and windshield (True. This happened to me once. On the plus side, I was parked at the time. On the downside, well, the rest of it pretty much sucked.)

I am guaranteed to dribble salsa on my shirt. Get paint on my pants. Egg on my face. (HA!) If it can be stained, strained, smashed spilled, soaked, ripped, ruined, busted, broke, torn or tattered, you can probably rely on me to go ahead and get that done for ya.

But nowhere in the house am I more prone to messes than in the kitchen. Dry messes, wet messes, big messes and small messes, if it’s a mess, I can make it!

I can effortlessly add dry ingredients to my KitchenAid and accidentally hit the latch that turns it on rather than the latch that locks it in place. KA-BOOM! Flour facial, anyone?

I can easily spill an entire container of red pepper flakes on the floor and then knock my bowl of parmesan cheese off the counter right after it. Look! It’s your favorite pizza parlor toppers right there on the floor! Awesome! If I happened to drop a pizza too, we’ll be all set. (That actually happened a couple weeks ago…I’m STILL sweeping up red pepper flakes…they just keep reappearing! I would advise against licking my tiles at this particular time. Unless you like your ceramic and grout extra spicy. 😉 )

I can splatter simmering spaghetti sauce to the ceiling and beyond, slosh sudsy dish soap out of the sink and all over myself, scatter papery onion and garlic skins all the way to living room carpet. It’s pretty amazing, actually. Is there a medal for this? No? There should be. I nominate myself as the receiver.

I’ll be working on my acceptance speech. Hold my calls, please.

Just this week, I made the mistake of talking on the phone and trying to grab an open bag of lentils out of the cabinet at the same time. Yeah, multi-tasking like that? That’s a recipe for disaster. I set the bag (standing up) on the edge of the counter, where it teetered for a nanosecond before toppling onto the floor. &*%^#!!! Lentils are bouncy little buggers and, boy, do they scatter – spreading out across the kitchen like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

Oh joy. Another mess to clean up. ::sarcastic eyeroll::

Luckily, I didn’t lose ALL my lentils in this unfortunate incident. Otherwise I would have starved at lunch all this week. Ha.

Now, I make an effort to eat a healthy lunch every day. That way, I can eat a treat after dinner and not feel guilty about it. Works great! 🙂 A brownie while I watch AI? A cookie or two during the Thursday night comedies? Well…don’t mind if I do!

I have to bring my lunch from home because I only get thirty minutes and my office is in kind of a food dead zone. There’s really nothing nearby, except for a Dairy Queen (PASS…) so it’s nearly impossible to get food, even to go, and get back in under thirty. And since I am forced to bring something, I’m discriminatory about what makes it into my cute pink lunch tote. Can’t eat what I don’t pack, right?

I love to cook for lunches on the weekend. It’s a great way to spend time in the kitchen trying new things. And it takes the guess work out of lunch for the rest of the week. Plus, I get to make what I want and not have to worry about Eric not liking it. 🙂

Enter the Snobby Joe – like Sloppy Joes that think they’re better than you. 🙂 Or, if you prefer, a vegetarian version of an old childhood standby.

I found this recipe for Snobby Joes over at a great new blog called Green Swamp Soup. Now, I happen to know this wonderful gal and can say that she ROCKS! She is a green, knowledgeable and motivational healthy foodie. 🙂 Mariah’s recipes are healthy, wholesome, and creative. The best part? She does it all with her kiddos in mind! Calling all Moms – looking for great tasting, healthy meals your kids will love? Hit up Green Swamp Soup. Mariah is an expert. 🙂

I LOVED this. I added some red pepper flakes for a little heat and subbed out maple syrup for honey because that’s what I had on hand. Turned into an easy, one pot meal. A little spicy, a little sweet and super satisfying and delicious. Everything just blends together perfectly. The flavors are spot on for a homemade sloppy joe, but you don’t miss the meat one bit! Perfect for lunch because it’s nice and filling. No afternoon vending machine snack attacks. I will be making this again and again.

