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Chai Sugar Cookies

Remember I told you about my new love, cardamom?  We had a date today.  Well, it was more like a cardamom-palooza than just a date ... but let's stick with calling it a date. 

Mark had to work today, and it's always dangerous to leave me by myself on a Saturday.  Out came the to-be-tried recipe lists, and when all was said-and-done, I had put three cardamom cookie recipes through the ringer - Chai Sugar Cookies, Chai Shortbread (naked and chocolate-dipped ... the chocolate-dipped was my own brain-child), and Sparkling Cardamom Cocoa Drops.  But I don't want to overwhelm you with my new love, so I'll introduce you to it slowly - starting with the Chai Sugar Cookies.  (Side note:  My unofficial "official" tasters need to prepare themselves for a tasting care package - you know who you are!)

For the Chai Sugar Cookies, you start with the same-ol'-same-ol' stuff you'd think of for a sugar cookie - butter, sugar, eggs, flour, - but then you add this wonderful combination of spices that makes chai chai:

The chai line-up ... vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, & black pepper.
Chill your dough for a bit.  Then roll it into little balls, dip the balls in sugar ...

Yummy little chai sugar balls.

... bake 'em up, and enjoy! ... perhaps with a cup of chai tea.

Aren't those crackled tops pretty?

Chai Sugar Cookies
Source:  Adapted from McCormick Gourmet
(Printable recipe)
2 3/4 c. flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper (I used 20 cranks of freshly ground pepper from my pepper mill) 
1 c. (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Additional granulated sugar for rolling

1.  Mix first 8 ingredients (flour through black pepper) in a medium bowl; set aside.

2.  Beat butter and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Gradually add flour mixture, on low speed of mixer, until well mixed.  Cover and refrigerate about 2 hours, or until dough is firm and easy to handle.

3.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in additional sugar.  Place balls about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.  Bake 6-8 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Cool on baking sheets 1 minutes.  Remove to wire racks and cool completely.


Grandma's Echo Cakes - a simple pleasure

Echo Cakes are simple, in every sense of the word.  Simple flavors.  Simple ingredients.  Simple to put together.  And they are one of my all-time favorite sweet treats.  Not only do they taste simply divine, they also hold very wonderful childhood memories for me.  My Mom used to make them for my brother and me all the time, and my Grandmother used to make them for my Mom and her two sisters all the time before that.  I remember having them frequently as an after-school snack.  Now that we're adults, Mom usually makes them for us as a treat at Christmas time.  I still love them as much as I did as a kid!

Echo Cakes are quite simply a strawberry-jam-filled cupcake, with a pie crust bottom and one-egg cake top, dusted with powdered sugar.  That's it.  They're sweet, but not too sweet - just perfectly sweet, in my opinion.  My Mom and I aren't sure where the name Echo Cakes comes from, but we think they're named for the Echo brand muffin tins they were originally made in.

I just made these myself for the first time.  Being the recipe tinker-er that I am, I wanted to make a few with different flavors of jam filling just to see how they'd be.  When I called my Mom to ask her about other jam flavors, she said "Oh, I don't know how they'd be - I've only ever made them with strawberry."

Really, Mom?  You've been making these for over 40 years and have never tried another jam flavor?  Where's your sense of cooking adventure??

And so, there was even more incentive for me to tinker.  Here's the flavor report:

Fig - NOT good, and I had such high hopes
Apricot - okay, but not wonderful
Raspberry - okay
Blackberry - really good!

If you make these, I recommend sticking with the original strawberry jam filling, or going with blackberry.

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Echo Cakes
Source:  My Grandmother
(Printable recipe)
Pie crust
Strawberry jam
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

One-Egg Cake:
4 T. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 egg
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Make the One-Egg Cake: 
Cream shortening and sugar.  Add egg, and beat.  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, alternately with milk, beating after each addition.  Stir in vanilla.

Assemble the Echo Cakes: 
Cut circles from the pie crust.  My Mom figured out that a plastic stadium cup like you get at sporting events is the perfect size to use as a cutter.  (We use a Carolina cup - go Heels!)  Fit pie crust circles into the bottom and sides of muffin tin cups.  Put in about 1 tsp. of strawberry jam (not too much, or it will spill out when cooking).  Then, top with one-egg cake mixture - just plop some on the top.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.  Cool.  Sprinkle tops with confectioner's sugar.



