Strawberry Peach Bread and Strawberry Lavender Jam

ImageI know it’s been a long time, I’ve moved to a new job in Dallas so I’ve been mostly without my kitchen (or any kitchen at all for a while) and suffering some serious withdrawal symptoms.  I really miss my big kitchen and all my cooking supplies that just don’t fit in my apartment here.  I’m going back and forth though, so I do get to visit my stuff!

There is one big advantage to being in Dallas, they have a wonderful Farmer’s Market that goes for several blocks.  During my first visit, I of course went crazy and bought way too much.  I found a spice vendor and since I didn’t have any here, I just had to get one of each of my favorites, including some really fragrant lavender, cinnamon and vanilla beans.  Then a flat of strawberries and some great peaches, some vegetables . . .

First I made chocolate dipped strawberries, then strawberry lavender jam, then with just a few strawberries and peaches left, I made a bunch of mini-loaves of quick bread.  I took a basic recipe and exchanged the sugar for just a little maple syrup to keep it from being too sweet because I topped it with some almonds, brown sugar and some of the strawberry jam swirled in.

Strawberry Lavender Jam

1 lb. strawberries

1/3 cup lemon or lime juice

1 lb. sugar

2 teaspoons dried lavender

1 teaspoon butter

Mash the strawberries with a potato masher if you like chunky or with a hand mixer or blender if you like smooth, add the juice, sugar and lavender and cook in a large pot over medium to high heat stirring occasionally until the temperature reaches 220 degrees and the jam starts to thicken.   The butter should keep it from foaming too much, but if too much forms skim it off with a spoon.  To test, place a plate in the freezer for at least 15 minutes.  Spoon a couple drops of the cooking jam onto the cold plate and see if it sets up.  If so, it is ready to use, freeze or can, if not keep cooking sometimes it takes a while.

Strawberry Peach Bread

1 cup oil

3 eggs

1 cup diced peaches

1 cup diced strawberries

¼ cup maple syrup

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

3 tsp cinnamon

½ cup strawberry lavender jam

½ cup slivered almonds

¼ cup brown sugar

Mix together eggs, oil, sugar and fruit.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon.  Pour into one large or three mini-loaf pans.  Pour the jam on top, swirling it gently with a knife, then sprinkle on the nuts and brown sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.



Easter Egg Cake Balls

Easter Egg Cake Balls

Since I’ve been quite busy lately, I’m taking advantage of timing and reposting one of my favorites for Easter.  These were a big hit and I’m sure I’ll be making them again this year!

Although I don’t quite get it as I guess I’m just not that much of a cake fan, cake balls are very popular around here and I do have to admit these are pretty cute.  I mentioned to college Daughter that I was going to make some and her exact words were “send them here, send them all here” and I’ve made them for several friends, who all seem to love them.  I did have some cheesecake pops at a party recently and those are going to be my next batch as they were amazing.

The basic idea is simple, mush up a cake and icing, roll it and dip in chocolate.  The best site for ideas is Bakerella, she even has a cookbook out just for them.  Previously I made some simple chocolate ones for a birthday party following Bakerella’s instructions.  This time I used a cherry chip cake mix (I usually make my cakes from scratch, but Daughter had left this box of mix here from her last visit so I decided to use it) and some cream cheese icing I had leftover from a birthday cake.



Cherry Chip Cake mix with eggs and oil (or homemade cake)

1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries (added to the cake batter for a little extra flavor)

2 cups cream cheese icing (homemade or purchased)

Dipping chocolate white and dark (I prefer Ghirardelli’s candy coating because I think it has the best quality but it’s not always easy to find.  Sam’s Club carries it around the holidays so I stock up but you can also use chocolate melts which you can even get pre-colored)


First bake the cake and cool completely.

Crumbled Cake

The crumble the cake in a large bowl.

Adding the icing

Add the icing.

Cake and icing mixed up

Smash it together and form into a thick disk – a spatula works but hands work better.  Wrap in plastic and put in the refrigerator for about an hour to stiffen up.

Best spoon for making the balls
Making the eggs

This is a great spoon for making the balls or cookies.  It is a hard plastic with a rubber bottom so the portions are even and you can easily push the dough out.  It comes in several sizes and I’ve seen it at most kitchen stores, the grocery store and even at the dollar store.  For this, I used the Tablespoon size, rolling them into egg shapes and placing them on a cookie sheet.

