Rhymes With Soup

I spent the first 24-ish years of my life refusing to eat split-pea soup.  I was afraid.  Very, very afraid.  My mom would always try to convince me how good it was, but I was stubborn and put my foot down.  “Woman.  I will drink your refrigerated red wine,” I’d say, “But I will never eat your split pea soup.”  Then, I’d go on and eat my peanut butter and banana sandwich, because, you know, THAT wasn’t weird.  But, let’s just face it.  Split-pea soup just looks like.. well, it looks like something that rhymes with soup.  And that is disgusting.

However, I eventually caved.  I tried some.  And…. I thought it was delicious.  My mom was thrilled and would send ice cream buckets full of the soup (because this is how we transport large quantities of soup – and also, watermelon – in my family) back with me to Lincoln.  I would live off of split-pea soup for the next week until I went home and Mom would make more and send it back with me.  It was amazing.  It also helped that she’d regularly send me back an economy-sized package of toilet paper.  Because, you know, The Fiber.

THEN, about a year ago (November 1, to be exact) my sister, Greta, moved back to Lincoln.  One night she invited me over to her house (now OUR house) to go on a run and eat some soup.  She had made the most delicious split-pea soup in the Crock-Pot.  I’m not kidding you.  After just one spoonful of the stuff, I finally knew what it felt like to be in love (no offense to Paul Walker).  It was just a little bit sweet and the right kind of salty.  True story:  When my Uncle Jerry was so sick from the cancer and the chemo and couldn’t really eat anything, he wanted to eat Greta’s soup.

The secret:  Apples.

This soup has become somewhat of a staple in our house.  Last year, during Crock Pot Season (from here-on-out, “CPS”), my sister made this recipe a lot.  This year, at the beginning of CPS, I tried it and it turned out horribly.  The peas somehow didn’t cook all the way through.  Not only did it look like something that rhymes with soup, it also tasted like it.  However, Greta encouraged me not to give up.  I too would achieve Crock Pot greatness.  So, the next week I got the ol’ slow cooker out and tried it again.  And it was great!  And I was so happy!

The recipe was adapted from The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hester.  This cookbook is amazing.  It has so many great recipes.  Or, at least, so many great-looking recipes that I have stuck a post-it on and will undoubtedly make in the near future.  Near-ish future.  We’re really not vegan in this house, so we usually just use regular chicken bouillon instead of the vegan stuff.  Also, we have been known to use one cup of split peas and one cup of lentils if we’re running out of peas (which we refer to as Splentil soup) and it still tastes great.


Split Pea and Apple Soup


  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 medium-size carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium-size apple, peeled if not organic, cored, and chopped
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons chicken boullion
  • 2 cups split peas
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 sprig of fresh
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plus extra for drizzling

Put all the ingredients, EXCEPT the balsamic vinegar, in the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Be sure to remove the bay leaf and sprig of thyme (if you use fresh thyme).  We don’t have any scientific proof of the cause, but one time we didn’t remove the bay leaf and weird stuff happened to me.

Stir in the balsamic vinegar.  Then, puree the soup with an immersion blender.  (This will get messy, so beware.)  You could also blend it in batches with a regular, counter-top blender.

Adjust the seasonings to your preference, drizzle with a few drops of extra balsamic (I usually make a smiley face), and enjoy!

Yield: 4 servings

Total Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Cooking Time:  6 to 8 hours


I didn’t want to take a picture of the soup, because it looks disgusting, so I’m posting this picture of me and my sister. Because we were (and continue to be, if I do say so myself) pretty darn cute.


4th of July Cake!

Mom and I both agreed that we wish we would have had a solid color table cloth for a background.

I know my thousands of readers been extremely concerned by the fact that this originated as a food blog and it’s been more than two months since I last posted a recipe.  Well, you’re in luck tonight!  I found this recipe over at Dashing Dish and thought it was too cute to ignore.  As far as WW goes, it’s only 5 points.  That’s pretty good for cake.  I don’t even want to think about how much a piece of my chocolate cake is.  The cake turned out pretty well.  A couple things worth noting:  The recipe calls for Light Cool Whip (we might have actually used completely fat free).  I’ve found, in general, that fat free stuff can be kind of runny.  I don’t know if it’s because there’s no fat to hold it together, or what, but if you’re more concerned about looks than calories, go for the regular Cool Whip.  Also, it would be way faster to make without the gelatin syrup stuff.  (Side note:  I have to thank my mom because she actually made the syrup part.  She was smart enough to see that it had to sit for 2 hours before frosting and made it since I was still in Lincoln.)  Now, full disclosure, I’m not a Jell-O fan.  I had a procedure done when I was in high school where I had to fast for a couple days beforehand.  The one food I could have… yep, Jell-O.  So I took advantage of this and ate so much Jell-O, that I was sick of it within 6 hours.  So, while the gelatin syrup stuff may have been amazing, I’m kind of thinking that the next time I make it I will just slice up some strawberries to put with the frosting in between layers.  It would save time and dirty dishes.

