Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving in Michigan

As long as I can remember, Thanksgiving Dinner was always held at Uncle Vince and Aunt Mary’s home in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. The smell of the huge turkey baking in the roaster in the basement wafted throughout the house. All the relatives brought side dishes. After thoroughly stuffing ourselves, the meal was not complete until Uncle Ed said, “OK, who’s ready to go get some hamburgers!”

The Thanksgiving menu was traditional with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. There might have been a jello salad on occasion, but they were never memorable!

I still stick to the original menu, sometimes adding Corn and Oyster Casserole and Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots. Thanksgiving is a time for comfort food not experimentation.

Adam's version of Turkey Tetrazzini.
This year, I did experiment with a leftover turkey dish making my own version of Turkey Tetrazzini. According to Wikipedia, “The dish is named after Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini. It is widely believed to have been invented circa 1908–1910 by Ernest Arbogast, the chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California, where Tetrazzini was a long-time resident.”

I found several versions of the recipe, most including turkey, pasta, cream, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese, but the variations are endless. My version follows. My husband and I found it mighty tasty!

Adam's Turkey Tetrazzini Casserole

5 tablespoons melted butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 package (8 ounces) sliced mushrooms
1 can Campbell's® Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
3 cups cubed cooked turkey
1/2 cup frozen peas, rinsed and thawed
8 ounces (1/2 of a 1-pound package) linguini broken in half and prepared as directed, drained
1/2 to 1 teaspoon McCormick’s Grill Mates Montreal Chicken seasoning
1/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs
Butter flavor baking spray


Set oven to 400 degrees. 

Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Combine one tablespoon of the melted butter with the bread crumbs in a small bowl and set aside.

In the frying pan with the melted butter add the onions and red pepper and sauté until onions are golden and the red pepper has wilted. About 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook for an additional 6 minutes until the mushrooms are tender.

In a small bowl, whisk together soup, half and half, chicken broth and Parmesan cheese.

Add sauce, peas, and chopped turkey to frying pan and stir to combine. Add McCormick Montreal Chicken seasoning to taste.  Add the linguine and toss to coat. Spoon the chicken mixture into a 13x9x2-inch baking dish sprayed with butter-flavored baking spray. 

Bake for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the chicken mixture.

Bake for an additional 5 minutes or until is hot and bubbling.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Adam's Lemon Cream Cake

Although I have always liked to cook and bake, I never thought I could cook for large groups like the 2nd Sunday Brunch or fundraising dinners we have had at St. John the Apostle MCC Church in Fort Myers, Florida. When I first joined St. Johns I volunteered to help serve brunch, never thinking that someday I would be creating menus and executing meals for groups as large as 80 people. It still amazes me that I can pull it off at a reasonable price, with good quality and taste, satisfying most people. I do struggle with individual needs such as gluten-free, nut-free, vegetarian, etc. I work with a simple home kitchen with usually a staff of one—me! (My husband John does dishwashing, taste-testing, delivering, helping set-up, serving, cleaning, and generally keeping me sane, for which I am very, very thankful!)

I am grateful that God has given me a talent that I did not know I had. And I am humbled by the words of praise that come from satisfied diners. It can often take days of planning, deciding, modifying, purchasing, fixing, delivering and serving a meal that is over in about an hour. The dinner itself has an ethereal quality about it. What took hours to prepare is gone within minutes. I am lucky if I take a photo of the end result and often I don’t--to my regret.

Adam's Italian Lemon Cream Cake (Photo by my niece, Jennifer)
I got the idea to make a lemon cream cake for the Lip-Schtick dinner, a church fundraising event, after having a piece of Italian Limoncello Cake at Bruno’s of Brooklyn Italian Eatery restaurant in downtown Fort Myers. If you haven’t been there yet, I highly recommend it. I don’t normally cook with alcohol so had to find a substitute. The Dickinson’s Lemon Curd worked nicely. If I had the time, I would search out a recipe for lemon curd on the Internet and make it from scratch, but Dickinson’s is very nice and it certainly is a timesaver.