Eggs rolled

As you can probably tell, I’m not into perfection, I just don’t have time or the patience.  I admire those who do and if you are one of them, you can make them really great.  Some of my eggs aren’t shaped exactly right but they still look pretty egg like and they don’t last long anyway.

Wrap and freeze

Next wrap and place them in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.

Tapping off the excess

I have tried two methods of dipping, using a toothpick and putting them on a styrofoam floral stand that I got from the dollar store and just using a fork and putting them on waxed paper.  I find that the fork works better for me but they each have good and bad parts.  In order to get them to stay on the toothpick, I had to freeze them, which then caused the chocolate to crack as it hardened but they seemed to have the best shape if you can keep them on the toothpick.  Any little drips on the bottom can be trimmed with a sharp paring knife.

Fork Dipping

I switched to “warmer” balls on the fork letting them harden on a piece of waxed paper, which seemed to solve the falling off/cracking problem and seemed to be faster.  It sometimes leaves a bit of a flat base, but that is easily trimmed with a sharp paring knife or you can just leave it and serve them with that side down.  I used both white and dark chocolate, adding gel food color to the white to make a couple different colors.  Make sure you keep the chocolate warm, if it starts to thicken heat for a few seconds in the microwave to keep it easier to dip.  When it gets thick it also makes them more likely to crack (I’ve learned these things from the error part of trial and error).  The good news is that I learned the decorating can cover up the cracks pretty well!


Here they are after the first round of decorating. Note there are cracks and not so perfect spots, but those will be fixed soon!  I used the spray on color on some of the white ones which made a sort of marbled effect that I liked.   I tried someone’s suggestion for painting corn syrup on then putting sprinkles, but I just didn’t like the way it looked and am not that much of a sprinkle fan anyway so I ended up using the colored white chocolate instead.  Plus, that worked perfectly to fill in any cracks.  I always use a small plastic squeeze bottle when decorating with chocolate, you can get them from Wilton at the craft store or pretty much anywhere and they are very inexpensive.  Just melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave.  Depending on how much you do at a time it can take from 1-2 minutes.  I start with 1 minute, then stir and do 15 second increments until it is melted, then pour it into the squeeze bottle.

Looking Better

Again, those of you who are more creative and have more patience could do a much better decorating job.

Molding and trimming the chocolate baskets

I also used a chocolate mold (from Wilton that I got at Wal-Mart) to make some little baskets.  You just melt the chocolate, put it into the bottom of the mold then put the top.  Using the same sharp paring knife I trimmed off any excess before I unmolded them as sometimes it was hard to judge just how much chocolate to put into the mold – the directions on the package just say fill “half full” but there are no markings so you just have to get a feel for it.

Eggs in Baskets

Here are a couple in the baskets.

The Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Australian Scones (aka baking powder biscuits)

Australian Scones (baking powder biscuits)

I admit I’ve neglected my blog.  Between lots of visitors over the holidays and my realization that all that baking was having a really bad effect on the family’s collective waistlines I decided to take a little break.  I have had a recent fascination with making bread, especially sourdough which I think I’m finally becoming proficient at, but it really doesn’t photograph that well mostly because we usually eat it fresh from the oven so it doesn’t last long enough.   This month’s challenge fit right in with that theme though so I had a great time with it.  I chose to make the biscuits with some fresh herbs (oregano) and they were delicious.  I’ve tried making biscuits before, but although they weren’t inedible, they weren’t spectacular either.  This recipe was quite simple and although still not spectacular, they were definitely great and I’m sure with a little practice they will get to spectacular.

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

The wonderfully written full instructions from Audax in a PDF are here and I so appreciate the work that went into them.

I followed the instructions to make what I would call baking powder biscuits but in Australian they are scones.  I made the basic scones and added a few tablespoons of fresh oregano.  Thanks to Audax for the great challenge!

Basic Scones (a.k.a. Basic Biscuits)
Servings: about eight 2-inch (5 cm) scones or five 3-inch (7½ cm) scones
Recipe can be doubled

1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (⅓ oz) fresh baking powder
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) salt
2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) frozen grated butter (or a combination of lard and butter)
approximately ½ cup (120 ml) cold milk
optional 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones

1. Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.
2. Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)
3. Rub the frozen grated butter (or combination of fats) into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.
4. Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve an even homogeneous crumb to your scones knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)
6. Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick (15¼ cm by 10 cm by 2 cm thick). Using a well-floured 2-inch (5 cm) scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) layer and cut two more scones (these two scones will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough). Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.
7. Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.
8. Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.
9. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.