I had a great day visiting family in York.  We grilled out and my aunt and uncle made homemade vanilla ice cream, which was the perfect compliment to the cake.  I hope you all had a great 4th of July!


4th of July Strawberry Blueberry Poke Cake


For the Cake

  • 1 Box White Cake Mix (you can also use reduced sugar white cake mix.  I think we’re going to try this next time!)
  • 5 Egg Whites (or 2 whole eggs)
  • 1/3 cup Plain fat free Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup Water

For the Strawberry Jello

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 2 tbs sugar alternative or 4 pks stevia
  • 1 tbs unflavored gelatin (or 1 pkt knox gelatin)

For the Blueberry Jello

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tbs sugar alternative or 4 pkts stevia
  • 2 tbs unflavored gelatin (or 2 pkts knox gelatin)

For the Whipped Frosting

  • 1 cup Cold skim milk (or milk alternative of choice)
  • 1 small pkg sugar free instant white chocolate pudding
  • 2 (8 oz) containers light cool whip (or Tru Whip, a natural alternative)
  • Optional:  additional blueberries and strawberries for decorating


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 8 inch round cake pans with non-stick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, egg whites, yogurt, and water.  Beat until cake mix is smooth.  Bake cakes for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cakes cool to room temperature, but leave in cake pans.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine strawberries, water, and sweetener, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered for 3-5 minutes or until berries are soft enough to mash.  Place strawberries in a strainer, and mash over a bowl to remove strawberry pulp from strawberry sauce.  Dissolve gelatin in strawberry syrup, and stir.  (be sure to do this while it is still hot so the gelatin dissolves).  Let cool to room temperature.  Repeat with blueberry sauce.
  4. Use a skewer to poke holes in the top of each cake layer.  (cakes should still be in pans, and completely cooled at this point)
  5. Pour cooled strawberry syrup over one cake layer, and the blueberry syrup over the next.  Cover cake pans, and place cakes in fridge until gelatin is set, about 2 hours.
  6. To make the frosting, whisk together the milk and pudding mix until smooth.  Fold in cool whip, until smooth.  Chill frosting in the fridge until the cake is completely cooled, and ready to be frosted.
  7. Remove cake from cake pan by running a knife around the edge of pans.
  8. Remove the strawberry cake and place on a cake stand.  Spread 1 cup of the whipped topping over the cake.  Top with blueberry cake.  Frost the cake with the remaining whipped cream.
  9. Decorate with additional blueberries and strawberries if desired.
  10. Chill at least one hour before serving.  Enjoy!

Nutritional info: Serving Size: 1/16 of cake.  Calories: 187. Fat: 3 grams. Carbs: 33 g. Fiber: 1 g. Sugar: 16 g. Protein: 4 g. WW Points Plus: 5

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today’s my birthday so I feel like I need to post something, BUT I am 100% exhausted.  My niece was visiting us for the week and we’ve had family visiting from out of state so it’s just been an extremely awesome tornado of chaos.  I’ll give an official summary of the week’s events later, but here are a few highlights.

– I lost 8.4 pounds at weigh-in on Wednesday.  I even stepped on the scale twice to make sure I didn’t do something wrong.  This brings my total to 28.4 (47 lbs if we’re counting pre-WW weight loss) and I got my 10% key ring and 25 pound “weight” to put on it.

– Saturday I ran my first 5k.  It took 43 minutes and we got passed by a woman pulling her two kids in a wagon, but still… we ran the entire way.

– After fighting with myself over what to do about my birthday cake, I decided to indulge a little (okay, a lot) and make my AMAZING Chocolate Butter Cake with Fudge Frosting.  Someone, somewhere did not like this, because after I got it all frosted, this happened (It’s supposed to be a three-layer, nine-inch round cake):

Did we still eat it?  Abso-frickin-lutely.  It still tasted amazing.

Also… Big shout out to the Emily’s!  They both passed and made it through Jazzercise instructor training!  One of the best birthday presents is the fact that I can take their classes SOON!  (I feel the need to acknowledge that they are actually separate people.  In fact, in a lot of ways, they’re complete opposites.  It’s just easier to lump them together.  I don’t want them to ever feel like Mary Kate and Ashley did toward the end of their acting careers when they got all serious about not wanting to be ‘The Olsen Twins’ anymore.)

Now… For my reverse birthday present, I would like to share the playlist that got me through the 5k on Saturday.  And yes, it is entitled:  Sally’s Incredibly Awesome Birthday 5k Running Playlist. (Warning… if you’re lactose intolerant, you may want to stop reading.  This playlist is full of cheesy guilty pleasure songs.)