SNOBBY JOES (Recipe ever-so-slightly adapted from: Green Swamp Soup, originally from Post Punk Kitchen)


  • 1 1/3 cups uncooked lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced small
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced small
  • 1 carrot, diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 15- oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 tbsp. ketchup
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup (I subbed honey because that’s what I had on hand)
  • 2 tsp. prepared yellow mustard (I had this total man moment and after the yellow mustard did not literally jump on my face and start to wiggle after I opened up the fridge I assumed I didn’t have any and subbed Dijon. The yellow mustard was located moments later. But the Dijon worked great too. 🙂 )


  1. Combine lentils and water in a small saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until lentils are soft. Drain and set aside. (You may also soak the lentils prior to boiling to shorten the cooking time, if you prefer.)
  2. Meanwhile, preheat a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and saute the onion, carrot and pepper and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute a minute more.
  3. Add the cooked lentils, the chili powder and oregano and mix well to combine. Add the tomato sauce and ketchup. Cook for about 10 minutes. Add the maple syrup and mustard, turn heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  4. Spoon on to toasted whole wheat buns and eat! Serves 4 to 6.



Filed under veggies

The Great Imitation Oreo Chase

My husband loves Oreos. LOVES. He could sit there and stuff his face with an entire package if it were socially acceptable. Chocolate crumbs tumbling down his shirt and sweet creamy filling stuck in his teeth. They are his absolute favorite cookie.

He doesn’t get them very often. Two reasons. 1. I try to limit the sweets in the house to one at a time. And I prefer it if I make it. It’s just better, sweeter, tastier that way. Oreos are good….in a chemical-laced, barely food kind of way. (Is it just me, or do all the cookies and snack cakes we used to love as kids just not taste as good now? ) 2. They’re expensive. If they are not on sale, real Oreos break the bank! And for what? Not much.

So, if I’m going home for the weekend and Eric’s staying behind and I know I’m not going to have time to bake, I’ll pick up package for him to tide him over.

But I never buy actual Oreos. I am so cheap! As a result, my husband has become quite the expert on store-brand Oreo knock-offs. According to Eric, the Wal-Mart brand is satisfactory, the HyVee brand is downright inedible and the Target brand is the runaway favorite. To me, they are all about the same, but even I have to admit the HyVee ones…ew. ::shudder::

I started seeing recipes for homemade Oreos pop up this past fall. I was immediately intrigued. No more chasing down imitation Oreos! Hooray! It’s funny, because when I finally decided to make them (to give away as holiday gifts) the Oreo lover in the house only got to sample ONE. What a cruel, cruel world.

I used a combination of two recipes to come up with this holiday winner. I used the chocolate cookie recipe from Joy the Baker’s version. I was drawn to her description of the cookie being a combo of salty and sweet (which I LOVE.) I loved her idea for a white chocolate ganache filling, but since I was giving them away, I wanted something that wouldn’t spoil as quick. Because of that, I used Michelle’s filling from over at Brown Eyed Baker. I added a bit of peppermint extract to the filling and called it a delicious homemade treat!

These cookies were perfect. The filling was smooth and creamy and the cookie perfectly chocolaty and crunchy. Heaven. I’m sad Eric only got to have one. And I’m a little sad I only got to have one too. I’ll be making these again for sure! 🙂

CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT SANDWICH COOKIES (Cookie recipe from Joy the Baker, filling from Brown Eyed Baker, which she adapted from Gourmet, December 2007)



  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 15 tablespoons (7 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, but into 3/4-inch cubes, at room temperature


  • ½ stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract (depending on how strong you like it)


Make the cookies:

  1. Position the racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed.  With the mixer running, add the butter a few pieces at a time.  The mixture will have a sandy texture at first and then will begin to form pebble-size pieces.  As soon as the dough starts to come together, stop the mixer.  Make sure all the butter is well incorporated.  If there are large butter pockets, mix for a few seconds more.
  3. Form and roll the dough straight from the mixer.  Do not chill the dough.
  4. Transfer the dough to a board and use the heel of your hand or a pastry scraper to shape the dough into a block about 5 by 7 inches.  Cut the block into two pieces.
  5. One at a time, roll each block of dough between two pieces of lightly floured parchment paper until about 1/8-inch thick.  Cut into 2 inch rounds with a circle cookie cutter.  Place 1/2 to 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.  You can form and roll the dough scraps once after the first roll.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking.  Remove from the oven and cool on the sheets for 2 to 5 minutes.  They’ll be too soft to move straight from the oven.  Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and let cool completely. They will become crunchy as they cool.

