Chocolate Coconut Cake


This single layer cake is the perfect size for smaller gatherings.  Using coconut oil in the cake batter is not only a healthier alternative, but adds coconut flavor to the cake. Brewed coffee brings out the flavor of the chocolate. If you prefer not to use shortening in the frosting, use 1 cup of butter.

For Valentine’s Day, I used a 9 inch heart shaped pan.

Chocolate Coconut Cake
Serves 6


  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup coconut oil (melted)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup brewed coffee


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch round or 8-inch square baking pan with baking spray (Pam) or butter and flour.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder until well combined.
  3. Add the egg, buttermilk, coconut oil and vanilla and beat until very smooth.
  4. Stir in the coffee. (The batter will be thin.)
  5. Pour into your prepared pan.
  6. Bake 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.
  8. Remove from pan to a cake platter, bottom side up.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup softened Butter

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

2 cups confectioners sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk

2 cups sweetened flake coconut

Using a hand mixer, whip butter and shortening in a medium bowl until creamy. Add confectioners sugar in 1/2 cup intervals and beat until smooth. Mix in vanilla and milk.

Spread evenly onto cake and sprinkle with coconut. Decorate as desired.


Homemade Hostess Cupcakes


This has to be one of my most requested cupcakes. They not only look fun and fabulous, but taste so much better than the store-bought version. If you cannot find the brown wrappers in the store you can order them online.

Homemade Hostess Cupcakes

For the cupcakes
Hershey’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake recipe:
1 and 3/4 cup unsifted all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

For the filling:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup marshmallow creme
Transfer filling to a decorator squeeze bottle or piping bag fitted with a filling tip.

For the Ganache
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Heat chocolate and cream in a glass bowl over a pot of hot, but not boiling water until smooth.
Add butter and vanilla, cool slightly

For the Swirls
Following the package directions, carefully microwave a cup of Wilton White Candy Melts. Transfer to a decorating squeeze bottle.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients except boiling water; beat at medium speed 2 minutes
Remove from mixer; stir in boiling water (batter will be thin)
Using a quarter cup measure or ice cream scoop, fill cupcake tin lined with brown wrappers, 3/4 full.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15-17 minutes; test with a toothpick
Remove from pans; cool completely. Fill cupcakes. Dip top of cupcake into the ganache, cool in refrigerator until set. Top with 7 swirls, by piping melted Wilton white candy coating from a decorator squeeze bottle.

Lemon Custard Cakes


Lovely, light and lemony, these custard cakes will make you feel like spring has sprung; even on a dark and gloomy winter’s day.

Lemon Custard Cakes

a recipe from Martha Stewart

Serves 6

You will need:

Unsalted butter, room temperature, for custard cups

Six 6 ounce custard cups

3 large eggs, separated

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 to 3 teaspoons grated lemon zest, (1 lemon)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

To make:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a tea kettle of water to boil. Butter the custard cups and place them in a baking dish lined with a dish towel.

Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy; gradually whisk in flour, then lemon juice, then milk and zest.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Gently fold into lemon batter with a whisk (batter will be very thin).

Divide batter among prepared custard cups; place baking dish in oven and carefully fill with boiling water to about halfway up the sides of cups. Bake until puffed and lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. While still warm, dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve.

Candy Cane Kiss Cookies


This festive, vanilla version of the Candy Cane blossom will be a pretty, pepperminty addition to your cookie tray. Make this little beauty for your next cookie swap.

Candy Cane Kiss Cookies

adapted from

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Candy Cane Kiss candies
  • 1/3 cup sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Unwrap kiss candies and chill in the refrigerator.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and peppermint extracts and egg and continue to beat for 2 more minutes.

In a separate bowl, add baking powder, flour, and salt and whisk together. Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture in 1/2 cup intervals and beat until well blended.  I use a 1 1/4 inch cookie scoop to form cookie balls. Roll in sanding sugar, place cookie dough on cookie sheets lined with a silpat or parchment paper.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Remove from oven and press a cold candy cane kiss into center of each cookie. Cookie will crack around edges and kiss will become soft. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before carefully moving to wire rack to completely cool until kiss hardens. Makes about 38 cookies.


Zucchini Bread


An all time favorite that never gets old. Perfect at breakfast time or with afternoon tea.

Classic Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil or 1 cup applesauce
1 ½ cups sugar
3 medium zucchini, grated and well drained (2 cups)
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Beat eggs lightly in a large bowl. Stir in oil (or applesauce) sugar, zucchini and vanilla.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt onto wax paper. Stir into egg mixture until well blended; stir in raisins and nuts. Spoon batter into two well greased 8 x 5 x 3 loaf pans or three 8 x 4 x 2 loaf pans.

