Moist Banana Bread

There is truly nothing better than fresh-baked bread right out of the oven (well, actually fresh-baked cookies could give it a run for its money). 

This holiday, I was on a banana bread fix and made 6 loaves over a 3-day span.   I made it Christmas eve morning for the boys and my in-laws, made it for my extended family gathering on Christmas day, and then made another batch for my college holiday gathering on the 26th.  And amazingly enough, I'm still not banana-ed out!

Here's the recipe I use for a moist great-plain-for-breakfast or even-better-when-paired-with-vanilla-ice-cream banana bread.

{ Prep time: 15 minutes; Bake time: 1 hour }

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar (you can reduce to 3/4 cup)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons applesauce (this is key to making the bread moist)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour


Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Place bananas in a large mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher.  Mix the melted butter into the mashed bananas.  Then mix in the sugar, egg, applesauce, and vanilla.  Mix in the baking soda and salt.  Add the flour last and mix.  Pour the mixture into a buttered 4x8 inch bread loaf pan.  Bake for 1 hour (if your oven tends to heat faster, you should check it at 45 minutes and see if it's cooked - overcooking will dry out the bread).  Keeping the bread in the pan, cool it on a rack.  Remove from pan and slice to serve.
The slice of bread goes perfectly with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  You could easily add chopped walnuts or raisins.  But if you're making it for an event or gathering, I'd suggest keeping it simple because (1) you never know if someone has nut allergies and (2) you just can't go wrong with plain banana bread.

Peppermint and More Peppermint

{ peppermint pretzels with peppermint cocoa.  yum.  }
Chocolate-covered peppermint pretzel rods drizzled with white chocolate paired with peppermint chocolate cocoa (available from Crate & Barrel).  Could there be a better match?  I think I've died and gone to peppermint heaven.

The pretzel rods were super easy to make!  I followed the same steps as I did for making the chocolate-covered pretzels but made two variations.  First, I added 2 teaspoons of peppermint extract to the melted chocolate to give it a more minty taste.  And then I drizzled white chocolate over the dark (I used a chopstick to do this) to make it more decorative before sprinkling on the peppermint.


Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Pretzel Rods
{ Makes about 24 pretzel rods }

  • 1 package (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 package (12 oz) white chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp shortening (this helps temper the chocolate for dipping)
  • 2 tablespoons peppermint extract
  • Large bag of pretzel twists
  • Peppermint candy canes 

  1. Place unwrapped candy canes in a ziploc bag and crush into small pieces with a hammer.
  2. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.
  3. Combine the chocolate chips, the shortening, and peppermint extract in a small pot and stir over low heat.  Once the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove from heat.
  4. Using tongs, fork, or chopsticks, dip the pretzel rod in the chocolate.  Tap the chocolate-dipped pretzel several times to remove excess chocolate, and place it on the prepared baking sheet. 
  5. Melt the white chocolate chips over low heat.  Then take a fork (I used a chopstick) to drizzle it over the dark chocolate.  Sprinkle with peppermint candy.
  6. Place the pretzels in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to set the chocolate.

Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Pretzels

{ the perfect combination of salty and sweet in really festive shapes }
Some snacks are just dangerously addictive.  Chocolate-covered pretzels are one of them.  It's the perfect combination of both salty and sweet.  I made a batch last week, and while my husband and I were idly surfing the web, we devoured the entire bag within minutes. 

Since you possibly can't go wrong with these, I decided to make them as holiday treats for my office, my husband's, and for my sister-in-law's holiday party.  Yes, that's a lot of pretzels.  

Last night, I went to the local grocery store and spent a while in the snack aisle looking for the right pretzels.

And you cannot imagine my delight when I saw this!

I was so excited, I let out an audible squeal and got some strange looks (always a fun experience at the grocery store).  :)  I ended up buying two bags and hand-dipping each and every tree, bell, and star.  Though this is the simplest thing to make, hand-dipping pretzels is a tedious task.  So be forewarned that if you want to make a huge batch, set aside a couple hours or enlist the help of a few friends and have a pretzel-making party. 