1.  Sally Is A… – Shwayze (I will admit that I listen to this song at least once a day.  You probably should, too.  It’s not great for running, but I thought it would be good to listen to while standing around waiting for it to start.  However, the gun went off way before I was ready, so there wasn’t much wait time.)
2.  American Girl – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
3.  The Story of Us – Taylor Swift (Not a great choice.  I regretted it when it came on.  I needed something more upbeat and fun at this point.)
4.  Uptown Girl – Billy Joel (This is the beat of my favorite comfortable pace to run to.  I made a playlist for my mom for when she walks and included a lot of Billy Joel and Hall & Oates.  I had to listen to it on a run one day and it was actually really amazing.)
5.  What Makes You Beautiful – One Direction (yes, One Direction may be under the delusion that teenage girls need to hear that they’re beautiful from a boy band to actually feel beautiful.  But… The song’s catchy and I LIKE it.)
6.  You Make My Dreams Come True – Hall & Oates
7.  Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen  (I put this on every playlist.  It was at this point of the race when I started dance running.  I needed it.  I’m not sick of it yet.  Why am I not sick of it yet?)
8.  Wait Til You See My Smile – Alicia Keys  (This is one of my favorite songs for that time of the run when you’ve hit your stride and are just going.  There’s a good piano part that keeps the tempo up, even though it’s a really calm and relaxing song.)
9.  The Bitch is Back – Elton John (At this point of the run, I passed a friend’s house (Thanks, Dawn!) and it gave me me kind of a second wind.  This song always makes me want to do air punches and kicks.  But let’s face it, most songs make me want to do air punches and kicks.)
10.  Brokenhearted – Karmin (next to “Call Me Maybe,” it’s my favorite guilty pleasure song.  And this chick’s from Nebraska!)
11.  Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye  (I’ve been wondering when I will become sick of this song.  I discovered it much, much later than everyone else, so it’s taken awhile.  The answer to my question, though, was exactly the same moment it started playing on my iPod, but I didn’t want to go through the pain of getting it out and changing it, so I suffered down most of 15th street.)
12.  Hey Juliet – LMNT
13.  Only the Good Die Young – Billy Joel (This was playing during when I finished.)
14.  Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) – Kelly Clarkson
15.  Part of Me – Katy Perry (next to Bulletproof, this might be my favorite routine to Jazzercise to.  I was proud I didn’t make it to this point of my playlist.)
16.  Standing Outside the Fire – Garth Brooks (I decided to put this one at the end, in case I was still running.  My mom used to bawl during this music video and my siblings and I were obsessed with it.  Youtube it.  You won’t regret it.  It still kind of gets to me!  I also thought there would be a possibility that my brother and sister would have to carry me through the finish line.  Luckily, they didn’t.)
17.  Ride Wit Me – Nelly featuring City Spud  (I figured if I reallllly went slower than I though, this would cheer me up.  I know every word.  Every.  Word.)

Ready to Run… Kind of (And also, PASTA!)

So, I started my running plan this week.  (For those of you interested in exactly what I’m doing, check out The Runner’s World 8-Week Beginning Runner’s Training Program)  Monday was my first day and it was… interesting.  After school, I synced (this doesn’t seem like it should be a real word, but spell check is okay with it) my iPod and was ready to go.  I’ve never actually run in town before, so the whole trail system is kind of new to me.  Also, I’ve watched too many episodes of Criminal Minds to really embrace the whole idea of running trails.  The plan suggests a 3 minute walk for a warm up, so I started out just walking down K street.  Well, I kept putting the actual running thing off.  I kept saying to myself, “Oh, I’ll just go at the next stop light.” Then the sidewalk ended at Lincoln High (I realize now, it would have been smarter for me to start on the other side of the street) and I had to walk through the parking lot and then just kept putting off the actual running part.  I finally came up on 27th street (by this point, my 3 minute warm up was about 20 minutes) and couldn’t shake images of the entire Bluth family doing their chicken dances from my head, so I just went for it and started running.  That first minute was hell, but with every interval it got easier.  It was so nice out and the trail was so pretty that I kind of kept going not thinking about the fact that at some point I would have to turn around and head back home.  In fact, I didn’t even think about this until I reached Highway 2.  So then I had to walk all the way back home and a workout that should’ve been about 40 minutes turned into about 2 hours.  Wednesday was a lot better, as far as time efficiency goes.  My thighs hurt like hell (I blame this on the J. Lo leg workout in jazzercise) but I’m confident we will return to a place of peace soon.