Make the filling:

  1. Beat the butter and shortening together at medium speed until combined and smooth. Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the sugar and extract. Increase the speed to high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until the filling is light and fluffy.
  2. Spread about a teaspoon of filling onto the bottom side of half the cookies. Top with a second cookie and press gently, just until the filling reaches the edges. Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 3 dozen sandwich cookies.


One Year Ago:
Pork Medallions in a Cranberry Wine Sauce
– so flavorful and so easy.
Orzo with Sausage, Peppers and Tomatoes – Dinner in 15. LOVE it. 🙂
Sweet and Spicy Peanut Soup – Oh, this is a MUST try. I love, love, LOVE this soup!


Filed under cookies

Picky is in the eye of the beholder

Eric and I have a difference of opinion on what constitutes a picky eater. And we both accuse the other of being one.

Eric, to me, is a picky eater because he still has a hard time eating his vegetables (although he’s improving! We’re getting there!) He has an irrational fear of Chinese takeout which I will never ever understand and if there’s an item he hasn’t had before, he’s pretty hesitant to try it (although he usually does…within reason) He’s meat and potatoes all the way which I suppose some could translate into a picky eater.

To Eric, I’M a picky eater because I don’t eat some of the things he does. Rather, he accuses me of food-snobbery and that makes me picky. He’s happy with a packaged lunchmeat sandwich on store bought white bread. I won’t touch anything like that. (Ew.) He’ll eat the sliced cheese that’s been open in the fridge for over a month. I’m ready to throw it away. (Sorry, I’ll pass on the food borne illness, thanks) He would douse his whole plate in ranch dressing if I’d let him. I CAN.NOT. handle ranch dressing. Vile, disgusting creation.

See, I really don’t think being conscious and discriminating about what you put in your body can be seen as being picky. That’s just making good choices. I do, however, have one food downfall. One that I am teased mercilessly about. One that I just can’t seem to get over…

And that is…Anything that falls into the category of white and creamy. Mayo is the biggest offender. I don’t keep it in the house, I can’t eat it, I don’t cook with it. The sight and smell of it is enough to send me over the edge. I remember this one time at work a couple years ago, I was setting up lunch for a big meeting with some clients that were in the office and had to unveil this GIANT vat of coleslaw. I mean, this was more coleslaw than should be allowed in one place at any given time. There should be laws against it. I had to walk away, take a few deep breaths and compose myself for a minute it had me freaking out so bad. I was having some kind of panicky episode. Over coleslaw. Um. Yeah…

The other one I can’t get past is sour cream. If we go out for Mexican or something and there’s sour cream on my plate, I cry a little inside. Because then I have to scrape it off with my fork or knife, thus contaminating my fork or knife. Then I have to sacrifice my napkin to wipe it clean and oh, it’s just a big old mess. Plus, you can never remove all traces of the offender, so I end up eating around it anyway. And I’ll pass on the sour cream dips, thank you very much. You may keep your French onion dip or what have you. I can, however, cook and bake with sour cream if it’s buried. Don’t ask me why I can cook/bake with sour cream and not with mayo.

I’m telling you, I’ve got issues. But I don’t think anyone can say I’m worse off for not consuming copious amounts of mayo and sour cream, right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’re welcome, Arteries!

It’s funny because I’ve made progress in some areas and not in others. I’ve warmed up to whipped cream, but I still can’t get excited about a vanilla milkshake. I’m not nearly as offended by vanilla or plain yogurt as I once was, but I’m still pretty turned off by alfredo sauce. I can’t handle ranch dressing, but I do enjoy a nice Caesar.

And then there is cream cheese. The gray area in all of this. First and foremost I will not, CAN NOT, spread it, plain, on a bagel and just eat it. That is a bit too mayo/sour cream like for me. But I do love to bake with it! LOVE to bake with it! From cheesecakes to sweet cheesy fillings in pastries to creamy swirls on top of a chocolaty brownie, I absolutely ADORE cream cheese.

I have started to branch out into savory applications with cream cheese, which is uncharted territory for me. I have decided if I make it myself, I can usually eat it. Which is so bizarro, I know. But something about the prep process and watching it all come together that makes me WANT to try it. As with the case with this cream cheese based dip. Ironically enough, it also features ranch seasoning, but since it’s not in dressing form, I’m okay with it. It’s not necessarily the FLAVOR of ranch I can’t deal with. So, go figure.