The incentive:  you get to eat all the broken pieces!  Yum!

Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Pretzels
{ Makes about 50 pretzels }

  • 1 package (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips or white chocolate chips
  • 1 tbsp shortening (this helps temper the chocolate for dipping)
  • Large bag of pretzel twists
  • Peppermint candy canes 

  1. Place unwrapped candy canes in a ziploc bag and crush into small pieces with a hammer.
  2. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.
  3. Combine the chocolate chips and the shortening in a small pot and stir over low heat.  Once the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove from heat.
  4. Using tongs, fork, or chopsticks, dip the pretzel in the chocolate.  Tap the chocolate-dipped pretzel several times to remove excess chocolate, and place it on the prepared baking sheet.  The chocolate dries quickly, so you'll want to sprinkle the peppermint while it's still wet.  Dip, place, and sprinkle every 5 pretzels or so.
  5. Place the pretzels in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to set the chocolate.

I have about 200 pretzels sitting in my kitchen and tempting me at every turn.  These are lethal.

Spicy Korean Tofu Soup (Soondobu Jigae)

{ apologies for making your mouth water }
It's cold and wet outside.

Perfect excuse for spicy tofu soup!  Not that I need an excuse.  This is my favorite dish.  It's called soondobu jigae in Korean.  I could eat this all year round and have been known to (even on sweltering hot summer days).  But this soup is particularly good when it's cold out - it hits the spot and immediately warms you up!  And my personal motto when it comes to tofu soup is "the redder, the better."  I love it extra, extra spicy! 

There is a Korean restaurant by the name of So Gong Dong in northern New Jersey infamously known for their tofu soup.  And for good reason.  It's amazing!  James and I have tried others, and they just don't compare.  There's something about the tofu itself, but we're certain they add some top-secret, special ingredient to its broth.

I was determined to find out what.

So I began my quest by researching recipes online in an attempt to replicate the flavor of So Gong Dong's soup, and nothing came close.  I could never get it right.  I had nearly given up on the idea of ever making homemade tofu soup again.

Until one day at the Korean market, I laid eyes on this:

The tofu broth seasoning.

{ the secret ingredient? }
It certainly couldn't hurt to try.  The package includes 3 packets of seasoning powder and seasoning oil and for only $3.49.  I will preface by saying that I tried following the instructions on the package but found the flavoring pretty weak.  So I had to improvise and try out a few different variations.  And I think I finally found one I like (recipe below).

I'm certain this seasoning mix is not So Gong's Dong top-secret ingredient, but if prepared properly, it's great arsenal for making a pretty decent homemade version.  I always keep some in my pantry for days like this.

There are many variations you can make to this recipe.  I love the seafood tofu soup at So Gong Dong, so in the past, I've added uncooked shrimp and clams (make sure to add these once the soup is boiling and cook until clams open and shrimp turns pink).   Or you can add any of these ingredients:  sliced pork, beef, kimchi, or enoki mushrooms. 
Spicy Korean Tofu Soup (Soondobu Jigae)

  • 1 package of 1lb soft tofu (NOT silken - it gets too mushy)
  • 1 package Pulmone Tofu Broth Seasoning
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 scallion, sliced in small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, uncooked
  • 1/2 tablespoon of beef or fish flavor soup stock ("dashida") - add more to taste*
  • 1/2 tablespoon Korean hot bean paste ("gochujang") - add more to taste*
  • 1/2 tablespoon crushed red hot pepper ("gochukaru") - add more to taste*
[*When I first started making Korean food, I asked my mother for measurements in her recipes and she always told me there are no measurements.  You just taste it and add more or less and decide what tastes good.  Of course, this was not very helpful to me at the time, but she was right.  So these are just guidelines; I always end up adding a little more of each).