Oh!  I almost forgot.  This story will be funny especially (and maybe exclusively) to my middle/high school classmates.  When I was in 9th grade, my science teacher found out some of the kids in my class were into bad things… like alcohol and whippets.  Not me, for real… I was at least 5 years behind my coeds when it came to rebellion.  I remember having to Ask Jeeves what a whippet was, and to be honest with you, I’m still not entirely sure.  Anyway, after our teacher found out about what was happening, he started giving us this long lecture about the choices we make and then went into this long thing about how he doesn’t let anyone drive his car unless he really trusts someone and there were very few of us he would let drive his car and that if we became teachers and he found out there was a possibility of us teaching his kids he would specifically request not to have us as a teacher.  I’m sure that he had very good intentions with all of this.  He was probably concerned, because really, 14-15 year old kids should not be drinking.  So I get it.  At that age, you still shouldn’t be able to understand anything happening in Clueless and your idea of fun should be starting a 2Gether tribute band.  After the car and teacher stuff, I think most of the kids had just kind of tuned him out and written the entire thing off as him being an out of touch “old” person (he was maybe in his early 30’s).  But then… he started talking about we just needed to find another kind of high.  And for him, that high was running in the rain.  And he didn’t leave it at that.  He very poetically talked on and on about the high running in the rain gave him.  To my family and friends who are or are going to be teaching middle/high schoolers:  Do not, I repeat, do NOT tell them that running in the rain gets you high.  You could be the John Keating of your school when it comes to teaching, but all your students will take away from your class is that running in the rain gets you high.  At some point in their college and young adult life they will be walking out of a bar when it will start raining.  They will not be thinking about the time you taught them about why/how it rains.  Instead, they will be running down the street proclaiming “I’m running in the rain and it’s making me so high!”  (These, of course, are only presumptions.  I would NEVER do anything like that…)  Oh right, I suppose I should get to the point of this story.  So, I was walking back down Capitol Parkway/K Street when it started sprinkling.  I panicked a little bit, because I am not at the point where running gets me high.  At best, I’m past the point of checking my watch before 30 seconds have passed in my minute of running.  Again, I was by Lincoln High when I spotted a billboard with a kid listening to his headphones that said, “What’s Your High?”  I was convinced it was going to start pouring by this point.  Luckily, it never did more than sprinkle a few drops but I had a good laugh and then had to call Emily M. to tell her all about it and we had a good laugh about it together.  </pointless story>

In related news, I lost 3 pounds this week!  My mom kept telling me it would show up on the scale eventually, and I’m glad it did.  I tried really hard to eat all the points I’m allowed to eat, and then took a break from exercise over the weekend.  I don’t know if my body just needed a chance to catch up, but hopefully I will keep losing.

A few lessons learned this week:

  1. Rice cakes are not an acquired taste.  They are still as awful as when my mom used to be them for “snacks” when we were little.
  2. Anything (with the exception of Rice cakes, of course) seems like a treat if it’s in a cute little bowl.  For instance, one of my favorite thing is to mix up a package of fat-free, sugar-free pudding then pour it into these adorable green ramekin dishes (see picture below) and put them in the freezer.
  3. Pine nuts are really expensive.
  4. Bottled roasted peppers are kind of amazing.  For real.  They’re my new obsession.
  5. Running trails are not filled with serial killers/sociopaths.  In fact, everyone is pretty nice and politely waves, smiles, or nods as you pass each other.  However, I will trust no one.  Except it would be kind of nice for Emily M. and Emily P. if Dr. Spencer Reid, Derek Morgan and the rest of the BAU had to come to Nebraska to investigate.
  6. Cooking healthy is easy.  I’m not so sure baking will be the same way.  I don’t see myself as being one of those people who bakes with applesauce.  I think when it comes to birthdays and stuff, I’m just going to have to make the real deal and work it into my plan.

Now, onto the pasta!

The Meal. Doesn't that cute little bowl make you want to go out and eat a bunch of baby carrots?

I found this recipe in the March 2011 issue of Cooking Light.  It was okay.  Actually, it was really good just not as good as the Vodka Pasta.  It was also just a completely different type of taste.  I would say it tasted healthier.  That’s not a bad thing at all, it just maybe had more of a pasta salad taste than a pasta entree taste.  It’s supposed to take 20-minutes to make, but it calls for pre-chopped onions.  Pre-chopped onions are a lot more expensive than just buying whole onions.  Now, as someone who has to wear safety goggles when I chop onions, I definitely appreciate the idea of someone else chopping my onions.  It’s just not a luxury I can afford.  I also grilled a chicken breast on the Foreman and cut it up to mix with the pasta.

Mini Farfalle with Roasted Peppers, Onions, Feta, and Mint

8 oz. mini farfalle (bow tie) pasta

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup prechopped onion

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup sliced bottled roasted red bell peppers, rinsed and drained

1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese (I used reduced fat feta.  It only comes in a 3.5 oz container, but I really don’t think that’s a problem.)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.  Drain pasta over a bowl; reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid.

2. While pasta cooks, heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add nuts; cook 4 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add oil; swirl to coat.  Add onion, raisins, and garlic; cook 8 minutes or until onion begins to brown, stirring frequently.  Add bell peppers; cook 4 minutes or until heated, stirring occasionally.  Add pasta and 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid; cook 1 minute, stirring to combine.  REmove from heat; stir in feta, mint, basil, and black pepper.  Sprinkle with nuts.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: about 1 1/2 cups pasta and 1 tablespoon nuts).

CALORIES 453; FAT 17.4 g (sat 5.1g, mono 4.1g, poly 3.3g); PROTEIN 16.6g; CARB 59.7; FIBER 4.2; CHOL 25mg; IRON 3.5 mg; SODIUM 558 mg; CALC 131 mg; Weight Watchers Points Plus 12

Hello Again! – Vodka Pasta


You guys, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted anything!  I’ve still been cooking, I just haven’t had a whole lot of time (or, I suppose, desire) to do any writing outside of school.  However, I am back after a nearly two month hiatus so you can expect lots of posts.

