Cucumber Cream Cheese Appetizers

I'm a fan of appetizers, and I sometimes enjoy them as much as an entire meal. I can only describe these cucumber appetizers as tiny bites of freshness. The colors are eye-catching, and they remind me of miniature salads. They're light, easy to make, and will make an attractive addition to any event.

Cucumber Cream Cheese Appetizers

4 large English cucumbers
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (5.3 ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1 tablespoon powdered ranch dressing mix

Cucumbers can be prepared with the skin on, peeled, or partially peeled. Slice into rounds. Slice tomatoes into halves; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, yogurt, dill, and dry ranch dressing. Blend together with an electric mixer, mixing well. Fill a piping bag with the cream cheese mixture. Pipe a dollop onto each cucumber slice. Top with a tomato half. Refrigerate until ready to serve.



Baked Sliced Apples

One way to enjoy apple pie without indulging in all the calories is to substitute baked apple slices for the pie. A sprinkle of brown sugar adds a bit of sweetness, oats add texture and crunch, and cinnamon contributes flavor and aroma. For even more crunch and flavor, add a sprinkling of chopped walnuts to the mixture. This is a two-serving recipe, but it can be doubled if you need a larger amount.

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Baked Sliced Apples

2 baking apples, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons oats
1/2 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a small baking dish with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, pour melted butter over apple slices, gently stirring apples and butter. In a separate small bowl, mix together sugar, oats, flour, salt, and cinnamon. Add sugar mixture to apples, toss to coat. Place apples in prepared baking dish. Add water. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes, or until apples are tender.



Chocolate Kiss Bundt Cake

At holiday time I am often desperate for help in the kitchen. If you stop by to visit while I'm cooking, you may find yourself wearing an apron, and I'm not picky about age or gender. I handed the recipe for this chocolate bundt cake to an eleven-year-old boy. I was up to my neck preparing casseroles, and I was running out of time to finish the baking. He had never baked a cake before, and he did an amazing job. He's my official sous chef now. His cake was the centerpiece for the dessert table. I think it has everything that makes a cake perfect. It's easy, it's pretty, and it's chocolate.

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Chocolate Kiss Bundt Cake

1 box chocolate cake mix
1 (3.9 ounce) box instant chocolate pudding mix
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
14 chocolate kisses, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Use vegetable shortening to grease a bundt pan, then dust pan with flour. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, sugar, sour cream, eggs, oil, water, and vanilla. Mix for 2 minutes, scrape bowl sides, then mix for 1 additional minute at medium speed. Pour batter into prepared pan. Place chocolate kisses evenly around the top of the batter. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes, or until cake springs back to the touch. Cool in pan 3 minutes, then remove from pan to a cooling rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional chocolate kisses

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. Use a piping bag to pipe frosting in rows over cooled cake. Place a chocolate kiss on top of each row of piped frosting.



Southern Writers Magazine

I'm a guest today at Southern Writers Magazine. I would do some cartwheels, but, you know, arthritis and stuff. I'll bake a cake instead. It would be an honor if my friends from the blog would take a look at my ramblings about being a writer. My article is called The Face of Success.




Why Drive 735 Miles to Shop for Dishes?

I've been asked that question more than once. Every time someone inquires, I hear the underlying question about my sanity, also. I'm not worried about it, though. My sister drove 1180 miles from her home to shop for dishes with me, and then we had to drive home. What's crazier than that, there were people from farther away than the two of us.

Our trip was to Newell, WV, home of the Homer Laughlin China Company, where Fiestaware dishes are made. In case you didn't notice, those dishes are made in the U.S.A., one reason I love Fiestaware. That, and they're pretty, too.

We were there for one of their tent sales. I've talked about and wanted to attend one of these for a long time, but there has always been the obstacle of distance. After thinking about it long enough, the lure of the tent sale made me forget about how far it is to West Virginia. 

The tent was set up at the back of the factory. Parking is in a grassy field in the front of the factory. Attendees are handed a ticket as they enter the area. Once you have your ticket, you can get in line to wait your turn to go into the tent. On the opening morning of the sale the line was long. One of the security guards told us that some people camp out so they can be first in line.