Bake at 375 for 40 minutes for the 8 x 4 x 2 pans or 1 hour for the 8 x 5 x 3 pans (test with a toothpick). Remove from pans and cool completely.

Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto 2

I love using pesto on pasta, pizza and sandwiches. It’s a healthy, delicious sauce with fabulous flavor. My garden is once again overflowing with this beautiful, fragrant herb so I took a little time out of my day and made a batch. I freeze it so I can enjoy it all year round. It’s so easy to do!

Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves packed
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste

Most recipes call for a food processor, but I used my Vitamix blender. Here are directions for both.

If using a Vita Mix:

Add first 5 ingredients to Vitamix container and secure lid. Turn machine on and slowly increase speed, using tamper to mix ingredients and press into blade. Blend for 30 to 60 seconds until well blended. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

If using a food processor:

Add basil and nuts to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times. Add garlic and parmesan and pulse several more times. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the food processor running, slowly add olive oil and blend until well combined. Scape the sides of the bowl again and add salt and pepper to your taste.

If not using immediately, pour into airtight container. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top. Cover with plastic wrap, then secure lid. Store for up to one week in refrigerator, or freeze for up to 9 months.

Stuffed Poblanos

baked poblanos 2

The peppers in my garden are gorgeous and plentiful this year. This dish is one of our favorites, so I was excited when the poblanos were ripe and ready to pick. It’s a delicious and easy recipe, so mix up a batch of margaritas and start cooking!

whole poblanos

Stuffed Poblano Peppers ( inspired by a recipe from
6 large poblano peppers
4 cups grated Jack or Cheddar cheese (or combination of)
1- 12 ounce package (4 links) of your favorite spicy sausage (such as al fresco Spicy Jalapeño chicken sausage)
chopped cilantro for garnish
Mexican Rice (recipe follows)

Mexican Rice ( inspired by a recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen)
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 cup basmati rice
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2  medium sized tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Saute onions in a large skillet over medium heat. When onions are translucent, add garlic and stir for a minute. Stir in rice and continue stirring until toasted, about 5 minutes.

Add tomato sauce and vegetable broth. Stir in corn, chili powder and cumin. Cover and simmer low until rice is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Wash and dry peppers. Slice lengthwise so peppers will lay flat. Remove seeds and ribs. Line a large cookie sheet pan with foil.

cut poblanos

Turn oven on to broil. Place peppers on cookie sheet and put them under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until they start to soften and blacken slightly. Check them often.  Remove from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 375 degrees.

Cook sausage according to package directions. Cool and cut up into bite size pieces.  Mix with rice. Generously fill each pepper half with sausage and rice mixture. Top with grated cheese.

stuffed pre bake close up

stuffed pre bake

Bake in oven 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and golden.  Serve with black beans, chips and salsa. Serves 6.

poblano 3

Potato Salad

potato salad 2

If there is one dish a southern girl needs in her repertoire, it’s potato salad. It’s just a must have; right up there with cornbread dressing and pecan pie. Growing up in a small southern town in the 60’s and 70’s, potato salad was always homemade. Why, that would be a sin to buy it from a deli, and honestly, I don’t believe delicatessens existed in Fairhope, Alabama back in those days. It’s a staple at picnics, barbecues and church luncheons. And when you move up north with that potato salad recipe, why you become the hit at every summer party. It will be that one dish everyone wants to you bring to pass. And they just can’t believe you actually made that potato salad. Why would you go to all that trouble when you are surrounded by delis just full of potato salad? And then they taste it and wish they had that recipe, because, well, deli potato salad just doesn’t measure up – and never will for this southern girl.

Now, southern potato salad is not an exact science. I’ve never actually written down a recipe until now. It’s one of those things that’s just in your head. You tweak it as you go; add a little more of this and that, until it tastes just right.  But since I wanted to share this phenomenon with you all, I mean, with y’all,  I just had to take the time to measure and take notes. Because after all, it is just more fun to share.  Now say good bye to that nasty deli salad and get a taste of the real thing. Enjoy!

Potato Salad

Serves 8-10


8-9 medium yukon gold potatoes

3/4 cup diced celery

3/4 cup diced white or sweet onion

3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

1 1/4 cup mayonaise

1/4 cup yellow mustard

1 teaspoon Dill

Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper



Try to choose potatoes that are equal in size so they cook evenly. Scrub potatoes well. Add potatoes to a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Potatoes should be barely tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the pan from heat, leave covered and let potatoes continue to cook in the hot water for another 10 minutes. Test again for doneness and remove from pot when tender. The smaller potatoes will cook faster, so remove those that are tender and leave the larger potatoes for another 5 minutes or until done. Let potatoes cool until warm and easier to handle. (The potatoes will absorb the mayo and mustard better if warm).