Adam’s Italian Lemon Cream Cake

1 15.25-ounce box Betty Crocker Super Moist Lemon Cake Mix

3 eggs

1/2 cup oil         

1 cup cold water

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 10-ounce jar of Dickinson’s Lemon Curd (or you can make your own)

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 good sized tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar (sweet to your preferred taste)

1 8-ounce container of mascarpone cream cheese

1 and 1/2 teaspoons lemon flavoring.

Canned whipping cream

Jelly lemon pieces (Optional) (I found them on Amazon)


Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour 3 9-inch baking pans or use a baking spray with flour. If you only have 2 pans, will have to reserve some batter and re-use one baking pan.

Prepare cake mix as directed adding 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest to the ingredients. Divide 3 equal portions and spread in cake pans. Bake approximately 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Do not overbake!

Remove from oven and allow to cool on rack for at least 10 minutes. Using a cookie sheet or big plate lined with parchment paper, flip the cake over and out of the baking pans. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for about an hour until chilled and firm.

When cool, spread about a 1/3 of a cup of the lemon curd on each cake layer.

Whip the cream until it starts to come to soft peaks. Add confectioners’ sugar, lemon flavoring and mascarpone, and continue to beat until hard peaks form. Do not overbeat.

You have a couple of options at this point. You can spread the cream equally on top of the lemon curd on the bottom and middle layers which is what I do, or you can reserve some of the cream and frost the sides of the cake with the reserved cream.

Put in refrigerator and chill about 4 hours or overnight before serving. This cake keeps well in the refrigerator.

Cut into serving size slices and place slices on their side. Spritz some canned whipping cream on each slice, then garnish with a piece of optional lemon jelly candy.

This cake is very rich so small slices will go far.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Trick or Treating on the farm in Michigan (and a recipe for a Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Cake!)

A boy very proud of his clown costume
in the backyard of Babcia's house
on Florida Street in Detroit.
Trick or Treating on the farm in Michigan on October 31 can be dicey. The weather might be cool and comfortable or there may be rain, and even snow flurries! Carrying my pillowcase in full costume on my bike was tortuous but the rewards were worth the effort. A couple of Baby Ruths, a few Butterfingers and a Clark Bar or two, and I was in seventh heaven. Chuckles Fruit Slices were good as a change-of-pace, especially the cherry flavor. Chunky chocolate squares with Brazil nuts, cashews, and raisins were my absolute favorite, but not often found in a Halloween treat bag. Cookies, apples, and popcorn balls were a major disappointment.

Halloween started at school where we dressed as saints. St. Aloysius was my go to saint, because he was usually pictured in a simple priestly outfit—I used a brown blanket and an old lacy tablecloth. I do remember marching around the block at school in my priestly attire, but I don’t remember getting treats.

A couple of years we went trick or treating with my cousins who lived in town. On one of those jaunts I might have worn my clown costume. It is the only costume I remember wearing, and it is the only costume to survive in my childhood pictures. I loved that costume even if the mask smelled of glue and was really itchy!

I still enjoy Halloween and watching the little kids faces as they come up the driveway. There is a mixture of fear and delight with the little ones. I even enjoy tossing a candy to their big brother and sister who have the unenviable job of taking their siblings out for the night. For a couple of hours, I will relive a small piece of my own childhood and remember the excitement of dumping out a sack full of delectable treats on the kitchen table and having first chance to snare a couple of favorites for my own personal stash.

I served a variation of the following dessert at Second Sunday Brunch in September, 2016. This version is a perfect dessert when you are having folks over for dinner. It is easy and quick to prepare and it looks fantastic. The Duncan Hines Decadent Triple Chocolate cake mix is a new one for me, but it is really good with ribbons of fudge chocolate running through it. 