Cranberry Cookie Bars: what to do with that leftover cranberry sauce

Cranberry Cookie Bars

I always have left over cranberry sauce and never know what to do with it.  Due to my preference for sweets and distinct lack of interest in turkey (or any other kind) of sandwiches that only use a teaspoon or two at a time anyway, it is always a challenge to use up.  I’ve finally found something that tastes great and uses a lot at once – cookies!

These aren’t really anything original, mostly replacing the traditional raspberry jam with the cranberry sauce in a very simple cookie crumble dough, but it was a nice combination and looks very festive.

Printable Recipe for Cranberry Cookie Bars


3 cups flour

3 cups powdered sugar

3 cups ground toasted pecans or walnuts

1 1/2 cups butter

1/12 teaspoons cinnamon

3 cups cranberry sauce


Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a 9 x 13 pan, place a piece of foil across the bottom and spray with vegetable spray. (I do have better pans but of course I like to use the ugly one – oh well didn’t really notice until I saw the picture.)

Make a foil lifter

In a large bowl stir all the ingredients except cranberry sauce together mixing well. Using your fingers, make sure that there are “lumps” and pieces to give it some texture.


Pour all but 2 cups of the dough into the pan and flatten it out using the heel of your hand or a cup. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Press dough in the pan

Cover with the cranberry sauce.

Add the filling

Crumble the remaining dough on top, keeping various sized chunks and leaving some open space.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Crumble the dough on top

Cool then remove from the pan using the foil handles and cut into pieces. Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar and serve.

Cranberry Cookie Bars


The Daring Cooks’ Challenge: Char Sui and Char Sui Bao (charred BBQ Pork plain and in buns)

Char Sui (BBQ Pork)

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui, and filling from scratch – delicious!

This challenge was a resounding success receiving the highest award from the taste testers at each step of the way.  First the BBQ Pork was served straight, then made into the filling for the buns.  I followed the recipe they provided (Herefor both, the only change I made is instead of the pork loin I had some boneless pork ribs that worked wonderfully and of course I had to add some garlic to the marinade – what can I say I put garlic in everything.

As you can see, I got a little carried away with the red coloring but it did seem fitting for the holiday spirit.

Pork with marinade
Pork with marinade evenly distributed

I chose to do the sear and bake method but probably should have done a little better on the “sear” part.  I was too impatient (it really smelled delicious and I was hungry.)

Seared and ready for the oven

After the baking it was served with rice and vegetables for the first meal.  It was incredibly moist and flavorful.

The next meal was equally delicious.  I chose to make the baked buns and they also got the family seal of approval.

Char Sui Bao (BBQ Pork Buns)




The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Filled Sugar Cookies with Nutella, Maraschino Cherries and Honey Caramel

Filled Sugar Cookies with Nutella, Maraschino Cherries and Honey Caramel

I have done lots of cookie swaps, but this was my first cyber exchange and it was great fun!  Each participant made 3 dozen cookies and sent 1 dozen each to 3 other participants.  Sponsored by Julie and Lindsay of and loveandoliveoil.comIn case you missed out or want more information, you can sign up to receive a notice about next year’s swap at or search #fbcookieswap on Twitter.

I received my cookies from Kara at who made wonderful sugar cookies with roasted brown rice and tea leaves; Annakate at who sent me some lovely lemon cookies; and some great chocolate cookies with peppermint marshmallow toppings from Vicki at  We enjoyed them all (pretty much the same day they arrived) and thanks so much for sending them!

Green Tea and Lemon Cookies
Chocolate Cookies with Peppermint Marshmallow Tops

As usual, I was running behind and sent mine the last day – so sorry to the reciepients!  I had a great time making them and we did do a thorough job of taste testing before we mailed them.  Because of the mailing issue, it took me a while to decide but I ended up using my favorite sugar cookie recipe making them in a flower shaped cupcake pan filling them with nutella, maraschino cherries and honey caramel.

The basic recipe is one I use often:


1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 cup butter softened

3 tsp almond extract

1 egg

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cream of tartar


1. Mix powdered sugar, butter, almond extract and egg in large bowl.  Stir in remaining ingredients except chocolate.  Dough will be thick, but should not be dry.

2. Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a log about 3 inches in diameter and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Heat oven to 375ºF.

4. Remove rolls from refrigerator and slice into 1/2 inch rounds.

5. Place on ungreased cookie sheets 2 inches apart.

6. Bake 10-15 minutes or until edges are light brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool on wire rack.

For these, after making the basic dough to half I added 3/4 cup pecans in case some don’t like or allergic to nuts.  Instead of rolling, refrigerating and slicing the dough, I rolled small balls about 1/2 inch in diameter, flattened them and placed into the cupcake pan making a hole with my thumb.

Filled Holiday Sugar Cookies

Next I put in the filling:  Nutella, cherries or a small ball of caramel (if you don’t want to make your own, the wrapped soft caramels cut in 1/4ths would work fine).  I experimented with making a one layer thumbprint type cookie with the caramel but it bubbled out of its holes a little so it’s probably best to do a second “cover” layer on those too.

Filled Holiday Sugar Cookies - Nutella

Next I covered the filling with a second layer of cookie rolled and flattened like before. Make sure to gently seal around the edges if you want the filling not to show although it looks kind of neat when you can see the layers too so it is up to you.  For the cherry ones, I placed one cherry with no stem inside then stuck another with the stem into the top of the second layer.

Filled Holiday Sugar Cookies - Nutella

Then baked and drizzled them with white and dark chocolate.

Chocolate Dipped Pecan and Cherry Cookies

Chocolate Dipped Pecan and Cherry Cookies

These are wonderful holiday cookies and is one of five recipes chosen to be published in the Las Vegas Review Journal .  Starting with a basic sugar cookie dough I added two of my favorites, pecans and cherries and of course for the rest of the family they had to have chocolate.  I’ll be posting more variations soon!

Printable Version

Chocolate Dipped Pecan and Cherry Cookies

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 cup butter softened

3 tsp almond extract

1 egg

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cream of tartar

3/4 cup toasted chopped pecans

3/4 cup chopped dried cherries

1 cup melted chocolate

1 cup melted white chocolate

1. Mix powdered sugar, butter, almond extract and egg in large bowl.  Stir in remaining ingredients except chocolate.  Dough will be thick, but should not be dry.

2. Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a log about 3 inches in diameter and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Heat oven to 375ºF.

4. Remove rolls from refrigerator and slice into 1/2 inch rounds.

5. Place on ungreased cookie sheets 2 inches apart.

6. Bake 10-15 minutes or until edges are light brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool on wire rack.

7. Microwave chocolate until melted starting with 30 seconds and checking at 15 second intervals.

8. Dip and/or drizzle cooled cookies in white, dark or mixed chocolates (if the chocolate is too thick, add a small amount of corn syrup or vegetable oil to thin).

Servings: 24


Chocolate Dipped Pecan and Cherry Cookies


Daring Cook’s Challenge: Chicken Breasts with Tea and Lemon/Lime

Chicken Breasts with Tea and Lemon

Once again, the Daring Cooks choose a great project for us.  Sarah from Simply Cooked was our November Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to create something truly unique in both taste and technique! We learned how to cook using tea with recipes from Tea Cookbook by Tonia George and The New Tea Book by Sara Perry.

I choose to make the Chinese Tea Eggs suggested, and Chicken Breasts with Tea and Lemon/Lime that I made up as I went along.  I also tried using it in a stuffed pepper recipe but the other flavors were too strong so the tea just didn’t come through.  The chicken worked wonderfully though and was moist and really delicious.

First I made the eggs following the recipe provided by Sarah here (with some great pictures):

Chinese Tea Eggs

Servings: 6 eggs

6 eggs (any size)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (6 gm) black tea leaves, or 4 tea bags
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (5 gm) Chinese five spice powder
1 tablespoon (5 ml) (3 gm) coarse grain salt

Chinese Eggs to boil


In a large enough pot to avoid overcrowding, cover the eggs with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer for twelve minutes.

Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and keep the cooking water.

With a spoon, tap the eggs all over until they are covered with small cracks. This can also be done by tapping and rolling the eggs very gently on the counter.

Return the eggs to the pan and add the tea leaves or bags, Chinese five spice powder, and salt. Cover the pan.

Heat gently and simmer, covered, for one hour.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs cool down in the liquid for 30 minutes.