Carefully peel potatoes; the skin on Yukons is thin, so you should be able to scrap it off easily. Cut into quarters, then slice into 1 inch pieces. In a large mixing bowl, add potatoes, celery, onion and eggs. Carefully fold to combine. Add mayo and mustard and and stir until mixed well. If not moist enough to your liking, add more mayo. Add dill weed, salt and pepper to taste. Move salad to a nice serving bowl, sprinkle with paprika, cover and chill for a couple of hours before serving.


Star Spangled Fruit Tart

Red White and Blue Fruit Tart

Perk up your 4th of July picnic with some patriotic flair. This easy, no bake fruit tart will wow your guests and leave them asking for more.

Star Spangled Fruit Tart

For the Crust:
Combine 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs with 4 tablespoons sugar and ½ cup melted butter. Press into 10 inch tart pan. If using a 9 inch pie plate, follow the directions on the graham cracker crumb box. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

For the Filling;
1 – 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1- 1 1/2 packages fresh blackberries (about 20 berries)
2 1/2 packages fresh raspberries (about 45 berries)

Beat cream cheese at medium speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk. Add lemon juice and vanilla. Pour into cooled crust. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or until set. Once set, arrange fruit on top to resemble a flag. Pipe whipped cream in between rows of raspberries.

For the whipped cream:

Pour 1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. (for best results, chill the bowl and the beater before using). Add 1 tablespoon sugar. Start on low and gradually increase speed to medium high. (8 on a KitchenAid stand mixer) The cream will start to thicken and soft peaks will form. Continue until the cream stands in stiff, sharp peaks. This only takes a few minutes; watch the cream closely and do not over whip.

Fudgey Oatmeal Bars

Fudgey Oatmeal Bars

Two all time favorites rolled into one. Layers of oatmeal cookie dough filled with semi-sweet, chocolate fudge. Chewy, chocolatey, decadent and delicious!

Fudgey Oatmeal Bars

(adapted from a recipe by Averie Cooks)


1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled slightly
1 large egg
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned whole-rolled oats (not quick cook or instant)
1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, for batter
half of one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
about 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, for sprinkling


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, keeping a 2 inch over hang. Spray with Pam cooking spray and set aside.

  1. In a large bowl, mix brown sugar, egg and vanilla. Whisk in cooled, melted butter until smooth. Add in oats and flour, stirring just until combined, being careful not to over mix.
  2. Use a spatula to spread 3 quarters of the batter out into pan to form a crust. Reserve remaining batter.
  3. Add 1 cup chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk to a microwave safe bowl. Heat on high in 30 second intervals until chips are melted. Stir to combine. Quickly pour and smooth chocolate mixture over crust (chocolate sets up quickly).
  4. Spoon remaining batter over chocolate and smooth out with a spatula. For soft bars, bake for 25 minutes, just until top is set. Topping will be pale in color. Baking until golden will result in crunchy bars.
  5. Remove from oven and top with 1/3 cup chocolate chips. Cool in pan for at least an hour. Lift out using foil overhang. When completely cooled, slice and serve. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

It’s a damp, wet day here in Chicago,  but the calendar says May 1st and I’m more than ready for something grilled up and served with a sumptuous, summer salad.  Today I’m paring this lovely, lemony orzo dish with a succulent grilled salmon, marinated with the same lemon dressing used in the salad.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

(adapted from recipe by Iowa Girl Eats)


6 oz dry orzo pasta

1-1/2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 Tablespoons capers

For the Lemon Dressing:

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

1 teaspoon honey

1 clove garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pasta Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain in a colander then set aside to cool a bit. You want the pasta to be slightly warm when you add the dressing so it will absorb well.

Prepare the Lemon Dressing:

In a mini food processor add lemon juice, salt, freshly ground pepper, honey and garlic.  Do a taste test and add more salt and pepper to your liking but be careful with the salt –  the salad contains capers and olives, which will be salty as well.

In a medium sized bowl, add cooked pasta with remaining ingredients. Toss with half of the dressing then taste. Add more as desired.   This salad can be served immediately at room temperature or refrigerated and served cold. Makes about 6 servings.


Best Carrot Cake

A Flair for Fare

Carrot cake 2

I would have to say that Easter is my all-time favorite holiday. I have such fond childhood memories of getting all dressed up for a full morning at church, followed by a big family dinner and Easter egg hunt. Easter is especially beautiful in my hometown of Fairhope Alabama, and I miss the warm weather and blooming dogwood and azaleas.

I also love all of the baking that goes along with the holiday and one of my favorite Easter desserts is carrot cake. Whenever I bake a carrot cake I can’t but think of my red-haired, fun-loving, sister, Margie Faye.