Yeah, I can’t figure me out either. I’m weird like that.

I spotted this recipe for Beer & Cheese Dip on Ellie’s blog and decided it would be perfect for the New Year’s Eve party we were attending at a friend’s place. First of all, it can be made ahead of time, which is always nice. It makes a TON so it’s good for large groups. It travels easy. That’s good when I’ve got two other plates of food and a couple of board games in  my hands already. 🙂 And it can sit out, no need to worry about keeping it warm.

The dip was well received at the party! Eric liked it a lot. I liked it too, but found the ranch flavor a bit overpowering. I may knock the ranch from the entire packet to about half in the future. I liked it better smeared on a good loaf of crusty, seedy, multi-grain bread then I did with the salty dippers like pretzels. But again, that just may be a personal preference of mine. Knocking back the ranch a bit may help with the saltiness as well, if you are sensitive to that like I am. Overall, it’s super easy and very good and I would totally recommend it for your next party! 🙂

BEER & CHEESE DIP (Recipe Source: Vintage Victuals)


  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 2 5-ounce jars of Old English Cheese (or 10 ounces Cheese Whiz)*
  • 1 1-ounce package dry ranch dressing mix
  • 1/2 cup beer
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped
  • Pretzels, crackers, chips or crusty bread for dipping


  1. Heat the cream cheese and Old English Cheese together in a large bowl for about 40 seconds in the microwave.
  2. Stir in ranch mix. Add beer gradually as you stir, until it reaches the desired consistency. (1/2 cup was pretty much spot on for me.
  3. Transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle your toasted pecans evenly over the surface of the dip. Chill for 1 hour or up to 2 days. Serve with dippers.

*Note: Old English Cheese is a Kraft product. You can find it hanging out with the other shelf-stable cheese products like Velveeta. Yes, it’s a little weird. But not quite as weird as it’s next door neighbor on the shelf – the pineapple/cheese variety. Don’t believe me? Check it out and see if your store has it! Mine does! For the record, I’ll be passing on the pineapple one…I think it’s white and creamy looking. 😉


One Year Ago: Vanilla Birthday Cake Batter Ice Cream! Oh, how delightful and fun!


Filed under appetizers

New Decade, New Directions

Hello 2010! Wow! I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since we wondered if Y2K was going to wipe out life as we know it.

My computer will think its 1900! There were no computers in 1900! Will my computer blow up because it thinks it doesn’t exist?! Oh no! I’m playing MYST and halfway through! My life’s ruined!

More shockingly, of course, is that 2010 marks 10 years since high school. Whoa. There will probably be some kind of Class of 2000 reunion this summer. Wonder if I’ll go… Last time I got an alumni newsletter (Yes, my high school sends out an alumni newsletter. And I fully elected to let them find me so I get one. LOL.) no one had stepped up spearhead the dang thing. Hm. Knowing my class, that does not surprise me in the very least. Ha.

Plan the 10 year reunion? Eh. I’ll let someone else handle that. Hand me another beer.

I can see one problem with this decade already. Raise your hand if you’ve already uttered the word “Oh-Ten.” You know, ’08, ’09, Oh-10. I totally have. Can you say embarrassing? Also, will you say Twenty-Ten or Two-Thousand-Ten. I’ve already found myself saying two-thousand-ten, but when you think about it, that really makes no sense. I mean, I don’t say I was born in the year one-thousand-nine-hundred-eighty-two. So by default, to say two-thousand-ten is wrong, correct? But on the other hand, how many people would have looked at you funny if you went around saying twenty-one in two-thousand-one? That’s what I thought. (10 year) Old habits die hard. So yeah.

ANYWAY! Looking back at the last 10 years, I almost can’t believe all the stuff that’s happened. This decade, I think, has defined me as a person more so than any other of my life so far. Obviously, in the 1980s, I was just a wee babe and toddling tot and whiny kid. In the 1990s, I was a scrawny, skinny, stringy-haired, knobby-kneed preteen with coke bottle glasses. (Can Mom swoop in with the photo proof here too? LOL. On second thought, just take my word for it.) Then I was a shy, insecure high school student with a fondness for chunky shoes and zits.