About a month ago, I started Weight Watchers so there will probably be more healthy recipes on here.  We’ve been dealing with some pretty stressful health issues in my family, and I decided that I realllly didn’t want to be facing the same stuff in 30 years so I needed to kick it into gear.  I’ve only lost about 5 pounds since I started the program, but I’ve lost over 20 since the last time I tried it a couple years ago. So, I’m pretty proud of that.  I am a little sad that when Jennifer Hudson and I are singing a quartet with our old selves in a WW ad, those first 20 won’t count, but what can you do?  Also, I heard that after Jessica Simpson has her baby, she’s going to be a WW spokesperson.  Maybe then we can do a sextet with our old selves.  It will be epic.  I know that people, including myself, overuse the word “epic.” But truly… it will be epic.  I feel like all my years of singing in the car have been preparing me to sing with Jessica Simpson.

Throughout this whole process, I’ve discovered that I actually really like exercising.  I’ve been going to Jazzercise 5-6 days a week and I’m loving it.  It’s pretty much the only place I can hear Pit Bull in a song and not want to hunt him down and do bad things to him.  And when I say “bad” I don’t mean “dirty,” I’m talking about the kinds of things that will land you on death row.  I guess what Elle Woods says is true, “Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Happy people don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”  I’ve also decided to start running as soon as I find a place that can sell me a cord for my 2nd Generation iPod Shuffle for less than an actual iPod Shuffle.  I’ve made it my goal to run at least the 5k in the A’Ror’N Days Fun Run, which also happens to be my birthday weekend.  I figure it’s good to have a goal that isn’t directly related to the scale.  I have a feeling this is going to be a very interesting project.  I found a plan that starts out as intervals of 1 minute running followed by 2 minutes of walking (which, to be completely honest, sounds a lot like my approach to running in P.E., so starting out should be easy) then gradually adds more running and takes away the walking.  I’ve never really had an interest in running, but one of my favorite hobbies is making playlists, so… at least I have that going for me.  This whole journey is exciting to me.  After a month, I already feel a lot better and my clothes fit a lot better, so hopefully it will start showing up on the scale more.

Anyway… On to the food!

I found this recipe in the April issue of Cooking Light.  Vodka Pasta is one of my favorite meals, and I’ve been looking for a good recipe for years.  There was a Rachael Ray recipe that I kept trying so hard to make work, but it was just lacking something… like flavor.  One time I made it and didn’t let the vodka reduce enough. I should also note that I accidentally doubled the vodka and used really, really cheap  (we’re talking Bartons) vodka.  Not only did it taste awful, but people got tipsy.  However, I was so pleased with this Cooking Light recipe.  The flavoring was amazing and the consistency of the sauce was perfect.  Also, it’s HEALTHY.  Or, at least, it’s not unhealthy.  I made it with chicken instead of shrimp since I’m kind of a hoarder when it comes to chicken breasts.  I’m not kidding, every time I go home, I end up taking a few Schwans chicken breasts back with me.  My freezer looks like one of those milk commercials, only with chicken.

I think this recipe is pretty straight forward.  It’s one of those crazy recipes where when it says it only takes 18 minutes, it actually takes 18 minutes.  I also had Spinach with raspberries, blueberries, and a light raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Shrimp Vodka Pasta

From Cooking Light, April 2012 

9 ounces refrigerated fettuccine

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

12 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/3 cup vodka

1 1/3 cups lower-sodium marinara sauce (I used Trader Joe’s Marinara sauce, no salt added)

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil, divided

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1.  Cook pasta per directions.  Drain.

2. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add shrimp; saute for 4 minutes or until done.  Remove shrimp from pan.

3. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil and garlic to pan; saute 1 minute.  Carefully add vodka (side note: Every time Paula Dean cooks with alcohol she turns off the burner when she pours it into the pan.  I think this is a good idea for people with gas burners.  Especially if you’re as accident prone as I am); cook 1 minute.  Add marinara, 1/4 cup basil, cream, salt, and pepper; bring to a simmer.  Stir in pasta and shrimp.  Sprinkle with remaining basil.

Bon Appetit!

Nutritional info:

Serves 4 (serving size: 1 1/4 cups)

CALORIES 427; FAT 12.6g (sat 4.9g, mono 4.8g, poly 1.4g); PROTEIN 24.6 g; CARB 60.1 g; FIBER 2.4g; CHOL 184mg; IRON 2.2 mg; SODIUM 632mg; CALC 65 mg; Weight Watchers Points Plus 12

Birthday Cakes!