The easiest decadent cake you can make!
Nutella should also be in this picture!
Decadent Chocolate Fudge Cake with Whipped Cream and Fresh Strawberries

1 package Duncan Hines Decadent Triple Chocolate Cake Mix
3 large eggs
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup of Nutella
1 cup (half pint) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
3 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup sugar


Bake cake mix as directed in one 9-inch pan. Cool to room temperature.

Spread Nutella on top of cake.

Whip cream with confectioner’s sugar. Spread whipped cream on top of Nutella.

Sprinkle sliced strawberries with sugar about 15 minutes before serving. Drain strawberries of excess juice and spread on top of whipped cream.

Note: You can easily change up this recipe by using fresh mixed berries (blackberries, raspberries and blueberries) in place of the strawberries.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Butterfinger Chocolate Chip Cookies

I saw the bag of Butterfinger Bits in the baking section at Publix the other day and bought a package, not with any plan in mind, but just because I thought they might find a way into one of my recipes. I adapted a chocolate chip cookie recipe, cutting down the amount of sugar and adding some peanut butter and came up with this recipe. They are really good!

Butterfinger Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe for Butterfinger Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies makes about fifty cookies...if you can wait for all of the cookies to be finished baking!!

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons hot water
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 package (10 oz.) Butterfinger Baking Bits or 1 1/4 cups chopped Butterfinger Candy Bars


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sift together flour and salt. Set aside.

Cream together the butter, peanut butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.

Dissolve baking soda in hot water. Stir into batter.

Stir in flour and salt mixture until combined.

Stir in chocolate chips, milk chocolate chunks and nuts (optional).

Allow to chill in refrigerator for about 2 hours or overnight.  

Remove from refrigerator. Allow to come back to room temperature. Shape into 1 inch balls and place on a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are nicely browned.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Baked Bean Casserole in the French Style (Cassoulet)

I recently entered a recipe contest sponsored by Mimi's Cafe. Mimi's is a national chain, with a restaurant in Fort Myers. John and I went there and liked it a lot. Mimi's serves American "cafe" dishes with a French twist in a cozy, French-style atmosphere. I didn't win the contest but I think the recipe is terrific and decided to share it here.

The cassoulet cooks in one pot.
When I thought about the theme of this contest, I immediately envisioned comfort food that would appeal to both American and French culture and I quickly settled on a baked bean dish. In France, that would be the cassoulet, a hearty dish of duck and pork and beans; in America, the dish would feature a more tomato-based dish with some type of pork as the main meat. I combined the essence of both to make my own American version of cassoulet with chicken as the main meat accented with fresh Polish pork sausage and bits of ham. Since this was to be an American dish with a French accent, I cooked the beans with a more traditional tomato-based sauce.

This will make a great evening supper as soon as the weather begins to cool.
The hardest part of making this dish was the ten ingredient limitation. I had to make some hard decisions about what to eliminate. I made the assumption that salt and pepper were ingredients, so I had to come up with alternatives. The sausage and ham provided the salt and Herbs de Provence gave the dish it’s unique flavor. Garlic was essential so the flavor came from the fresh Polish sausage and the fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic.

Note: This recipe won a contest sponsored by the National Pork Board in April, 2017 for a recipe that contained a pork product

Baked Beans in the French Style (Cassoulet)

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
4 links fresh Polish sausage (about 16 ounces), cut in half
1 medium onion diced
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence, divided
1 8 oz. package ham cubes
1 15.8 oz. cans Northern beans
1 14.5 oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup unsweetened white grape juice

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in 4 quart Dutch oven on top of stove. Sauté Polish sausage in oil until browned. Put into colander and drain. Sprinkle chicken thighs with 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence. Sauté thighs until lightly browned. Set aside on plate. Sauté onions until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Drain beans and add to Dutch oven. Stir in sausage, ham cubes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, white grape juice, and remaining herbs de Provence. Tuck chicken thighs into beans. Cover and bake for about 1 hour. Remove cover and bake for an additional half hour until top is crusted over.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 15 minutes.

Serve with toasted slices of French baguettes with garlic butter.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 90 minutes
Rest time:  15 minutes