At the start of the 21st century, I was 17, about to graduate, and really looking forward to the next stage of my life. Armed with an acceptance letter to UIUC, a 9 month supply of Accutane and new outlook on life, I decided to throw caution to the wind and STOP worrying so much about what other people thought. New millennium, new me.

And now, 10 years later, I can see how far I’ve come. I still have a long way to go, obviously. Still learning, still growing. Every single day without fail. I like it that way. Keeps thing interesting. But in the last decade, I went off to college. College is scary. And hard. I met some of the very best friends a girl could ever have. I watched with millions as the world changed forever on 9/11. I had the best time of my life, struggled harder than I ever had before, and had my heart shattered for the first time.

Then I met this boy. THE boy. This adorable, sweet, amazing, farm-raised Mechanical Engineering student from a tiny town I had never heard of. And I fell – head.over.heels. in love with him. We spent a year dating, having a crazy, amazing time with all our friends, and falling madly in love. Graduation came quickly. The real world was calling like Grim Reaper ready to zap the fun out of everything.

So I did something a little crazy. I followed him to Iowa. Was I super-duper excited to move from the bustling metropolis that is the greater Chicagoland area to a small city in Iowa? Hm. What do you think? But it didn’t matter. His real world (ahem, job) had brought him here, and, gosh darnit, I wanted to go to! So, five years ago this very week, we packed up a U-Haul full of hand-me-down furniture and headed west.

These years here in Iowa have been a test for sure. I was jobless and broke when we got here. Took a job selling clothes in the Junior’s department at a department store. When I got burned out on that, I moved on to the next crap job I could find – telemarketing. Yes, I was ONE OF THEM. That lasted about 4 months before every hang up and expletive I received felt like a dagger in my poor, soft, sensitive heart (I cried a lot. True story.) In the midst of all that, he put a ring on it! Ah! Our wedding was by far one of the best days of my life so far. Picture perfect spring day in Chicago. All our family and friends there. One helluva party. People talk about it to this day!

And we bought a house! A small, ranch-style starter home of our very own. We learned about radon and how it must be mitigated…less sucking down carcinogens is your bag, baby. 😉  And we learned how much a new roof costs. And that seashell and birdhouse and southwest wallpaper borders are really hard to scrap off. And that if you stuff a half a pound of old taco meat down the garbage disposal and the kitchen sink overflows, it’s YOUR responsibility to call a plumber, put your life on hold while you wait for him to come and, of course, PAY THE MAN. Kinda miss that landlord after that first bought of the dreaded “unexpected home repair,” huh?

Not that I ever did that or anything….

Um. Moving on!

Toward the end of the decade, having gotten that pesky getting-married-buying-a-home part of adulthood all taken care of in my early twenties, I was FINALLY ready to get a Big Girl job. Farewell, Folding T-Shirts. Too-da-loo, Telemarketing. Ta-ta, Temping! And I did. In the end, it didn’t work out. Although it was difficult, I am eternally grateful to have even had the opportunity to work side-by-side with the folks I did. I learned so much and grew so much from that experience, I don’t regret a single second of it. A new job came relatively quickly, and I found myself settling comfortably into a perfect work/life balance.

And now, here we are, at the dawn of a new decade! I’ve got my hubby by my side who still gives me butterflies just like he did when we first met. We’re still having a blast every single day. Still learning from each other and growing with each other every day. I’ve got this humble little blog which is quickly becoming one of my favorite things. It’s the perfect place to share recipes, swap stories and just be me. This blog certainly wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the adventures of the last 10 years! Thank you, thank you for sticking with me! I can’t wait to see what the next year brings. I have a few things in mind, a few adventures up my sleeve, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what they are!

So, what triggered all this nostalgia? Besides, the obvious new year, of course. Believe it or not, it was these super cute Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecakes! We were headed to a New Year’s Eve gathering and I wanted to make a sweet treat to take along. I figured everyone would be tired of cookies (I’ve still got holiday cookies to blog! I’ll get to them soon!) so I went in search of something else. Bite-sized is always best for big groups, so I made the cheesecakes in mini-muffin tins.

I had to find something to press my crusts into the pan and I grabbed an one of our old college shot glasses. It totally made me laugh when I realized how I had repurposed an item used almost exclusively for college parties to fit into my Suzie Homemaker lifestyle. Shot glass? Nope. Cheesecake crust press? YES! Perfect!