This past weekend was my niece Whitney’s first birthday.  It’s so crazy to think that a year has past already.  The year has gone by so fast, but at the same time it’s hard to remember life before Whitney.  She has changed and grown so much in one year.  I know that as an aunt it’s my duty to brag on Whitney, but really – she is awesome.  She has soooooo much personality for someone her age.  When we have story time, she’ll pick out a book and let me read about 3 or 4 pages, then she’ll want down and will walk (because she’s already walking like a boss at a year old) over to her books to pick out a new book and lift her arms and say her universal sound for book, up, yes, or more.  Again, she’ll have me read a little bit then she’ll pick out a new book.  This cycle can go on for a long time, but I love it.  I have a confession, though.  This might make me seem like a horrible aunt, but I had to hide a book from her when I was babysitting on Super Bowl Sunday.  She kept bringing me the book “Doggies” by Sandra Boynton.  Now listen, I LOVE Sandra Boynton books and I totally get the point of this book.  It will have one doggy and that doggy’s barking sound.  The next dog will bark twice, and it has a different sound for that.  The next one will bark three times and so on and so forth.  I understand that it’s a counting book and for that purpose it’s great.  I’m sure there are a lot of kids who learn how to count from it.  The problem is, I’m HORRIBLE at making animal noises (with the exception of a velociraptor).  I’m lucky to just get out a “woof” in the right voice, but then I have to do it ten different ways.  Some of them are weird, too.  When have you ever heard a dog that goes “nnn-nnn-nnn??”  I think a dog making noises like that probably needs to go to the vet, because he probably just ingested a bunch of chocolate or raw chicken and things are going to get ugly soon.  Any way… when I was babysitting her, she KEPT bringing me this book.  To top things off, this wasn’t a read 3 pages and put away.  This was a read all the way through book.  I swear she knew what she was doing to me, because this is not one of her usual favorites.  Maybe she just liked hearing Aunt Sally sounding like she was having some sort of stroke or attack, but she was so into this book.  Eventually, I had to put it on her dresser behind the lamp.  She initially looked at me like “ummmm… what did you do with my book.”  It was worth it, though, because we spent the next 30-45 minutes reading Jamberry, Goodnight Moon, a variety of Little Pookie Books, and ended the night with a continuous replay of Barnyard Dance.  I honestly think I probably read it seven times before she fell asleep- and maybe a few times after she fell asleep.  I sooo did not want to put her in her crib.  It’s such a rarity for her to fall asleep while I’m holding her anymore, so I was willing to just spend the night in the rocking chair but I did eventually put her in her crib.  I always have this weird anxiety about putting her to bed that the second I lay her on her mattress she’s going to wake up.  However, she handled the transition magically this time.

I suppose it’s time to move on to the cakes.  Not only was Whitney’s birthday on the 11th, but my brother’s was on the 12th, AND Whit’s cousin Will’s birthday was on the 13th.  This meant I had a lot of cakes to make.  Grant wanted an ice cream cake, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

Will’s Cake – Chocolate Butter Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting


The Birthday Boy! Isn't he adorable?

I got the recipes for both the cake and frosting from Smitten Kitchen.  I have to say, this was my favorite cake.  It was my first time using these recipes and the cake turned out sooo rich, that I was worried the kids might not like it.  They said they did, but they’re polite kids so they could’ve just been using their manners.  The recipe was for three 9” square pans, but I ended up using two 9” round pans.  I had every intention of using the left over batter for cupcakes, but by the time I got done with all the cakes it was about 11:00 or 11:30 pm, and I still had to clean.

A couple notes:  You want to use a REALLY big bowl for the cake.  I started with just a normal big mixing bowl and realized after mixing the dry ingredients it wasn’t going to be big enough so I switched to my mom’s giant Tupperware bowl that she mixes puppy chow in.  It was plenty big.

Also… The recipe calls for cake flour, which the Aurora Mall did not have.  To make my own cake flour, for every cup of all-purpose flour I put in, I took out two tablespoons of flour and replaced it with two tablespoons of corn starch.

So… Mathematically speaking: 1 cup flour – 2 T flour + 2 T corn starch = Cake Flour.

This might also be a good time to let you know, Mom, that you are out of corn starch… And also cocoa powder, but we will get to that later.

Chocolate Butter Cake


Makes one 8-inch square, three layer cake

3 cups cake flour

3 cups sugar

1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)

3 teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ teaspoon salt

3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ½ cups buttermilk

3 eggs

1 ½ cups freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature (I only had about a half cup of coffee left after my daily consumption, so I filled the rest with water.  I think it turned out fine.)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch square cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.  (My method of preparing cake pans is spray or butter, then flour, parchment, spray, and flour.  Flouring twice might be excessive, but I’m a little cautious when it comes to cake sticking to the pan)

2. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans; each pan will take about 3 1/4 cups of batter.

4. Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Carefully turn them out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners only when they are cool.

Instant Fudge Frosting


Note: the recipe calls for the frosting to be mixed in a food processor.  Unfortunately, I don’t have one.  Instead I just used a regular mixer.  It might not have been as easy, but it got the job done.

Makes about 5 cups (this was enough to frost this cake, decorate the owl on Whit’s cake, and have some left over).

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled.

4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature

6 Tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth.

Whitney’s Cake! – yellow cake with Swiss Buttercream frosting


I have another confession to make.  For the actual cake, I used a box mix.  I had every intention of making it from scratch, but our road was blocked so I couldn’t get into town to get to the grocery store until about 3:00 or 3:30 when our neighbor came through and cleared it.  By that time, i decided to just settle on a box.  My favorite kind of box mix to use is Duncan Hines.  Unfortunately, Aurora Mall didn’t have any.  (Seriously, AM step up your game in the baking aisle!)  I think instead I used Sara Lee.