Oma's Super Healthy Salad Dressing

This is one of those recipes that you're probably going to think "That's strange!  Really, that's good?"  Honestly, that's what I thought when I was first told about this salad dressing.  But, I promise, this is all you need to make super tasty and amazingly healthy Oma's Salad Dressing:

Oma's Salad Dressing ingredients - tomato juice, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, & sugar
First, some background on this recipe.  Oma is Mark's grandmother.  She lived with Mark's family when Mark was growing up, and apparently she made this salad dressing all the time.  When I decided to create a family cookbook last year, this is one of the recipes that Mark put on his "must include" list.  So, I went to work finding out from Mark's mom how to make this.  When she told me about it, I thought to myself, "Oh, that just doesn't sound good."  But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it truly is very good!  And healthy.  And another plus - it's super fast.

Here's all you do.  Measure out your ingredients into a small bowl.

Whisk them together with a fork.  That's it.  You're done.

Pour the dressing over your salad.  There will be a lot of liquid in the bottom of the salad bowl - like this:

But that's okay, it's supposed to be that way.  When individual servings are scooped out, make sure to get some of the juice from the bottom of the bowl for each one.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how flavorful this is!

Oma's Super Healthy Salad Dressing
Source:  Mark's Grandmother (Oma)
(Printable recipe)
3/4 c. tomato juice
2 T. cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Whisk together with a fork.  Pour over tossed salad.

A couple of notes:
  • I buy the little cans of tomato juice and keep them on-hand in the pantry.  That way, I have the ingredients I need for this pretty much all the time - and I don't end up wasting a bunch of tomato juice from the huge cans.
  • The black pepper controls the spiciness of the dressing.  The full 1/2 tsp. makes it quite spicy.
  • You can add extra cider vinegar, too taste. 

Blueberry Gingerbread

Blueberry Gingerbread is moist, flavorful, and bursting with fresh blueberries.  It's full of all the spice you expect from a wonderful gingerbread ... plus packed with little surprises of blueberry sweetness in each bite.

Blueberry Gingerbread

What?  Blueberry gingerbread?  Yes, blueberry gingerbread - and oh my it's tasty!  This is one of those recipes I found out in the blogosphere and thought, hmmmm, that could be really wonderful or a complete flop.  So I put it on my "50 Recipes for 2011" list so it would be in queue to be tried.  It turned out to be really wonderful!

Bursting with fresh blueberries, Blueberry Gingerbread is moist and flavorful ~ full of all the spice you expect from a wonderful gingerbread ... plus little surprises of blueberry sweetness in each bite.

Making Blueberry Gingerbread

Mix up some standard gingerbread batter ... And then fold in big, beautiful fresh blueberries.

Making Blueberry Gingerbread

Dusting the blueberries with flour before folding them into the batter helps keep them from all just sinking to the bottom of the cake, resulting in Blueberry Gingerbread studded with berries throughout ... instead of just a layer of gingerbread cake with a bunch of blueberries at the bottom.

Believe me, the combination of gingerbread and blueberries is soooo yummy, you'll certainly want to make sure you get some of those blueberries in every bite!

Pour the batter into a baking pan,  bake it all up ...

Blueberry Gingerbread

... and top a big slice of Blueberry Gingerbread with some whipped cream, and enjoy it's blueberry-studded deliciousness!

I think I may just go enjoy a slice right now - there's still a {little} bit left.  {But I doubt it will last long!}

Blueberry Gingerbread
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Blueberry Gingerbread
Source:  Timeless Gourmet
(Printable recipe)
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 T. molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 1 c. fresh blueberries, dusted with 1 T. all-purpose flour
  1. Spray a 9x13” baking pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. With a mixer, beat the sugar, oil, salt and molasses thoroughly. Add the egg and mix again until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, spices and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture, a third at a time, alternating with the buttermilk. Combine thoroughly after each addition.
  4. Gently stir in the blueberries, and pour the batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
(NOTE:  I did try this again with the frozen blueberries I had in the freezer.  It worked.  I just made sure to thaw them thoroughly, pat them dry, and still dusted them with flour.  Not sure I would attempt it with frozen blueberries from the grocer's freezer section, as those tend to get really juicy when you thaw them.  If anyone does try that, let me know how it turns out.)