So. The cheesecakes. These are a peanut butter batter dotted with chocolate ganache. And the crusts? How about a bit of a salty bite with some crushed pretzels? Mmmm. Really, just about anything that can be crushed into fine crumbs and mixed with melted butter can be a cheesecake crust, so get creative.

I really liked the salty/sweet combo here! And they were a hit at the party. Rich, chocolaty with just the right kick of saltiness. YUM! These were a bit denser than other cheesecakes I made, probably because of the peanut butter, but since they are just one little bite, I didn’t mind that here. I used regular peanut butter because that’s what I had on hand, but the original recipe uses natural. That may help improve the consistency of the cakes, so I’d use that if you’ve got it.

The one thing to note is to be careful not to overbake the crusts their first go-round in the oven. Be especially careful if your pan is darker. One of my mini-muffin pans has a darker coating on it and my crusts got way too dark after only five minutes in the oven…so heads up!

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKES (Recipe adapted from: Amazing Dessert Recipes)


  • 1 cup finely crushed pretzels
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, room temperature (add 1 more yolk if you like a lighter cheesecake)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 mini-muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Combine pretzels, sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Mix to moisten the crumbs. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the pretzel mixture into each cup. Press each crust into the bottom with a shot glass. (Bonus points if the glass has your Alma Mater on it!)
  3. Bake the crusts for 4 to 6 minutes, just to make sure they hold together and get a tiny bit of color on them. Set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a large mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Scrape down the bowl and beat a bit more. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined after each addition.
  5. Spoon cheesecake batter onto prepared crusts, filling about three quarters of the way full. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until set. (Note: Mine did crack a bit, but since you’ll be covering the tops…no worries. No one has to know!) Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Heat cream in a small saucepan until small bubbles form along the edges. Do not boil. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth.
  7. Spoon about a teaspoon of ganache onto each cheesecake. Refigerate for at least two hours before serving. Garnish with a pretzel piece just before serving, if desired.


One year ago: After I published these Chicken Parmesan Calzones, I saw my first real “spike” in hits on my blog. Aw, memories. 🙂


Filed under chocolate, desserts, peanut butter

Belly Up To the Bar.

Is it weird that I am like clued in to recipes that contain alcohol? If there is a boozy recipe in the vicinity, I will seek it out and spend at least a minute or two perusing it. Then I’ll  smile, oooh and ahhh, and add it to my hefty “To-be-made” file. I did buy an entire cookbook devoted to Jack Daniels, after all. Do I have problem? Is an intervention necessary? A 12-step program?

Hello, my name is Erin…yadda, yadda, yadda…

Really, I just love the flavors a well-stocked bar bring to the kitchen. Red wine adds such richness and white – a great citrusy brightness. Whiskey/bourbon add warmth and spice while Marsala, a subtle sweetness. And beer? Well, we are before anything else, simple, beer-drinking people so adding our favorite frosty beverage to cooking just feels right! And tastes great! Mmmmm. Beer. (Homer Simpson is my homeboy 😉 )

Anyway, this risotto had me written all over it. I mean, it has the “drunken” in its title, for goodness sake! Anything that’s drunk has got to be good, right? On second thought…maybe, no, DEFINITELY not. (As that old, 80s PSA used to say…”Be Smart. Don’t Start.”) But it’s okay for your risotto to be drunk…it’s not driving.

I’ve actually had a stash of Arborio rice in my pantry for quite sometime. I bought it for another risotto recipe that I ended up deciding was just so-so. It was time to bring it out again and try another. Risotto may sound intimidating, but really, it’s pretty easy. Yes, you have to stand there and stir it for twenty minutes, but really, you can basically make a whole meal in just one pot. Put your husband to work tossing a salad while you stir. Then eat. See. Easy-peasy.

This one gets it’s “drunken” label (and FAB color) from copious amounts of red wine. With flavorful sausage, a salty bite from the cheese, and a punch of color from the spinach, this is an impressive and delicious dish. I followed the recipe pretty much exactly as written (just subbed in turkey sausage and parm cheese) and I thought it was great as is. Eric kind of rasied his eyebrows when I put this down in front of him. “Is this grape-flavored rice?” he asked. Ha.

No, but there’s an idea.