Remove the eggs from the liquid. Peel one egg to check how dark it is; the others can be returned to the liquid if you wish to have the web-like pattern darker. Allow the eggs to cool fully. (This is the part I should have paid more attention to as my eggs weren’t colored as much as I would have liked but as usual, my patience is sometimes lacking so I didn’t put them back.  I have to admit I’m not a hard-cooked egg fan but the official taste tester aka husband who will try anything gave them the thumbs up.)

Chinese Eggs

To serve, peel and slice the eggs in halves or quarters. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Next I continued on using the boiled tea water to make the chicken:

Pot of Tea with Chinese Spice left from the eggs

1/4 cup salt

1/4 cup sugar

4-6 chicken breasts

1/4-1/2 cup corn starch

1 tablespoon black tea


2 Tbs olive oil

1 lemon

1 lime

2 tablespoons butter

Few fresh basil leaves

Add the salt and sugar to the tea/Chinese Spice mixture and marinate the chicken breasts (in the refrigerator) for 2 hours.  If you are short on time you could double the salt and sugar and do 1 hour but I wanted the tea to have more time to infuse.

Remove the breasts from the tea brine and dry well with paper towels, then sprinkle well with the corn starch.

Heat the olive oil over high heat in a heavy pan (an iron skillet if you have one).

Add the chicken breasts, sprinkle with the tea and pepper and brown well.

Chicken Breasts with Tea and Lemon/Lime

Once they are well browned, turn down the heat to medium and add the lemon and lime cut in half turning them occasionally.  The oils from the skins will infuse the olive oil adding a lot of flavor.

Chicken Breasts with Tea and Lemon/Lime

When the chicken is cooked to 165, remove it and set aside covering loosely with foil.

Remove the lemon/lime from the pan and carefully using a towel squeeze the juice into the pan and scrape up any browned bits.  Add the butter and basil and stir until the sauce is smooth.

Chicken Breasts with Tea and Lemon/Lime Sauce

To serve, pour the sauce over the chicken.

Roasted Spaghetti Squash Gratin with Cheese

Spaghetti Squash

Well, the year has gone by and my healthy eating plan has once again been a dismal failure but  I did recently try a recipe that passed both the healthy and good test.  For someone who absolutely loves pasta, especially with a rich cheese and cream sauce, it’s a hard sell to get me to go for anything less but I thought spaghetti squash might work.  In the interest of a fair review though, there is no comparison between squash and a good pasta no matter how similar they might look and in no way is this an adequate substitute for fettucine Alfredo but. . . it was pretty good and got into the once a month category (our family’s informal rating system – once a week, once a month and please, please never again).

Baked spaghetti squash with cheese

Printable Version Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Cheese


1 small to medium spaghetti squash

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion chopped

5 cloves of garlic (I like lots of garlic you could reduce this if you prefer)

salt and pepper

6 eggs

1 cup low-fat milk

4 tablespoons Italian seasoning

4 ounces Gruyère or Asiago shredded

1/2 cup grated Parmesan


Spaghetti Squash Cut and Seasoned

First you need to roast the squash and there are two ways to go.  The best,  if you are a brave and have a really good knife, is to slice the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with the Italian spices, salt and pepper and roast it cut side down on a foil wrapped cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 20 minutes (it should be starting to soften, but not anywhere near mushy – it will be baked more later so don’t overcook).  Be warned though that they are very hard to cut!  As you can see, my technique could use a little practice but no matter, you’re going to cut it up later anyway.  If you’re not so brave, you can just poke a few holes in it, bake and it will cut much easier but it won’t have as much flavor.  After you remove from the oven, set it aside for a few minutes to cool.  Using a fork, shred the squash, then chop it into pieces about 1 inch long.

Baked and ready to shred

In a dutch oven if you have one you can do this in one step, otherwise use a medium saucepan and a casserole dish.  Add the olive oil to the bottom of the pan and brown the onions well 8-10 minutes the browner the better, add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute longer.  Add the squash (and if you didn’t slice the squash before roasting, add the Italian spices salt and pepper) and mix well, cooking for about 5 minutes longer.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the milk and Gruyère.  Gradually add a small amount of the hot squash to temper the eggs, then pour this mixture over the squash and stir gently but quickly to mix well as you don’t want to scramble the eggs.

Top with the shredded Parmesan and bake (still at 375) for about 45 minutes until the top is lightly browned and bubbling.

Baked and cooling

It can be served warm or cold.

Individual Serving

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