  1. To prepare seasoning, mix 1 cup water, one package of Tofu Broth seasoning (powder and oil), and hot bean paste in a bowl.  Set aside.
  2. Cut up tofu into small cubes. 
  3. Place cubes in the seasoning mix and stir gently; be careful not to break up the tofu pieces (I find this step of soaking the tofu in the mix helps ensure the flavoring seeps in).  Set aside.
  4. In a pot, stir-fry the garlic and sesame oil over medium heat until lightly browned.
  5. Add the bowl of seasoned tofu to the pot, stir with the garlic, and cook over high heat for a few minutes; stir occasionally.   (This is another step I take to ensure better flavoring.  I find that if you add all the water right away, it loses some flavoring).
  6. Add 2 more cups of water and cook until boiling (if you prefer more soup, add more water).
  7. Add the beef or fish flavor soup stock and the crushed red hot pepper.  Add more of each to taste if necessary.
  8. Add uncooked egg to the soup and stir until cooked.
  9. Sprinkle with scallion and it's ready to serve. 
You can also make a non-spicy version of this soup, but really, what would be the fun in that?  :)

If you try this, I'd love to hear what you think and what modifications you would or did make.

Vanilla Cookie Sandwiches with Buttercream Frosting

{ cookie sandwiches with peppermint and toffee }
Although it's hard to find the time with two little ones, I love baking and trying new recipes when I can.  And I love baking even more when my son lends a hand!  Today CJ and I made these delights.  I got the recipe from Better Homes & Gardens Ultimate Cookie Book (one of my favorite cookie recipe books).

I love that the cookie itself is soft, chewy, and has just a hint of sweetness (which is perfect for the kids!).  When paired with the buttercream frosting, it gives it that perfect sweet guilty pleasure (perfect for the grown ups!).  The crushed candy adds a nice crunch.  I used peppermint candy canes and Heath toffee bars.

Vanilla Cookie Sandwiches with Buttercream Frosting
(from Better Homes and Gardens Ultimate Cookie Book)

{ Prep time:  30 min  Chill:  2 hr  Bake:  6 min per batch
Makes:  about 30 sandwich cookies }

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Sugar (optional)
1 recipe Buttercream frosting (below)
Crushed candy of choice

1.  In a large mixing bowl beat butter and cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Add the 1 cup sugar, the baking soda, and salt.  Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.  Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.  Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer.  Stir in any remaining flour.  Divide dough in half.  Cover and chill dough about 2 hours or until easy to handle.
2.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  On a lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time until 1/8 inch thck.  Using a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out dough.  Place cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  If desired, sprinkle cutouts lightly with additional sugar.  Bake for 6 to 7 minutes or until bottoms are light brown.  Transfer to a wire rack; cool.
3.  Spread buttercream frosting onto the bottom halfs of the cooled cookies.  Top with the remaining cookies.  Roll edges in the crushed candy.

{ Start to finish: 10 min  Makes:  about 2 1/2 cups }

1 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons milk

In a bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy.  Add vanilla.  Beat in half of the powdered sugar.  Beat in 2 tablespoons of the milk.  Beat in the remaining powdered sugar until smooth.  Beat in enough of the remaining milk to make a frosting of spreading consistency.

Crush candy of choice (candy canes, peppermint candies, Heath toffee bars).  Easiest way to do this is to put the candy in a ziploc bag and crush with hammer.  Once the cookie is assembled, roll the edges in the crushed candy.

The end result?

An enthusiastic thumbs up from my taste testers!

Spicy Chicken Teriyaki

{ spicy chicken teriyaki.  it's what's for dinner.
the beautful ceramic bowl was handmade by my talented friend, olivia. }
Who doesn't love a good bowl of teriyaki over rice?  Chicken is my favorite, but the beauty of teriyaki is you can easily change it up with beef, seafood, tofu, whatever your heart desires (well, not really but you get the point).

The secret to this teriyaki?

These three ingredients:

- Korean hot bean paste (available at Asian supermarkets)
- Red pepper flakes
- Mr. Yoshida's marinade (available at Costco)

They do all the hard work for you.  All you have to do is add the protein and vegetable of your choice.

Cut up chicken breasts into cubes.  Dice onions.  Place chicken and onions into a bowl.  Pour the Yoshida marinade over the chicken until it covers completely. 