  • 3 cups dry red wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 pound bulk Italian sweet or hot sausage (I used sweet Italian turkey sausage)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 pound bundled farm spinach leaves, stemmed and chopped (about 2 cups, packed)
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste (I used ground)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp Pecorino Romano cheese (a couple of handfuls) (I subbed Parmesan because I had it on hand.)


  1. Heat the wine and stock and keep warm over low heat.
  2. Using a heavy pot with rounded sides, prepare the risotto. Add two tablespoons olive oil and heat over medium to medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown and crumble it for a couple of minutes, then add the onion and garlic and soften them up for a couple of minutes more. Stir in the rice and combine; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Start adding the warm liquids a couple of ladles at a time, stirring vigorously each time you add the liquids to develop the starch. Allow the liquids to almost fully evaporate before adding more. From the time you begin adding the liquids, the risotto will take 18 minutes to prepare. In the last 5 minutes of cook time, stir in the spinach, wilting it in one handful at a time. Stir in nutmeg. In the last minute of cook time melt in the 2 tablespoons butter, then stir in cheese. Serve immediately.


One Year Ago: I broke in my new KA 12-cup food processor with this sun-dried tomato pesto. Mmmm.


Filed under pasta, sausage, veggies

Big Girl Snacking

Eric and I have a slight….problem.

See, according to the miracle of life, biology and the fact that we both entered this world in June 1982, solid fact implies we are both approximately 27.5 years of age. Here’s the problem – we are living an outrageous lie.

Sure, sure…every day our alarms go off and we get up, make ourselves presentable and skip off to work. While we are there we act completely professional and appropriate as we do our very best to contribute to the overall success of our respective organizations. But we can’t help but wonder….how long until someone, anyone, realizes we are nowhere near as mature as our biological age implies?

We watch old cartoons on YouTube.

We think it’s hilarious to sneak up on each other and yank down pajama pants while someone is washing their face at the bathroom sink. “You’re defenseless!” Is the standard battle cry.

We have every Nintendo and Super Nintendo game ever made on our Wii and play our old faves regularly (That’s really fun! It’s just like being 10 again…only with more cursing. Ha.)

We dance around. And rock out with our bad-ass air guitarin’ selves. And sing into hairbrushes.

And one of Eric’s favorite nighttime activities is to get into bed, take off his nasty, sweaty socks that have been stuffed in his smelly boots all day and put them on my face. Nice.

So needless to say, somewhere around the age of 12, we just kind of stopped growing up. Go ahead and judge away. I’m sure everyone else is a lot more sophisticated, but, really, we don’t care. Neener, neener, neener. (I’m sticking my tongue out right now. HA!)

We just like to laugh. A lot. With each and at each other. And frankly, we wouldn’t have it any other way. All that real world, bill paying, adult stuff we do all day long is BORING. In this house, it’s come as you are. And if you are a teenager in a twenty-something body, you are welcome here! 🙂

There is one area we have grown up at least a little bit. FOOD! Despite our fondness for depantsing and other such nonsense, you won’t find blue box mac and cheese, chicken nuggets or Kool-Aid in this house. I’m all about trying new things and new flavors and if it’s healthy, well, that’s even better!

I’ve been seeing roasted chickpeas pop up in various places and I found myself immediately intrigued. What a brilliant idea for a healthy, crunchy, protein-packed snack! I couldn’t wait to give it a try. I actually made these chili-roasted chickpeas to take to a New Year’s Eve gathering but I ended up forgetting to grab the jar before we left. Oops. Oh well, MORE.FOR.ME. Mmmm. I’m hooked.

These are going to be my new go-to Big Girl snack. I’m always on the hunt for something healthy and filling to keep on hand while I’m pretending to be a grown-up at work. There’s no excuse to hit the vending machine when you can bring these from home. They are SO easy and can easily be customized. I’m looking forward to experimenting with other flavor combos.

One note on this particular recipe – while I enjoyed the crunchiness and the flavors of the chili powder and cumin, I missed a bit of heat. If you use mild chili powder (as I did) and want a bit of a bite in the background, I’d add a bit of cayenne. Not too much, maybe a 1/4 teaspoon or so. A little goes a long way. Other than that, this is a tasty, healthy snack, I’ll be making again and again.