I’m the youngest of 7 children in our family of 6 girls and 1 boy. All of my sisters are talented cooks and have inspired me in many ways, but especially when it comes to cooking and baking. All have their specialties, and I’m sure they’d all agree, the carrot…

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Sour Cream Lemon Pie

Sour Cream Lemon Pie

I love lemon in any fashion, be it in candy, cookies, bars or pie. This sour cream and lemon pie is so creamy and delicious; I used Meyer lemons for a sweeter, less tart lemon flavor, but using common Eureka lemons will make a pie that is just as delicious.

Sour Cream Lemon Pie

adapted from Inside NanaBread’s Head

1 tablespoon lemon zest and 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup whole milk
1/2 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup sour cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
One 8″ pie shell

Bake your pie crust and let it cool completely.

Add first five ingredients to a heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat until thick, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter until well incorporated. Prepare a large bowl of ice and cold water large enough to hold the saucepan. Place saucepan in ice water, adding additional ice as needed. Stir occasionally until mixture cools completely. Whisk in the sour cream.

Pour into your pre-baked pie crust and refrigerate at least two hours.

Prior to serving prepare whipped cream and top pie as desired.

For the whipped cream topping:

Pour 2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. (for best results, chill the bowl and the beater before using). Add 2 tablespoons sugar. Start on low and gradually increase speed to medium high. (8 on a KitchenAid stand mixer) The cream will start to thicken and soft peaks will form. Continue until the cream stands in stiff, sharp peaks. This only takes a few minutes; watch the cream closely and do not over whip or you might end up with butter.  Add whipped cream to a piping bag with decorative tip and pipe decorative swirls onto the pie as you wish. I used a large Wilton tip. For best results, do not use ultra-pasteurized whipping cream.  I find that using a whipped cream stabilizer helps the whipped cream hold up longer.

Serves 8. Keep refrigerated.

Lemon Cream Pie 2

Potato-Bean Soup

Potato-Bean Soup

Warmer weather is on it’s way and soon we’ll be saying goodbye to soup season. Here’s one you will want to try before cold weather comes to an end.

Potato-Bean Soup

from Better Home and Gardens Soups and Stews Book


2 medium carrots, shredded (1 cup)
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
4 cups chicken broth or stock
3 cups cubed, peeled potatoes
2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill or 2 tablespoons dried dill weed
1 15 ounce can cannellini beans or great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup dairy sour cream or plain non-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Salt and pepper to your taste


Over medium heat, sauté carrots, celery and garlic in butter until tender, 4-5 minutes. Add chicken stock, potatoes and dill. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer covered until potatoes are tender, 20-25 minutes. Mash half of the potatoes, then stir in the beans.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the sour cream and cornstarch; stir into the soup mixture. Cook until thickened and bubbly. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Serves 4-6.

Thai Beef with Peppers

Thai Beef

Here’s an easy, delicious, Asian inspired meal. I prefer to marinate the meat several hours or overnight for extra flavor, but it’s not required. If you need to whip up dinner in a hurry, just toss the beef in the marinade for a few minutes and continue with the recipe.

Thai Beef with Peppers

adapted from recipe by Ree Drummond


7  ounces Thai rice noodles
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons sherry*
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon red chili paste (use additional  if desired)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lime, halved
1 pound Top Sirloin Cap steak or flank steak, sliced thin
2 tablespoons Grapeseed oil*
1 medium sweet onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cored and medium diced
1 tablespoon diced fresh jalapeno
Fresh parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)

Prepare the marinade in a small bowl. Combine soy sauce, sherry, cornstarch, brown sugar, ginger, chili paste, garlic and the juice of half the lime. Pour a third of the marinade into a large ziplock bag with the sliced beef and toss to coat. Marinate several hours or overnight, reserving the rest of the marinade for later.

When you are ready to prepare, add one tablespoon oil to a large skillet and sauté onions for a couple of minutes over medium-high to high heat.  Add the bell peppers and jalapenos. Continue to saute just until peppers are tender but still crisp. Remove and set aside.

Cook Thai rice noodles according to package directions.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the hot skillet and add the marinated meat. Separate to evenly distribute in the pan.  Cook for about 30 seconds per side.  Reduce the heat to low, add the onions and peppers then pour in the remaining marinade and stir. Simmer on low heat for several minutes. Let the sauce slowly thicken. Adjust the amount of spice to your liking. I add additional chili paste for extra heat. Turn off the stove.

Remove the noodles from the pot with tongs and add directly into the meat and vegetable mixture. Toss and add some pasta water if needed to thin the sauce.

Garnish with fresh parsley leaves and serve immediately with a squeeze of the remaining lime half.

*Note: you can substitute white wine, wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar for sherry.  Use chicken broth if you do not wish to use alcohol.

I prefer to use Grapeseed oil for health reasons, but you can use vegetable or olive oil.