[If you want to make a non-spicy version (particularly for kids), transfer a portion of the mix to another bowl before adding the bean paste and red pepper flakes.]

Add a spoonful (or two) of the bean paste to the marinated chicken and mix.  Spinkle with red pepper flakes (add more if you like it with a real kick!).  Mix and then refridgerate overnight (you can also cook right away but letting it soak in the marinade allows a richer flavor).

Once you're ready to cook, pour a little vegetable oil into a frying pan placed over medium-high heat.  Pour the marinated chicken and onion into the pan.  Cover and mix occasionally.  Once chicken is almost cooked through, add frozen or fresh vegetables (broccoli, peppers, and baby corn).  Cook until vegetables are tender.

Pour the teriyaki over a bowl of rice and dinner is served.

Mr. Yoshida's marinade is also perfect for an easy and quick way to make galbi (Korean marinated shortribs). It turns out amazing every time!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

{ rosy and buttery cupcakes }
I am a huge fan of cream cheese frosting because (1) it tastes great, (2) it's easy to make, and (3) you can make countless variations.

But I thought I would be adventurous and try something new and different this weekend.  So I attempted to make swiss meringue buttercream frosting.  This definitely requires a bit more time, but the frosting is so amazingly light, smooth, and buttery.

Since I was going all out on the frosting, I kept the cupcake itself very simple and used Trader Joe's Vanilla Cake Mix (I LOVE Trader Joe's products).  I simply followed the instructions on the box.

Here are the instructions for the frosting.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
(Recipe from Martha Stewart)

Makes about 9 cups, enough for about 28 cupcakes

1. Gather ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 10 large egg whites
  • 4 cups (8 sticks or 2 pounds) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2.  Place sugar and egg whites in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer. Set bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, and whisk until sugar has dissolved and egg whites are hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. Test by rubbing the mixture between your fingers; it should feel completely smooth.

3.Transfer bowl to mixer stand. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until mixture has cooled completely and formed stiff and glossy peaks, about 10 minutes.

4. Add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated after each addition. Don't worry if the buttercream appears curdled after all the butter has been added; it will become smooth again with continued beating. Add vanilla, and beat just until combined.

5. Switch to the paddle attachment, and beat on the lowest speed to eliminate any air pockets, about 5 minutes. If using buttercream within several hours, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature in a cool environment. Or transfer to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator, up to 3 days. Before using, bring buttercream to room temperature, and beat on the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until smooth, about 5 minutes.

6.  And buttercream frosting is complete!

I tinted the frosting with Wilton's icing color in Rose Petal Pink to add the pretty pink hue.

I'll definitely be making this frosting again!

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting

{ pumpkin + maple + heath toffee bits = perfect combination for the holidays! }
A few of my favorite things about Thanksgiving involve pumpkin pies, pumpkin cheesecakes, pumpkin bread . . . anything and everything pumpkin!

So why not pumpkin cupcakes?  I found the perfect recipe from Ina Garten.

But I'll let you in on a little secret.  I cheated and used this:

And it turned out moist and delicious.  So if you're short on time or just like shortcuts, here's the modified and simpler recipe (yields 12 cupcakes):

Pumpkin Cupcakes

  • Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread Mix
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped Heath bars


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix the ingredients.  Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter into a muffin tin with cupcake liners (I fill the cup 2/3 full).  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Place the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely.  Spread the cupcakes with maple frosting and sprinkle with chopped Heath bits.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting


  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (I normally use a little less so the frosting isn't too sweet)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter on low speed until smooth. Stir in the maple flavoring and vanilla extract. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.

Then you can decorate with these.  Enjoy!

Cupcake Flags

{ pumpkin cupcakes for a baby shower }
I am always on the lookout for ideas on how to decorate cupcakes beautifully.  I love the idea of cupcake flags and decided to try my hand at making my own.   It's actually quite simple and such an easy way to add a decorative touch to any festivity.