CHILI ROASTED CHICKPEAS (Recipe Source:, originally from Southern Living)


  • 2  (16-oz.) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 3  tablespoons  olive oil
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  chili powder
  • 1  teaspoon  pepper
  • 3/4  teaspoon  ground cumin
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt


Preheat oven to 425°. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Transfer mixture to a lightly greased 17- x 12-inch jelly-roll pan. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until crispy and dry, stirring every 10 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes.



Filed under sides, veggies

Upon Further Review…

How do you feel about recipe reviews? All the major online recipe sources offer a place for home cooks everywhere to share their experiences with a particular recipe. It’s like a great big kitchen table for all of us to talk shop about food. They can be helpful and enlightening.

But how much can you really conclude from recipe reviews? If it has a whole bunch of glowing, positive reviews with maybe just one or two stinkers thrown in – do you assume the people that didn’t like it must just lack the skills to do it up right? You do, don’t you? Ha. I totally do. If 683 people think the recipe is awesome and one person doesn’t…well, you gotta wonder about that odd man out.

Or what about those reviewers who change just about everything before deciding the recipe sucks? Don’t you hate those? I do. They kind of make me want to reach through the computer screen and give the writer a virtual throat punch. “I didn’t have flour or sugar,” reads a one-star review, “so I subbed pencil shavings and grass clippings. It tasted terrible. This recipe stinks, don’t waste your time.”

Wow. That’s very helpful. Thank so much, Oh Sultan of the Substitution. Thank goodness we all have your infinite wisdom to save us from this the Recipe of Doom. ::eye roll::

But what if a recipe has an equal number of positive and negative reviews? What to do? How to proceed? Make the recipe? Move on? It’s a pickle, I tell ya!

When I was deciding on what to make for my holiday treat trays this year, I decided I wanted to do three old standby recipes and two new ones. When I saw these citrus butter cookies from Melissa d’Arabian show up in my inbox thanks to Food Network’s 12 Day of Cookies, I was immediately smitten. Love citrus. Love butter. What’s not to like?!

The problem? The reviews were mixed – like total 50/50. Some people loved ’em and some not so much. Hm.

Perhaps in my younger, less confident days I would have shied away from this recipe based on the reviews. But I decided I was a slave to the reviews NO MORE. If I wanted to try something, then by all means, I should try it…and NOT let a couple of Negative Nancys spoil it for me. I was making these cookies.

With a few minor adjustments, of course. Ha. Adjustments I knew would work. First, I made all my cookies orange instead of separating the dough and doing orange, lemon and lime. I did this to: A) save time and B) because I like orange. 🙂 And since I was giving all of the cookies away, I dipped each one in chocolate (some semi-sweet, some white) instead of making the chocolate sauce.

Now, I can see where people may have had difficulties with this recipe. First and foremost, these cookies spread. A lot. I tried everything to keep them from spreading. I chilled my cookie sheets (per the recipe instructions), I chilled my dough. I chilled the dough after piping it on the cookie sheet. No luck. Still spread. It’s okay though…because they are really, really good! And all you have to do to keep from getting large, misshapen cookies is to cut a smaller hole in your baggie before piping. If the piped dough looks too thin, it’s probably just right to get a nice shape on your cookie.

Also, it’s essential that you do not overbake these babies. As customary with butter cookies, overbaking leads to a dried out, crumbly mess. Keep a close eye on them…they’ll go from not quite done to over done in a blink of an eye. Get them out of the oven at the right time and you’ll have a delicate, tender, slightly crisp cookie with just the right kick of citrus. Heavenly.

For the record, if you’re still on the fence, I had a couple of recipients tell me these were their favorite out of the whole bunch. So take that Negative Nancys. HA!

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED ORANGE BUTTER COOKIES (Recipe adapted from: Melissa d’Arabian –


  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Dash of salt
  • Finely grated zest from 1 large orange
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, chopped


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together with an electric mixer until creamy.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat until just blended. Stir in orange zest.
  4. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip, or a sturdy plastic bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe the dough in 2-inch long strips, about 2 inches apart, on a cold unlined baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Repeat with remaining dough.
  5. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely.
  6. Melt both chocolates in either the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip half the cookies in the semi-sweet chocolate and half in the white. Place each dipped cookie on a sheet of wax paper. Allow chocolate to set completely before storing. Yield: About 60 cookies.

One Year Ago: We rang in 2009 with Alton’s Baked Mac and Cheese. Mmm. Cheesy New Year…


Filed under chocolate, cookies, fruit