This was my first time making this frosting recipe.  For decorating, it was a dream.  It spread smoothly.  It piped smoothly.  It was just kind of perfect in that sense.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the taste.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I liked it a lot better when it was actually on the cake, but I had my doubts when I was just tasting the frosting.

I made two 8″ round cakes and two 4″ round cakes with the box mix.  I reallllly wish I would’ve made the big cake at least 9 inches.  It was harder to fit everything on the 8 inch pan.  Also, the owl kept getting bigger, so then I had less room to write.  If I would do it over again, I would probably do the writing part first.  I was so paranoid of hitting the owl that I felt it didn’t look the best.

Swiss Buttercream Frosting

adapted from: http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/07/project-wedding-cake-swiss-buttercream/

2 cups sugar

8 large egg whites

6 1/2 sticks of butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. (Here’s a tip: when you transfer to the mixer, make sure you wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl so that no water gets into the egg whites. This can keep them from whipping up properly.)

Add the vanilla.

Finally, add the butter a stick at a time and whip, whip, whip.

Beth (my sister-in-law) swam at Rice University and owls are so in right now, that it just made sense to have Whitney’s cake be owl themed.  I wish I would’ve taken pictures of every step of decorating.  It was a lot of making it up as I went.  I pretty much traced a small circle on the cake and went from there.  The little smudge of yellow at the bottom of the cake is not the owl having an accident.  Initially, the owl had feet, but when there wasn’t enough room to write Whitney’s name, I had to amputate them.

Oh!  I’m sure you’re wondering how the Birthday Girl liked her cake.  After all, one of the best parts of first birthdays is getting to see the baby go crazy on their cake.  Right?


She went crazy, all right!  I won’t hold this against her.  I mean, how can you?  She manages to look adorable while crying.  This talent will get her far in life.


All Better! Seriously, how cute is she?


Me with Whitney and her adorable cousins, Will and Kate.

Thank you, Beth, for taking such great pictures!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies! Please excuse the quality of the pictures. I took them on my iPod.

Sorry, it took so long to post another recipe!  I was without internet in my apartment, but I have it now.  Woohoo!

Last weekend I was missing Emily M. like crazy.  Specifically, I was missing our Cookie Company cookie dates like crazy.  When she was in school in Lincoln, we would meet at the downtown location and sit on a bench outside and eat peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies while people watching.  Their cookies are seriously the best.  So when I was at my parents’ house last weekend with free range of their kitchen (and ingredients) and nothing to do except miss my friend and watch the documentation of Kim Kardashian’s failed marriage (Please don’t judge my viewing choices.  I was watching Chopped, but a guy cut his finger then put a latex glove on so he could finish making his meal and the glove kept filling up with blood, so I had to change the channel), I decided to make some.  I found this recipe at the Brown Eyed Baker’s blog and was very pleased.  I think the recipe only made around 15 cookies, but you could easily double it.  Plus, it’s sometimes nice not to have a ton of cookies around.  Trust me, you’ll want to keep eating this.  A limited quantity is probably a good thing.

Now on to the cookies… The blog post said that each ball of dough should weigh 1.7 oz.  I weighed the first couple on my mom’s food scale and the battery ran out.  But really, unless you’re entering them in the fair for 4H you probably don’t need them to be that perfect.  A 1.7-ounce cookie was pretty much my mom’s big cookie scoop (I think it was probably closer to 1 or 2 tablespoons than 3, which is what the recipe calls for) with a little bit more dough added on.

Also, I can get a little out of hand with chocolate chips.  Usually I measure out what the recipe says and then pour a little more into the dough… and then usually a little bit more after that.  I don’t know if it’s because I love chocolate chips or if straying from the recipe just makes me feel like a rebel.   It doesn’t matter what I’m making.  I always add more chocolate chips.   However, this recipe had the PERFECT amount of chocolate chips.  I was pleased.  Enjoy!!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
½ cup rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

This is either a picture of the ingredients, or an Affiliated Foods ad. On that note, I shall deliver the best grocery related pickup line ever: "Do you work for Affiliated Foods, cause you're Shurfine!" Get it???

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

I feel it's important to make sure you have plenty of Diet Coke on hand before starting any project. At least any day time project. If it's after 5:00 p.m., replace Diet Coke with wine.

3. On medium speed, cream together the butter, peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat to combine. On low speed, gradually add the flour until just combined. Stir in the oats, and then the chocolate chips.

See... perfect chocolate chips:everything else ratio.

4. Use a large cookie scoop and drop dough onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly golden. Cool completely on the baking sheet and then store in an airtight container at room temperature.

I love when so many cookies have been made on a pan that you can see the cookie outlines. I spaced these out a little bit more since they were bigger and I wasn't sure how much they'd spread out.

First pan, finished! Actually, I looked at these for about 2 minutes after taking them out of the oven and decided the needed to go back in for a little bit longer. So this is the NEARLY finished first pan.

Second pan, finished! I decided to keep these in the oven a little bit longer after the timer went off. I started doing some dishes and forgot about them, so they were a little big crispier--but, luckily, not burnt.