Please enjoy these other delicious berry desserts from The Kitchen is My Playground ...


I tried gizzards

My husband loves gizzards.  Seriously.  Loves them.  He makes them for himself as a treat quite often.  Every time, he asks me - "Would you like some gizzards?"  My reply - "No thank you, I don't like gizzards."  Of course, he's called my bluff repeatedly and asked me if I've ever tried them.  No, I haven't.  What am I, six years old??  You truly have no right to say you don't like something if you've never tried it!  Well, I didn't want to try gizzards.  They look nasty.  They smell nasty.  The thought of them is nasty.  Surely, then, they taste nasty.

I don't know exactly what happened, but one day I committed to Mark that I would try gizzards.  I wanted him to do something, and he said he would do it if the next time he made gizzards, I would try them.  I don't recall what the "something" was, but I must have wanted it done really badly, because I agreed!  So, that's how I got roped into trying gizzards.

Well, the day arrived that Mark decided to make himself a gizzard treat.  Oh crud.  I was committed.  He got them ready in his pressure cooker ... that's how he cooks them ... and, I must admit, things actually looked promising.  He puts fresh rosemary, bacon, onion, and jalepenos in with them.  "The pot" actually looked kind of pretty.

Getting the gizzard pot ready - it doesn't look sooooooo bad.

After a short bit, the gizzards were ready.  It was time.  I could avoid it no longer. 

Ummmm ... not looking quite so appetizing now.

So, I put my big-girl pants on and cut myself off a bite.  Just a bite - let's not get crazy here!  Well, my suspicions were confirmed - I absolutely don't like gizzards.  And now I have every right to say it.

Would you like a cup of tea? - Chai Tea, that is

It's so easy to make your own flavorfully delicious Chai Tea Latte mix at home.  All it takes is a few simple ingredients & a whirl in a food processor!

Homemade Chai Tea Latte Mix

My love of Chai Tea began back in my Corporate America days.  Before becoming a 1st grade teacher, I spent 13 years working in the corporate grind.  Especially as I progressed in my career, I always seemed to be having morning "coffee meetings."  At least once a week, someone would say, "Let's meet for coffee to discuss that."  The problem - I don't drink coffee.  Never have, doubt I ever will.  I've tried to acquire a taste for coffee, but to no avail.  I just don't like it.  What was I to do?  I couldn't very well sit for hours-on-end at Starbuck's or Caribou and drink water, could I?  That seemed silly.  And that's how I discovered Chai Tea Lattes, with their wonderful mix of ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, and other spicy yumminess.

I absolutely love chai tea lattes!  So, of course, I eventually had to figure out how to make my own at home.  You can buy chai tea latte mix at the grocery store, and I've tried them all.  They're actually pretty good.  But this past summer I put all the grocery store mixes to the test against a chai tea latte mix recipe I made myself.  I went to the grocery store and bought every chai tea latte mix they had, both powder and liquid ... $40 later, I had a testing line-up set up on my kitchen counter.  Guess what won, at least in my mind?  Yep ... my own powder chai tea latte mix.  And I'm going to share that recipe with you.  If you like chai, I think you'll love this mix.

Homemade Chai Tea Latte Mix

Now, the "secret" ingredient is cardamom.  I adore cardamom - click here to read more about that.  Cardamom is pricey for a spice - I actually read somewhere that it is the most expensive spice by weight.  A bottle will run you about $10 at the grocery store.  But believe me, it's worth it.  It makes all the difference in this chai tea latte mix, and is the ingredient that puts it over the top from a taste perspective.  So I encourage you to splurge!!  And I encourage you to enjoy a delicious cup of chai tea.

Homemade Chai Tea Latte Mix
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Chai Tea Latte Mix
(Printable recipe)
  • 1 c. nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 c. powdered nondairy creamer
  • 1 c. French vanilla powdered nondairy creamer
  • 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 c. unsweetened instant tea
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients; cover and process until powdery.
  2. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 6 months.
  3. To prepare 1 serving: Dissolve 3 T. of mix in 1 c. boiling water; stir well.

Homemade Chai Tea Latte Mix


Homemade Sweet Potato Chips with Blue Cheese Dressing for dipping

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing beats the bottled stuff, hands-down!  Just don't plan on dipping homemade sweet potato chips in it ... unless you have much better luck than me.

Now just look at those homemade sweet potato chips.  Don't they look good? Well, they weren't.