Here's a list of the supplies needed to make 20 flags (available at any craft store like Michael's or AC Moore):

* Cardstock paper - 3 sheets ($14.99 for a pad of 50 sheets - used 50% off Michaels coupon so got a great deal - or you can purchase sheets individually ranging from $.49-$.99/page)
* Decorative stickers - 2 packs ($1.99/each)
* 4" Lollipop sticks - 20 ($2.00 for 50 sticks)
* Decorative paper punch (retails at $14.99 but used coupon, so again, another great deal)
* Glue stick (.$49)

(1) To get started, use the paper punch to punch out shapes in the cardstock paper (I used a 2" scalloped circle paper punch to make flowers).  You'll need two pieces of paper punch for each flag so punch out 40 flowers.

(2) Now take the glue stick and glue the back sides of the flower shapes.

(3) Then take a lollipop stick and press it down onto one of the glued sides.  If you want taller flags, then just place the stick lower on the paper.

(4) Put the second flower shape on top and then press down on all the sides.  Make sure the stick is secure and in place.  There may be a slight opening on the top, but don't worry about that.  I intentionally left the top unsealed (believe me, no one's going to notice or make a big deal if they do).

(5) Finally, we come to the fun part!  Decorate the flags with stickers!   I only decorated one side, but if you really want to go all out, you can decorate both.

And voila!

Before you know it, you've got a whole set of adorable, unique cupcake flags!  This is a great project to do with the kids, so let them in on the fun!

In the next post, I'll share the recipe for the pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting featured at the top.

Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

We celebrated a very dear friend's 40th birthday this past weekend.  We hosted a quaint and intimate dinner at our home.  My sister-in-law, Jane (her pseudonym), cooked up an amazing Korean beef and potato dish.  Everyone inhaled it.  We had other traditional Korean fare, as well, which was ordered from a caterer.

Instead of buying a cake, I decided to make coconut cupcakes.  Another friend of ours made these for CJ's 2nd birthday party, and they were amazing! 

Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
(Recipe from Ina Garten)

  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (don't make the mistake I have and get low-fat; it'll change the texture of the cupcake)
  • 14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut
For the frosting:
(I used a different recipe to get a thicker frosting which is better for decorating)
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (I always cut the sugar in half, so I only used 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 ounces of coconut.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner to the top with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with the remaining coconut.

I decided to add the pink flowers to add a decorative touch and make the cupcakes prettier!  They're easy to make with a Wilton Large Star Decorating Tip 1-M.  I'm hoping to post up a step-by-step how-to in the coming weeks.  But this week will be devoted to another big project I'm working on (stay tuned for that).

And what's a party without some good wine?  As a complement to the cupcakes, I purchased what else, but Cupcake wines.  These are a recent new fave (and they're only $8.99/bottle).  I particularly enjoy the Cabernet Sauvignon.

We had such a fabulous time!  And we loved celebrating the life of a sister and friend we dearly treasure! S, you are an amazing blessing to us all!

Flower Power

Here are some highlights from CJ's dohl.  Although we had many more guests at his party than Nathan's, it was much more lowkey in terms of preparation because we held it at a local park (CJ is a June baby so we took advantage of the nice weather).  We kept decorations very simple and had subs, gimbap (Korean california rolls), pasta and other simple picnic fare for lunch. 

{ sugar cookies made with lots of love }
The most work went into prepping the favors - homemade sugar cookies.  I thought these would make great centerpieces.  So I cut the cookies into flower shapes, stuck them on a lollipop stick, decorated each one, put them in a clear treat bag, tied a ribbon, and then placed a few in several pots (sticks were held secure by styrofoam).  Then guests took one home as a favor.

Decorating was easy.  All it required was some Betty Crocker cookie icing (in white and then you can add food coloring to make any color you want), candied sprinkles, and lots of love.

* * * * *

Here's the recipe I used (from

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden. Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks.
These were a hit. 

{ a very manly cake }
I also contemplated making the cake for CJ's birthday but decided it would be too much work in addition to the cookies.  So we ordered from a local bakery in Tenafly called Cafe Savoy.  We've had their cakes in the past, and they are delicious!  We flipped through their cake catalog and chose a large white cake with strawberries featuring a monkey.