Thanksgiving Pies


Left to right: Pumpkin, Cherry, Apple

I think I probably made my first pie when I was around 12 or 13.  It was sort of like a rite of passage.  It was, however, a much more pleasant rite of passage than everything else teenage girls had to go through.  My maternal grandma taught both my sister and I how to make pies.  I remember rolling out a perfect pie crust to start with, and my grandma praised me so much for it.  Being a typical youngest child, anything that gets me positive attention gets a repeat.  I thought that pie making would be my thing.  And while I do love making pies, I’m not so sure I’m as good as I thought I was when I was 12.  My sister is the true pie expert in our family.  Since she couldn’t make it home this year, I made the pies.  Sometimes I think it would be easier to just buy a crust, but where’s the fun in that?

Also… for the pumpkin pie, I just used the recipe on the back of a Libby’s Pumpkin Pie Filling can.  I’ve tried using real pumpkin, but in my opinion the can is just a lot easier and tastes better.

As I’m writing this, I’m thinking I should have tried something a lot simpler for my first post, but we will get through it together.   Remember, it’s my first time.  Please, please, please be patient.  Hopefully, I’ll get the hang of all the formatting stuff.

This pie crust recipe dates back to at least when my older sister made pies for 4-H.  The recipe we have on hand is copied down on a piece of paper that has details for the 4-H Song Contest on the back, so it’s not too thorough.  I will do my best to give better directions, but just ask if you have questions… and then I will ask my mom what she would do.  I think in general, a good rule of thumb is to mix all ingredients so they stick together and form a ball, but you really don’t want to over mix it.  If you over-mix, the dough will become tough and you might become grumpy.  Not that I know anything about making an imperfect pie crust or being grumpy…

“Good Pie Crust”

3 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 egg

1/3 cup cold water

1 tsp. vinegar

1 cup lard or Crisco

Mix dry ingredients with pastry blender.  Add in Crisco.   (Side note:  I hardly ever bake anything with Crisco anymore, so it seems silly to have a big thing of Crisco on hand.  I do, however, LOVE Crisco Baking Sticks.  They come wrapped like butter and are so much easier to measure and add into recipes.) Beat egg; add water and vinegar.  Add egg, water, and vinegar into Crisco and dry ingredients mixture.  Form into a ball.  Let “rest” before making into pies.    This crust recipe will make enough for one 2-crust pie and one 1-crust pie.  For example:  An apple pie and a pumpkin pie.

I don’t really know what tips to give on rolling the dough out.  I usually just cover everything with a lot of flour.  If you are at all worried about making a mess, I think you can roll it out between 2 sheets of wax or parchment paper.  And… I do have to say… Although I usually LOVE my pampered chef utensils, I much prefer our basic rolling pin to their fancy pie rolling pin.

The recipes for fruit pie came from the 1969 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook.  This might be my favorite cookbook.  When we were little, my sister and I would experiment with all the muffin recipes.  I didn’t think anything of it then, but our mother had to have been so patient to put up with that kind of mess every Saturday morning.

The recipes include amounts for 8, 9, and 10-inch pies.  I made a 10-inch cherry pie and a 9-inch apple pie, so I will probably just include the recipes for those.  If you would like the recipes for other sizes, let me know and I can post them!

10-inch Cherry Pie

1 2/3 cups sugar

½ cup Flour

3 cans (1 pound each) pitted red tart cherries, drained

1 teaspoon almond extract

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

Cherry Pie Filling: This might be my favorite color combination.

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Stir together sugar and flour; mix with cherries.  Turn into pastry-lined pie pan; sprinkle with almond extraxt and dot with butter.  Cover with top crust which has slits cut in it; seal and flute.  Cover edge with 2- to 3-inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning;  remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.  Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust.  Side note:  I usually brush my crust with an egg wash.  Usually I just mix an egg with a little bit of cream or milk.  In the past I’ve done this as a last step, but yesterday Paula brushed her crust before cutting the strips for her lattice crust.  I might try that next time.  I should also note that the last time I made the cherry pie, I was also making an apple and pumpkin pie.  I thought it would be more time efficient to make the fillings for the different pies then roll out the crusts.  By the time I got around to putting the cherry filling in the crust, there was a lot of juice so I had to scoop a lot out.  Next time, I’ll immediately fill the crust and put it in the oven to avoid this dilemma.

9-inch Apple Pie

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup Flour

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Dash salt

6 cups thinly sliced pared tart apples (I believe I used Golden Delicious)

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Apple Pie Filling

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Stir together sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt; mix with apples.  Turn into pastry-lined pie pan; dot with butter.  Cover with top crust which has slits cut in it (I chose to do a lattice top); seal and flute.  Cover edge with 2- to 3- inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning; remove foil last 15 minutes of baking.  Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust.

Thanks to my mom for finding this awesome apron at TJ Maxx!

I’m always sooo bad at knowing what to do on 2-crust pies to seal the crust.  I usually just kind of pinch the two crusts together, but I would appreciate any help on what you do!  I just never thing that part of my pies looks quite polished enough.