Homemade sweet potato chips with homemade blue cheese dressing for dipping

  At least not as good as I expected them to be.  And they were quite "fussy" to make (read that "tedious!") ... the amount of effort required was not worth the result.  Though my husband Mark just said from the kitchen, as I'm typing this post, "I like the sweet potatoes pretty good."  The flavor was decent, so maybe I'll try to re-work the spicing from this recipe into a roasted sweet potato side dish.  Maybe...

Anway, both recipes (the sweet potato chips and the blue cheese dressing) are from my "50 Recipes for 2011" list  (click here to see the list).  The potato chips have a combination of chili powder, cumin, and paprika on them.  Hmmmm, I thought to myself - if we dip buffalo hot wings in blue cheese dressing, might it be tasty to dip these spicy sweet potato chips in blue cheese dressing??  And that's how today's cooking adventure was born.  So, I went to work making sweet potato chips and blue cheese dressing. 

I'm happy to say that the blue cheese dressing is fabulous!  The recipe is from my friend Jennie, and I can say with confidence that, as of today, it will be a very rare day when I buy pre-fabbed blue cheese dressing.  I'm now a homemade convert.  So, let's begin there.

First, put all your blue cheese dressing ingredients - minus the blue cheese - in a bowl.

Give it a good stir to get everything all cozy together.

I actually tasted it at this point, before adding the blue cheese.  It was already yummy!
Now put in your blue cheese crumbles, and gently fold those in. 

You don't want to over-work it and break up all those nice, big hunks of blue cheese.  You want it to be all lumpy-bumpy.

With phase 1 of the adventure done, it was time to move on to the sweet potato chips.  Unfortunately, phase 2 didn't go so well.  The first challenge was to get the sweet potatos sliced thinly - about 1/8" thick.  My food processor isn't able to slice that thinly, and I don't own a mandoline (and would be afraid I'd cut my fingers off if I did!  I'm a clutz.), so I tried the slicing side of my 6-sided box grater.  No luck.  This left me with only the option of slicing by hand.  Do you know how hard it is to evenly slice by hand?  "Fussiness" #1.

Next, toss the potato slices in a canola oil-and-spice mix to coat, and lay in a single layer on baking sheets.  Oil coated potato slices stick together and are not that easy to separate.  "Fussiness" #2.  Then bake, watching carefully to make sure they don't burn.  Remember that trouble I had slicing them evenly?  Well ... here's what happens when some of the slices are thinner than others ... they end up like these guys -- "Fussiness" #3.

Thin potato slices ... a *bit* crisp ... not so good
Oh, and did I mention that half-way through cooking you turn the potato slices over?  I started this process using tongs, but it was hard to grab the slices because they were so thin.  So I ended up just using my fingers ... on potato slices that were baking in a 400 degree oven.  Yes, it did hurt.  Thank you for asking.  "Fussiness" #4.

The final result - sweet potato chips that were very unevenly cooked - sometimes burnt, sometimes just right, and - more often than not - soggy and flimsy.  While the flavor was good, I was severely disappointed with the end product.

So ... the very fabulous, absolutely yummy, amazingly wonderful homemade blue cheese dressing ended up being enjoyed like this.  Yum.

Good ol' veggie sticks with blue cheese.

Blue Cheese Dressing
Source:  My friend Jennie
(Printable recipe)
  • 3/4 c. nonfat plain yogurt (I used nonfat plain Greek yogurt)
  • 3/4 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped (I usually use just a small slice from a regular onion, and grate it)
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 3 to 4 oz. good blue cheese, crumbled
  1. In a bowl, combine all dressing ingredients except the blue cheese. Crumble in the blue cheese and fold together gently. (NOTE: Don't use finely crumbled blue cheese - you want it chunky.)
  2. Store covered in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the flavors to meld.

Want to enjoy blue cheese dressing with Buffalo Wings? ~ I've got ya covered! ...With Baked Buffalo Wings.


Cardamom - My new love!

I have a new love - cardamom!  I don't know how it has taken me soooooo long to discover this wonderful spice, but I'm so glad I have now.  Actually, I guess I've loved it for a long time - I just didn't know it.  It's a key ingredient in Chai Tea, and I absolutely LOVE Chai Tea.  I just had no idea that the wonderfully intoxicating flavor in Chai was cardamom.  (Side note - I've worked on a recipe for Chai Tea mix for a while, and have it tinkered to my liking ... but I'll save that for a future post.  Stay tuned!)