We had no idea it would be pink!  [This is probably why I decided to make Nathan's cupcakes for his party.  :)]

But the birthday boy didn't care.  He was as happy as could be.

{ We had similar items out for CJ's dohljabi as we did Nathan's.  CJ chose the yarn (which represents long life) and then the stethoscope.  By the way, Nathan chose the stethoscope and then the Bible.  I'm not sure how I feel about both of them being in the medical field.   And the pic of CJ and daddy is my absolute favorite.  Melts my heart each time. }

Turkey Chili in a Slow Cooker

I've just recently discovered the convenience and beauty of the slow cooker.  We had gotten one as a gift for our wedding (that was five years ago) and had only used it once.  That was until September of this year, and now I use it at least once a week.

My favorite recipe thus far:  turkey chili.

{ turkey chili cooked in a slow cooker }
This is the best chili I've had (Hubby and neighbor both agree), and it's such an easy and economic meal!  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

(from Rival Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Recipe Cookbook)

{ ingredients from trader joe's. 
super affordable & good for you! }
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (about 4 ounces) chopped mild green chilies, optional
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chili powder (I use taco mix powder)

{ sautee turkey & onions, and then throw everything
into the pot.  easy as that. }
1.  Cook turkey and onion in medium skillet over medium-high heat, stirring to break up meat until turkey is no longer pink.  Drain, place turkey mixture into the Crock-Pot slow cooker.

2.  Add tomatoes with juice, beans, tomato sauce, chilies and chili powder; mix well.  Cover; cook on HIGH for 6 to 8 hours or until done.

[Makes 6 to 8 servings.  Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes.  Cook time: 6 to 8 hours.]

Complete the meal with sour cream, shredded cheese, and cornbread or nachos.  I also modify the recipe for the kids.  I don't include green chilies and will rinse the turkey chili before serving it to the boys because the chili powder does have a little kick to it.  The boys love and enjoy it!

The convenience with the slow cooker is that I can whip up the meal in the morning or while the boys are taking their mid-afternoon nap, and by early evening, dinner is ready!

Cupcakes Galore!

{ cupcakes for mother's day bake sale }
I discovered my love of baking cupcakes when I was pregnant with my firstborn.  I attribute it to the effects of "nesting".  I had never baked a thing in my life before - not even pre-battered cookies you just roll out on a sheet!

So my first cupcake project was initiated by a Mother's Day bake sale at church.  I figured I would give it a go and see how they turned out.  I researched endlessly online for recipes and decorating ideas.  The picture shows the end result.  Truth be told, I think they turned out more pleasing to the eye than the taste palette.  But over time and with practice, I'm hoping to make cupcakes that both look and taste great!

* * * * * *

{ nathan's birthday cupcakes }
For Nathan's 1-year birthday party, I baked white and chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  I was originally going to make a coconut cupcake but ended up improvising on a simpler recipe.  This is the recipe I used (which actually turned out quite nicely):


1 box white/chocolate cake mix (used Duncan Hines moist mix)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 1/3 cups water
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp pure almond extract
1 cup sour cream
4 large egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Place cupcake liners in cupcake pans (you’ll need approx. 36).

2. In a large bowl, whisk together cake mix, flour, sugar and salt. Add remaining ingredients and beat with hand mixer for 2 minutes, or until well blended.

3. Use ice cream scoop to fill prepared cupcake tins- fill about 3/4 full. Bake about 18 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Yield: 36 cupcakes


1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temperature
8 oz of Philly cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
2 cups of powdered sugar (I only use about 1 go 1.5 cup)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of almond extract

1. With an electric mixer, mix the butter and cream cheese together, about 3 minutes on medium speed until very smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

2. Add the vanilla and almond extract and mix. Slowly add the powdered sugar. Keep adding until you get to desired sweetness and thickness.

3. Either spread on with a blunt knife or spatula, or spoon into a piping bag to decorate your cake or cupcake.
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