From my experience at the sale, being first in line might have some small advantage, but it's not that important. The stock of items was replenished all throughout the day, and you never knew what might be brought out next. We shopped early the first day. After a late lunch, we went back for round 2 and found different items. On the second day of the sale the stock had changed again.

Once you get into the tent, you are provided with a shopping cart. Most of the dishes are dusty from storage. Some are more than a little dusty. Taking a dust cloth along is essential. It's important to dust the pieces off and check for flaws. Some of the pieces have visible flaws, others have none. It's kind of buyer beware when shopping the tent sale because there are no returns, but the prices are amazing!

I bought dinner plates, serving bowls, gusto bowls, platters, fruit bowls, pitchers and more. Everything is wrapped and boxed at the cash register, so it's travel ready when you leave. I drive a large SUV, and we packed it full. So what if we had to stash our luggage in the back seat?

Besides having a great time shopping, I picked up some trivia. Newell is the northernmost town in the state of West Virginia. The Newell Bridge is 111 years old. It's a toll bridge across the Ohio River. I hope they collect enough tolls to build a new bridge soon. I was a bit uneasy crossing on that bridge. I hadn't thought to pack a life jacket.

The Newell Bridge

You won't find the usual fast food chains in Newell, only a few Mom & Pop places to eat. It's an old town with a quaint look right on the Ohio River. The Fiesta factory is a large employer for the area. There were many, many visible employees just for the tent sale. It was a well orchestrated event from the security staff to the wrappers and packers, and there were no slackers.

Pennsylvania is close by and having never been there, I wanted to have a visit there, too. Google showed a shopping mall in the nearby state, only 15 miles from Newell. That was misleading, though. It took us almost an hour to drive that 15 miles. Small towns with 25 mph speed zones coupled with road construction can make a short trip long. Nevertheless, we were able to shop and have lunch in Pennsylvania.

So, the question remains, why drive 735 miles to shop for dishes when these same dishes can be bought locally and online? The answer is simple. It's the adventure of the hunt.

And, I'd do it again.


"Just Right" Porridge

At some time or other, most everyone needs a mild dish that is easy to digest and is gentle on the tummy. If a family member is recuperating from an illness or on a soft food diet, this recipe is sure to make everything better. The three bears knew the value of porridge, and I suspect this is exactly what Goldilocks found in baby bear's bowl, because it is 'just right'.

In this recipe the rice is cooked a long time, breaking it down to a consistency different than rice is usually served. When someone in your family needs a food that is soft and comforting, try out this recipe.

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Chicken and Ginger Porridge

1 cup long grain rice
8 cups water (or substitute chicken broth)
6 boneless chicken thighs
Fresh ginger root (a piece about 1 inch x 1 inch) finely sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine rice and water in a heavy pot (enameled cast iron is my favorite). Add chicken and ginger. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Remove chicken and allow to cool enough to shred the meat. Add shredded chicken back into rice, season with salt and pepper as desired.



A Giant Cupcake

How many people will one cupcake serve?

             Lots of them, if the cupcake is a giant one. This giant cupcake was my birthday cake this year. It was baked in the Wilton giant cupcake pan, which, by the way, can be used for other cake projects, too. The base of my cupcake was made of a candy melt shell, and pink buttercream roses adorned the top.

I had wanted to make a candy shell in this pan for quite some time, and I finally got around to trying it out today. I read different tutorials and advice on Pinterest, and I found that some bakers had great success with candy shells, while others said it was a disaster. I was one of the lucky ones, and the results were great.


Candy Melt Shell:

Melt about half a bag of candy melts according to package directions. Apply the melted candy to the inside of the giant cupcake pan in a thin coat. I used a silicone brush and a spatula to spread the candy. Place the pan in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes, or until the candy is firm. Apply a second coat of melted candy over the first, then return to the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. When the candy is firm and set, remove from refrigerator. Gently loosen the candy at the top and tap the bottom of the pan. Turn the pan upside down and the shell should slide right out.

Trim the bottom portion of the cake to fit in the shell, if needed. Cover the sides of the cake with a thin coat of frosting and place into the shell. Spread frosting over the top.

Add the top portion of the cake and cover with a thin layer of frosting.

The cake is now ready to add roses. One trick for even spacing of the roses is to use a round cookie cutter to mark circles in the frosting. I piped a few leaves among my roses, too, but those are optional.

Happy birthday to me!


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