Cardamom, to me, has a fabulous and very unique, intense flavor.  Descriptions I've read of it describe it as having "eucalyptus tones," but to me it's like a very florally peppery taste.  I don't think there are any words to do it's flavor justice, honestly.  I think you just have to experience it for yourself.

Oh, I'm very much looking forward to getting to know my new love better.  Here are a few of the cardamom recipes I've found that pique my interest:

Strawberry Cardamom Shortcake
Cardamom Roasted Almonds
Cardamom-Dark Chocolate Tart (oh, my!)
Chai Shortbread (Hmmmm ... maybe with a cup of Chai Tea???)
Cardamom Vanilla Poundcake
Chocolate Cardamom Truffles
Cardamom Creme Brulee (can't wait ...)

It'll take me a while to work through these, but rest assured I plan on trying each one!  And, rest assured, I'll let you in on the results.  Cupid's cardamom arrow has definitely struck me!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies - and the great ganache debate

I love chocolate chip cookies.  I love brownies.  So, when I found this idea for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies, how could I resist?  And let me just tell you ~ these are sooo good, you won't be able to resist either. 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies ~ Bring together the best of two worlds!  Two favorites so good together, you and your family won't be able to resist.

These scrumptious brownies bring together the best of two worlds ~ my all-time favorite chocolate chip cookies ... and a close-second-favorite classic brownies.  It's a combination that just had to be tried.  No questions asked.


Broccoli Salad and Chipotle Mac & Cheese - success and failure

Well... I had both success and failure in the day's cooking adventures.  The Broccoli Salad is fantastic - but I knew it would be.  It's a recipe from my Mom, and she's an absolutely fabulous cook so I had no doubts. 

But the Chipotle Mac & Cheese was from one of the foodie blogs I frequent, so one can't be sure until one tries the recipe oneself.  It was waaaaaayyyyyy too spicy - and I LOVE heat in my food, and I STILL think it was waaaaayyyy too spicy!  Mark's comment when he tasted it:  "I love you honey, but your experiment is a failure."  He actually started referring to it as "the barely edible mac & cheese."  He's not one to mince words - and I love that about him.  Just tell it like it is.  I appreciate that.  I don't even think the Mac & Cheese is worth re-working to tone it down.  Think I just have to accept defeat on that one.

So, here's the recipe for my Mom's Broccoli Salad.  It was the succes of the day!

Donna's Broccoli Salad
Source:  My Mom
(Printable recipe)
1 bunch broccoli, broken into small flowerets
1/2 c red onion, chopped
1 c celery, chopped
8 slices bacon, cooked & crumbled
1/2 c hulled sunflower seeds
1/2 c golden raisins or craisins

3/4 c mayonnaise
1/4 c sugar or Splenda
2 T apple cider

Combine salad ingredients in large bowl. Combine dressing ingredients; pour over salad and toss. Serve chilled.  (NOTE:  I used turkey bacon, and it worked just great.)


Butter Pecan Cake - the 1st of my "50 Recipes for 2011"

Woo hoo!  I completed the first recipe from my list of "50 Recipes for 2011" - Butter Pecan Cake.  The original title is Butter Pecan Pound Cake, but it's texture isn't really that of a pound cake to me ... it's much "fluffier" ... so I'm just going to call it Butter Pecan Cake.  I don't think anyone will mind.

I'm generally a "from scratch" baker, but this cake doctors up a store-bought cake mix and store-bought frosting.  I'm not opposed to giving a doctored up mix a try!

Brought the cake to school for the birthday of one of my friends, and it got great reviews.  So, here's the recipe.  It's SUPER easy!!  And don't we all love tasty recipes that are SUPER easy?

Butter Pecan Cake
Source:  A Family Friend
(Printable recipe)
1 box Betty Crocker Butter Pecan cake mix
1 can Coconut Pecan Frosting
1/2 c. oil
1 c. water
4 eggs

Mix all ingredients (including the frosting ... yep, put it IN the batter) in one bowl.  Beat about 2 minutes.  Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan (or tube pan).  Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes.  (I had to bake mine 60 minutes.)


Please enjoy these other fabulous cakes from The Kitchen is My Playground...

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